Occidental College, an independent, coeducational college of liberal arts and sciences, was founded in 1887 by a group of Presbyterian ministers and laymen.  In 1910, it became a nonsectarian institution.

            When the United States entered the war in December 1941, Occidental students and faculty under the leadership of its president, Remsen Bird, reacted immediately, and during the ensuing four years made significant contributions to the war effort.   After the 1938 outbreak of the war in Europe, there were discussions on campus as to whether or not the United States should become involved.  All vocal and editorial disagreements on the small campus of 800 men and women ceased with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

            On Monday, December 8, the former campus Defense Council was reorganized and met as the War Council.   During that week Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a houseguest of President and Mrs. Bird at their campus home, spoke to the students on the War Council as they anticipated the changes in the life of the College that lay before them and discussed how they could assist in the war effort.   The men students in the Enlisted Reserve Corps were particularly anxious as to when they would be called into active duty.

            Curricular changes to meet wartime demands, including modification for student acceleration, went into effect.  Major adjustments were made when several key professors took leaves of absence. For example, three were called into government service.  A physics professor left for radar research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a philosophy professor departed for the Navy.  Others who remained at the College took on civic assignments as in defense, on draft boards, or in special civilian training programs.

            A War Department Civilian Protection School organized to train citizens for volunteer positions was based on the campus, as was the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training Program of the Federal Government.   A significant contribution to war technology was made when Occidental entered into a contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the production of rockets and associated parts using the facilities of the Physics machine shop.    Another direct link to war technology came when the College responded to the Federal Government to provide a computation center on the campus for what was known as the Muroc Project, a task force to determine the flight path of a new super bomb planned for use in Europe.

            In July 1943, Occidental qualified for a Navy V-12 unit on campus, resulting in four hundred Navy and Marine men studying and training until departure for final officer training.   While the V-12 presence required major housing, dining, curricular, administrative, and social adjustments, the program offset the enrollment decline which had dropped to 365 civilian students.  Despite the many changes to accommodate the V-12 men, the academic standards and liberal arts mission of Occidental College were unchanged.   The V-12 men were welcomed into campus life by the civilian men, women, faculty, and staff.

            A total of 1,303 former Occidental students served on the battlefronts of World War II, forty-one giving their lives for their country.

Jean Paule, College Archivist, January 18, 2005

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