A glimpse into the past: Utah State University during WWI

Photo Essay by Liz Wilson

Photos ‘courtesy of USU Special Collections

An epic portrayal of World War I has hit the big screen in the film “War Horse. The film’s story follows the lives of a young horse and his owner during the tumultuous years leading up to World War I. While watching the film I couldn’t help but be caught up in the story and the war that will mark its 100th anniversary in two short years. I was curious to know more about how Logan and the campus of Utah State University were impacted by the “Great War.” To find answers, I turned to the pages of USU history books to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the students during this time. The Buzzer, a USU yearbook, provided some interesting insights and humorous details of Aggie life in the early 1900’s.
In 1914, the world was at war. Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated and more than 100 countries would eventually be drawn into this unprecedented conflict. This same year, the Agricultural College of Utah was not yet affected by the war. Old Main was still fairly new and students carried on with business as usual. This photo from the 1914 issue of The Buzzer shows some students flirting on the Quad and hanging out as college students today still do.

In 1916, change did come to Cache Valley. The Agricultural College of Utah changed its name to the Utah Agricultural College, or UAC. The campus ROTC program was in full force, training students to prepare for a war that the United States was not yet fighting.

In 1917, the United States finally entered the war that had engulfed all of Europe. According to ROTC detachment historian Ashley Ewaniuk, “The War Department announced the policy that young men attending college should not volunteer for service. The Student Army Training Corp (SATC) replaced ROTC during the war to encourage those to stay in school, but still feel a part of the war.”

Ewaniuk explained that not only college students were trained in Logan, but all Utah draftees and volunteers as well. As the end of the war approached, Logan served as a training ground for officers and enlisted soldiers to prepare to go to war. The students who remained in the SATC program were trained to help fill 190,000 officer positions that were needed by the US army, Ewaniuk said. The program specialties of Utah Agricultural College also were a benefit to the war effort. “In the summer of 1918 alone, 685 men were trained as mechanics [in Logan],” Ewaniuk said.

Each little bit of effort allowed college students in Logan to feel a part of the effort to end the war. Photos from the 1918 yearbook show that although the college had suffered difficulties, the students still maintained the enjoyment of college life.

The battles in the trenches were fought thousands of miles away; but UAC students still felt the impact of lives lost in war. According to Ewaniuk, the Utah Agricultural College accounted for more than 550 service members before the war. By the end of the war, 33 gold stars shone on the college’s service flag, signifying lives lost in battle.

The graduating class of 1919 dedicated the 1918 College yearbook to those who fought and died for freedom.

To see more photos from Utah State Buzzer yearbooks, visit http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/buzzer

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