April 2017 marks the centennial of the United States’ 1917 entry into World War I, a bloody conflict that had been waging in Europe since 1914. As they always have, Norwich men stepped up when called to serve. Though the U.S. was involved in the war for 18 months, the impact on Norwich University was extensive. In turn, Norwich had a major impact by sending hundreds of its citizen-soldiers, including prominent leaders, into harm’s way.
In the spring of 1917, shortly after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, the Norwich Board of Trustees voted to grant degrees to the senior class two months ahead of schedule so that they could prepare for active duty. Many underclassmen also departed the university in preparation to ship out. Some completed their degrees at Norwich years later or finished their studies at another institution. Others remain non-graduates to this day, though they are still considered alumni and cherished members of the Norwich family.
Many faculty and staff were also called to active duty. In the fall of 1917, Norwich President Ira Reeves stepped down from his post in order to serve first in Washington and then overseas. Dean Herbert Roberts assumed his duties as acting president until Charles Plumley was inaugurated in 1920. President Reeves would survive the war, though in a tragic twist of fate, he was injured in a gas attack on Armistice Day.
In spite of these disruptions, the university remained in operation throughout 1917 and 1918. In October 1918, Norwich became a Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC) site, participating in a short-lived but important federal program that was designed to accelerate the training of officer candidates.
Estimates vary as to how many Norwich students and alumni fought in World War I—and how many made the ultimate sacrifice. Immediately after the war, the university published a pamphlet estimating that nearly 800 Norwich men had served (including SATC participation), constituting over half of the cadets and alumni of military age. It was stated at the time that there were 14 gold stars in the university’s service flag. The fallen included Moses Taylor, Class of 1920, for whom Taylor Arena was named.
Current data on NU veterans has identified over 650 of those brave men who stood for freedom 100 years ago. In the 1920s, the university surveyed the alumni on their service; nearly 400 survey responses can be viewed on the NU Archives Digital Collections. Their stories, from extraordinary leadership to pivotal roles played in major battles, are too numerous to mention. We remain committed to telling those stories.
Norwich University is an official state partner of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. Click here for more information about commemorative events, or contact the Norwich University Archives to learn more about the history of Norwich and the war.