Between the Lines: January-February 2009

January 31, 2009

In the November 1941 Alumni Register, Duke President Robert L. Flowers pondered the war raging overseas. "[W]hatever may be the outcome," he said, "the world as we know it will not be the same." Almost seven decades later, we asked alumni to reflect on a conflict that remade the world—and their own lives.

During World War II, the Register reported on courses with a war focus and faculty research in "defense problems"; campaigns to sell war bonds and to raise money for the Red Cross; an address by the British ambassador extolling the civilizing influence of education in a dark time; Woman's College programs in "defense training" and "air raid preparation"; and the graduation of sixty-six M.D.'s—with sixty-one seeking military commissions.

The July 1942 Register reprinted a letter from an alumnus in the military—the first of many such reprints, with datelines like "Somewhere in France"—who declared that "with God's help every time I go out to meet the enemy I'll hear the bells of the Chapel for just a second … and for every peal of the bells, I'll send a burst of hot lead at the enemy." That issue also reported on the first four Duke alumni killed in the war.

This issue of the magazine, the Register's successor publication, features World War II-era alumni with their stories of harrowing encounters and heroic actions, wrenching losses and affirming triumphs: attending to a fellow wounded soldier, being taken prisoner after a fierce firefight, helping to rescue a future U.S. president. There are accounts of a Japanese sword that became something much more meaningful than a victory symbol, and of a campus band, the Duke Ambassadors, that lost eight of its sixteen members in the war.

More than 7,000 alumni served in the armed forces; many read their Register at Army and Navy libraries. All of them undoubtedly celebrated the August 1945 issue. Its cover captured scenes from the campus "observance of victory."