H228: Creating Archival Stories #3

Vernon Clayton Buchanan by Drake Daly

“If my death helps end the war one minute sooner, it is worthwhile.”

Lieutenant Vernon Clayton Buchanan

The words of Second Lieutenant and Indiana University alumnus Vernon Clayton Buchanan inspire a patriotic spirit in all those who might encounter his final letter. Graduating near the top of his class from Arsenal Tech high school in 1942 and entering Indiana University with two scholarships, Vernon abandoned his academic prospects for the call of duty that many men would hear around the time. The high performing academic would be just another grunt at boot camp, yet he rose quickly to Second Lieutenant, trusted with handling a B-25 bomber in the South Pacific theater. He would start over for a purpose larger than himself, a purpose that he was more than prepared to give his life for. By all recorded accounts, Vernon’s dedication to his country in conjunction with his collectedness serve as a lesson in teleology for now and times to come. 

One of many letters to George Heighway.

Entering Indiana University in the autumn of 1942, Vernon participated in the French club, participated in recreational sports, and became a member of ROTC. His excellent performance achieved him a Bronze medal, as he was “the best-drilled in his R.O.T.C company for 1942.” It was not long thereafter until he would begin more formal training in the Army. He enlisted in the Army Air Force Reserves on February 9, 1943, and began his training at Baer Field near Ft. Wayne, Indiana. One has to wonder if Vernon knew his time in college would be cut short; perhaps he was just taking it one day at a time. In April, Vernon was to take his academic talents to the world of military science at the Army Air Force Classification Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Assigned the role of a pilot, he began pre-flight training at Maxwell, Alabama. The prompt completion of this training landed him first south then west: from the Lodwick School of Aeronautics in Lakeland, Florida to the Navigation Training Center in Monroe, Louisiana. The training took 18 weeks, ending with his promotion to Second Lieutenant on January 15, 1944. Shortly thereafter, Vernon wrote home to George Heighway, the alumni secretary for Indiana University. Detailing his recent achievements, he expressed his enthusiasm for completing even more training at his new post in Roswell, New Mexico. “After completing a twelve-week course here, I will be graduated a dual-rated man: navigator-bombardier on 21 April. That will qualify me for a position on the new super bomber B-29. But so far, I haven’t been on anything larger than a C-60. So it’ll be a thrill to get me one of those ‘big ladies.’”  

“Rough Raiders” emblem (Watkins)

Vernon expressed a clear enthusiasm for translating his academic success to the realm of aeronautics. Although he did not gain possession of one of those “big ladies” he was able to command a B-25: a smaller yet powerful bomber built for evasive strafing and low-altitude bombing. Completing roughly two months of training in South Carolina, he and his team left the states in August, 1944, taking the B-25 all the way to Australia. It was not long before a short flight north would land him in New Guinea where he would complete even more combat training. After his training, he sent another letter to George Heighway from “Somewhere in the Philippines” on November 8, 1944. In the letter, he expresses his admiration for the Filipino people, recent training, and pride in being part of the 500th bombardment squadron, colloquially known as the Rough Raiders. As he described it, his squadron is credited with the most ships sunk and enemy aircraft destroyed. However, an impressive record as a low-altitude bomber does not come without incredible risk. His first combat mission would also be his last. Sometime before this mission, Vernon wrote a letter that would be sent back stateside in the event of his death.  

On a chilly February morning, 1945, the postman handed Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan that very letter. His parents thought its arrival had been a mistake. Somehow, their son was still alive “somewhere in the South Pacific.” They immediately wrote back to Indiana University to ask if the horrid news was true: had their son really died? George Heighway – the alumni secretary that had previously corresponded back and forth with Vernon via letter – solemnly informed Vernon’s parents of the stark reality of war. Lt. Vernon Clayton Buchanan went missing in action after the air raid over Luzon, the small island in the Philippines used as a Japanese flak base. In all likelihood, Vernon and his team of Rough Raiders crashed into the Pacific after sustaining heavy damage to their B-29 bomber.   

Dear Mother and Dad. This is a letter that I hope need never be delivered, for that would mean that I am considered missing or killed in action.

I need not tell you how I feel about you. I realize now that I could have done much more for you and proved myself a good son. As it is, I hope that you don’t feel that these years you have spent in raising me have been wasted.

I want to thank you for your love, your cares, the life and opportunities you have given me. I am sorry that now I will no longer be able to justify your belief in me.

Please don’t think that you have lost everything in losing your son. Remember, I volunteered for this and knew what it might lead to. I have spent some of my happiest moments in the A.A.F. I feel that I have done something to be proud of, something perhaps that will aid America to remain ‘the home of the free, and the land of the brave.’

If my death helps end this war one minute sooner, I consider it worth while.

Millions all over the world are fighting for what they believe in and for those they love; and thousands are dying. It is not in vain!”

Excerpts of Vernon Buchanan’s letter delivered to parents upon his death.

The short letter did not contain any curses of fate, lamentations, or woeful expressions. Throughout its entirety, Vernon expressed his love and respect for his family. He briefly apologized for any sorrow his loss might have caused and assured that his death would not be in vain. He addressed the allocation of his assets in a responsible and selfless manner. Moreover, he wished his girlfriend, Virginia, the courage to move on and be happy in life.  Towards the end of the letter, he playfully yet pointedly said a final goodbye to each one of his sisters, offering advice as well as encouragement. He ends with the quote from Whittier: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all.”  

Article concerning Vernon’s heroic death. (IU Archives, Collection C502)

Vernon wasted no time in his short chance at life. He grabbed it by the horns and embraced its victories along with its vicissitudes. He had the courage to drop everything and give America his very best effort. His poignant letter serves as evidence for his prudence in the face of destruction, as well as his stoic self-assurance that life would go on fine without him. We can only hope Vernon’s life will provide an example of a purposeful life for all those who might happen upon his story.  

Bibliography 

Watkins, Robert A. (2013). Insignia and Aircraft Markings of the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. Volume V, Pacific Theater of Operations. Atglen,PA: Shiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN978-0-7643-4346-9

[“If my death helps end the war one minute sooner, it is worth it”]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2020, from http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/findingaids/view?doc.view=entire_text&docId=InU-Ar-VAD4127 

[Lieutenant Vernon Clayton Buchanan]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2020, from http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/findingaids/view?doc.view=entire_text&docId=InU-Ar-VAD4127 

[Letter To George Heighway]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2020, from http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/findingaids/view?doc.view=entire_text&docId=InU-Ar-VAD4127 

Vernon Clayton Buchanan, Indiana University War Service Register records, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. 

Tallman 1973, pp. 216, 228. 

H228: Creating Archival Stories #2

Charles J. Baker by Ariana Wilde

Charles Baker in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Figure 1: Charles Baker at the Leaning Tower of Pisa circa 1945, while stationed in Italy.

Charles J. Baker was one of the many Indiana University students whose education was disrupted by events outside his control (in the form of World War II and conscription); one of several similarities he bears to today’s IU students. While the young man enrolled in IU in fall 1942, there are no records in IU files indicating he ever graduated. However, unlike some of the others who were drafted or volunteered to serve in the war, Baker’s records also lack any killed in action notices. So, what happened to him after his enlistment? And how did his military service affect the course of his life? Also, how does his story contain parallels to our experiences? 

Charles Jewell Baker was born October 5, 1923 in Washington, D.C1. While he was a student in Bloomington, he listed his and his parents’ addresses as Washington, D.C., suggesting he attended IU as an out-of-state student. Considering how long such a drive would have taken and how many closer options he had, Baker–like today’s out-of-state and international students–had good reasons to choose IU. 

Baker only completed his freshman year at IU yet did well enough that he was part of the Freshman Honor Society of 1942-433. While at IU, he entered the Enlisted Reserve Corps in November 1942 and by July 1943, he was in the Quartermaster Corps Camp Lee, Virginia. The following April, Baker was stationed at Bari, Italy, serving in the Army Air Corps4

Yearbook photo
Figure 2: A 1948 yearbook page of seniors at George Washington University.

Despite only spending a year at Indiana University, Baker remained as invested in the school’s sports and campus news as students living in Bloomington. While stationed in Italy in 1944, he requested the schedules of the football and basketball teams as well as a subscription to the Indiana Alumni Magazine5.  

Mr. Baker also repeatedly expressed interest in returning to IU after the war, ideally during the fall of 1946.6 However, IU records show he did not. Nonetheless, he did continue his education. The 1948 yearbook of George Washington University indicates he did indeed resume college albeit at a different school7. In fact, given the fact that he joined the Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Fraternity in December 1946, he apparently met his goal of reenrolling in fall 19468.  

Figure 3: Nancy Giglio’s 1948 yearbook page

Attending George Washington University instead of Indiana had a lasting impact on his life. In June 1949, shortly after graduating college, Baker married Nancy Giglio9. She appears as a senior in the same 1948 yearbook. In addition to getting a BA in Spanish, Nancy was involved in a variety of organizations, including Greek Life, the Cherry Tree Yearbook, student government, and soccer10. Presumably, given the time of their marriage, Nancy and Charles met at some point during their time at college, which would not have happened had Charles returned to IU.  

It is possible that his time in Italy influenced or at least confirmed his choice of career path. While his letters while stationed in Italy suggest an interest in math11, he ended up pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Service at George Washington University. In some 1945 correspondence12, Baker mentions a wonderful 10-day trip to Switzerland that “compensated in part” for having been “located for the past twenty months in Bari, Italy with an Army Air Forces Supply Depot.” Baker’s travel in that time period is also evident in Figure 1 above, where he is photographed in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, some 375 miles away from Bari13.  

Whether he had previously sought an international career or not, his experiences abroad continued. New York passenger arrival lists observe Charles and Nancy Baker returning from Paris in August 196214. By this point the couple lived in Arlington, Virginia. Interestingly, although she does not appear in the passenger manifest, her Virginia marriage record15 (with date of birth) demonstrates that the couple’s daughter Alexandra was almost 6-years old at the time of their trip. Based on his Washington Post obituary16, the Bakers had at least three more children at some point, whose names similarly are not on the manifest. While the couple may have simply gone on a vacation without their kids, it is also possible that the trip in question was related to work. According to his Delta Phi Epsilon obituary17, Baker went on to work for the CIA in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Morocco, and became the branch chief of North African affairs before he retired in 1973. Such a job likely involved a fair amount of travel. 

Figure 4: Tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery

Due to his service in World War II, Charles J. Baker was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not too far away from where he grew up and later graduated from college18. While his path didn’t bring him back to Bloomington or Indiana after the war, Baker’s experience still offers a critical perspective of the IU experience at the time. His correspondence with the Indiana Alumni Magazine indicates an institution and its members trying to support students affected by the war. It also highlights a young man whose short time in Indiana nevertheless allowed him to connect with IU and Hoosiers, including Edward Hutton, whose address he specifically asks about19. The individual captured in the documents in the IU Archives bears a remarkable similarity to current students despite his very different circumstances: he had a favorite professor, participated in extracurricular activities like choir, enjoyed traveling abroad and learning about new cultures, and followed IU basketball. Charles Baker is an exemplar of what an IU student can aspire to, especially as we strive to balance education with drastic world-wide events. 

References 

1.     1930 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com, Washington, District of Columbia, page 4B, Enumeration District 0361, FHL microfilm 2340038. United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls. 

2.     IU War Service Record, Indiana University War Service Register records, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, 1. 

3.     Ibid. 

4.     Ibid. 

5.     Baker, Charles. Charles Baker to Indiana Alumnae Association, September 22, 1944. Indiana University War Service Register, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. 

6.     IU War Service Record, Indiana University War Service Register, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, 2. 

7.     George Washington University. Cherry Tree 1948 Yearbook. Washington D.C.: Graduating Class of 1948, 1948. U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999, Ancestry.com, 16. 

8.     “Chapter Eternal.” Delta Phi Epsilon, last modified January 2014. http://www.deltaphiepsilon.net/Chapter_Eternal.html 

9.     District of Columbia, Marriage Records, 1810-1953, Ancestry.com. Marriage RecordsDistrict of Columbia Marriages. Clerk of the Superior Court, Records Office, Washington D.C.  https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=61404&h=35517&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=9278  

10.   George Washington University. Cherry Tree 1948 Yearbook. Washington D.C.: Graduating Class of 1948, 1948. U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999, Ancestry.com, 24. 

11.  Baker, Charles. Charles Baker to Indiana Alumnae Association, September 22, 1944. Indiana University War Service Register, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. 

12.  IU War Service Record, Indiana University War Service Register, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, 2. 

13.  Archive Photograph Collection. Charles Baker, P0067303. Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/archivesphotos/results/item.do?itemId=P0067303&searchId=1&searchResultIndex=1 

14.  New York State, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1917-1967, Ancestry.com. Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. The National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/imageviewer/collections/1277/images/42804_336747-07398?pId=6098269 

15.  Virginia, Marriages, 1936-2014, Ancestry.com, Roll: 101142203Virginia Department of Health. Richmond, Virginia. https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=charles-jewell-baker&pid=15231322

16.  “Charles Jewell Baker.” Washington Post, September 28, 2005. https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=charles-jewell-baker&pid=15231322 

17.  “Chapter Eternal.” Delta Phi Epsilon, last modified January 2014. http://www.deltaphiepsilon.net/Chapter_Eternal.html 

18.  National Cemetery Administration. U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites, ca.1775-2019, Ancestry.com. National Cemetery Administration. Nationwide Gravesite Locator. https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=8750&h=3697857&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=60901 

19.  IU War Service Record, Indiana University War Service Register, Collection C502, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, 2. 

H228: Creating Archival Stories #1

With it being Veterans Day, we are so pleased that we are able to begin to roll out the results of a recent course collaboration. This semester, University Archives Director Dina Kellams worked with Ron Osgood’s Honors H228: Creating Archival Stories course. For one of their assignments, students were asked to select an IU affiliate from the Archives War Service Register records and dig into their story. Due to COVID, students were not able to visit the Archives so all research was done online, largely through free or subscription services available to them through IU Libraries, and the students did a marvelous job. We will continue to share some of the stories through the next week or so. Hope you enjoy these samples of student work and the stories they discovered!

Robert William Bulmer by Marie Renahan

Navy portrait of Bulmer
Navy portrait taken of Robert circa 19421

World War II changed the course of the lives of many students at Indiana University. Some students chose to join a branch of the military instead of completing a degree, while others delayed attending college until after returning home. The stories of these IU students can be found in the Indiana University War Service Register records, where documents have been collected about each of the Indiana University students who served in a U.S. war between 1920 and 1946. Robert William Bulmer was one of those students. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the many files in Robert’s folder are change-of-address cards (about 20 of them!) that offer only simple details about his postal address during his deployment in the U.S. Navy. However, when seen as a whole, these cards help create a richer history of the complex life Robert led as a Navy Lieutenant and the Hoosier spirit he kept after leaving IU.  

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Robert’s draft card. He entered the service in 1941.5 

Robert Bulmer was born on August 23, 1920 in Gary, Indiana. He attended IU from Fall 1939 through Spring 1941 before entering service with the U.S. Navy on November 21, 1941. Shortly after returning home at the end of his service, he married Marjorie Evelyn Barnes and moved to Logansport, IN.2 After serving in the Korean War and working at Pepsi-Cola for several years, he died in 1999 at the age of 78 in New Albany, Indiana.3,4  

By looking at the records of his life during WWII, Robert’s experiences during the war come alive. For example, one newspaper clipping from November 23, 1942 in the Gary Indiana Post-Tribune congratulates Robert on graduating naval aircraft school with high marks.2 Interestingly enough, most of his files are change-of-address postcards sent to the alumni office to ensure the safe delivery of alumni magazines to each new destination as Robert sailed with the U.S. Navy. These forms create a unique perspective on Robert’s service—we can see the frequent changes in location and the constant motion that was needed to keep the Navy running in WWII. 

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Card from the Alumni Office that outlines some of Robert’s address changes2 

The card above gives a summary of many of the address changes Robert reported to the alumni office. Some of his assignments only last a month or two before he is moved to a new location or ship. Robert sent mail from San Diego, New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and many more places all in three years of service.2 It is unknown where exactly he travelled by sea with the Navy, but Robert fought for several years in the Pacific, indicated by all of the addresses listed on the west coast. Additionally, he stayed at the Sigma Chi House at Wabash College in Crawfordsville to study and complete military training for almost a year.6 Despite constantly moving with new Navy assignments, Robert made it a focus to continually update his address with the alumni office to continue receiving alumni magazines. 

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One of Robert’s more patriotic postcards, sent from Miami, Florida in 19452 
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Robert made his enthusiasm for the issues of the alumni magazine very clear. He thanked the alumni office each time he sent a change of address, paid his fees diligently, and noted every change of address—even if he only stayed in that location for a few months. Many of the notes include nostalgic messages, like “thinking of the good old days at Indiana…” from his July 13, 1944 postcard, and “thanks a million for keeping me informed about campus activities” from his March 1, 1942 note. Robert does apologize for the constant changes of address after missing a few issues of the magazine, saying “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it—every time I thought I had settled down for a while, I was moved on again,” in a letter updating his address on April 4, 1945.2 

Image of letter
1945 letter apologizing for all of the address changes2 

I imagine that with so many unexpected moves, it would have been lovely to experience a bit of home and feel some nostalgia with the monthly updates in the alumni magazine. His excitement for the alumni magazine is also more understandable when viewed with his enthusiasm for the school in a wide variety of activities. In the first record from November 14, 1942, Robert notes that he actively participated in the Acacia fraternity, was the sophomore manager for the swim team, worked as a staff member for the Arbutus yearbook, and played an instrument in band. He must have had lots of school spirit during college. He remarks that “the alumni magazine was a swell surprise” and says he “think[s] of IU often and back[s] her 100%.”2 He wanted to stay connected to his home at Indiana University, and the magazines were a reminder of our Hoosier spirit even during war. 

After writing so many post cards, and with several years of serving in the Navy in locations all over the U.S., Robert returned to Indiana.3 He married Marjorie Barnes on July 1, 1944 and they welcomed their first son on August 2, 1945.2, The couple also had another son and daughter,7,8 and they moved to Gary, Indiana while Robert took on a job at Standard Steel Spring.2 He and his family finally settled down in Logansport, Indiana, where Robert eventually became the vice-president of Pepsi-Cola general bottlers for the region.4,7 Robert also served in the Korean War, but unfortunately, few records remain regarding this service. 

A newspaper clipping announces the upcoming wedding of Robert and Marjorie2 

Robert’s life in the Navy and constant change of scenery was encapsulated so uniquely through this series of postcards and letters. His complex history of address changes during WWII surprisingly showed his passion for IU and his continued Hoosier spirit. Robert fought bravely for our country for many years, but always found time to keep up to date on his alumni magazines and stay connected to his fellow students. 

References 

  1. Robert William Bulmer [Photograph]. (n.d.). Archives Photo Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington IN. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0067280 
  1. Bulmer, Indiana University War Service Register [Photograph]. (n.d.). Archives Online at Indiana University, Indiana University, Bloomington IN. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/findingaids/view?brand=general&docId=InU-Ar-VAD4127&chunk.id=VAD4127-03665&startDoc=1#mets=http%3A%2F%2Fpurl.dlib.indiana.edu%2Fiudl%2Farchives%2Fmets%2FVAD4127-03688&aid=VAD4127-U-04211&page=1 
  1. Robert W. Bulmer (1920-1999). (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/172885570/robert-w.-bulmer
  1. Indiana Death Certificates: Robert W. Bulmer. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60716&h=3235647&tid=&pid=&queryId=80da612bb5327b69b104043ecc0c4389&usePUB=true&_phsrc=lAz5&_phstart=successSource
  1. Bulmer Draft Card. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2238&h=40551652&tid=&pid=&queryId=80da612bb5327b69b104043ecc0c4389&usePUB=true&_phsrc=lAz5&_phstart=successSource
  1. Gregerson, R. (2006, September 21). V12 Reunion Brings Back Unique Alumni Group. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.wabash.edu/news/displaystory.cfm?news_ID=3845 
  1. Obituary: Robert W. Bulmer. (1999, April 28). The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), p. 16. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=46404236&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjExMDk4MTIzOSwiaWF0IjoxNjAyNjc2NjM3LCJleHAiOjE2MDI3NjMwMzd9.6geLiUUROWKhjL5MnQy1gB1oaulk3sy2BiAVFuo_0-A 
  1. Marjorie Evelyn Bulmer. (2007, October 17). Logansport Pharos Tribune. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://obituaries.pharostribune.com/obituary/marjorie-bulmer-717739521 

Herman B Wells Speeches to Incoming Freshmen, during World War II and Today

When I think back to starting my freshman year of college (in enemy territory at Purdue University), I remember one main feeling: overwhelmed! Even though it has been more than a decade since then, I get butterflies in my stomach when I recall orientation activities, my first meals in the dorms, and meeting classmates for the first time. Though Purdue had a ton of welcome activities for incoming freshmen, the Indiana University traditions of Freshman Convocation and the Freshman Induction Ceremony are utterly charming. This year, the Freshman Induction took place August 21 at Skjodt Assembly Hall. We’ve covered the history of the Freshman Induction Ceremony in the past, so in this post I would like to focus on some wise words spoken at Freshman Convocations over the years. Specifically, this post will highlight Herman B Wells’ resolute and poignant addresses over the World War II years. His advice should be relevant for all freshman coming to Bloomington now, in an uncertain and overwhelming time.

Black and white photograph of Freshman convocation - a large crowd of seated students surrounds a central stage.
Freshman Convocation, September 15, 1938. IU Archives image no. P0031218

It is well known that our beloved Herman B Wells was a fantastic orator, so it is no surprise that his remarks are still impactful many decades later. During his 1937 speech to incoming freshmen, Wells reminded students of precarious conditions in America and the world:

“It is true that the world is beset with problems of such gravity that they sometimes challenge hope for the future. On the front pages of the newspapers almost every day reference is made to some of these problems—war, assault upon the democracies of the world by the rise of dictatorships, charges that the capitalistic system and the democratic philosophy of government are incompatible—in a word, questions that attack the very foundation of the institutions under which we are living.”

Pretty heavy words for the opening of a Freshman Convocation speech. He continued on to describe the depletion of natural resources and perilous state of natural conservation. He ended this section by saying:

“Wars, rumors of war, political unrest, dissipation of the vitality of our physical and human resources—certainly these create a dismal outlook for the future.”

Though these statements are grave, we can see obvious connections with our contemporary situation. Wells then placed the impetus for changing this outlook on the incoming freshmen:

“You need not be discouraged by the number and seriousness of these problems. They can all be solved, and they will be solved by our people if we are guided by an intelligent and informed leadership…And society, through government and through the sacrifices of individual families, has supported higher education generously in this country largely because we as a people believe that college-trained men and women offer us our best source of social, political, and economic leadership.”

One of Wells’ most extraordinary skills was to turn insurmountable challenges into inspiring moments of change. Against the backdrop of the rise of fascism (the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica occurred in April of that year), Wells acknowledged the frightening realities of IU freshmen while simultaneously encouraging them to lead the charge for change. I hope the incoming freshman class today can harness this same courage.

Black and white photograph of the Freshman Induction ceremony. Robed faculty and staff including President Wells stand on the front steps of the Student Building.
Freshman Induction (Herman B Wells can be seen just to the right of the microphone), September 19, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0033994

In September 1940, one year before the United States officially entered World War II, Wells emphasized the university’s role in defending democracy.  He outlined three types of defenses for democracy: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. After summarizing mobilization activities on campus such as Civilian Pilot Training at the Bloomington airstrip and IU’s R.O.T.C. unit, he spoke to intellectual and spiritual defenses:

“You cannot be intellectually lazy and be an effective citizen in democracy. There is no dictator to tell you what is socially desirable and undesirable. Questions of social policy must be thought through for yourself, and you must think with sufficient clarity and originality, if you aspire to be a leader, so that you can win your colleagues to your point of view.”

Although young people today often hear calls to independent thinking, Wells’ thoughtful consideration of how free thought fosters a democratic environment should be especially relevant today. As to spiritual defenses of democracy, Wells spoke these compassionate words:

“Democracy is a way of life in which we are responsible for each other, in which our human relations must be governed, in a very real and practical sense, by self-restraint and mutual respect for the rights of others.”

In an age of rapid-fire and divisive communications I think incoming IU students would do well to embody mutual respect and feel responsibility for one another. We can update Wells’ words to apply to fostering a democratic society online, too.

Black and white photograph of President Herman B Wells standing underneath the Service Flag. Uniformed male students stand in the foreground listening.
President Wells Speaking at Dedication of the Indiana University Service Flag, August 22, 1943. IU Archives image no. P0039468

As the United States officially entered the War, we see a shift in Wells’ tone for incoming freshmen. 1942 was a particularly devastating year—by September of that year mass extermination of Jews had begun at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Belzec; thousands of lives were lost as Axis powers sunk Allied ships during Second Happy Time; and Executive Order 9066 authorized the United States military to incarcerate Japanese Americans in detention camps. Wells’ 1942 freshman address echoed an atmosphere of severity:

“We hear much just now about the necessity of maintaining morale on the home front. These are days of unusual stress and strain for all of us. Home front morale will depend in no small measure upon our courtesy to each other. Acceptable manners, both public and private, insure proper consideration for the convenience and rights of others. Therefore this subject of good manners, always timely, is of especial significance at the present.”

Even in a dark hour, we see that Wells highlighted freshmen’s responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. And as we can see from his 1946 address to the incoming class, that attitude continued after World War II as well. That year he remarked:

“The nervous system of the human body is a complex mechanism consisting of millions of cells. Yet a single nerve cell can register pain or pleasure which is felt throughout the entire body. Each person in the campus body, from the youngest student to the oldest professor, has an essential role. Each is, as it were, a cell in the nervous system of the University community.”

Black and white photograph of President Herman Wells greeting students with suitcases in hand at the entrance to Bryan Hall.
Herman B Wells welcoming World War II veterans who lived in the board room / conference room of the Administration Building during the postwar housing shortage, October 1946. IU Archives image no. P0023889

Cooperation and mutual respect were truly central to how Wells envisioned a democratic society. As the IU Class of 2023 settles in, I hope we all can exemplify Wells’ ideals to each other on and off campus. Most all of us were overwhelmed and frightened freshmen at one point. If Wells could set an example of strength against the backdrop of World War II, we should be able to pass these virtues on to the Class of 2023.

To see more transcripts of Herman B Wells’ speeches, check out the finding aid for Collection C137 or contact an archivist.

Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks