World War Erupts in Europe, FHC Responds

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Exploring the 150 Year History of Freed-Hardeman University

In the 1940s, Freed-Hardeman College continued to produce more preachers for churches of Christ than any other college associated with the fellowship. Its influence also grew as a result of the special sessions held in January for preachers who couldn’t attend school full-time.

It was also a time of celebration and of mourning. Celebration came as a result of  Ulyss Brock’s college basketball scoring record. In a game against Bethel College on the FHC campus with the opponent triple-teaming him, Brock scored 83 points. Like Jim Murdaugh before him, Brock received national attention including in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” In 1938, Murdaugh had set the record with a 78-point performance, also against Bethel.

The death of Miss Joe Hardeman in 1940 brought a season of mourning to the campus. The “First Lady of FHC” had been an important presence during most of the years since 1908. Miss Joe had taught piano and directed the school orchestra. Her loss was felt not only by her family, but also by the college community.

By 1940, Freed-Hardeman, along with the rest of the world, had turned its attention to a global war. The pacifist views common on campus earlier were changing. Self-defense became a national priority. War became a reality with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.

The Freed-Hardeman family: alumni, students, faculty members and sons and daughters of the faculty joined the fight. Charles P. Roland, oldest son of C.P. Roland, entered the Army as a private, completed officer training school, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won a Bronze Star. Geneva Hall, daughter of W.C. Hall, was an officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary. Dorsey Hardeman, son of N.B. Hardeman and an attorney, left his practice and his office as a Texas state representative to enlist in the Army Air Force. Professor of mathematics S.C. Hastings left his position to serve as a senior draftsman developing construction projects.

Students also received draft notices. Identical twin brothers Wayne and Wendell Bloomingburg attended FHC one year before they were drafted. Entering the army as conscientious objectors, they performed noncombatant service as army medics. “Noncombatant service,” they discovered, was a “very misleading misnomer.” As medics treating the wounded on the front lines, they were “very much in combat.” Both received a Silver Star for bravery under fire. When the war ended, they returned to FHC to finish junior college.  Young women were also a part of the fight. For example, Natalie Powers, joined the Cadet Nurses Corps in 1943.

Like the rest of America, life continued at FHC, but it was not life as usual. Army and Navy officers appeared in chapel to recruit students for the reserves. Enrollment declined as students received draft notices or they did not return because they expected to be drafted. Students from distant states found “it inconvenient, inadvisable, or even impossible to get home and back” for the Christmas break. They spent the holiday on campus and celebrated around Christmas trees in the dorms. “Wartime austerity and travel difficulties” resulted in a suspension of men’s basketball. When a report circulated that fuel supplies for the winter would be reduced by 25 percent, the Homemakers Club mounted a campaign “to practice energy efficiency in the dorms.”

Following a government mandate, students were required to participate in 30 minutes of calisthenics daily. “From the appearance of some of the students after the first day of these exercises,” the student newspaper reported, “it would seem that there is a great deal of good to be accomplished.”

It would be years before life at FHC returned to “life as usual.”

Information and quotations are taken from Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.” It is available for purchase for $30 plus tax in the FHU Office of Academics, which is located in Loyd 107.