On the Homefront
in World War II: Soldier-Scholars at West Virginia State
By Louis E. Keefer
From mid-1943 through early 1944, West Virginia State College participated in the most ambitious program of higher education in United States history. Now largely forgotten except by participants, the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was a significant milestone, not only for more than two hundred thousand bright young trainees, but for society in general.1
The program evolved from the need for future officers. In 1942, many experts predicted a long war, and the army feared a shortage of men to fill leadership roles. The service always had required officers to be college graduates or to have taken certain essential college courses. If, as expected, the draft age was lowered to eighteen, college attendance would be denied to most young men, and the normal flow of officer candidates would be interrupted. Some of the nations best young minds might be wasted in routine military assignments just when the army had an urgent need for officers.
The ASTP and the navy's counterpart program V-12 were announced December 17, 1942, in a joint statement by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Navy Secretary Frank Knox. Men already in service, or yet to be drafted, were eligible provided they were at least high school graduates and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. When soldiers were tested and found suitable, they were ordered to college whether or not they wished to attend. For various reasons, the first ASTP courses were not begun until April 1943, and many of the 227 colleges and universities with ASTPers did not have units in place until September 1943.
Only two Mountain State schools were chosen to participate in the army training program: West Virginia University in Morgantown and West Virginia State College in Institute. Both schools had the physical facilities to house and feed at least two hundred men; sufficient classrooms, laboratories, and instructors; and solid reputations for academic excellence. Neither school was permitted to profit from the program; the army simply paid the going rate for space and services provided for trainees. West Virginia State College was further distinguished by being one of only six black colleges in the nation to be awarded ASTP units by the War Department. The others were Meharry Medical College, Howard University, Prairie View State College, Wilberforce University, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College.2
In 1943, the U. S. Army was segregated. White ASTPers were assigned to white colleges and black ASTPers to black colleges. Although many black college educators did their best to insure that ASTP would have its fair share of black soldiers, that goal was never attained. The six black colleges accounted for a total of 1,405 black trainees and the 221 white colleges for more than 140,000 white trainees; the most Congress authorized to be in college at one time was 150,000. This one hundred-to-one white-black trainee ratio far exceeded the eleven-to-one white-black ratio found in total troop strength.3
Twenty years later, the army explained that blacks' chances for ASTP had been disproportionately low because so few met the fixed ASTP entrance requirement: high school graduation and an Army General Classification Test (AGCT) score of 115 or higher. This was also the minimum score required for admission to the United States Military Academy, while a score of only 110 was needed to enter Officers Candidate School. Scores of 150 or higher were not uncommon in the ASTP and roughly equated to a "genius" rating.4
In 1943, it seemed most unfair to many members of the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes that more black institutions were not brought into the army's program. An article in the Quarterly Review of Higher Education Among Negroes noted that black academics had not been consulted, and "placing Negroes in White college training programs had been decided upon as preferable to establishing dditional programs in Negro colleges."5
In fairness, the article also pointed out possible reasons for the army's general failure to include more Negro schools for ASTP:
. . . these programs [ASTP and the Navy V-12 program] demand drastic curtailment in the traditional time limitations formerly associated with courses in our colleges. This likewise implies a demand for a large number of available and well qualified faculty members. The Army may have assumed that faculty members were not obtainable in Negro colleges with either available time or necessary qualifications for carrying on such programs. Undoubtedly the general curricula offerings in Negro colleges as presently organized were not compatible with the ultra scientific and vocational nature of the training required by the service forces. Whereas Negro colleges could teach isolated courses in the pre-engineering fields, few could offer work of a comprehensive nature.6
It seems all the more remarkable, then, that West Virginia State College was named an ASTP school. Much of the credit should go to President John W. Davis and his persistence in letting army officials know of the colleges desire to have trainees on campus.
Tired of simply reading about the ASTP in the newspapers and in "School and Safety," the weekly newsletter of the American Council on Education, President Davis sent a letter on June 16, 1943, to Colonel Herman Beukema, ASTP Director, asking about his plans for State College. Colonel Beukema, a long-time U. S. Military Academy instructor in history and geo-politics and a respected college educator in his own right, merely loaned to the Pentagon to run ASTP, replied quickly with mixed encouragement:
[ASTP is now] . . . utilizing the facilities of Howard University, Prairie View State College, and Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina. Inasmuch as the above institutions meet the present demand, based upon the number of Negro trainees available, we have no immediate need of any other institutions. It is planned that West Virginia State College will be given an Army Specialized Training Unit at the earliest possible date.7
What transpired following this brief exchange of letters is not clear. No surviving records -- including those in the National Archives, the Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or the President Davis papers at West Virginia State College -- provide clues to what triggered the army's decision to send ASTPers to Institute. If any "strings were pulled," those who did the pulling remain anonymous. All ASTP records suggest that its administrative leadership was without guile of any sort, and the aim was to put the right men in the right schools to help win the war.
What is known, however, is that the news came to President Davis scarcely two weeks before the ASTPers appeared on campus, an experience repeated many times around the nation. Colonel W. G. Johnston of the Fifth Service Command, Columbus, Ohio, called President Davis to tell him the good news on July 16, 1943. Two days later he confirmed their tentative agreements on the number of trainees, their arrival, and the basic engineering courses to be studied. Colonel Johnston noted that a contract "negotiating party" would visit Institute shortly.8
Within a week, agreements had been reached, and President Davis began the correction of certain physical deficiencies in Gore Hall where most of the ASTPers would be housed. On July 22, he wrote to Colonel Johnston asking him to increase the number of trainees from the expected 150 to 300, the larger number to include seventeen-year-old ASTP reservists from West Virginia then being sent to other colleges to pursue ASTP studies. President Davis closed by assuring Colonel Johnston, "the entire force of this college . . . is now busy preparing for the arrival of AST trainees."9
When the first contingent of soldiers arrived to study at West Virginia State Colege, the school already had a distinguished history of providing military training. Founded in 1891 as the West Virginia Colored Institute, it was only a few years old when the school's principal John H. Hill left to become an officer in the Spanish-American War. Six students also enlisted, and four were so well trained that they immediately were made noncommissioned officers.10
At the request of the schools first official president J. McHenry Jones, the West Virginia legislature in 1899 passed the so-called "Cadet Bill" that enabled up to sixty young men to receive free tuition, board, uniforms, and books. The school took on a military atmosphere, and a bugle announced each new activity during the day.11
In 1915, the name of the school was changed to West Virginia Collegiate Institute, and many of its graduates went on to an Officers Reserve Training Camp in Des Moines, Iowa, where they earned commissions. In 1918, the U. S. Army assigned 120 soldiers from the national Student Army Training Corps to study military and academic subjects at the Institute. The program was canceled when the war ended.12
In 1940, the institution, now officially West Virginia State College, took part in the national Civilian Pilot Training Program to prepare men for military aviation. Both ground school courses and flying lessons were given at Wertz Field adjacent to the college. An ROTC Artillery Unit was added in 1942, the first and only one of its kind to be established at a school for blacks.13
Thus, in July 1943, when the 177-man ASTP Unit No. 3537 came to take accelerated engineering courses, they arrived on a campus where the military presence was traditional. This was an advantage for both soldiers and regular students because it facilitated a quicker acclimation of each to the other and a faster establishment of effective study habits.
The Charleston Gazette reported the unit's arrival as well as the names of some of the officers and men who would administer the program: Lieutenant Colonel Benote H. Lee was in command, assisted by Captain William J. Gray and First Lieutenant James A. Bryan. The principal enlisted men were Technical Sergeant William H. Ferguson and sergeants Willis W. Jackson and Reynolds E. Peck. Captain Emerson J. Pierce, first lieutenants Philip T. Atkins and Cyrus J. Colter, and Second Lieutenant Lawrence J. Massey joined the unit later.14
None of the young soldiers coming to West Virginia State College were particularly aware of having an "elite" status. They knew only that they had been tested repeatedly to see if they could handle the accelerated ASTP studies. All were enrolled in the army's "basic engineering" program, which consisted of a core curriculum of algebra, physics, chemistry, calculus, and trigonometry. Additional required courses were English, history, physical education, and military training. In three, three-month terms, these young men completed approximately one and one-half years of college.15
Throughout the country, every "basic engineering" trainee studied the same subjects and followed the identical course outlines set by the army's training division in Washington. There were no discernible differences in the basic engineering taught to ASTPers at West Virginia University and at State College. There were also no differences in the quality of their housing, meals, discipline, and other matters. Such uniformity was more or less assured by the army's skill and stubbornness in negotiating fair and consistent unit costs to be applied to all contracts and its insistence that ASTP instructors adhere to the teaching syllabi prepared by its training division consultants in Washington.16
Rather interestingly, before meeting with army negotiators about a contract for the ASTPers second term at Institute, President Davis sought advice from other institutions with military trainees. Fellow state college president J. F. Marsh of Concord College in Athens, whose institution was accommodating Army Air Corps Cadets, provided some suggestions in an October 2, 1943, letter to President Davis.
They rave about too many round number estiates. They will kick in an approx. value of 50,000 and a percentage use of 50%, but will cheerfully allow 54,200 and 49.8% if you can prove your figure.
In messing they allow us 12 waitresses at $25.00 a month for 200 men, 2 cleaners, necessary cooks, janitors, etc. Our food was put at 72 ct per day and service etc. made $1.08 total per man per day.
Watch actual cost of necessary changes -- partitions, shelves, store counters, extra doors, etc., etc. They made ours too low and we lost some money by not counting everything.17
Judging from the contract-related documents found among President Davis's papers in the Drain-Jordan Library, the college negotiators took Marsh at his word, especially regarding his caveat against rounded dollar amounts. Consider the agreed-upon cost for the ASTP's use of the colleges forty-year-old armory: the floor measured 13,795 square feet and the percentage of the building to be used by ASTP was set at 43.47 to establish a rental of $869.40. Similarly precise figures were developed for the rental of other buildings and for teachers salaries, equipment, and other services and supplies provided.18
Morris K. Holt was one of the trainees who put in nine months' hard work at State College. A high school graduate from Danville, Virginia, Holt worked three years before the army drafted him in early 1943. He took his basic training in the "horse cavalry" at Camp Lockett, California. After two screenings by selection officers he was told about the ASTP and then sent to a staging camp in Texas for more tests. These revealed his excellent aptitude for engineering, and soon he was on his way to State College.
I'd never even been to West Virginia . . . but I'd always had an image of the towering mountains there. I thought it would be like Switzerland. All of us traveled together on one train from the staging camp in Texas. All we knew was that we were going to school to take a highly speeded-up engineering program. It didn't scare me. That came afterwards when I realized what I'd gotten into.
We had a great train ride, and on the final leg of our trip from Huntington into Charleston, we all became more and more eager to catch a glimpse of our new home. I guess we went by it across the river but couldnt see anything except for the West Virginia State water tower. It was way above the trees as a kind of landmark. At the C&O station, we piled on army trucks that took us to Institute. Compared to Texas, things looked so green.19
Having arrived on campus in late July, Holt and the other trainees had time for some "refresher courses" before real classes began August 9. Like Holt, many had been away from school several years. For those with weak backgrounds in mathematics, chemistry, and physics, such brush-ups were simply not enough. Nationally, many failed first-term tests and were returned to their units. Other men, smart enough to get through high school with a minimum of effort, had never developed good study habits. Up against tough competition for the first time, some could not handle the pressures, and failing grades sent them back to regular army duties.
Parts of the work were way over my head. . . . I'd never had physics in high school, and I couldn't handle it. In fact, many of the men hadn't had it, and the teacher told us we really shouldn't have been in the class. I would have flunked out at the end of term one except that I came down with appendicitis and, while in the hospital, I missed finals. I suspect the professors gave me a passing grade out of pity, but I went on to pass the next two terms on my own.20
Some ASPers had already completed a year or two of college, and they breezed through the ASTP work. Calvin Bunch had finished a year at Ohio State University with a major in education.
The ASTP courses at West Virginia State were tough, all right, but I had no problems with them, probably because I knew about what to expect. The program had been explained to me quite well. For those who didnt understand what they were getting into, it was rough. . . .
Actually, life at State was pretty good. One of the coeds I met during the first term was my future wife, Louise Guiles, from Chicago. We dated pretty regularly the whole time I was there. Despite the long bus ride, we went into Charleston several times to see a movie or walk around but mostly we just stayed around campus on the weekends.
In the second term I played on the ASTP basketball team. Once we went down to Nitro to play a team of white fellows, and then they came to campus to play us, but I don't recall the scores or anything. One thing I do remember quite well, however, is our "food strike." Surprisingly, though we ate in the college dining room, the food wasn't all that tasty. One day we marched in formation, as we always did, right up to the dining room entrance, but at the last second we made a sharp turn and marched away to the campus diner to devour hamburgers. We must have made our point because after that the food was better.21
The ASTPers' presence on campus brought tremendous changes. The campus newspaper the Yellow Jacket summarized some of them:
A 1940 graduate would hardly believe this is the same place. He'd see the civilian and the soldier, the checked zoot suit and the khaki uniform. He'd hear two different languages: lunch and chow, and 1900 o'clock and 7:00 P.M. He'd rush to eat at one hour or wait until another hour. He'd wait in line, serve himself, scrape his plate, and move on so that somebody else could claim his place.
He'd hear three or four different bugles in the morning, check the light to see if it meant his move, pull the covers around his neck with glowing satisfaction that it was not, pick the dream up where he left off when a loud "hut 2-3-4" brings him back to the "New State" and he sighs, "Whats the use."22
Some trainees made the ASTP honor roll and were recognized in the Yellow Jacket. Top-ranked men during term two were ASTPers Julius Watson, Roscoe Koontz, and James Bond. In a grading system where 3.0 was perfect, Watson topped all trainees with a 2.83 average. To help retain information, so the Yellow Jacket reported, Watson developed a system that also helped his fellow ASTPers. Presiding over nightly study sessions in room 312 of Gore Hall, he simplified on a huge blackboard troublesome chemical equations, the mysteries of analytic geometry, and some difficult concepts in physics.23
A West Virginia State ASTPers' standard work week totaled fifty-nine hours of supervised activity, including twenty-four hours of classroom and lab work, twenty-four hours of study, five hours of military instruction, and six hours of physical training. Civilians were not allowed in ASTP classes or ASTP dormitories. Except for the precious hours from Saturday noon until Sunday evening, there were no distractions or opportunities for anything but work. Some of the ASTPers liked to sing:
Hail, hail to the A.S.T.P.
Why did this ever happen to me?
History, English, Chem. and Math.,
Not even time to take a bath.
Though academically burdened, the ASTPers also remained, as Colonel Beukema demanded, "soldiers first, students second." They observed strict military discipline, woe regulation uniforms, "stood" regular formations and Saturday morning inspections, marched together to their classes and meals, and observed taps and lights out at 10:30 p.m. Not only did the ASTPers march into class, they stood at attention until their professor told them to sit. Angie Lena Turner King, then a chemistry instructor, recalled her difficulty in getting the young men seated without undue formality. "I don't recall any of them by name now. . . . I'm eighty-six and my memory isn't what it was. But they were all fine young men. I'm pleased whenever I hear from one. There's a fellow in Michigan that sends me a Christmas card every year and I enjoy knowing he hasn't forgotten his time here."24
Despite ASTP's academic intensity, there was still time for intramural sports and social activities, including dances and informal get-togethers with coeds. The Yellow Jacket reported on the ASTPers' first formal dance: "At 2000 o'clock, Friday, 29 October, the 3537 A. S. T. P. Cadet Corps surrounded the enemy territory, captured a bevy of beautiful coeds, and carried them to the strategic protection of Glasscock Hall. The order of the day was a Military Ball at which all were to enjoy themselves thoroughly, and to honor Miss A. S. T. P. and her attendants."25 Hortense Haith was the ASTP queen, and Jean Markham and Georgia Simmons were her attendants. Until the ball ended at midnight, the young men and their dates danced to 1930s and 1940s favorites played by the West Virginia State Collegians.26 Hortense Haith Schaefer, a retired public school teacher now living in Chicago, recalled that the army trainees made a fine addition to the campus.
Having them was so wonderful. I considered it a great honor to represent such an excellent group of young men. A lot of fellows who had been our regular students were in the service, many of them overseas, and we missed them.
I recall that one of our favorite meeting places on campus was Stanley Tate's car. He was one of the few ASTPers with a car, and when it quit running, he just left it parked more or less permanently near Hill Hall. After our last classes -- about 5:30 or so -- we'd rendezvous there to relax and talk about news of the day. Pretty soon, everyone called it the "Club 5:30" and eventually people would just say, "Meet you at the Club."27
Although the army banned ASTPers from all intercollegiate competition on the grounds that they did not have time for sports, intramural leagues were popular, and at State, a basketball conference seemed to provide the most fun. The Nomads won it all, trouncing such teams as the Toppers, the Bears, the Wolves, and the Trojans. Besides battling for first place among themselves, the ASTP teams put together the AST All Stars, which played and defeated States civilian Yellow Jackets by a score of 33-22.28
In many ways, ASTP was so far removed from the rigors of regular army life that many trainees were embarrassed about attending college while other servicemen, sometimes close friends, were fighting and dying overseas. One particular ditty, sung on ASTP campuses everywhere to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," expressed this embarrassment:
Some Mothers have sons in the Army,
Some Mothers have sons on the Sea,
Take down your service flag, Mother,
Your son's in the ASTP.29
Dr. Charles Byrd, who taught in the Civilian Pilot Training Program in addition to his regular assignment as instructor in auto mechanics, had an indirect exposure to the ASTP men.
Because I was teaching automotive mechanics at the time, it was assumed that I must also know soething about everything even remotely technical. So I was asked to set up the public address system at the football and basketball games. Pretty soon I was doing a limited kind of play-by-play commentary, and the ASTPers began calling me the "voice of the campus."
I didn't have anything directly to do with the trainees, but I knew they were clearly of very high caliber. At the time I thought they were being trained to become corporals and sergeants rather than officers. With so many hundreds of thousands of blacks entering the army the need for black noncoms was even greater than for black officers. I doubt many blacks would have been equipped either by education or experience to discharge noncom duties without more training. Nor were there enough experienced career black soldiers to meet the need through promotion.30
Because the civilian enrollment of many small colleges fell drastically during the war years, some people believed that military training programs such as ASTP were established to "save" the colleges from potential bankruptcy. This certainly was not the situation at West Virginia State. While on some campuses, there were sometimes more ASTPers than regular students, at State, the ratio was well over three-to-one, civilian-to-ASTP enrollment. When the 177 trainees arrived in July, according to the academic deans annual report, there were 623 regular students, down from 1,029 in the 1940-41 school year. Though the influx of 177 soldiers had significant impact on both the college and community, State easily would have survived the war without its ASTPers.31
Their presence on campus, however, had many welcome consequences. Several were described in a December 8, 1943, letter from President Davis to Major General Joseph N. Dalton at the Pentagon. Not only did the instructors have to upgrade their old course notes and methods of teaching to match the accelerated schedules of ASTP studies, but "the presence of the ASTP men here with their uniformly high intelligence has served to stimulate intellectual activity on the part of our general student body. A sort of rivalry for intellectual achievement has been set up between the two groups."32
A Yellow Jacket item, "Know Your Cadets," challenged State's regular students to recognize the talents of the ASTPers:
Do you know one soldier from another, or do they all look alike to you? All types of brilliant men, scientists, searching psychologists and social workers, information-seeking journalists, highly talented musicians and music lovers, all these and others including painters and linguists, are stationed in Gore Hall. Who are some of them? [then followed several examples of gifted individuals]33
Dr. William J. L. Wallace, president of West Virginia State College from 1953 through 1973, was, in 1943 and 1944, one of the ASTPers' chemistry professors. Dr. Wallace, born in Salisbury, North Carolina, taught in North Carolina and Missouri before joining State's faculty in 1933.
For the ASTP men, I taught an introductory chemistry course. Some boys did not do very well, but I don't think anyone failed. I was impatient with some of those who didn't seem serious enough and looked upon the program as a "party" between real army assignments. Others were very interested, of course, and saw the program as their way to start, or, in some cases, to continue a college education.
For most instructors like me, teaching the soldiers was an extra assignment, over and above our normal teaching loads, and we earned extra compensation. I didn't actually get to know great numbers of ASTPers, because I only saw them for the one class, but I was aware that they were very special. On the whole, they were a superior bunch of young men with unusual potential.34
As Dr. Wallace correctly recognized, some ASTPers lacked a consistent incentive to do their best work. This deficency, which became especially noticeable at the beginning of 1944, might have been due to the young soldiers' well-founded suspicion that ASTP soon would be curtailed and the trainees transferred to regular duties before the completion of their scheduled three terms. According to Morris Holt:
We were well aware of the Congressional hearings going on in Washington -- I think somebody got the Washington Post -- and we knew that one of the big questions for the program was whether the Congress would vote to speed up the drafting of young fathers. If they didn't, there was a growing danger that the ASTP would be chopped back, and we'd be reassigned to make up for a shortage of draftees.35
ASTPers on college campuses all across the nation were just as worried. Would they be able to stay in college to finish their studies, or would they be transferred to combat units nearly ready to go overseas? All had completed basic training and were judged capable of absorbing more training very quickly. With the invasion of Europe almost certain to come in 1944, the army clearly needed fighting men more than students in college.
Quite apart from questions related to a shortage of personnel, the army's program was also under strong political attack. Various congressmen claimed that ASTP was merely a way to keep the sons of wealthy families in a comfortable noncombat, no-risk situation in which ASTP really stood for "All Safe `Til Peace." This spurious contention, never seriously applied to the navy's V-12 college training program, no doubt contributed to ASTP's early demise.
What many trainees jokingly, though sometimes prophetically, called their program-ending "kiss of death" letter was dated February 20, 1944. It read, in part:
To break the enemies' defenses and force their unconditional surrender, it is necessary to hit them with the full weight of America's manpower. . . . Because of this imperative military necessity, most of you . . . will be assigned to army ground forces for duty with divisions and other units. . . . Your intelligence, training, and high qualities of leadership are expected to raise the combat efficiency of those units.36
At that time, the army was still allowing qualified ASTPers to transfer into the air force as aircrew cadets. As Morris Holt recalled:
Some of my friends and I decided we'd try it . . . and we got our commanding officer's approval to go to Ohio the following weekend to take tests and try to sign up. We even got a loan from some of the officers to pay for travel. The very day before we'd planned to leave, the army ruled that all such transfers would be disallowed. As it turned out, most of the West Virginia State College trainees would be ordered into the infantry.37
On departure day, Thursday, March 16, 1944, the ASTPers were honored at a special morning convocation and received quite a rousing send-off. Morris Holt remembers "the beautiful speeches on all sides," and marching down to the New York Central flag stop just west of the football field, carrying everything he had in a huge duffle bag. "Quite a few coeds tagged along with tears in their eyes, and I expect some of the boys were not real happy either. They told us where we were going -- to Camp Polk, Louisiana and the 92nd Infantry Division -- a unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers and one of great historic importance to Negroes."38
Among the speakers Holt heard were President John Davis congratulating the boys for their hard work; Dean Harrison H. Ferrell reviewing the fine showing made by ASTPers in their classes; Thomas M. Jenkins speaking for the students and noting the close ties made between soldiers and the civilians; Cadet William B. Cowherd replying for the ASTPers and thanking all concerned for their great hospitality; and Captain Emerson J. Pierc, commanding the unit in the absence of Lieutenant Colonel Benote E. Lee, speaking of tasks ahead.39
An April 26, 1944, Yellow Jacket editorial, "Twas a Good Thing," mused about the soldiers' leaving: "We experienced what it meant to have no "set plans" in times like these; we awoke to cold realization that we were at war, and war meant taking the best there was among us. It meant taking the future poets, our future scholars, and it made us taste the salt of bitter tears. . . ."40
The journey for Holt and his companions began well enough, with cozy sleeper cars and good food in the diner, but once the train reached Camp Polk and they were reloaded into army trucks, conditions worsened. "The 92nd Division was out in the swamps somewhere on maneuvers. Our drivers went so far, and then just stopped in the middle of nowhere to drop us off. It was pouring rain and the ground was one big sea of mud. As it grew darker, the sergeant in charge told us `boys, you'll sleep where you stand.' We still wore the uniforms in which we had left State College."41
Calvin Bunch has never forgotten how drastically life in the army changed after he left Institute. Having finished more training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, he and his 92nd Infantry Division were shipped out to Italy. Bunch's 370th Regimental Combat Team led the way and went into action first. He lost track of most of his State College ASTP friends and believes they served in other regiments. Bunch was promoted to staff sergeant, leading a platoon, but, luckily, emerged from combat unharmed.42
Morris Holt calls himself a "foxhole soldier," serving in Italy from October 1944 until after V-E Day. During that bitterly cold winter in Italy's rocky, snow-covered Apennine Mountains, Holt became a squad leader, and won two battle stars. He believes many West Virginia State ASTPers were killed in the fighting, but will say no more. "Many were left behind," he says, then drops the subject.43
Today, nearly fifty years after the program ended, if the Army Specialized Training Program is mentioned at all, it is usually only to praise it as a "social experiment" that introduced men to college without regard to socio-economic status but strictly on the basis of inherent intellectual ability. There have been no claims that it helped win the war; obviously it did not. But had the atom bomb not been developed and had the war lasted years longer, the ASTP may have been crucial. Where else would the engineers, doctors, dentists, language specialists, and other college-trained army personnel have come from?
In 1941, when the United States entered World War II, West Virginia State College was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Now another fifty years have passed, and the school has celebrated its first centennial. The ASTP experience was only a short chapter in the long history of this respected college, but for the men and women involved, it was unique and never forgotten.
1. For general background, see Louis E. Keefer, Scholars in Foxholes: The Story of the Army Specialized Training Program in World War II (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1988). For a comparison of ASTP and its counterpart navy V-12 program, see Louis E. Keefer, "Exceptional Young Americans: Soldiers and Sailors on College Campuses in World War II," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 24(Winter 1992): 375-83.
2. William H. Gray, Jr., "The Use of Negro Colleges by the Armed Forces," Quarterly Review of Higher Education Among Negroes 12(1944): 2.
3. Ibid., 5; Keefer, Scholars in Foxholes; Maurice Matloff, ed., American Military History (Washington, DC: U. S. Army, 1969), 462; Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, 1943-1945, to the Secretary of War (Washington, DC: War Department, 1945), 101.
4. Ulysses Lee, United States Army in World War II, Special Studies, The Employment of Negro Troops (Washington, DC: Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1948), 270.
5. Gray, "The Use of Nego Colleges by the Armed Forces," 5.
6. Ibid., 6.
7. President John W. Davis Papers, Drain-Jordan Library, West Virginia State College, Institute, hereafter referred to as Davis Papers.
10. John C. Harlan, History of West Virginia State College (DuBuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Book Company, 1968), 3. See also John C. Harlan, The History of the Military Service Department of West Virginia State College, WVSC Bulletin, Series 55, No. 5, August 1968 and Dolly Withrow (with research assistant Elizabeth H. Scobell), West Virginia State College (1891-1991): From the Grove to the Stars (Institute: West Virginia State College Foundation, 1991).
11. Harlan, History of the Military Service Department of West Virginia State College.
12. Harlan, History of West Virginia State College, 45, 157-58.
13. Ibid., 73, 81.
14. Charleston Gazette, 28 July 1943; West Virginia State College Bulletin, 1943-44, 20. First Lieutenant Cyrus Colter would later distinguish himself not only as an army officer with the U. S. Fifth Army in Italy but subsequently as a lawyer, professor, and writer. Author of Beech Umbrella, Night Studies, A Chocolate Soldier, and other novels, Colter was featured in the June 1991 issue of Chicago magazine as a "totally American Renaissance man." Penelope Mesic, "Visible Man," Chicago, June 1991.
15. Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of Headquarters Army Service Forces, RG 160, Box 4, National Archives, hereafter referred to as RG 160, Headquarters Army Service Forces; Keefer, Scholars in Foxholes, 44.
16. This statement is based upon the author's extensive research for Scholars in Foxholes, during which he talked to or corresponded with more than 300 former ASTPers from some 75 of the 227 colleges and universities taking part in the program and upon his own comparisons of different colleges while himself one of the ASTP basic engineering trainees at West Virginia University, December 1943 to March 1944.
17. Davis Papers.
19. Interview by the author, Morris K. Holt, Institute, 16 June 1992.
21. Telephone interview by the author, Calvin Bunch, Chicago, 17 August 1992.
22. Yellow Jacket, 29 November 1943.
23. Ibid., 26 January 1944.
24. Telephone interview by the author, Angie Lena Turner King, Institute, 16 June 1992.
25. Yellow Jacket, 29 November 1943.
27. Telephone interview by the author, Hortense Haith Schaefer, Chicago, 17 August 1992.
28. Yellow Jacket, 26 January 1944.
29. Keefer, Scholars in Foxholes, 117.
30. Interview by the author, Charles Byrd, Institute, 17 June 1992 and letter to the author, 23 July 1992.
31. Harlan, History of West Virginia State College, 174. Counting part-time students, the civilian to military student ratio was more like four-to-one.
32. Found in a bound set of letters from college presidents in reply to a national army inquiry, RG 160, Headquarters Army Service Forces.
33. Yellow Jacket, 29 February 1944.
34. Interview by the author, William J. L. Wallace, Institute, 17 June 1992. Wallace was the first president of the institution with an earned Ph. D. degree and later presided over States somewhat controversial desegregation policy instituted in 1954.
35. Interview with Morris Holt.
36. See Keefer, Scholars in Foxholes, 176.
37. Interview with Morris Holt.
40. Yellow Jacket, 26 April 1944.
41. Interview with Morris Holt.
42. Interview with Calvin Bunch.
43. Interview with Morris Holt.
Louis Keefer served in the U. S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and earned degrees at Morris Harvey College and West Virginia University. He is the author of Scholars in Foxholes: The Story of the Army Specialized Training Program in World War II and Italian Prisoners of War in America, 1942-1946.
The author is most appreciative of the continued and very cordial assistance of Elizabeth Scobell, Director of the Drain-Jordan Library at West Virginia State College. Special thanks are owing to the editors of West Virginia History for seeking supplemental material for this article at the Drain-Jordan Library.
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