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January 25, 2014

Oneonta students responded strongly to Victory Corps in 1943

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The Daily Star

---- — Oneontans seem to have a history of responding when being called upon to help. Earlier this week, when our local radio stations held an on-air fundraising event to help rebuild the Doc Knapp Little League field, after being hit hard by vandals last weekend, a goal of $3,000 was set. Local listeners responded with more than $10,000 in only two hours.

In similar fashion in 1943, when students at Oneonta High School were asked to join in a voluntary nationwide initiative to mobilize students for more effective preparation in wartime service in a program called Victory Corps, response was tremendous.

Oneonta students were keenly aware of the war effort, as in the 1943 yearbook called The Oneonta High School Annual, 3½ pages were dedicated to “Boys in Service,” 837 in all, already in service to their country.

According to The Oneonta Star of Thursday, March 4, 1943, Harold V. Hager, then principal at OHS, began handing out Victory Corps manuals to students. They were given time to look over the requirements, and by March 15 they could sign up for special courses qualifying them for membership.

On the front cover of the manual was the Victory Corps oath, “I will effectively perform any Community War services within the limits of my ability; and I will diligently seek to prepare myself for future service, whether in the armed forces, in war production, or in essential civilian occupations.”

There were five special service divisions a student could serve in: Air, Land, Sea, Production and Community. The first three were limited to boys only. Oneonta faculty members were appointed as counselors to these divisions.

Student reaction was excellent, as the Star reported on March 25, “Registration for Victory corps courses at OHS closed on Friday with 569 students enrolled in science, mathematics, pre-induction and other classes related to the war effort. These classes meet the seventh period, with from six to 25 in each group.

“Girls were so interested in home nursing and first aid that two classes were arranged in each. Fox hospital authorities will cooperate in providing home nurse instruction, preparatory to nurses’ aide training for those wishing it. Twenty-five girls signed for the child care course.

“Classes most popular with the boys are navigation, with 25 enrolled, meteorology, 20; and theory of flight, 15.

“Military drill will start April 8, conducted Thursday evenings by instructors provided or trained by the American legion. Adrian G. Blanchard has charge. So far, the girls have outdone the boys in signing up for drill, with 130 girls and 114 boys, with more expected. Girls drill will be conducted by women members of the faculty. American legionnaires and men teachers will drill the boys. Enough boys volunteered to form a platoon and drilled Thursday to give the instructors practice.” 

Students learned to line up and march on a tarmac playground area outside the former North Building of the Academy Street School, near Grove Street, as well as in Neahwa Park.

Fred G. Hickein, Class of 1944, recently recalled serving in the Victory Corps Sea Division.

“It was a good experience. It was a good preliminary to remind the men that they should probably think about which service they wanted to go into.”

Hickein chose the U.S. Navy. Training began for him at Sampson Naval Base, located in the Finger Lakes, and eventually came entry into the war. “It was late when I went in, April 1945.” 

Hickein said the Victory Corps didn’t limit a student’s participation to just one division, as he interacted in several.

A most visible project the OHS students undertook in the spring of 1943 was to raise money to buy a Jeep for the war effort, by selling war stamps and bonds.

From the 1943 yearbook, “Jeep talk was more prevalent that ‘jive talk’ around the halls of O.H.S. this year, as students made a great record in war stamp and bond purchases. Up to the first of May, $5,863.75 was invested in victory. A three-week ‘Jeep campaign’ in April, with a goal of $900, went over the top with more than $1,200 in sales.”

“The ‘Schools-at-War flag,’” also known as a Service Flag, “was earned for having more than 90 percent of the students participating regularly in the war savings program.”

Nationally, just as at OHS, the Victory Corps program was extremely popular during the two years of its existence.

On Monday: Our local life and times in January 1974.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.