THC Marker Dedication

Please join us on Tuesday, November 13 for the dedication of a Texas Historical Commission Marker commemorating Texas A&M’s participation in World War I.  The event will take place at 10 a.m. in the Academic Plaza (west side of the Academic Building).

The marker highlights the commitment Texas A&M and its Former Students made in the fight against tyranny during the Great War, and some of the unique events that took place on campus during the war.

The location of the Academic Plaza was chosen for its significance to the activities that were going on on the A&M Campus during the war.  The Academic Building, Nagle Hall, Bolton Hall,  and Leggett Hall were all used as part of the military training that took place on campus, either as classroom space or housing for soldiers.

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Location of Dedication and Marker

The Armistice of 11 November 1918

By Greg Bailey, University Archivist, Texas A&M University 

Sunday November 11 marks the Centennial of the Armistice that ended the fighting between the Allies and Germany during World War I.  The Armistice went into effect at 11 a.m. Paris time on 11 November 1918, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In essence it marked defeat of Germany, but not a formal surrender of Germany.  The formal end of the war did not happen until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on 28 June 1919 and took effect on 10 January 1920.

Leading into the Armistice both College and Bryan were continuing their work in supporting the US Military and Government as they proceeded to ramp up their capabilities to meet the demands around the world.  The Student Army Training Corps program on the Texas A&M campus was finally starting to being up after the influenza outbreak.  The training of soldiers and cadets resumed their full schedule as the war continued around the world and an Armistice was considered to be unthinkable around the United States.

On November 7 College instructors and employees, Campus residents and neighbors voted unanimously to form a Community Council of Defense so that the College could give larger support to war activities. At the same meeting the Red Cross Auxiliary on campus voted to organize that body into a branch of Red Cross, giving them larger powers, scope of work and responsibilities.  Two days later a new United War Drive was launched by the College community with a goal of $1950 to be reached, while a day later a student drive was launched with an aim of $13,000.

In the early hours of November 11 word reached Bryan that an Armistice would go into effect at 11 a.m. Paris time, 6 a.m. local.   Around 5 a.m. the news had made its way to College and students began organizing a celebration.  The whistle at the steam plant was sounded, further awakening campus and helping to spread the news.  Campus residence and students then built a bonfire in front to the YMCA. Meanwhile in Bryan residence gathered in downtown to talk of the armistice and huddled around bonfires.  Bryan Mayor Jonathan Lawrence declared November 11, 1918 a city-wide holiday with business and schools closing, a parade through downtown was scheduled for the afternoon, and a Thanksgiving devotional to be held at the Palace Theater that evening.

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Original copy of Mayor Lawrence’s Proclamation. Courtesy of Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University

 

Meanwhile on campus, Reveille sounded and breakfast broke the celebration, though only momentarily. Celebration resumed immediately after breakfast with an impromptu automobile parade with the army trucks on campus being used to carry students and part of the band, with vehicles of College residents and Bryan citizens joining in.  At some point a cadet or soldier climbed the flag pole in front of the Academic Building.  Guns were fired into the air and the Signal Corps fired several rockets.

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Cadet or soldier on Flagpole in Academic Plaza. Courtesy of Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University 

Cadets pushed for a cancellation of classes in honor of the armistice, but this was deemed inadvisable.  Classes and drill would continue, but in their free time the cadets and soldiers were free to celebrate, as long as things did not get too boisterous and destruction of property would not be tolerated.  There was no disorder reported during the celebration.

Spanish Influenza at College

By Greg Bailey, University Archivist, Texas A&M University

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In 1918 a worldwide influenza epidemic stuck that affected 500 million people. The exact origins of Spanish Flu are not now, with some evidence suggesting that it had begun as early as 1917. The sickness spread through Europe and affected the Allied and Neutral Powers, but because of censorship the full effect around most of Europe was not known. Spain, being a neutral country, had not censored the media and stories of the epidemic were heavily reported.  As a result, it appeared that the Spain was especially hard hit and the name “Spanish Flu” was born. The initial wave hit the United States in late 1917.

In September 1918 the second wave was in full swing in the United States with it being heavily reported among the Atlantic Coast cities.  By late September it was being reported that the flu had hit Brazos County and on the 30th of that month it was announced that A&M President William Bizzell had put the college in quarantine preventing the students and soldiers station there from leaving campus.  There were cases reported of the flu, also called grippe, in the county and on campus, with the idea of limiting exposure and also preventing the soldiers and students from leaving or returning to campus on night trains which might cause them to catch a cold that in turn could develop into grippe.  The flu rarely was the cause of death though, but rather the development of pneumonia after the flu had subsided. The weakened individual could not overcome the pneumonia.

The next day the first death on the campus was reported as F. J. Butschek died of pneumonia contacted after a bout of Spanish Influenza.  Doctors in Bryan downplayed the seriousness in town, saying the epidemic was well in hand and that there were only two serious cases at the college.

In a letter on October 4 to Board of Director and Bryan resident E.H. Astin, President Bizzell stated that there were 1000 cases of influenza on campus, and that the hospital was overtaxed and a barracks had to be converted into additional space.  He also reported that more doctors and nurses were needed, something he had seen to by acquiring the services of doctors from Bryan and nurses from around the state.

As the epidemic continued to spread, activities around the county were affected. In an attempt to stem the spread of the flu the closing of schools, churches, shuttering of business, and cancellation of social events like jitney dances and football games all were announced.  

President Bizzell had also been working with the government to gain better care for the soldiers training on campus. Word was received on October 10 that the federal government had authorized the construction of a hospital at College for federal soldiers. The same day a story ran on the front page of The Eagle titled “Deplorable College Conditions Condemned by Defense Council” claiming that the soldiers were receiving poor care and living in terrible condition in “Barracks Five”. Bryan Mayor John M. Lawrence also sent a telegram to the commanding officer of Fort Sam Houston calling for an investigation.  

The next day another story appeared in The Eagle tilted “Barracks Five” which recounted stories of Red Cross workers and local citizens who had visited Barracks Five and detailed what they had seen. Claims of negligent treatment included one soldier being left for dead, no pillows or sheets for the sick, and lack of food.  

The man in charge of the soldiers care was Captain John F. Gibson, M.C., who had been stationed at the College since late September as the lead surgeon. The same day as the “Barracks Five” story, word came that Captain Otto Ehlinger would be detailed to the college to assist.  Captain Ehlinger had served eight years as the college physician before being commissioned in the medical corps in August.

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On October 14th The Eagle printed Captain Gibson’s response to the claims of negligence and deplorable conditions in Barracks Five, where he refuted all charges made in the paper and that the report was exaggerated and largely false.  He further pointed out that only 13 soldiers had died so far from the outbreak, rather than the reported 20. In a letter two days later from to Mr. Astin, President Bizzell stated that condition in Barracks Five had become deplorable and that he had been urged to go to Washington to see what could be done, at which point he obliged and had became ill himself on his trip to the nation’s capital .  He also reported that the War Department had sent a medical inspector to College to investigate the problem, unfortunately that report has not been located at the time of writing of his piece. Interestingly enough, President Bizzell went on to echo Captain Gibson’s view of The Eagle article that it was “very inaccurate but did not overstate the general conditions.”

Conditions eventually improved on campus and in Bryan, just as Captain Gibson was being transferred to Camp Mabry in Austin.  By the end of October the epidemic had largely passed at College and around Brazos County. In the end the Spanish Flu epidemic claimed 25 lives at College, while 51 had been identified as dying around the rest of the county.  There are possibly another 10-20 additional deaths that couldn’t be confirmed as the death certificates simply stated “No Dr” under the cause of death section of their death certificates for those dying during October of 1918.

The Student Army Training Corps at Texas AMC

By Greg Bailey, University Archivist, Texas A&M University

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The Student Army Training Corps (SATC) was initiated on the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas on October 1, 1918, temporarily replacing the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) until the Armistice. The SATC program was formed on May 8th by the Committee on Education and Special Training, a part of the War Department. As the ranks for the US Army continued to grow, there became an ever increasing need for junior officers to command these soldiers. With many qualified men enlisting in the Army and Marine Corps, the pool of men qualified for Officer Training School (OTS) was shrinking and it was taking longer to identify these men. Another problem that the War Department was facing was the high attrition rate of junior officers the forces the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) were experiencing. The War Department hoped the SATC program would slow the enlistment of the men most qualified to enter OTS. The War Department also looked to leverage the “executive and teaching personnel and the physical equipment of the educational institutions to assist in the training of our new armies.”

As the Committee on Education and Special Training continued their research to implement the SATC, the idea of rolling the Vocational Training Detachments, already in operation around the country at colleges and universities, into the new program was brought forward. It was decided that this would streamline effort and reporting and thus a new plan was put in place. This plan called for two sections, the Collegiate or “A” Section and the Vocational or “B” Section.

Instituted at approved Colleges, Universities and Technical Schools around the country, Section “A” had men that would voluntarily join the SATC and thus inducted into service as a private, with a choice in which branch to join precluded them from the Selective Service Draft. At A&M they had the option of US Army or US Navy. At any point during their training members of the SATC could be recommended for OTS, which meant that enrollment in the SATC was not a way to avoid service in the military. Eligibility was limited to 18-20 years old, who had graduated from high school, and were enrolled at a college or university. These young men would be held to military discipline and were initially required to complete 11 hours of military training and 42 hours of academic training work in a week. Upon review of this requirement it was deemed to be excessive and just before the Armistice was signed, the requirements were adjusted to 9 hours of military training and 36 hours of academic work, two hours of which were supervised each day. They were also required to attend courses on the “Issues of the War”.

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The program called for eighteen years old to receive nine months of training, nineteen years old six months of training, and twenty years old three months of training, after which time those who had performed satisfactorily would be sent to OTS, NCO School, or cantonments. The SATC program saw an approximate 1100 men enrolled in Section “A”, 100 being opting for the naval branch.

Men who had been assigned to Vocational Training Detachments by Local Draft Boards were placed under control of the officers running the SATC in Section “B” units. Since December 1917 men had taken part in three lines of on the A&M Campus. Additionally, 210 students who had been enrolled as members of the two-year course of study but couldn’t meet the requirements to be assigned to Section “A” were transferred to Section “B”.

If men performed well enough with their training in Section “B”, they could be recommended to be transferred to Section “A”.

With all men in both sections of the SATC being privates, they were required to live in dormitories, reserved to Section “A” members at A&M, or barracks, which were built to house the Section “B” men. They also received uniforms, rifles, and sustenance free of cost. 

Just as the SATC program was being implemented on campus, the Spanish Influenza hit Brazos County. This severely limited the training on campus as sickness spread and a quarantine was put in place. By early November the influenza had mostly run its course and the epidemic had passed. Just as soldiers were becoming healthy and strong enough to return to their normal training, the Armistice was declared on November 11. Shortly after this, the College received orders from the War Department to being demobilizing the SATC. Section “B” began demobilization on December 2, while Section “A” started on December 4. For those in Section “A” the College decided to continue the curricula that was in place for the remainder of the first term, which would end on December 21.

“Americans All” Opens at MAGI

The Brazos County World War I Centennial Committee presents the military contributions of thirty-three veterans of the First World War from four of our county’s ethnic groups. These include individuals of Czech, Polish, German and Italian, or more specifically Sicilian, descent who are first generation Americans.

The First World War changed their lives. Many of them believed, as young men often do, that they were in for an adventure. They exchanged the farm for the military camp. Here they met others from across the United States and were exposed to a myriad of different cultures from their fellow soldiers. Together they were molded into an American fighting force. The majority of these veterans featured here made the transit to Europe on troop ships, continued their training in France and then met the enemy on the field of battle. They suffered illness, pain, frustration, boredom; some were wounded and some sacrificed their life in service to the nation that had welcomed their parents with a promise of a better tomorrow. By the time the war ended, they were Americans All.