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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

The G.I. Bill and the Revitalization of Reed

In a letter dated August 8, 1945—just a week before Japan formally surrendered, and the day before the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this one on Nagasaki—Frank Miller wrote that talk of Japan’s capitulation “is slowly culminating in the end of a long tedious war.

“It’s funny to think about the salient features of this war and come to the conclusion of tedious,” he continued, “because it’s so many other things—brutal, terrifying, destructive. Tedious sounds so commonplace, so uninspiring and uneventful. But even for a combat soldier, danger and terror get monotonous after a while. For a guy on a bulldozer, whether he’s piling up shattered stained glass and rubble in a cathedral town or Jap corpses in a rice paddy outside some stinking little tropical village, they all want to get away from the meaningless routine and exchange the simplicities of fear and pain and death and fatigue for a normal, useful, creative existence, where you do something that makes sense and the simple things are love and work and worrying about money, and going home nights. Well, it won’t be long now before a lot of tired G.I.s will get a lift from seeing kids who are not hostile or frightened or starving, just playing in the street making noise.”

AMP cadet on steps

An AMP cadet hits the books.

Plenty of those G.I.s made their way to Reed, thanks to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill. Just over half of the 16 million men and women in uniform used tuition benefits to get college educations, something that had once been out of reach for most of the population.

The first three years of peace brought relief, a resumption of normal routines, and an influx of returning veterans who resumed or embarked on their college studies with a fervor that invigorated Reed in a manner students of the period recall fondly.

Moshe Lenske ’50 had soldiered his way across Europe and helped to seize the last intact bridge over the Rhine, at Remagen, allowing American troops to surge into the heart of Germany. He had also gotten himself smuggled into Buchenwald soon after the liberation.

“I would say—and I’m just generalizing—the G.I.s had seen what life and living up close had been,” Lenske recalled. “They saw destruction and terrible mangling of human bodies. They had things on their mind, of making things better and understanding.” The G.I. Bill, he continued, “increased social mobility in the country big-time, and it gave the U.S. brain power in greater amounts than would have otherwise been possible.”

Arthur Leigh arrived as a first-year economics professor in 1945, and by 1946, the first wave of returning soldier students had boosted the student body by about 50 percent. Tuition was now $500 a term, double the prewar rate. Intellectual activity, he recalled, was running at a vigorous pitch.

“I really enjoyed working with the returned G.I.s,” he said. “They were very eager, conscientious guys. They were guys my age and even older, and they became lifelong friends.”

Many Reed veterans took to heart the values they’d fought to defend. Ernie Bonyhadi ’48, who had gone off to war with high school buddy and fellow Reedite Bill Gittelsohn ’48, organized the campus chapter of the American Veterans Committee, a liberal alternative to more conservative organizations such as the American Legion. The Reed group used the slogan “Citizens First, Veterans Second” as it took progressive stands on political issues.

AMP with girls

The caption in the AMP yearbook reads: “PM relaxes with campus girls clad in Reed attire.”

AT War'S END

PATRICIA CROCKETT MCCOY ’47

[When the war ended] I was not particularly into that, because I had lost my brother, Richard Niles Crockett, in the war. He was with the U.S. Marines; he died on Iwo Jima. And I was wrapped up in that. That, of course, was a terrible thing. So that really occupied my thoughts. I don’t recall any particular reaction at Reed, as far as the ending of the war.

DOROTHY SCHUMANN STEARNS ’45

I did not enjoy writing the thesis but, of course, I got it done in record time. It was not long. . . . It was done on exactly the day it was due. On that day [the death of Hitler was announced]. And I was coming to Reed from the bus stop and Madame C. L. M. Pouteau [French professor, 1934–49] was walking across the campus. She was quite a ways away from me and she was swinging a paper and I was the only person in sight, and she yells at me, “Hitler is dead. The war is over!” It was just an unforgettable memory.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007