Editor’s note: Earlier this year, four surviving members of a special MSU alumni group reunited on the 70th anniversary of the momentous historical event they shared. Their special bond was explained by then editor Allen Snow in a 1994 Alumnus article, an edited version of which follows.
Cokes were a nickel, Mrs. Miniver had just won an Oscar as best motion picture of the previous year, and James Cagney had been named best actor for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. If you turned on a radio, it’s likely Glenn Miller would be belting out “Chattanooga Choo Choo” on his trombone, or his band would be working through the haunting strains of “Moonlight Serenade.”
There were 30 of them, and due to inexorable events, they were inseparable for a time. Later, many of them were back in college, but not together as they had been, and none of them was ever a kid again. In December 1942, they were enrolled in the advanced infantry ROTC class at Mississippi State College.
To take advanced ROTC, the infantry class at Mississippi State was told it would have to enlist in the Army, with the promise that the members would stay in school until they graduated. One semester later, they were called to active duty as a group and ordered to report to Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, where they were inducted into the Regular Army. From there, they went to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for basic training.
“While taking basic training, we were in the company of other ROTC students from throughout the United States,” said class member L.W. Jordan. [Jordan died in 1999.] “There were students there from The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute, Georgia Tech, and many other schools.”
That fall, the ROTC group returned—in uniform—to the Mississippi State campus and completed another semester of college work before being sent to Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Of the original group, about 15 graduated from Infantry OCS and were commissioned as second lieutenants. Most were sent to Camp Gruber, Okla., with the 42nd Infantry Division.
On June 6, 1944, the largest invasion force in history—the Allied Expeditionary Force—landed at Normandy in northern France and began the long and costly process of driving the Germans out of Paris and back across the Rhine River.
“Several of our newly commissioned officers were sent as replacement officers to other units and some were sent overseas as replacement officers in combat,” remembered Jordan. “Later, the 42nd Infantry was sent to the European Theater, where they were soon in combat.”
By fall 1944, most of the young men who, less than a year earlier, had been in school at Mississippi State were in France, Belgium, Austria, and Germany. They were new to combat, but the period of their service in Europe saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
Front Row L-R: Ray Beckham, Bill Trotter, L.W. Jordan, Lynn Smith, Ira McCullen, Dean Andrews, and Elliott Cowand; Back Row L-R: Bill Nettles, Ben Conger, Robert Hammond, N.W. Carver Jr., Frank Gwin Jr., Clyde Hamer, Gordon Hazard, Emmett H. “Mickey” Walker, James C. Robertson, and John Robert Arnold.
Two members of the ROTC group, Maury Box of Corinth and James Tucker of Hamilton, were killed in combat. Three others—Frank Gwin Jr. of Tchula, Homer C. McNamara of Dunwoody, Georgia, and John Robert Cooley, now deceased—were prisoners of war.
After their discharge from active duty, many of the members of the Class of ’43 returned to Mississippi State College and earned degrees. They graduated in ’46, some in ’47, some in ’48. Many of them remained in the military reserves or the National Guard, and many returned to active duty during the Korean War a few years later.
They went on to become engineers, businessmen, and farmers. They married and had children and then grandchildren. Some have retired, while others have hardly slowed down. They still have occasion to get together formally and informally.
“This group is very close,” Jordan said. “We have had some great times and some bad times together.”
[In April 1993], 17 of them came back to Mississippi State for one of the great times—the 50th anniversary of their days in school together. They shared old stories and new ones, great and bad, and remembered the ones who weren’t there.
At Homecoming 1993, they met again. One of their own, Emmett H. “Mickey” Walker of Jackson, was honored in a campus ceremony as the Outstanding Honor ROTC Graduate. After being discharged from active duty in 1946, Walker was recalled during the Korean War. He remained in the Army Reserves, served at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., for a decade, and retired in 1986 as a lieutenant general. [Walker died in 2007.]
“We were the last advanced infantry ROTC class from Mississippi State during World War II,” Jordan said.
(There is a happy postscript to this war story. On August 2, 2014, Gordon and Sara Hazard’s grandson, Matthew Stevens Hazard, married Anne Barrett Polk, granddaughter of James C. and Anne Robertson. Matthew is a 2004 MSU landscape architecture graduate, and the couple first met as a result of their respective grandparents’ close relationship.)
Alumni and friends can honor or remember one of the 1943 class with a gift for the new G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans. Please contact Wes Gordon at (662) 325-9129 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
By Allen Snow