To the tune of two trumpets, Yale honored the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the Great War with a ceremony in Woolsey Hall on Thursday.
In the frantic months after President Woodrow Wilson declared war against the German Empire on April 6, 1917, around 9,500 Yale students joined the war effort. Over the course of less than a year, 227 Yale students died in combat. The ceremony, which drew several hundred people to Woolsey, prompted reflection from its audience, many of whom felt personal connections with these fallen men.
“I remember being here as a student and listening to other memorials about war, but then going and serving in the Vietnam War,” said David Thorne ’66, who attended the ceremony and formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Italy and as senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry ’66. “I think back to my own experience and how much Yale affected the choice of going to serve.”
At the event, University President Peter Salovey and Director of International Security Studies Paul Kennedy gave speeches on Yale’s relationship with the military and its role in shaping the nation’s ascension to global hegemony.
Kennedy spoke of the scores of students who rose unhesitatingly to fight in the world’s first modern war, and described a college campus transformed by the war into a military training ground. He focused on the stories of the Yale students who enlisted amid the turbulence of international politics and the advent of the machine age.
As the nation came to England’s aid, Yale played a radically more active role in the war than in previous American military endeavors, Kennedy said, since the U.S. government came to rely on Yale’s students and faculty to help meet the demands of a complex international war effort. By 1919, he continued, Yale resembled a “Gothic training camp.”
Underscoring the sacrifices and need for healing which war necessitates, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler included in her invocation excerpts from the written prayers of soldiers who fought in the First World War. Salovey grounded his opening remarks in the importance of remembering all of the nation’s veterans for their “distinguished service and dedication to country.”
For other attendees, the ceremony stood as a reminder of the value of military service.
“I was a war zone correspondent for many years,” said Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor, who attended Thursday’s ceremony and whose daughter is a naval officer. “I want to honor that American troops serve with morality and values that are very unique to armed services.”
Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said she enjoyed hearing Kennedy’s talk for the details he provided about Yale’s involvement in the First World War.
And students at the commemoration found the event meaningful for similar reasons. Daniel Tenreiro-Braschi ’19, a columnist for the News, said that he attended the ceremony to honor the importance of this historical event and to hear one of the University’s greatest military historians.
“It puts your experience into the context of Yale students who have gone before you,” said Jack Kuenzle ’17, a midshipman in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program who attended the ceremony. “Yale has a great tradition of working with the military.”