Cornell was ready for the Great War
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I. Cornell prepared for the Great War with the formation of a Student Army Training Corps on Oct. 1, 1918.
In charge was U.S. Army Captain W.L. Tooze, who arrived from his previous post at Corvallis, Oregon. He found there were no forms to document the unit’s activities, so he traveled on to Chicago, where he picked up the forms and some merchandise to stock the post exchange. Soon after, the three junior officers who made up the remainder of the officer corps arrived. As the students attached to the post began to arrive for school, they were given physical examinations and assigned rooms in the Altoona Barracks. Since the Army physician hadn’t arrived yet, Mount Vernon’s doctors conducted the physicals. The Army cots hadn’t arrived either, so Mount Vernon residents pitched in by loaning their beds to the post.
When Oct. 1 rolled around, squads and platoons were organized, and drills started, but perhaps predictably, the uniforms were late arriving and the men were finally fitted by the end of October.
October was a tough month for the new group. It was the height of the Spanish influenza pandemic, which killed millions around the world. Of the 135 cadets, more than 100 caught the flu, but all of them made a complete recovery.
By all accounts, the unit was hitting its stride when the Armistice ending the war was signed on Nov. 11. On Dec. 7, the War Department wrote the Cornellians to say, “It is with deep regret that District Headquarters sees the demobilization of these units which, had the war continued, were destined to become such important factors in the future of the American Army.”
Among the men in the unit was a red-haired private from Davenport named Russell D. Cole ’22 , who became the college’s ninth president in 1943.
Read more about Cornell’s greatest World War I hero, Roe Howard.
Photos: Cornell College Archives