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#176 Armistice Centennial: 200 Years of Norwich Service in Conflict

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Norwich Was There

Sunday, November 11, marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the bloody fighting of World War I. Many Norwich men, some of whom we have highlighted in this series, made brave sacrifices to serve in that conflict, some making the ultimate sacrifice.

Service and sacrifice have always been watchwords of Norwich University. After Captain Partridge founded his academy, the first major conflict to affect our nation was the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. Norwich history buffs may already know that this conflict claimed the life of our second president, Colonel Truman Ransom, during the Battle of Chapultapec. At least 73 Norwich men are believed to have served in the Mexican-American War, though it’s a poorly documented period of the university’s history.

Two decades later, the Civil War rocked the nation with four years of fighting and over a million casualties. At least 700 Norwich men served in the conflict, including an estimated 56 who fought for the Confederacy. Approximately 61 died from all causes related to their service, and five of Norwich’s eight Medal of Honor recipients emerged from the Civil War.

The next major series of conflicts involved many fewer alumni, but resulted in some famous moments of Norwich heroism. The Spanish-American War was fought over just ten weeks in 1898 with the participation of at least 60 Norwich alumni. Admiral George Dewey, Class of 1855, famously led his fleet to victory at the Battle of Manila Bay, inflicting major Spanish casualties and becoming a national celebrity overnight.

The Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War and gave the U.S. control over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. It also heralded the beginning of the Philippine-American War as the island nation struggled for independence. It was in this conflict, which saw just 14 Norwich alumni deployed, that Colonel Hiram Bearss of the class of 1898 earned his Medal of Honor.

Painting depicting the six signatories of the Armistice in the railway carriage with other participants. From left to right are German Admiral Ernst Vanselow, German Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the Foreign Ministry, German General Detlof von Winterfeldt (with helmet), British naval officer Captain Jack Marriott, and standing in front of the table, Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation. Behind the table are two British naval officers, Rear-Admiral George Hope, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, and the French representatives, Marshal Ferdinand Foch (standing), and General Maxime Weygand.

The world wars of the 20th century were among those that had the greatest impact on both the alumni and the operations of Norwich University. Though the U.S. was involved in World War I for only 18 months, at least 660 of our alumni served in the bloody conflict. The spring of 1917 saw an air of change on campus. After the U.S. declared war on Germany in April, the Board of Trustees quickly voted to hold an early commencement ceremony so that the members of the senior class could serve their country. Fourteen Norwich men lost their lives in World War I, and countless others were recognized for their bravery and leadership.

World War II saw the greatest numbers deployed from the Norwich ranks: over 2,000, all told, with approximately 73 lives lost. Many of these were veterans who took advantage of the G.I. Bill to pursue higher education at Norwich after the war. World War II arguably had the most visible impact on the Norwich campus of any conflict, as traditional operations ceased in 1943 and 1944 while the campus played host to a variety of training programs. Captain James Burt, Class of 1939, received a medal of honor in 1945 for extraordinary heroism under fire during the Battle of Aachen.

In the decades following World War II, at least 600 Norwich alumni served in the Korean War; at least 760 in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s; and approximately 110 served in the First Gulf War. Many current and former students have served and continue to serve in the Global War on Terror. Among them is Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers, our eighth Medal of Honor recipient, who was honored with the decoration in 2016, a year before completing his master’s degree through the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.

Countless other conflicts and skirmishes have seen the leadership and heroism of Norwich alumni and cadets. As we remember the Armistice, which is marked every year by the modern holiday of Veterans Day, we remember those thousands of Norwich souls, both living and deceased, who have placed service before self.