Westmont at War
Less than two years after the founding of Westmont, the United States entered World War II. The Depression era gave way to the war years. Rationing and the draft presented new challenges to the young college. But Westmont took the war in stride. In the end, World War II left important legacies in the form of the G.I. Bill and the purchase of the Santa Barbara campus.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Westmont officials began to consider the impact of war. An editorial in the February, 1942 issue of the Quarterly Bulletin stated: “As this bulletin goes to press, every newspaper and periodical calls America and American youth to the defense of all that it holds dear….Our need – before ships, armies, arms, or planes – is that we shall again be one people and that we shall again find our God.
“There is a widespread belief that this war will be a long one. Young men and young women going into war service are not likely to get back to the classroom; yet America must not have fewer trained leaders after the war, but more. There must be better training – not poorer – for the business of the war.”
So classes at Westmont continued. The war had given the College an added purpose: to prepare young men and women to meet the current crisis. The need for a strong Christian college had simply become greater.
How did Westmont’s Christian faculty view the morality of war? They didn’t hesitate to support the war effort. The Quarterly Bulletin explained: “Westmont is not and has never been pacifistic in tone. We abhor war, as does every right-minded person. We believe, however, that just as communities have a right to protect themselves from gangsters, so our nation has a right to protect itself against international gangsters. [This] protection…must involve force if necessary. The Biblical rule is found in Genesis 9:6, ‘Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’”
As time passed, more and more male students, faculty, and alumni left to join the service. The August, 1943 issue of the Quarterly Bulletin pictured 45 young men from the Westmont community who were serving their country. The accompanying article stated, “Because Westmont is a young school, a disproportionately large number of her faculty, student body, and graduates…have been called into the military services. We doubt if any institution in the country could show so large a proportion.”
The men from Westmont were doing more than just defending the United States. They were presenting a “consistent and clear-cut testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. God has honored the testimony of many of our soldiers in an unusual way, giving them opportunity to present Christ in the fox holes, in the bomber squadrons, and in tank units.”
In all, 66 men from Westmont entered the service, and each had a star on the college’s service flag. But they all returned – there were no gold stars on Westmont’s flag.
As the men left, the women took over campus. An article in the November 10, 1944 Horizon provided a humorous commentary on this exodus. The headline read, “Women Take Over the Manpower Situation: The Charge of the Blight Brigade.” Author Oscar Snodgrass noted, “Women to the right of me! Women to the left of me! Women all around me! Girls! Girls! More girls!...Habiting the places formerly sacred to men only, the girls have taken over in style. The men’s dorm was the first to fall into their ‘delicate’ hands….The lower dorm was grasped and changed to the ‘Jewel Box.’ Bah! Instead of having a mixed student body, perhaps we men should withdraw and leave Dr. Emerson’s Female Seminary to itself.”
The activities of Westmont’s servicemen regularly appeared in the Horizon. “SGT. JAMES BEATTY sends a sparkling letter from somewhere in France, stating that he is in good health and doing his humble best to win the war.” “PFC. RALPH WETMORE is still somewhere in the Pacific. A recent letter states that he has been ‘out there’ for 2 ½ years. May it be God’s will that he be allowed to return soon.” “LT. DON S. WARNER, stationed in the Philippines, has shown…how hard a Westmonter can punch when he is behind the guns of a P-38 Lightning! Don is credited with a Japanese destroyer which he bagged off Leyte….”
Cora Reno, a biology professor during the 1940s, recalls a well-camouflaged anti-aircraft nest across the street from Kerrwood Hall. “And you could see the guns sticking out from that….Every once in a while….there would be air raids, and they were no laughing matter….And you very seldom would go out in the evening in a street car…because if they called an air raid…then you had to stay on that street car the rest of the night….I remember once we were up at a faculty meeting at Dr. McCreery’s place in Eagle Rock up on the hill when they called an air raid black out, and we went out on the porch…to look out over the city and see it gradually grow dark.”
The Japanese never attacked the West Coast, and the Allies began to prevail. Evelyn Starr Lesslie, associate professor of English, pondered “After the War – What Then?” in the August, 1944 Quarterly Bulletin. Her opening sentences show how much the war affected College life: “‘After the war is over’ – how often we repeat this phrase! Yes, after the war is over, we are planning many new things, small and great….
“More than ever before, we now need intelligent men and women, trained leaders with the high moral purpose and stability derived only from a living faith in Him who changes not…. This is the postwar challenge to Westmont College: to train choice young people in the best that has been known and thought, not as an end in itself, but as a means of sharpening tools for world service.”
The United States government helped Westmont meet this challenge in a very tangible way. Congress passed two pieces of legislation (Public Law 16 and the G.I. Bill) that provided financial assistance to veterans who wanted to attend college. Without this aid, many young men couldn’t have enrolled at Westmont after the war.
Westmont moved to Santa Barbara during August, 1945 as the war was ending. Getting the new campus ready in time for the fall semester presented a serious challenge. But with so many servicemen being discharged at the close of the summer, a number of colleges and universities decided to begin classes late. Westmont gratefully followed suit.
The veterans who came to Westmont after 1945 were older and many were married. Dr. Frank Hieronymus ’49, who became a professor and academic dean, was one of them. “I was married and we had a child…so I did not live in the residence hall, and I did not get the kind of experience that might come from this kind of living….We had a married people’s club – OWTW…Others Wish They Were.” Frank and his family lived in a motel as housing was hard to find.
Dr. Lewis Robinson ’51, a Westmont history professor for many years, faced the housing problem even before he arrived on campus. He served in the navy and applied to the College after the war. “When I wrote to Westmont, they said I was admissible…but I would have to bring my own housing with me, which puzzled me. So I wrote and said, ‘What do you mean? Do you mean I have to bring a tent or a mobile home or something?’ And they wrote back and said that’s exactly right.” Lewis and his wife, Mae ’51, found a mobile home, towed it to Westmont, and lived in it for four years.
If the war contributed to the housing shortage, it also provided temporary facilities. College officials desperate for dormitories learned they could purchase inexpensive Quonset huts from the navy base in Oxnard. The only problem was transporting them.
Bob Ross ’48, whose schooling was interrupted by the war, recalls moving the huts to Santa Barbara. “[Westmont] hired a trucking firm that moved those kinds of things….We were taking biology at the time, and whenever they would have one of these trucks ready…they dismissed the biology class…and we would literally ride the tops of those Quonset huts up from Oxnard, because we had…to be there with wooden poles to lift the [power] lines to be sure that they didn’t snag…[and] the Quonset huts didn’t knock down any electric lines or electric poles.”
According to Bob, the first one went where the parking lot by the College Store is today, and it became a public restroom. Six huts housed male students in a dorm known as “Q-Ville” located on the present site of Van Kampen Hall. Another Quonset hut, placed opposite the Post Office , served as the student store. Two huts remain today, and one is still in use as a classroom.
Lewis Robinson recalls how primitive some of the facilities at Westmont were in the late 1940s. “We had a very limited physical plant. I think it was made up for by esprit de corps. Everybody that was there wanted to get what Westmont had to offer. Most of the students were veterans. They were very serious and they were used to hardships….
“The biology lab, of course, was very primitive… Dr. Beal used to stop class while he killed a black widow spider walking across the front of him – all sorts of things like that. But the spirit…the morale, was very high.”
Westmont survived and prospered because of the faith, commitment, and esprit de corps of its early community. The war effort contributed to this attitude – it underscored the need for a college like Westmont. As Dr. Emerson wrote in 1943, the world needs “those whose eyes are lighted by the lamps of God’s Word, that they may avoid the pitfalls and snares and confusions of the world’s darkness and conflicting voices. In a word – the world needs intelligent, trained, consecrated, courageous men and women.”