UL in History: Veterans of the University

Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

Last weekend, I indulged in a hobby that I share with thousands—reenacting.

My period of expertise is World War I, and I am a member of an Imperial German Unit, the IR63. Since I impersonate a retired veteran recalled back into service, I have a clerical job. I interview enemy soldiers taken prisoner during the various raids and engagements that fill the hours of an event.  It is a hobby that I share with my son, and I enjoy it for many reasons. I must assume and maintain a persona that I have carefully researched and created over the years—after all, I entered Lynchburg College with a drama scholarship. Using German, French, and sometimes Spanish gives me a chance to hone my language skills. [English has not proven a problem—yet.]  It also gives me a great deal of time to devote to contemplation. This weekend, I devoted a great deal of my “quiet time” to thinking about the many contributions veterans have made to the University of Lynchburg.

A veteran and his wife founded Lynchburg College. Dr. Josephus Hopwood served in the Union Army, one of those scholars in blue or gray who transformed higher education in America after the Civil War.  Virginia Christian College was founded after the end of the Spanish-American War and the role of veterans from that conflict has not been fully explored. However, the contribution of our students to the United States effort in World War I is well documented. America declared war on the Central Powers in April, 1917, and VCC responded by organizing a unit of the Students’ Army Training Corps. In 1919, returning veterans organized the American Expeditionary Force Club. It was renamed the Service Club the following year and functioned until 1922.

With our country’s entry into World War II in December, 1941, most of the male members of our student body entered the various branches of the armed services. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was one of the last, and certainly one of the most influential measures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Better known as the GI Bill, it transformed Lynchburg College. Beginning in 1945, our classrooms were filled with returning veterans. As they were finishing their degrees, the veterans of the Korean War arrived on campus. When I began my freshman year in 1958, some of my classmates had served in Korea.

In the last half-century, veterans from the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, and now the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have chosen to satisfy their higher education goals by attending Lynchburg College. Over my long career, they have been among my favorite students. Spending countless months as a target tends to focus one’s goals when it comes to a college career. They give balance to any and every class, and their unspoken influence on their fellow students is positive and invaluable. On Memorial Day, which is May 27th this year, let us stop and remember with gratitude how these remarkable men and women have changed our university for 116 years.