World War I

While SI grads such as Matthew Sullivan were thriving in their professional lives, not all was well at the Shirt Factory. Enrollment among university students fell so low that in 1912, the college had only 24 students, including 15 freshmen. During the 1914–1915 school year, there were as many Jesuits teaching high school and college as there were students enrolled in the university — 33 — making it one of the smallest universities in the world. (This was a hard time for many private colleges in the country, and many permanently closed their doors.) During these years, SI high school enrollment fluctuated between 150 and 200 students, a far cry from the heyday of the 1880s when SI was the largest Jesuit college in the U.S. The deficit in students was matched by a financial deficit, and the Jesuits reinstated the Ignatian Society to help raise funds for the school and for the construction of the new church.

World affairs would soon intrude upon SI’s crisis. The U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and of the 378 SI grads who fought in Europe, 10 lost their lives. Among those (according to the June 1918 Ignatian) was Charles P. McVey who drowned on the Tuscania, which was torpedoed on February 5, 1918. The others included William Lasater, George Ross, Frank Cardanali, Harry Heaton, Joseph Hickey, Louis Kengla, William Ketler, Frank Kramer and Frederick Schimetchek. Of these nine, three died of disease, five of wounds and one by accident, crushed by a falling gun carriage. Another alumnus, Lt. Frank A. Flynn, was seriously injured in a plane crash and may have died of his injuries.

The highest ranking SI grad to serve in the war was Brigadier General Charles H. McKinstry (SI 1884), who served as 1st Division Commander of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade in 1917. Also serving were the Callaghan brothers, Daniel ’07 and William ’14, who would distinguish themselves in World War II.

During the war, SI took part in a government program designed to provide military training to college students. The Students Army Training Corps began October 1, 1918, and ended in December, shortly after the November 11 Armistice agreement. In that brief time, military officers trained and drilled students, ending each day at 10 p.m. with taps.

Overseas, Ignatians found hell on earth in that gruesome war. Capt. Joseph Sullivan ’11, in the June 1919 Ignatian, wrote the following to his brother, Thomas “Sars” Sullivan:

“I do not know whether to be glad or sorry that I was not on the front when the end came. I could not be there on account of my wound. If I had been there, the last shell of the last gun would have riddled me, I am sure. I’m sorry, for there must have been a wild celebration. The fighting where I was, was particularly hard. You know where the First American Army was operating. Well, Sars, they threw the picked Prussian Guard divisions against us, they pounded us with artillery and machine-gun barrages till the very air seemed to be so filled with flying lead that there was not room for more. And they showered us with gas, so that our breathing apparatus became null and void. When my battalion went to the attack, we were war-strength. We had a Major and four Captains. I was Captain of “I” Co., and I was right support company of the battalion. The Boche21 barrage broke over us for eight hours before the time for attack was set. But my men were dug in, which means that they were in holes in the ground perpendicular to the axis of hostile fire. All through the night the hell continued. The Austrian 88’s (whiz-bangs, we call them), just cleared the slope and broke on the reverse side where we were. Frequently I would receive a clod of dirt in the face, which some Boche shell had sent flying. Then the hour of attack came, the battalion rose out the hole and went for the Boche. Such a day and such a night! Captain Sackett, a classmate, led the left support company of the regiment. As we rose, an increase in the Boche barrage was apparent, and Sackett dropped with twenty machine-gun bullets through him. My officers were wonderful. My men — too much cannot be said for them. Of course contact and control were difficult, and as we jumped from crater to crater we could preserve no formation. The ground was a succession of slopes, and over each one the Boche had complete mastery. The Boche had direct fire on us with artillery, and it was deadly. He enfiladed us from the flanks and from the left rear as we progressed, and when we reached our objective the battalion was reduced to 200 men under the command of a 1st Lieutenant. The Major was wounded, I was wounded, Capt. Ed. Leonard, “K” Co., was dead, Capt. Mudge, “L” Co., and Capt. Wilhelm, “M” Co, were wounded, while Lieutenants were strewn over the battlefield.

“Well, it’s all over now but the shouting, and I’m sick of war, of its havoc, its ruin and destruction. I want beaucoup peace and quiet, and they are sending me into Germany to get it.
“Sars, it’s a funny world. Be good to yourself and take good care of Mother.
“Ever your loving brother, Joe”
Later, he wrote this to his mother with an accompanying photograph:
“In October 1918, at Romagne sous Montfaucon, an isolated “77” was picking off my men. We maneuvered and killed the Boche gunner, and I took his name-tag. Last night I was billeted in this home, and Madam cleaned my clothes. She came across the name-tag and said that it belonged to her son. She knew that he was dead, but she did not know that she was billeting under her roof the man who had killed her son. Mother, I had a strange feeling, but I had only done my duty.”