Student Soldiers Prepare for War
Established six years after the Civil War, the Oshkosh Normal School arrived too late to aid veterans of that conflict. The Normal’s first war time experience, thus, came during the Spanish-American War. On campus, a company of recruits was formed by students and non-students with the goal of preparing for possible service. They drilled three times a week, but they were never called into action. After the war, although roughly 5,000 Wisconsin veterans of the conflict returned to the state, no veteran services or programs were established at Oshkosh Normal. The school did, however, hire at least one veteran of the war, Earl Clemans. Clemans went on to serve for 38 years as a professor, an administrator, and for a short time, acting president.
While the Spanish-American War offered the Oshkosh Normal no challenges or opportunities, World War I would play out quite differently. Shortly after war was declared on Germany in 1917, male students formed the Oshkosh Normal Military Company, much like had been done during the war with Spain. The O.N.M.C. operated like a student club, and while they had no uniforms and few guns, members were filled with patriotic enthusiasm. As American war preparations got more serious, this unit was soon replaced by an official U.S. Army outfit.
On August 21, 1918, army officials wired Harry Brown, Oshkosh Normal’s president, stating the army’s intent to establish an official unit of the Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC), which were being formed across the country to train officers. Ninety-eight Normal students enlisted in the Army in order to join this unit which was separated by necessity from the civilian student body. The campus transformed a building known sarcastically as the “barracks” into quarters for the unit; an old storage barn was converted to restrooms, and the headquarters was placed in the school’s gymnasium. For chow, the men marched roughly one mile to the Trinity Episcopal Church’s Guild Hall. The men’s days were comprised of both academic classes that would give them the necessary skills they would need as officers and military training, which included digging trenches behind the Industrial Arts Building (Harrington Hall) with Professor Clemans. The troops also practiced drills and paraded down Elm Street and Algoma Boulevard. While regular classes were cancelled during the outbreak of the Spanish influenza, members of the SATC were required to carry on. If they contracted the flu, they could recuperate in the Domestic Arts Building, also known as the Libbey House, which had been converted into a makeshift hospital for the unit. A month after the Armistice on November 11th, 1918, the unit officially disbanded with no members ever seeing combat.