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

Around this time during the spring semester 100 years ago, only 12 upper­classmen men remained on campus after 192 male stu­dents enlisted to serve in World War I, according to Pro­fessor Emeritus of History Arlan Gilbert’s second volume of Hillsdale College history.

As of Nov. 21, 1918, 249 men and women were on active service, according to the Col­legian archives.

Now, 100 years after World War I’s con­clusion, a new chal­lenge remains: ensuring accurate doc­u­men­tation of the vet­erans of Hillsdale College.

“When you try and name everybody, you leave a lot of room for errors: people who went off home, maybe they didn’t enlist imme­di­ately, maybe they did serve but didn’t have contact with the college after that, so any kind of an actual name list you have, by its nature, is not going to be com­plete,” Public Service Librarian Linda Moore said. “So I decided, ‘Well, maybe we should start seeing if we can get some kind of a master student list.’”

Although Moore’s database of Hillsdale College’s vet­erans began with inves­ti­ga­tions into the college stu­dents’ involvement in the Civil War, she expanded her list after coming across a list of 500 Hillsdale stu­dents who served in World War I during her research.

“This last year or so, I went through old news­paper articles looking for names to add from World War I service,” Moore said. “There are some 300 or so names that got added from that. Now, my master list has just a little over 1,100 names, but that only goes up to World War II. That doesn’t include Korea, Vietnam, or any of the other engage­ments after that point. There are names that still need to be added, but it’s an ongoing process.”

Moore said the Collegian’s old war columns during World War I, which listed updates about Hillsdale stu­dents involved in war efforts, and other online records were helpful as she researched alumni to add to her list of those who served in World War I.

“I think a lot of times, and rightly so, a lot of the attention is paid to the service from the Civil War, but there was cer­tainly an awful lot of guys who went off in World War I,” Moore said.

Moore said deciding who fits the cri­teria for the list can be dif­ficult, since some vet­erans came to the college after their service. Many Hillsdale stu­dents made sig­nif­icant con­tri­bu­tions to the war efforts although they were not enlisted in the mil­itary, which is the case for those in orga­ni­za­tions such as the Young Men’s Christian Asso­ci­ation.

“There are a lot of women in the nursing fields in World War I, but if you don’t count those who went over to provide support to the troops, you don’t have any women’s names because they couldn’t be in the mil­itary,” Moore said. “Nursing is one of the ways they went ahead and did that. I looked at service in kind of a broader sense than strictly being enlisted. If you were working with YWCA pro­viding support to the troops, I figure that’s good enough to count as having served your country during that con­flict.”

In terms of direct U.S. mil­itary service, however, Pro­fessor of History Thomas Conner said it wasn’t until the spring of 1918 that America first con­tributed sub­stantial mil­itary involvement toward the war effort. Earlier on, a small amount of Amer­icans vol­un­teered to fight for the British or French armies before the United States offi­cially entered the war.

“It took us the better part of a year to get our army over there to Europe and trained,” Conner said. “The United States had a tremendous mil­itary impact on the outcome of World War I, but the only mean­ingful fighting we did was between May and November 1918, basi­cally in the last six months of the war.”

Of the Hillsdale men who did enlist, several were honored for their heroism. Four received the French Croix de Guerre, an award for dis­tin­guished bravery: Lt. Stephen Jessup, Sgt. Marcus Bostwick, Lt. Ralph Jones, and Pt. John Bishop. Bishop also earned the American Dis­tin­guished Service Cross, an award for those whose mer­i­to­rious service was above other awards but did not meet the cri­teria for the Medal of Honor.

Conner said com­pared to World War II, World War I gen­erally receives less public attention.

“This is a 100th anniversary, but I don’t have the sense that Amer­icans have thought much about it,” Conner said. “It saddens me because I think, frankly, this is the last chance that Amer­icans will have to learn about the first world war. This is what we call a teaching moment, and a 100th anniversary should be a big deal.”

In the meantime, Moore will con­tinue adding names to her list Hillsdale stu­dents who enlisted in the war, one search at a time.

“It’s always kind of inter­esting as you go through,” Moore said. “You have some names of people who went missing in action, or died in plane crashes, and you get to find out what hap­pened to some of them.”

  • tjbalmas

    The history of WWI is vitally important to under­standing what led to WWII.
    During your research I hope you will be able to identify those who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’.