Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Union

Students at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) enjoyed fun activities like the decorated float parade featured in the last post.  But they also pursued more serious pursuits, especially during the World War I period.  By the terms of the 1862 Morrill (Land Grant) Act, federal lands were donated to the states to provide for instruction in agriculture, mechanical arts (engineering), and military tactics. Two years after becoming a land grant institution, Oregon Agricultural College began requiring all male students to join the cadet corps, a forerunner of ROTC.  They had daily military drills as shown in the photo.
O.A.C. cadets, Corvallis, Oregon
During World War I, men from the cadet corps volunteered to served in the war, some joining Allied Forces even before the U. S. entered the war. Nationally the rate of volunteer enlistments was too slow to meet manpower needs. Consequently, in May 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act. It required all men between 21 and 30 (later 18 to 45)  years old to register for possible military service. Unlike the volunteers from the cadet corps, few draftees had any military training.  The army not only had to provide basic training but increase the number of officers, medical, and technical people. The federal government called on the college and universities to use their existing resources to help train.  Under the Students' Army Training Corps (SATC), men who had not yet been drafted could enlist and enter a training program until called for active duty.  Those who had  not completed high school were trained on college campuses in technical skills such as auto mechanics, machinists, or radio operators. Those 18 and older who had graduated from high school would study standard college courses or special courses in subjects such as sanitation or military engineering.  A portion of future officers were expected to come among this second group. Men in both groups received a uniform and military pay, free tuition, and free room and board.  OAC's unit was authorized in August 1918. Anticipating as many as 2,000 students in the SATC, OAC hurried to find housing, eventually putting up a large barracks hall.

A total of 1,931 OAC students, faculty, and alumni served in the World War I. The SATC participants added nearly 1,600 more.  Two faculty members and 62 alumni and students lost their lives either during the war or as a result of injuries suffered during battle.

After the war two students in a sophomore organization proposed constructing a student union as a memorial to those who had died in service during the Spanish American War or World War I. In 1921, the student body approved  a $3 per term fee to fund construction.  Alumni and other donors also contributed. The building, designed by architect Lee A. Thomas, was completed in October 1928 at a cost of  around $750,000.  At the dedication ceremony, General U. G. McAlexander read the names of  those men associated with the college who had died during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Others described some of their heroic efforts.

O.A.C. Memorial Union dedication ceremony
Souvenir tile from Memorial Union dedication
The building, still called the Memorial Union, represents just one of many ways Americans have remembered those who served.  
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

1 comment:

  1. and the two students who purposed the student union were...