At 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Jack Grealish ’44 was sitting in the pews at Most Holy Redeemer Church for Sunday Mass. When he and his family arrived home, they heard the news that Japan had launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. “We were in shock,” said Grealish. “Everyone was in shock. We didn’t know how to react.” That surprise attack killed thousands of servicemen and launched America into World War II. More than 3,000 SI alumni served in the armed forces and 96 of those men lost their lives.1
Despite the conflagration, life at SI did not change drastically during the war. Students still worried about exams and who would win the big game. The war intruded upon their high school lives in several ways, however. Teachers and older brothers left to fight in Africa, Europe and the Pacific Theater. News came back of alumni who had died or had been wounded. Some alumni officers returned to SI to speak to students or visit their teachers. And every day, war ships sailed in and out of the Golden Gate capturing the attention and imagination of the students, some of whom graduated early to enlist.
The December 19, 1941, edition of The Red and Blue barely makes mention of America’s entry into the war. The February 14, 1942, edition, however, offered three topical front-page stories. Two of those stories reported on the departure of teachers: David Walker, a history teacher, to the Navy and Fr. Cornelius O’Mara, SJ, to the Chaplain Corps. (Seven other SI alumni also served as chaplains in the war: Lt. Col. William Clasby, Capt. Wilfred Crowley, SJ, Lt. Charles Farrell, Capt. William Hanley, SJ, Capt. Raymond I. McGrorey, SJ, Lt. Col. William J. Reilly, and Lt. Cmdr. Jerome J. Sullivan, SJ.)
The third piece told of a returning alumnus, Richard Treanor ’33, who recounted his rescue at sea. Ten days after the attack at Pearl Habor, Treanor, a third mate on the U.S.S. Manini, found himself swimming for his life after his ship was destroyed by a Japanese submarine 200 miles southeast of Honolulu. “He told of days of hopeless drifting, of praying, of water shortage; how one of their number died before safety was reached. On Christmas Eve a plane circled overhead while Treanor sent a semaphore with a flashlight. He described the jubilance of the men as they looked forward to being rescued on Christmas, the happiest day of their lives. But hope faltered and disappeared as Christmas came and went. The pilot must have seen them, Treanor explains, but nothing materialized.
“One day, two days more they waited. The water ration was shrinking into nothingness and eating the hardtack was as impossible as gulping bricks. Then on the twenty-seventh of December, they spotted another plane, and this time Uncle Sam’s fleet came to the rescue.”
The Red and Blue published numerous items on the war, and two Jesuits (Mr. Timothy McDonnell, SJ ’36, and Fr. Lloyd Burns, SJ ’16) launched a new publication in October 1944 — the G.I. Wildcat, a monthly newsletter sent to Ignatian alumni serving in the Armed Forces. (This was the first alumni bulletin to be published and prefigured two later alumni publications.)
In the G.I. Wildcat’s first issue, the authors reported that of the 400 boys who applied to SI, a record 280 enrolled as freshmen. The Jesuits selected those 280 by having all applicants take an entrance examination for the first time in the school’s history. It “seemed to be the only fair way to select the 280 boys that could be accommodated with the limited faculty and limited classroom space. One of the questions on the examination was: ‘Why do you wish to attend St. Ignatius High School?’ Here is one of the many unusual replies: ‘Because I like the Christian Brothers.’”
The one-page, double-sided newsletter reported on visitors, on alumni who had distinguished themselves, and on casualties: “Martin Torti ’35 was recently given the Bronze Star for heroism. He was wounded while obtaining ammunition when the supply was exhausted and the squad was under fire.” Not all the news was from the front, however. Fr. Burns made sure the alumni kept up with the high school news. In the April 20, 1945, edition, for example, he reported on what may have been the first senior sneak. “Spring Fever has overtaken the City and the boys have their eyes on China Beach and other such spots. A couple of weeks ago, the fever ‘got’ the senior class so badly that after the First Friday Mass they went AWOL. The TJA (top Jesuit administrator) in the person of the Prefect of Discipline had them sentenced to a full school day on Saturday.”
The May 1945 edition had much to celebrate, including “VE Day, Liberated Prisoners, [and] Missing Ignatians Found. We thank God for all of these things. But our war is still only half over, maybe less than that, because it seems a majority of Ignatians are in the Pacific Arena. In the November 1945 edition, Fr. Burns noted that Fr. King, SI’s principal, left to serve as dean of faculty at Santa Clara, and that he had been replaced by Fr. Ralph Tichenor ’27.
With most alumni back home, Fr. Burns stopped publishing the newsletter in May 1946, but expressed his hope that some sort of alumni publication would continue in the years to come.