War drums

Submitted by jjcho on April 3, 2017 - 8:54pm

Seventy-five years ago today, April 3, 2017, there was a war on. You already knew that. They knew it too. Most of the active brothers had joined ROTC or its new enlisted counterpart, the ERC. The Daily Sun was full of battle coverage, military and budgetary. Sugar rationing had begun.

For a long time though, there remained an air of detachment on campus. Formals were still held and intramurals were still played. George Getman '44 O-542 still wrote for the Sun. One piece worried about an IFC-sponsored USO weekend that was to feature "200 beauties." Specifically, where was Cornell going to find 200 beauties among its female students?

But even scarcer than beautious co-eds were train seats for civilians; there was no getting out of town. And so it was that there was quorum for an emergency house meeting on the last Friday of spring break, Good Friday, April 3, 1942:

Special meeting called to order by High Alpha in Chapter Room at 12:15 a.m.

Discussion of what will be done with the house in the event of many of the men leaving on account of war.

Adjourned.

Almost five months after America's entry into the bloodiest conflagration in human history comes the first mention of it in the chapter record. In the previous war, fully seven months had passed before any such mention. The faster-paced news cycle of the '40s, it seems, afforded less luxury.

The Japanese had launched a massive offensive against Bataan, the last holdout of U.S. and Filipino forces, on April 2 (Eastern Time). By the evening of the 3rd, news of it would have been on the radio. Perhaps for the first time, events in the Philippines seemed like they could affect events in Ithaca. They had no idea what was coming.

The brothers would not have known that the biggest surrender in American history was coming in six days. They would not have known the closing of the chapter house was coming in six months. They could never have guessed at the divergent paths two recently graduated EE buddies would take: future Air Force general Otto Glasser '40 O-357 and future war crime statistic Carl F. Rhodes '38 O-320. But no doubt they sensed the war would not be over by Christmas. And maybe, for the first time, they really worried.

But, too, they did not know that they would soon rush a remarkable class that would include noted diplomat Jonathan Stoddart '44 O-571, beloved professor Bill Mendenhall '40 O-572, lifelong philanthropist Dick Shineman '46 O-581, and the indefatigable Dick Turner '46 O-578, who steered the chapter through the later years of the war. They did not know the chapter would in a few years win its first (only) all-sports trophy. And they did not know that within a few years, the house would be so full as to necessitate the building of a modern new dining room, showcasing the finest '50s taste in plate glass and asbestos.

May greater things always lie ahead. Some years on, we even got a new dining room without the asbestos. One of these days, maybe we'll get another all-sports trophy.