Carleton students in the snow, 1940s

Carleton Interrupted

By Julia Johnston ’22
Over the past two years, students' lives have been upended by the pandemic. In search of an equally tumultuous time, one senior sought out stories from Carls who attended college during World War II.

Women's League cabin retreat, 1941Women's League cabin retreat, 1941 If they were to visit during what current students have come to dryly refer to as “the COVID era,” most Carleton alumni would find their alma mater nearly unrecognizable. As the pandemic ebbed and flowed, masks were ubiquitous, friends could only gather in pods of four to five, sports activities were on hold, and Zoom became the new Bald Spot. Even as the weather warmed this spring, it was not uncommon to feel as though Fourth Libe was a ghost town, or to have 50 percent of one’s classmates attending lectures virtually.

Despite the attendant challenges and unprecedented nature of this era, however, it’s not the first time that Carleton has been rocked by drastic, rapid change.

Carleton Saddle Club Horse Show, 1940sCarleton Saddle Club Horse Show, 1940s Consider, for instance, the four-year period from 1941 to 1945 that marked America’s involvement in World War II. Carleton’s day-to-day activities did not change much. Students went to classes, played sports, were active in clubs, and got together for meals in Gridley or Burton dining halls. But if a former student had stepped onto campus during this period, they too would have found it nearly unrecognizable.

The war effort and the attendant draft reached all corners of the country; Carleton was no exception. Overall, male enrollment dropped from 455 to 93, women moved into the “men’s dorms,” and active military members trained at nearby Carleton Airfield (now Stanton Airfield), which was built in 1942.

To get a feel for what life was like during this time, I visited the Carleton archives and listened to three recorded interviews about on-campus experiences in the 1940s: Elizabeth “Penny” Penningroth Cupp ’45, who describes what it was like to be in an almost all-female class; Saylo Munemitsu ’47, who was a Nisei (second-generation Japanese immigrant) student; and Dan Dougherty ’49, a veteran who served his country first and then enrolled in college. Their stories highlight and reinforce how Carls from that generation also had to find ways to normalize disruption and find joy within the confinement of outside forces.

Students training for the Carleton College Aviation Corps, 1940sStudents training for the Carleton College Aviation Corps, 1940s Elizabeth Penningroth Cupp ’45, P ’73 kept a diary during her time at Carleton, which she used as a reference in a conversation with then-retired Carleton staff member Joan Reitz in 1999. Cupp died in March 2021.

A sophomore transfer student and Iowa native, Cupp arrived on campus in fall 1942 and moved into Nourse Hall. That September, the number of male and female students was roughly equal. By winter break, though, the male population had plummeted, as both students and faculty members were drafted, including Cupp’s semantics professor, Hugh Farley. She remembered the last thing he told her class before he left: “Finish reading the book, write a paper on so-and-so, and turn it into somebody else. They will give you your grade for the semester. I have to go now. Goodbye.” With that, he was gone and the semantics class disbanded for the rest of the term.

Even though Carleton President Donald Cowling (1909–1945) routinely addressed students in Skinner Memorial Chapel and encouraged women, in particular, to stay in school and become “future leaders,” many women also left Carleton to join the war effort. In all, 1,500 Carleton students served in the armed forces during WWII.

As battles raged abroad, Cupp recalled that she and her peers participated in blackout drills, during which residence hall lights were turned off as soon as a siren sounded. Students raced to get home during these drills, so as not to be left outside in the dark. She also recalled “studying faithfully,” and participating in various rituals, including freshman orientation and weekly group meals in a dining hall, complete with white tablecloths and an older student serving as “hostess.” Her favorite class was horseback riding, which was especially popular with women and earned her a PE credit. Many of her favorite Carleton memories involved horses, which, during winter months, pulled both sleighs and adventurous students on skis.

Women’s League Cabin, 1940sWomen’s League Cabin, 1940s In April 1943, servicemen began to take meteorology classes on campus. They were required to march from class to class in groups of twos and threes, which made it hard for them to mingle with the rest of the student body. The servicemen would march in cadence, so a common refrain heard on campus was “I’ve got six pence/Jolly, jolly six pence.”

One of Cupp’s most vivid memories involved giving blood for the war effort. She remembered joking with friends as various football players passed out at the sight of the needle, but then, when it was her turn to give blood, she also passed out. The administering nurse said, “Don’t you ever give blood again”—and while Cupp admitted to feeling guilty about it, she never did.

Saylo Munemitsu ’47, P ’79 was one of only a handful of men to arrive at Carleton in 1943. The California native of Japanese descent spent his senior year in high school in an internment camp in a harsh, “inhospitable” Arizona. He was interviewed in 2007 by the late Chuck Donnell ’54 and his wife, Zoe (Kelly) Donnell ’55.

WWII-era Basketball TeamWWII-era Basketball Team Munemitsu came to Carleton because of an organization called the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, started by leaders at several West Coast colleges. He credits President Cowling, as well as the council’s chair—then-Swarthmore professor and eventual Carleton president (1962–70) John Nason ’26—with pushing Carleton to accept Nisei students. In 1942, the college began allowing six Japanese students per year to enroll. Munemitsu applied after he read an article in the Pacific Citizen—an award-winning Asian Pacific American newspaper—which listed Carleton as a school that was willing to enroll students from internment camps.

When Munemitsu arrived on campus, all of the men’s dorms were occupied, either by active military members or by women. So, during his first year, Munemitsu and a friend, Minoru Matsumoto ’47, lived with a local dentist, his wife, and their two children. Eventually, they moved into a house across the street from President Cowling.

Students training for the Carleton College Aviation Corps, 1940sStudents training for the Carleton College Aviation Corps, 1940s His first two years at Carleton “felt like pre-war days,” Munemitsu remembered fondly. Carls were universally friendly to him and his Nisei classmates, even as stories circulated about Japanese people who were ignored or harassed on other campuses around the country.

Munemitsu, who now lives in Mountain View, California, initially tried out for varsity basketball, baseball, and track, largely because there were not many male students available to field a team. He remembers loving varsity sports because athletes got to leave campus to compete, but he also enjoyed the social aspect of sports. Finding that he loved running, he ultimately focused on the track team, where he excelled for four years, ultimately earning ‘C’ Club Hall of Fame honors.

Fireplace in the Women’s League CabinFireplace in the Women’s League Cabin When the war ended, Carleton’s student population rose from 500 to more than 1,000, as many veterans returned to campus. Munemitsu remembers that there was friction between the Japanese students and the returning students. And while there were no overt actions toward him in particular, he experienced many microaggressions; the most notable being that white male classmates objected to Japanese men dating white women.

Nonetheless, Munemitsu chuckles during his interview when he remembers the many professors and fellow students who made his Carleton experience a rewarding one. His account of his time on campus is filled with many of the things that make Carleton Carleton: interesting conversations with professors, students advocating for themselves, and sporting events where participants made up for what they lacked in talent with lots of school spirit.

Dan Dougherty ’49 graduated from Central High School in Austin, Minnesota, in June 1943 and was immediately activated from the Army Reserve. After four months of infantry basic training at Fort McClellan and five months in the Army Specialized Training Program at Saint Louis University, he was assigned to the 44th Infantry Division.

Carleton during WWIICarleton during WWII When six companies of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division were captured in Alsace (Operation Northwind) in January 1945, 180 sergeants from other divisions were transferred to the 157th to help re-form those units, and Dougherty was one of 12 sergeants assigned to Company C. On March 18, 1945, Dougherty was injured and hospitalized, not returning to his unit until April 2. By then, he’d missed the Rhine crossing and much of the Battle of Aschaffenburg. He was present, however, when his division liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau on April 29. Dougherty was discharged from the Army on November 10, 1945, and returned to the United States to become one of many veterans in Carleton’s Class of 1949.

His responses to the following questions are from an interview conducted by Carleton archivist Eric Hillemann in 2019 and over email in March 2022.

How did being in the Army affect your Carleton experience?

I [was] in the Army for two-and-a-half years, breaking up my high school and college years. In high school, I had done very well in math and science, so if I had not been in the Army, I probably would have pursued some kind of career in the natural sciences.

But instead, I got to Carleton and I never took a course in math or science, except for one semester of geology that I had to take. I’m quite sure that what I was doing at Carleton was a reflection of my Army experience, because even though I was not aware of it at the time, I was taking history and government and sociology, ignoring all of my past wants. I used to want to be a farmer and go to agriculture school. But I found sociology in particular so fascinating, so I ended up pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

Did you find yourself talking to other veterans or writing about your experiences?

Dan Dougherty ’49Dan Dougherty ’49 I definitely talked to people who were in similar divisions or who fought in similar areas, but I don’t remember any of the conversations being particularly serious. And we rarely talked to [civilians] about it. Whatever processing I had to do, I waited until I was out of college.

My first semester, I took two English writing courses, and although I’ve done a fair amount of writing about my experiences postcollege, I don’t believe I ever wrote about it in college. The war had such a profound effect on me, in ways I don’t think I even knew, when I was in college, especially when I was serving. I changed divisions very quickly. I didn’t have time to say goodbye to the guys I had been with for 10 months—I was put on a Jeep and taken to my new squad. All of these experiences I’ve written about since, but even though I probably needed to write about them in college, I mostly spent my time at Carleton ignoring my past.

Looking back now, it’s clear the most important factor influencing my choice of courses was my Army experience in liberating Dachau on April 29, 1945, and the Dachau satellite camp at Allach the next day. But I never wrote about it until decades later. Nor do I recall discussing it with anyone at Carleton, although fellow students like Paul Roberts ’49, Judd Alexander ’49, and Dick Newman ’49 had had combat experiences like mine. Judd in particular was a frequent and very good writer for the Carletonian, but I don’t recall his writing about his Army days.

In 1968 we lost a 12-year old son in a bike accident. Losing a child is a devastating experience for parents and I eventually talked it out with a therapist. In the process, I learned I was still carrying baggage about the thousands of emaciated corpses [I saw] at Dachau. Since then, I’ve done a huge amount of research about my 7th Army rifle company and have spoken and written extensively about it.

It is still common for WWII vets to say something like, “Oh, it was too terrible. I can’t talk about it.” I can talk about it because I cried on the psychiatrist’s couch about it. I’ve also done the research and know what I’m talking about. Of course, the effects of the war went unsaid at Carleton, partly because we did not yet have the words to talk about it. Looking back, it is obvious that my experiences in the war and the events that I witnessed had a big influence on my daily life in college and after—down to the classes I chose and the people with whom I surrounded myself.

Read a longer profile of Dan Dougherty ’49 and his experience liberating Dachau in the fall 2020 issue of the Voice

Julia Johnston served as a student worker in College Communications from 2018 to 2022.

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