Just before William D. Shambroom left for Notre Dame midshipmen's training school in May of 1943, he donated all of his clothes, except a tuxedo, to a Phillips Brooks House clothing drive, got rid of almost all of his textbooks and carted his overstuffed chair from his Dunster House common room to his girlfriend's Cabot House suite in the Radcliffe Quadrangle.

Shambroom skipped Commencement exercises 50 years ago to spend his last civilian days with his girl-friend and then boarded a train to South Bend, Ind., the following day. Like many Harvard and Radcliffe graduates of the class of 1943, Shambroom says his Harvard memories were largely shaped by the impact of World War II.

The Harvard campus, as well as its students, was transformed. Perceived as an imminent threat to the safety of the United States, the war provoked few protests and little doubt about United States participation, and the Harvard and Radcliffe communities adapted quickly to the many precautions and demands of the war effort, according to 1943 graduates interviewed last week.

"[The war] wasn't Vietnam, it wasn't Korea and Hitler was a real, definite menace," says Nelson R. Knox. "It seemed a war was going on and we were going to be a part of it. At 21, you're immortal."

Immediately following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, both Harvard and Radcliffe mobilized quickly to meet the demands of World War II's unexpected escalation.


On the morning of December 8--the day after the bombing--then University President James Bryant Conant '14 summoned all Harvard students to Sanders Theatre, where he broadcast the famous "day of infamy" speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 and then pledged all the resources of the University to the war effort.

Within several weeks of this guarantee of support, Harvard's traditional university landscape metamorphosed into an army base. Soldiers arrived in the Yard, and khaki uniforms settled into the first year dormitories converted into Navy barracks. First-year students moved to the upperclass houses

By day, life for Harvard students

The University mobilized quickly to meet new demands. revolved around classes. But by afternoon, many Harvard men reported to Soldier's Field for drill practice offered under the auspices of the Athletic Department. Senior ROTC students took charge of the drilling, which lasted for approximately two hours per week.

Designated students within each house also served as air raid coordinators, who hurried students out of their dorm rooms to makeshift basement bomb shelters whenever practice air sirens sounded throughout the Boston area. The air raid coordinators, trained in disarming thermite bombs, were required to wear helmets and armbands whenever a siren sounded.

Shambroom, as a coordinator for Dunster House, several times led students in his entryway in bomb drills to basement squash courts doubling as shelters. Canned water and food stocked shelter shelves, and radio announcements blared during the drills assuring the public that there was no emergency, Shambroom says.

With the numerous volunteer and training efforts and what many 1943 grads call a "tremendous sense of patriotism" dominating campus, many Harvard students accelerated their studies and graduated early in order to serve.

Many men received their degrees at a special January Commencement ceremony held in Memorial Church, with overflow seating in Memorial Hall, listening to the radio broadcast of the exercises. Remaining members of the Class of 1943 participated in the June 1943 exercises, actually held for the Class of 1944.

"There was a feeling of patriotism in the air and almost all my friends and I felt we would serve when the time came because it was the patriotic thing to do," says Richmond N. Hutchins, a retired Episcopal member of the clergy residing in Ovid, N.Y.

Despite being told by the draft board that he could finish his college studies, Hutchins was drafted in December of his senior year and immediately began his officer training. He returned for summer school in 1946, weeks after he finished his service.

Approximately 40 percent of Harvard men in the Class of '43 served in WWII, according to estimates of several graduates interviewed. Almost all men volunteered to fight in the war and there were practically no draftees, according to Ramer B. Holtan.