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.”