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.”
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.