During spring term Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!
This post was written by Keaton Kahn.
Many of the Americans who served and died in the conflict of World War II are being forgotten; this tragic occurrence is nearly as devastating as their initial deaths. In the months and years following WWII, the War Department worked to provide universities with more information about the students and faculty who had died in the war by sending information about their deaths to their universities. The Department also worked to answer any questions families may have had about their lost loved ones. While the hundreds of thousands of brave Americans who died in World War II are all deserving of our remembrance, I will be focusing on William H. Bartlett Jr. and his legacy as it connects to Oregon State University.
With the outbreak of WWII in 1939, many American college students viewed the United States’ entry into the war as an inevitable outcome. College students had to consider a possible draft and decide whether they would try to defer their enlistment until after completing their degree so that they could enter the service as officers, or try to find a way out of the conflict completely. Many students dutifully finished college and filled the military’s needs by fitting into specialized roles such as doctors or engineers while others decided to enlist before they completed their degree.
A good example of one student who was too eager to wait for graduation is our soldier of focus, William H. Bartlett. Bartlett decided to enlist after only being in school for one year as an engineering major.[i] Like many of his fellow soldiers, Bartlett Jr.’s family had a proud tradition of patriotism and service to the U.S. Armed Forces. Bartlett’s father was a colonel in the army and served during WWII. He received the Silver Star Award in 1945 for his heroic actions in Thuringia, Germany; Bartlett Sr. had exposed himself to small arms fire to set up a forward observation post.[ii] This forward post allowed him to direct artillery fire which resulted in the assault force taking the city of Suhl with minimal casualties, a feat that would not have been possible without Bartlett Sr.’s heroic actions.[iii] Perhaps the elder Bartlett was battling grief as he did these heroic feats; he had learned of his son’s death only a few months earlier.[iv]
Tradition and heritage led many students like Bartlett Jr. to proudly enlist, allowing themselves to be fuel for the fires of the war machine. Unfortunately, this military fervor resulted in many OSC being killed before they could return home either to finish their degrees or use their expertise for something other than fighting. Such was the fate of our soldier of focus: Bartlett Jr. died fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, just months before his father, perhaps in his son’s name, risked his own life to save the lives of his soldiers.[v]
According to records held by the Special Collections and Research Center (SCARC) at Oregon State University, on February 12th, 1946 Bartlett Jr.’s father wrote to the president of Oregon State College informing him of his son’s service, telling the president that in letters he had written to his father and family, Bartlett Jr. expressed a “great regard for the glorious history made by his 95th Division.”[vi] Bartlett’s Division was a part of the Third Army, which earned numerous awards during the war. While Bartlett Jr.’s unit was conducting a night march in the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, he was killed as the Third Army was trying to secretly maneuver to a more opportunistic position.[vii] Private Bartlett was awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifices during his service and was buried in Holland, along with 17,000 other Americans who, as Colonel Bartlett explained to OSC President Strand, “gave their lives to ensure the Great American Victory of the Battle of the Bulge.”[viii]
Colleges around the nation found their campuses drastically different than they had been in the past. With over ten million young men being sent to the war effort, females made up the majority of students on most campuses. The military had drafted a significant number of male students, and the only men remaining on campus tended to be those who obtained a deferment or were undergoing military training through the school. The lack of male students left a void in college attendance that was filled by those training for military service. Many colleges contributed to the war effort by allowing the military to conduct training on their campuses and holding events to help the war effort. Even before most men left campuses, many colleges incorporated mandatory exercise and drill training for men, as they were expected at some point to enter military service.[ix] College curriculums were streamlined, and free time, like summer break, became a thing of the past. Males in college were there only to learn their job and go serve the needs of the nation or the war effort.[x]
Oregon State University has a long and proud history of military training and excellence. Since 1872, the U.S. Military has had a relationship with what was then called Corvallis College, and students have been involved with various practices and programs since its partnership, such as the ROTC program and numerous military tournaments and drilling competitions throughout the life of this partnership.[xi] During the Spanish War of 1898, the college trained many soldiers and officers to fight: the start of a proud tradition of students at what is now Oregon State University serving their country through military service.[xii] The college became so proficient at supplying trained individuals to the service that in 1917 the War Department acknowledged it as a “distinguished” institution.[xiii] From 1911 into at least the 1930s the military regularly held tournaments at Oregon State, giving students the opportunity to participate in events that showcased their military training and even win cash prizes.[xiv] This extreme dedication to supplying trained individuals to the military earned the college the nickname “The West Point of the West.”[xv] During WWII, the institution was instrumental in training cadets for military service. The institution hosted and trained 4812 cadets (Junior officers) who were on campus through the Army Specialization training program—more than any other non-military institution.[xvi] And many students such as William Bartlet Jr. voluntarily enlisted, along with students who enter the service today and are continuing this tradition of dedication and proud sacrifice.[xvii] The ROTC continues to recruit and send students into the military: well-trained and ready to represent the proud legacy of service at Oregon State University.
Third Detachment at “Retreat” outside Strand Hall, which would have been built just three years previous (May 9, 1916).[xviii]
This photo is from a pamphlet on military history at OSC, published by the Agricultural College on Dec 9, 1921.[xix] It displays the Corps of Cadets training at OSC. At that time, one of the uniforms they were wearing would have cost $16.[xx]
This photo is from a pamphlet (May 29, 1926) announcing an upcoming military tournament at OSC, shows a Pony Express Race, an event in which four teams of three from each cavalry unit compete. This event plays out a lot like a baton pass relay race, where they have a mailbag that they pass to the next person and so on; the first team to get the mailbag across the finish line wins.[xxi]
Above left: William H. Bartlett Jr. Above right: Colonel William H. Bartlett Sr.
Next Memorial Day, if you have no one else to remember, remember them: the brave Americans who died fighting in a distant land.
[i] “BARTLETT, William H Jr.,” Fields of Honor Database, accessed May 25, 2023. https://www.fieldsofhonor-database.com/index.php/en/american-war-cemetery-margraten-b/50175-bartlett-william-h-jr. Letter from Colonel William H. Bartlett to OSC president A.L. Strand, February 12, 1946, Special Collections and Archives Research Center (hereafter SCARC) Oregon State College History of World War II Project Records (MSS ODCWW2), Box 1, Folder titled “Completed war service record forms 1940-1946 Agee-Kirk.”
[iii] LYONSJ9, “Uniform of Colonel William H. Bartlett,” U.S. Militaria Forum. last modified December 7, 2020, https://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/350806-uniform-of-colonel-william-h-bartlett/.; “William Bartlett”, Silver Star.
[v] “William Bartlett Jr..” (Honor States).
[vi] “Letter from Colonel H. Bartlett to A.L. Strand,” 1.
[vii] “Letter from Colonel H. Bartlett to A.L. Strand,” 1.
[viii] “Letter from Colonel H. Bartlett to A.L. Strand,” 2.
[ix] James Tobin. “The Campus at War.” University of Michigan Heritage Project, accessed June 7, 2023, https://heritage.umich.edu/stories/the-campus-at-war/.
[x] “College Life During World War II Based on Country’s Military Needs,” The Harvard Crimson, December 7, 1956, https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1956/12/7/college-life-during-world-war-ii/.
[xi] “History of the Military Department,” Oregon State Agricultural College Pamphlet, 7, stamped December 9, 1921, SCARC Memorabilia Collection, Box 106, Folder 17.
[xii] “History of the Military Department,” 9.
[xiii] “History of the Military Department,” 13.
[xiv] “Military Tournament of the Corps of Cadets O.A.C.,” 5, May 29, 1923, and “Military Tournament” January 21, 1911, SCARC: Memorabilia Collection, Box 106, Folder 17.
[xvi] Larry Landis, “Oregon State University,” The Oregon Encyclopedia, accessed June 1, 2023, https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/oregon_state_university.
[xvii] Luther Cressman, “War Service Record – World War II – Oregon State College,” February 12, 1946, SCARC, History of World War 2 project, (MSS ODCWW2). Box 1, folder 1.
[xviii] Pamphlet titled “Oregon Agricultural College, Education for Enlisted Men,” December 15, 1918, SCARC Memorabilia Collection, Box 106, folder 17.
[xix] “History of the Military Department,” 8.
[xx] “History of the Military Department,” 8.
[xxi] “Military Tournament of the Corps of Cadets O.A.C.,” 3. May 29, 1926. SCARC: Memorabilia Collection, Box 106, folder 17.
[xxii] “William Bartlett Jr.” (Honor States).
[xxiii] LYONSJ9, “Uniform of Colonel William H. Bartlett.”