Apr 2

No Forgotten Fronts: From Classrooms to Combat

Monday, April 2, 2018 11:13 AM

By

My college classrooms are always full of veterans. That’s because San Diego is home to half a dozen military installations, including Naval Base San Diego, NAS North Island, the Naval Amphibious Base, and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Prior to World War II, the Naval Training Center on San Diego’s waterfront prepared tens of thousands of recruits for service, while less than ten miles away, San Diego State College was busy educating young men and women in the arts and sciences, and readying them for war. As the students began leaving for military service, one geography professor, Dr. Lauren Post, was determined to keep them connected to their campus. He started a letter writing campaign that lasted throughout the war.Chase_L_06-17-42

The students who wrote to Dr. Post yearned for football games and Coca-Cola, but they left those cherished things behind with their textbooks. They headed into battle, and described what they witnessed as history unfolded around them. They confessed their fears and expressed their heartfelt love for their campus, and their country. Even as they penned eulogies for friends killed in action, they remained devoted to the ideals of freedom and democracy.

With help from typing classes and fraternities, Dr. Post excerpted the letters, prepared a newsletter, and mailed it all over the world. Servicemen and servicewomen read the newsletter cover to cover, passed it around, and wrote even more letters.

Because he received so many letters, Dr. Post often had information before official accounts were released. He did his best to help everyone, often reassuring frantic families. Ernie McAnulty was a pilot who was shot down and became a POW in Stalag Luft III. His brother, Wally, was with an antiaircraft regiment in the Pacific. Dr. Post wrote to both brothers, and in their letters back to him, they thanked him for visiting their mother.

When I learned that thousands of the letters written to Dr. Post were in the archives at San Diego State University, I made it my mission to read them. Initially, I hoped those voices from the past would help me better understand the student veterans in my classroom today, but I was unprepared for the raw grief, determination, homesickness, and gratitude filling the handwritten pages.

Shapiro, Chap 2-3, Wally, uniform, high resShapiro, Chap 2-2, Wally, football, high res

Wally McAnulty on the football field and in uniform.

World War II was fought before I was born, but it became personal for me. Every week when I emerged from the stillness of the archives, I got into the habit of stopping by the campus war memorial. The names of students who died while serving our country are etched on the smooth granite face. The memorial bears their given names, but I know them by the nicknames in their letters.

Addleson_H_11-05-42-1Private Herman Addleson signed his letters “Little Geronimo.” He unabashedly described the tears in the eyes of his fellow paratroopers, tough guys one and all, who were awed by the Statue of Liberty as their ship sailed out of New York. Later, when I read in a letter from another student that Herman was killed on D-Day while parachuting into Normandy, I also had tears in my eyes.

When Jim Hurley was trapped on the beach at Anzio while artillery shells exploded around him, he wrote, “I blew my stack and lost my marbles.” Dr. Post understood shell shock, and he dashed off a letter to an Army chaplain also stationed in Italy. The chaplain, a fellow Aztec from San Diego State, promised Dr. Post he would go to Jim.

As battlegrounds shifted to France, and then Germany, Jim wrote to Dr. Post that he was afraid what he and his friends had achieved in Italy might be forgotten.

Dr. Post wrote, “Jim, there are no forgotten fronts – not as long as there are Aztecs on them, and we have them on all of the fronts.”

Long after the war was over, until he retired in 1969, former students continued to drop in at Dr. Post’s office to thank him for keeping them connected during the war. When I touch their letters, read their words, and gaze at the names on the war memorial, I am filled with gratitude, and awe. Today, when I greet student veterans in my classrooms, those voices from the past echo in my thoughts. I am inspired by the deeds and words of those who serve – then and now.

letters

Lisa K. Shapiro is the author of No Forgotten Fronts: From Classrooms to Combat publishing April 15, 2018.

 

 

 

 
 
 
  • Buzz

    I’ll have to read your book. I’m sure it helped for all those guys knowing their classmates were going through the same thing they were and people back home knew what they were doing.
    When I was in Vietnam I volunteered for ANGLICO in 1968. I was sent up to a tower on the DMZ. No roads in; you came up in the ocean on an amtrac. We were isolated and a tiny position, but supported by the Navy. We were spotters and would call in Naval Gunfire to protect everything south of us.
    After 3/4 of my tour was done I realized I might actually get back home. I asked for and received an English course from UC Berkeley. During lulls in action I would do the assignments and receive feedback from a shocked TA who was likely out protesting but communicating with someone at war. When I got back I was fortunate and accepted into UCLA in a special program for combat vets. I think we were a pyschology department experiment, but it provided me the start I needed and I graduated on time 4 years laters. My life has been very rewarding because my education combined with those early combat lessons of keeping focused during chaos, taking risks and leading.