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Hillsdale College stu­dents who served in the U.S. Army’s ambu­lance corps during World War I. College Archives

Exactly 100 years ago on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on the German empire, for­mally entering World War I. Across the country, young men and women heard the call of duty and leapt into action. The stu­dents of Hillsdale College were no exception.

“We will not choose the path of sub­mission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or vio­lated,” Pres­ident Woodrow Wilson said, referring to acts of aggression by Germany in his War Message April 2, 1917. “The wrongs against which we now array our­selves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.”

Hills­dalians in the faculty and the student body con­nected Wilson’s mission, to “make the world safe for democracy,” to the prin­ciples for which Hillsdale College always stood — liberal edu­cation, evan­gelism, and eman­ci­pation. In a May 1918 chapel talk, then-college pres­ident Joseph Mauck urged stu­dents to remember and fight for the ideals of “Christian civ­i­lization” and to end the bar­barism which gripped Europe.

“The war came to many as a sudden bolt out of the heavens,” Mauck said. “We were stunned. It seemed that the world had lost its moorings and we were adrift in the irra­tional cosmos. But those who had studied the course of human thought for the last 100 years were not so sur­prised.”

So many stu­dents signed up to help the war effort that the Col­legian ran an edi­torial  May 10, 1917, bemoaning the “depop­u­lation of the college.” By May 1918, 192 male stu­dents enlisted to serve in the war, and only 12 upper­classmen men remained on campus, according to Pro­fessor Emeritus of History Arlan Gilbert’s book, “The Per­manent Things: Hillsdale College 1900 – 1994.”

“Hillsdale men and women in par­ticular will not be one step behind other insti­tu­tions nor out of harmony with the tra­di­tions and spirit of the stu­dents of 1861,” a Col­legian edi­torial from the week after the U.S. entered the war said. “May every man of Hillsdale act under his highest con­vic­tions, thinking deeply and sanely, when he asks himself the question ‘Are you going to war?’”

The Student Army Training Corp swears in by the Civil War statue during World War I | College Archives

One of the con­nec­tions to Hillsdale’s Civil War expe­rience was Melville Chase, a pro­fessor who served in the 9th Maine Infantry in 1864 and 1865. While teaching here in 1914 and 1915, he led mil­itary training exer­cises to prepare stu­dents for service in the event that the war in Europe came to embroil the United States.

In total, 368 Hillsdale stu­dents served in the mil­itary or with support orga­ni­za­tions like the Red Cross between 1917 and 1919. Eight men died as a result of disease or mil­itary action in the course of the war.

“The part which Hillsdale College played in the war cannot be mea­sured in men and women,” an April 24, 1919 Col­legian edi­torial, “Hillsdale’s part in the war,” said. “The spirit which sent them will con­tinue to move and work among us, influ­encing every Hillsdale student to bigger and better things.”

Hillsdale’s roll of honor from World War I is long. Stu­dents fought at Verdun, Chateau Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel, Cham­pagne, the Argonne, and countless other bloody fields in France and Belgium. “Over there,” they won dis­tinction and served with valor. For instance, Pvt. Car­leton Bailey was one of the 72 Marines chosen to serve as Wilson’s body­guards during his visit to France at the end of the war.

“If we go over the top with the best of luck and give ‘em hell, that is enough whatever it costs,” Lt. Winter N. Snow ’16, wrote in a letter from “Some­where in France” in March 1918.

Another Hillsdale student, Lt. Stephen Jessop ’19, won the French Croix de Guerre “for his ambu­lance work in the front lines,” Gilbert recounted in his book. “As [Jessop] and his driver were taking wounded men to the rear, an artillery shell demol­ished the ambu­lance. Although the driver and one of the wounded were killed, Jessop and an assistant carried the other wounded sol­diers a mile and a half through heavy shelling to the rear lines. He later spent six weeks in a hos­pital recu­per­ating from the effects of being gassed.”

Ed Crisp left the college in 1917 to join the Canadian Army’s Gordon High­landers. According to Gilbert, his unit imme­di­ately left for England, where Crisp joined a sharp­shooter school. After training, Crisp spent 15 months in France and fought in mul­tiple battles, fre­quently winning cita­tions for courage under fire. At Pass­chen­daele, he charged with his unit through deep mud to capture German posi­tions. At the Second Battle of Cambrai, Crisp was wounded while firing a machine gun, after­wards spending five months recov­ering at a hos­pital in England.

A tribute to the war dead in 1921, fea­turing vet­erans of the Civil War | College archives

Other Hillsdale stu­dents rec­og­nized for valor on the bat­tle­field, however, refused to tell stories about their wartime expe­ri­ences. For example, Sgt. Marcus Bostwick ’17 won the Croix de Guerre for his bravery at the Battle of Chateau Thierry, but always simply told those who asked for an expla­nation that he did not know how he won it.

“Despite its huge impact on society, here in America, World War I has been for­gotten because the vet­erans are gone,” college archivist Linda Moore said. “Chains of memory break, and by the time children and grand­children are inter­ested in their parents and grand­parents, it’s often just too late.”

Exactly 100 years ago, the republic called upon Hillsdale stu­dents to coura­geously defend their prin­ciples in the face of the thunder of artillery and the rapid fire of machine guns. As they did in 1861 and would do again in 1941 and many other times in the institution’s history, Hillsdale College ded­i­cated itself to service worth memo­ri­al­izing during World War I.

Mr. Luc­chese recently inter­viewed pro­fessor of history Thomas Conner on the subject of World War I and Hillsdale College:

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Michael Lucchese
Michael Lucchese ‘18 is majoring in American Studies, and is a member of the Dow Journalism Program. In addition to the Collegian, he has also contributed to The Federalist, Acculturated, Conservative Review, and several other publications. In 2015, he reported on national security and foreign policy for Breitbart News. He also hosts a weekly radio show, The Michael Lucchese Show on Radio Free Hillsdale WRFH 101.7 FM. e-mail: mlucchese@hillsdale.edu Twitter: @MichaelLucchese