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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007
The War comes to Reed

By Will Swarts ’92

Reed’s closest link to the Second World War involved hundreds of men with their heads in the clouds. In mid-1942, the college secured a place in the U.S. Army Air Corps Pre-Meteorology program (AMP), bringing 268 college students-turned-soldiers to campus for a one-year academic stint even more rigorous than Reed’s peacetime requirements. Marching, math, and military discipline became part of Reed’s routine to a degree never seen before or since.

When physics department head A.A. Knowlton got Reed into one of the many military-academic hybrid programs that sprung up as the armed services prepared for a long campaign to beat the Japanese back across the Pacific and retake Europe, he secured vital financial support for the college and filled classrooms that had been emptied by an exodus of students and faculty. Reed, along with a dozen other schools including Haverford, Carleton, and the University of Oregon, would take students with some college experience and put them through a program condensing two years of math and physics coursework into one, then send graduates on for advanced meteorological training, AMP veteran Harry Bernat ’44 wrote in his history of the program at Reed.

Knowlton described the genesis of the program in 1944 in Reed College Notes, explaining that meteorology “requires an extensive and intensive knowledge for the very difficult basic subjects of hydrodynamics and thermodynamics. For the mastery of these subjects a mastery of mathematics approximately as extensive as that acquired in the years of college work is required.”

Just as the Army Air Corps was able to mobilize civilian aircraft production on a grand scale, it was also able to bring diverse corners of the academy into lockstep with its planning needs for a war of indeterminate duration. After the AMP graduated its last of nine “flights” of soldier-students in February 1944, they were scattered far and wide, from Manipur, India, to Harvard University. But the program also achieved another, less explicit goal, said Lyle Jones ’44, a Reed student who entered the AMP after completing his first semester as a regular Reed student in 1942.

“It was one of dozens of programs the Army had that was really to protect kids from going right off to war,” he said, adding, “it’s really only in the last decade that I’ve learned this interesting aspect of history.” It’s Jones’ belief that Harry Hopkins, President Franklin Roosevelt’s chief policy adviser, wanted to prepare for both a long war and a triumphant peace, and so tried to protect college-age males from being immediately sent into war in combat by establishing a network of programs at U.S. colleges.

“Keep them in uniform, but in a holding pattern,” is how Jones described it. “They made us privates, and they kept us studying, but it was partially designed not to replicate the problems that European countries were having—losing whole generations or large portions of generations of promising kids.”

Jones was steered to the program by Victor Rosenbaum, a Reed math professor who, along with Knowlton and other faculty members, told some Reed students about the new opportunity to enlist in a field of their choice, rather than simply getting swept along by the mass mobilization that put 16 million men and women in uniform by 1945. “It was a little like a draft deferment, except that in this case we were all [enlisted military personnel],” Jones said in his Reed Oral History interview. “But we were certainly fortunate to be in educational settings rather than on the front line.”

Jones freely admits military discipline wasn’t for him, and that as a prior Reed student, he made the most of his social connections on a campus whose male student population was nearly gone. He’d had to defer entry to Reed for a year to work, and he’d savored his first semester with gusto, hanging out with roommate Robert Chambers, a boogie-woogie pianist whose chops far outpaced his academic performance. After basic training at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, he returned to Reed in uniform.

That meant Army hours—early morning wake-ups and bed checks in the Safeway market on Woodstock Boulevard that had been hurriedly converted into a barracks—as well as morning marching drills on the front lawn. Operating on a separate schedule, the AMP troops did sports in the morning and classes until late in the day. The long runs suited Charles J. Engberg ’44 just fine. “I didn’t realize how hard it was—I just did the work and thought nothing of it,” he said.

The nine AMP flights that passed through Reed during the war were commanded by Lt. E.G. Frohberg, whose portrait in the program’s yearbook shows a fortyish, balding man who wouldn’t look out of place behind a desk in a law firm or a bank. The military administrators had considerable power over the AMP cadets. Bernat, who worked tirelessly to track down the surviving members of the group in the 1980s, wrote that 67 soldier-students flunked out of the program or were removed for disciplinary reasons—a burn rate of one in five.

Female Reed students from 1943-44 recall the AMP trainees, for whom they hosted a couple of dances. But they say for the most part, the military group stayed separate.

“They were present, and I often had to ‘shush’ them in the library, but I didn’t make any friends with them,” said Dorothy Schumann Stearns ’45 in an oral history interview. “I was still working in the library and on Sunday afternoons they would make tremendous noise and I was trying to get them to shut up and it didn’t go over very well.” For Sally Hovey Wriggins ’44, the AMPs just didn’t fit in very well. “Reed had a lot of different kinds of people,” she said in an oral history interview. “Pre-meteorologists tended to be a little more square, as opposed to Reed at that time.”

Engberg’s recollections jibe with that. As one of eight children in a family from Racine, Wisconsin, that had been devastated by the Great Depression, he struggled to move from a job as an elevator operator to a trainee electrician and finally get a year of college at the Illinois Institute of Technology under his belt as the draft loomed. He said he had no idea where Reed was, but that the setting and the social aspects of college life didn’t make much of a difference to him.

Still, Engberg enjoyed the academic rigors, and said he’d have come back to finish a Reed degree if he hadn’t suffered severe injuries in a jeep accident in Manipur, India, as he helped wind down the massive aerial supply operation over “The Hump” that kept Nationalist Chinese troops in guns, bullets, and uniforms.

But the diligence of Engberg and the other trainees wound up having little bearing on their wartime experience. The AMP was eventually ended when war planners realized they were training far more meteorologists than they needed. About 100 of the Reed participants went for advanced communications training at Yale and other locales. About 30 stuck with weather duty and did additional training at Harvard. Another cohort went to the Army Specialized Training Program, which turned college-educated men into junior officers. When that program was discontinued, those Reed PMs headed for the infantry. Five died in the Second World War.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007