Reed Magazine August

An oral history of Reed College

Ray Conger Amp ’44

When Ray Conger was still in high school he was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds to play semi-professional baseball in Butte, Montana. Conger didn’t make pro and afterwards he was invited to attend Montana State Normal College (University of Montana–Western) to play basketball and complete his high school credits. One of his professors recognized his academic talent and encouraged Conger to participate in the U.S. Army-Air Force pre-meteorology program (AMP).

Even before the U.S. entered WWII, the military had realized it was short of adequately trained meteorologists who could forecast weather conditions, information critical to the growing air war.

“I got a letter from Uncle Sam, saying that they were accepting me for this premier meteorology training, and that I was to volunteer for the draft. In those days, there was no enlisting. But they would make sure that when I got through the process, if I was acceptable for the military, I would be sent to one of the colleges doing the AMP training. It turned out that the college was Reed.”

Housing for 2OO

Two hundred men began the pre-meteorology program at Reed, rotating between housing on campus — Conger arrived in the summer of 1943 and spent some time in the old dorm block — and in the empty Safeway store on Woodstock that the Army leased for the recruits. Every quarter the Army’s stringent testing process reduced the number of men in the program by 25 percent.


“If you dropped a pencil . . .”

Not all members of the program were prepared initially for the level of mathematics they would encounter in the pre-meteorology program, so the men received a “condensed, crammed course” in college algebra and analytic geometry in the first four weeks. Conger remarked that the course was so challenging that it was said, “If you dropped a pencil, by the time you got it picked up, you were a week behind.”

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Mixed curriculum, separate campus

The AMP men were taught by Reed faculty, but did not attend classes with Reed students. They had meals in commons, but did not eat with students. The men even had their own basketball team. Two military officers and one administrative sergeant also were assigned to the program. “During breaks between quarters, we’d go to the rifle range.” The men had classes until 3 p.m., then had physical training for an hour and a half. “Then we had supervised study hall. Our week went from Monday essentially to Saturday. Then we’d get off for the Saturday afternoon and evening, and all day Sunday. Report again on the Monday morning for the fall-out for breakfast, all done in the military way.”

“At Ease”

“We went to movies. We had experiences with the electric buses; drivers would sometimes miss a right-hand or left-hand turn. People were hard to hire, because everything was going full bore, shipbuilding, all of the exporting and importing of military equipment. And as a result, the bus drivers didn’t always know where they were going. They were always glad to have a detachment of us military guys on board, because we’d help to push the bus back to where the electric wires were.”

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Reed’s report card

With the exception of the food, Conger has good things to say about Reed, especially the classes and faculty. “We had Dr. A.A. Knowlton for physics, of course, and we had Dr. Frank Loxley Griffin for mathematics. I think he was the first professor to integrate various mathematical disciplines into a mathematics course. He was just superb.”

Reed’s exams were essay format, and the Army tests were multiple choice. Those who succeeded on the Reed exams received a diploma when they completed the program.

Two hundred and one graduates of the 69th Army Air Force Technical Training Detachment, Reed College, graduated in the auditorium of Duniway Elementary School on February 22, 1944. Afterwards, Reed was notified that its cadets placed first in mathematics, second in physics and geography, and first overall among all participating colleges.


Life after Reed

After leaving Reed, Conger became an aviation cadet and went to navigator school. Near the end of the war he reentered the meteorology field and earned an occupational specialty in meteorology (MOS) before being discharged in 1945. He and his wife, Dorothy, returned to Montana and began farming. They had two children, a daughter and son. Conger did stonemasonry, and studied accounting by correspondence, becoming a chartered property and casualty underwriter, and teaching a course in the subject at the University of Montana–Missoula. He says that the ability to accomplish so much on his own dated back to Reed. “I really learned how to study. I’ve used it all my life. It was very valuable in farming, too. It might seem odd, but farming requires knowledge of many facets of human living and understanding.” End of Article

This year, 21 members and guests of Reed’s AMP class returned to Reed to celebrate their 60th reunion. Ray Conger AMP ’44 was interviewed by Molly F. MacGregor ’75.

Read more on the oral history project.

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Reed Magazine August