A Community Looks Back
The strength of the Ursinus community coming together in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and throughout the remainder of World War II exemplifies the attitude felt by most Americans at the time. Whether it be the student body on campus or the dsministration in charge of infrastructural changes, everyone wanted to support the war effort and help our service personnel overseas defend the United States. Throughout the various articles and documents presented, we see Ursinus not only take risks on new programs but the student body come together in such a way that everyone wants to do their part and be useful.
In the aftermath of September 11th, the Ursinus Campus wrestled with many of the feelings being shared nationwide. The Ursinus community worked through these feeligns both publicly and privately. They did so with actions ranging from sharing their thoughts in editorials to anonymously placing sentimental objects and art to be part of the memorial on campus. Regardless what actions were taken by community members they are important because they allow us to see how people’s lives were affected and how they responded to the tragedy.
The Importance of Memory
In the aftermath of the Japanese attack, Ursinus greatly identified with the attitude felt by the entire nation. The school itself and everyone here wished to pitch in for the war effort and be trained so that they could continue to support the effort after graduation. This applied to both students in the V-12 program and civilian students. Similarly, the campus also had a similar attitude to the rest of the nation about September 11th. Countless articles were written about people’s responses to the event, as well as people donating and helping others get through the tragedy together. There were also opinion pieces in response to the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, with people debating on whether those should be the nation’s next courses of action.
Although both events led to armed conflict the immediate responses were somewhat different. After the United States officially joined the Second World War, there was a rush of men joining the army and that was seen in spectacular fashion at Ursinus. On February 22, 1943, there was a moment of complete unity among the students when thirty-one reservists were sent off to training by two hundred other students who had woken up before dawn. The events of 2001 developed differently for Ursinus since military recruitment was not a major student response. However, the pride and respect which the Ursinus community felt for the United States was no less fierce then what was felt during World War II. From October 16-17, 2001, the Sisters of Omega Chi sponsored a blood drive. Students, faculty and staff came together to give their blood for the cause, surpassing their goal of 110 pints of blood.
Not only did Ursinus experience these events from a distance but members of our community were witnesses to what occurred. Ada Chang, an Ursinus student who began her education in 1944 and graduated within three years was in Hawaii to experience the attack on Pearl Harbor. When she arrived at Ursinus her story was shared with the community in a Weekly article to preserve her experience. Years later, an Ursinus alumni would once again be a witness to tragedy. Having graduated one year and four months prior to the events of 9/11, Matthew Wiatrak’s story brings a fresh perspective for Ursinus students. As mentioned in the Response section, Matthew was working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit Tower 1. His story of terror, loss and pride is one that brings the Ursinus community closer together. Despite the small size and relative seclusion of our campus, our community has been directly impacted by and connected to broader events.
Preserving Memory and Looking Ahead
As we sought to draw connections between the memories of these two events it was fascinating to witness that, in some ways, some of the work had been done by those who came before us. During the dedication of the memorial relief Promise/Anthem, an Ursinus alumni, Ann Harting, mused on how the wartime experiences of she and her peers would be remembered by later generations (Harting 10-11). For better or worse the perception of events is colored by what occurs after them. At the time, the members of the War Years Classes knew that for students in 1998, the events of the Vietnam War would affect their perception of all war. From our place today, in 2016, we look back through another complex filter. We look at the past through lens shaded by not just attacks of September 11th but also more than a decade of ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. The question raised by Harting is poignant reminder that history is in the hands of those who write it. The Ursinus classes of ‘42-’49 had no way of knowing how their actions would be remembered a half century later. Likewise we do not fully know how events from 2001and 2002 will be seen when another 50 years have elapsed. All that can be done is to record the memories of those who experienced these moments and preserve them for future generations. Our task is to preserve memory and pass it on to those who follow behind us. It will be up to them to find their own meaning in the information we have left to them.
- Harting, Ann. Planning the Memorial. 1998. In Memorial Dedication and War Year Memories. Ursinus College. 9-11.