Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Dedication evokes memories of Lawrence at war

Wartime effort brought ‘amazing’ changes to KU

July 18, 2003


Claudine "Scottie" Lingelbach was studying in Watson Library when she heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

It was news that changed just about everything -- even at Kansas University and around Lawrence.

"All of us knew our lives were going to change drastically," Lingelbach said. "And they did. I was a sophomore by then and by my junior year, most of the fellows were gone. They'd either enlisted or they'd been drafted."

Beginning Sunday, thousands of World War II veterans are expected in Lawrence for the "Greatest Generation's Greatest Celebration," the three days of ceremonies marking the dedication of the Dole Institute of Politics.

Among them will be hundreds of KU alumni, each armed with vivid memories of where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor, how they mourned the loss of friends and family in the war and how they celebrated its end.

They'll also talk about Lawrence and KU, and how much both were changed by the war.

"After the war started, Lawrence went through so many changes, so did KU," said Lingelbach, who first enrolled at KU in the fall of 1940. "It's just amazing to look back on those days."

Enrollment plummets

An immediate effect was a decline in enrollment at KU. Records show the university had 5,299 students during the 1940-41 school year. By 1942-43, enrollment had fallen nearly 17 percent, to 4,406 students.

Fearing further declines, then-Chancellor Deane Malott opened KU to training programs that brought in hundreds of military personnel for officer and technical training, including more than 500 Navy machinists who took over the third floor and west wing of Strong Hall.

With most of their members gone, fraternity houses were taken over by soldiers and sailors who needed a place to stay.

"I came to KU in fall of 1942 and that winter I signed up for the Navy," said Jack Schroll, a retired physician who lives in Hutchinson. "They had me finish my freshman year and then they put me in the V-12 (officer training) program (at KU). I ended up living in the Sigma Nu house for about a year, and then the Phi Delt for a year.

"The crazy thing was I was a Sigma Chi and the 25 or so guys who were still in the house -- they were either 4-F or had deferments of some kind -- they ended up renting the Delta Chi house," Schroll said.

"People were living anywhere they could. The summer of my sophomore year, I shared a bedroom in a house with a senior who was finishing a class so he could get into Officer Training School. Now, this wasn't an apartment, it was a bedroom -- it wasn't much, but we considered ourselves lucky to get it."

When 2nd Lt. Bob Dole suffered his war injuries, he was saved on the battlefield by Frank Cafara, a sergeant in the 10th Mountain Division who had been acting platoon leader before Dole was placed in charge in early 1945.

Tight housing

Housing in Lawrence became extremely tight in early 1942 when the Hercules Powder Co. opened the Sunflower Ordnance Works near De Soto.

Records show that between January and April of that year, 3,000 workers lured by the plant's above-average wages moved to Lawrence.

"People were living in (unfinished) basements, attics -- wherever they could find a room," said Judy Sweets, archivist at Watkins Community Museum of History.

"There are accounts of three people sharing the same bed," she said. "When the shift changed, whoever was sleeping would get up to make room for the next person."

By 1945, half of Lawrence's work force worked at Sunflower, creating an in-town labor shortage that Dick Wagstaff remembers well.

"My father was in the creamery business," said Wagstaff, 76. "He sold milk and ice cream to the university.

"I remember KU was so short of help that my father had me go up there in the summer and wait tables. It wasn't long before I was the head waiter -- that's how short of help they were. I was just a high school kid and they made me the head waiter."

Wagstaff graduated from Lawrence High School in 1944. He later spent two years in the Navy.

Jobs for all

For minority workers, Sunflower offered unprecedented job opportunities.

"Hundreds of Native Americans, African-Americans and other minorities got jobs there," Sweets said, recalling one homemaker's lament that her maid, whom she paid $7 a week, had taken a job at Sunflower, where she would earn $7 a day.

By 1945, the labor shortage was so severe that Lawrence-area manufacturers and potato growers helped establish a camp for German prisoners of war. At its peak, the camp, near 11th Street and Haskell Avenue, supplied as many as 300 prisoner-workers.

For some, the hardships posed by the labor and housing shortages were offset by a dramatic rise in retail spending. In 1942, a Journal-World survey of 18 "large retailers" found that July 1942 sales topped July 1941 sales by 64 percent.

By then, the number of Sunflower workers living in Lawrence had increased to 4,000 and was expected to hit 5,000 that fall.

But with the boom in spending came a drop in inventory.

In the Journal-World survey, an unidentified druggist noted: "Two of the things (Sunflower) workers want are dinner buckets and cheap watches to carry in their work clothes. I have been completely sold out of these items for weeks and can't get replacements from any manufacturers."

Shortages, rationing

These and other shortages were driven by government rationing.

"Back then, we walked everywhere we went," Lingelbach said, "because gas was rationed, tires were rationed; you couldn't buy a car.

"The only person I knew who had a car was Bud Adams, whose father was an oilman. It was a blue Buick convertible," Lingelbach said. "I remember I had a double date one night and Bud Adams came to pick us up. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Not only was I riding in a car, but it was a convertible."

After the war, Sunflower laid off many of its workers. Most of the women there were expected to give up their jobs to make room for the men who were coming home from service.

"A lot of women resented that," Lingelbach said. "But at the same time, you were so glad the war was over and that your loved one was home and alive; and you were so anxious to get married and start a family -- you moved on. There was resentment, but you didn't hear too much about it."

Fueled by the G.I. Bill and the government's willingness to finance veterans' college education, KU's enrollment soared.

In the 1946-47 school year, KU had more than 10,400 students; that's more than twice the 1942-43 enrollment.

Of the 10,400 students, 6,536 were veterans.

"I went to KU in the fall in 1946," said Norma Gilpen, who lives in Emporia. "I remember it was really crowded. They didn't have enough space for all the classes, so they put up Quonsets. We had Saturday classes.

"I remember there were a lot of veterans around," Gilpen said. "I was a 17-year-old freshman and most of them were in their 20s. It was an exciting time to be in college. I can tell you I never lacked for a date."

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