J.M.U. during the First World War

The Student Army Training Corps at James Millikin University in 1918.

When World War I began the United States was not involved. By April 6, 1917, however, the United States had declared war on Germany. Immediately, the mobilization of troops began and the selective draft was instated for men above the age of eighteen. In order to keep these young men in college while also preparing them for the front lines, the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) was established. Schools across the nation participated to support the war effort and their own school.

Millikin University sprung into action with the financial backing of Decatur citizens. Six barracks were quickly erected (one north and five west of the Old Gym) on campus to house the 405 young men who were part of the S.A.T.C. Each of them received $30 per month, government paid tuition, room and board, medical attention, and life insurance.

Since every man was still expected to attend school, courses that would prepare them for combat were created and changes to facilities occurred. The Decaturian from September 1918 elaborates on this subject. "The chemical laboratory facilities at Millikin have been enlarged during the summer vacation in anticipation of the large number who will wish to avail themselves of this very practical training. Additional bacteriological equipment is also on the way for the biological department." At the same time, trenches were dug behind the Conservatory of Music to provide a training field for the Training Corps.

The atmosphere on campus was one of patriotism and support for the men of the S.A.T.C. Although the men were unable to socialize as freely as other students, they did become a part of the Millikin culture. The Decaturian frequently ran articles about soldiers and what students could do to help them. Shortly after the armistice on November 11, 1918, the S.A.T.C. was demobilized (December 21, 1918).

On Sunday, June 1, 1919, a memorial service was held "in affectionate recognition of the patriotic service of the sons and daughters of Millikin in the Great World War for human liberty." The program included the dedication of a Memorial tablet recognizing those Millikinites that had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during the war.

This 1918 recruiting poster advertised a free college education for joining Millikin's SATC.

S.A.T.C. recruiting poster

In the Trenches

North of the Conservatory of Music, trenches were dug as a training ground for SATC soldiers. Although the area was usually utilized by the SATC, this photograph shows that students and families would sometimes occupy it as well.

Campus trenches

SATC Football Squad

When the SATC came to campus, they had full-fledged activities to keep them busy. Here is the 1918 SATC football team--in the front row, second from left is Harry Long. His brother, Fred Long wrote him the letter that appears below.

1918 S.A.T.C football team

S.A.T.C. recruits

This group of young men, who signed up for the SATC at Millikin all on the same day, were photographed at Millikin and this photograph was used in several newspaper advertisements promoting the SATC.

Inside the Barracks

The two photos at left provide a glimpse into the interior of the wooden barracks that were constructed on campus to house the SATC soldiers.

Although the pictures capture these young men at leisure, they were kept very busy in their college studies and military training.

Recruits in the barracks

recruits in the barracks

Outside the Barracks

The two photos below provide a glimpse at the exterior of the wooden barracks that were constructed on campus to house the SATC soldiers.

The lower picture shows the Mess Hall built on campus to feed the members of the SATC.

S.A.T.C. recruits

S.A.T.C. mess hall

Soldier's letters

Many J.M.U. students had already joined the military to serve in World War I by the time the SATC had started. They would write letters home and many of these were published in the Decaturian. Below are two such letters from Millikin students who served during WWI. An image of the letter as it appeared in the Decaturian is included along with a transcription of the contents of each letter.

An Appreciation of Millikin

"Received your letter just this a. m. and believe me it was just the kind of news I have been longing to receive from home. You can't imagine how near it brings me to home when I can hear from Decatur, and old J.M.U. Of course, mother is constantly sending me newspapers from home, but the newspaper articles don't bring it as near home as you can. I am glad you like the army life.

"My, but how I wish I could trot out on old J.M.U. field and hand over the pigskin and just one more hard game with Illinois college, Bradley, or Wesleyan. There is hardly anything I would refuse to give to have just one more day of that. They are gone, and you never miss them or really appreciate them until they are. Give my best regards to the fellows, every single one of them. You know Dixie is so different from home. I can't get used to it. I passed a group of football players running signals the other day and came near stopping and saying something to them, but I remembered that this is Dixie, and I wouldn't say anything to them, because they were white.

"Really though, Harry, my heart was right in that pigskin, and I thought of the boys we had for associates at school and I got real homesick. They certainly were real white men and I'll never forget a single one of them. Before this war is over the prejudice crackers will learn that there are some negroes who aspire to be something. Men like Dr. Taylor, Dr. Smith, Joe Catlin, MacWherter, Killebrew, Adams, and many more have made me feel as though I was a real man, and I'll remember the part they all played in my life. Tell all the fellows I'd be mighty glad to hear from them. Go to Dr. Smith and Dr. Taylor and give them my regards and tell them I'll write them when I have a moment's time.

"Regards to all who ask of me. Remember me to Miss McCaslin, Miss Wood, and Miss Conant, and Dr. Hessler. Tell all of them I'm well pleased in the army, only I had hoped to have a commission before they heard from me. Instead I am afraid they are going to keep us here too long and then I won't get across. I wish I was in the infantry, then I would be right in the big show. I sure envy your opportunity. Just for a chance at those Huns and I'll show them all what a drive-off tackle will do. I sure hope I get a chance.

"Write me soon and send me all the news from old J.M.U.


Fred Long letter

As appeared in The Decaturian Vol. 16 No. 2 Oct 1918 p.25

The author of the above letter, Fred Long, was the first African-American to graduate from Millikin in 1918. His brother,the Harry to which this letter was addressed, is pictured above in both the football team photo and the SATC group photo. Harry graduated in 1919.

Clinton File Would Like to Help Wait on Freshman Girls In Book Store -- Don't Worry, He Wants to Get Near Front Lines, Too.

"Dear Treva: Have intended to write ever since we arrived but have been very busy moving around. I had a dandy trip overseas. The weather was great and I was not seasick. The boat was rather crowded and you had to look out for No. 1 or you were all out of luck. We arrived in France July 13th and were taken to a rest camp for three days, then to another, and since have been detached for a job in the country. We won't be here long. We are allowed to tell that we are near St. Nazaire, a long way from the front, but I hope we will move nearer.

"France is a beautiful country but about a century behind the times. I sure admire the people for the sacrifices they have made, and they seem confident of winning since so many U.S. troops are over. They treat us very kindly but charge war prices for their wares. A piece of candy twice the size of twelve cent Hershey costs 40c and other articles in proportion.

"They drink more wine than water here; the soldiers can get it. As far as I am concerned, I'm off the stuff.

"We see a lot of German prisoners and they are treated good. They say they let one escape one day, and in three weeks he returned with a thousand friends.

"This week I received the money order for five dollars and letter. It was forwarded from Camp Laurel. I would have been glad to have received the letter without the five as I was getting ready to write myself a letter, it was so long since I had received any mail.

"By the time you get this you will probably be getting the store ready to open for the fall term. I would like to be there to help you wait on the Freshman girls. I wish you a big year but don't work too hard. How did you spend the summer?

"I'll sure be glad when this bloomin' war is over, and we'll be back to good old U.S.A. Things look pretty bright now and it can't end too soon for any of us. We sure will appreciate our country; but tell all the fellows under twenty-one to stay in school till they are called. Please give my address to any of the kids you think will write, as letters help a lot. Also send a Decaturian if you get an extra one. Write soon, Sincerely,

CLINTON FILE (Co. D, 66th Eng. A.E.F. APO 701)"

Clinton File letter

As appeared in The Decaturian Vol. 16 No. 1 Sept 1918 p.19

1921 certificate

This certificate was given to Millikin University in 1921 in recognition of its service to the country by the creation of its Student Army Training Corps back in 1918.

This page created Jan 25, 2006 by Todd Rudat
Last modified: Feb 20, 2006
Copyright: Millikin University Board of Trustees