V12 Reunion Brings Back Unique Alumni Group

by Royce Gregerson '09

September 21, 2006

Alumni groups are always coming and going at Wabash.  However, a unique group will be on campus this Friday and Saturday, September 22 and 23.  The V-12 alumni of Wabash College had a Wabash experience unlike any other group of alums.  The V-12 alumni were a part of the Navy College Training Program, present at Wabash from 1943 until ’45.  The program trained sailors and naval officers for World War II and kept enrollment from dipping to dangerous levels at many American colleges and universities.

"It's called the "Just Because" reunion just because they can!" Tom Runge ’71 said.  "Dutch Freise ’48, a class agent, was the originator and organizer of the reunion.  He's done all the work." 

Runge is the director of Alumni and Parent Relations.  On Friday, the 17 alumni, most of whom will be bringing a guest, will arrive on campus.  They will begin with campus tours, and Friday evening President White will be the featured speaker at their welcome dinner.  Saturday, Tom Bambrey ’69, Dean of Students, will give a talk on Wabash today. 

There will be a Chapel service featuring Victor Powell, Professor of Speech Emeritus, and Bill Placher ’70, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities.  The Glee Club will also perform at the Chapel service.  They will sing Wabash favorites such as "Old Wabash" and the "Alma Mater," along with "There is Nothing Like a Dame" from South Pacific, a World War II musical by Rogers and Hammerstein.

The first group of Navy V-12 sailors arrived at Wabash on July 1, 1943.  They studied a general education curriculum separate from the regular students along with physical training for naval service.  Officer candidates took more challenging classes.  Wabash professors taught most of the classes, but Naval officers taught naval courses. 

Many faculty members taught outside their departments to fill the increased need for courses such as algebra, general physics, and English composition.  From the start of the program until it was decommissioned on November 30, 1945, 677 V-12 trainees from 28 states studied at Wabash.  Special accommodations for the students included turning an old science lab hall into a dining hall that, according to These Fleeting Years, students claimed smelled like sulfuric acid.  All fraternities except Lambda Chi Alpha rented their houses to the Navy for housing.  All fraternities were having problems maintaining active membership, due to the declining number of students because of the war.

Upon the V-12 program’s decommissioning, James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the United States Navy praised Wabash for, "Effective co-operation with the United States Navy in the training of officer candidates."

 


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