Bucknell Researchers Trace University Connections to World War I
A team of faculty and students traveled to Europe to learn about alumni who served in the Great War.
Amy Collins '18 places an orange-and-blue banner on the grave of 1st Lieut. Charles O'Brien, Class of 1909, at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Photo by Sherri Kimmel
June 27, 2017, BY Sherri Kimmel
World War I is called the forgotten war, eclipsed by World War II, with its glamorous "greatest generation" and horrors of the Holocaust; and the Civil War, which left its bloody mark on native soil. Recently a research team of five Bucknell students, two professors and the alumni magazine editor traveled nearly 4,000 miles to reawaken the memories and lessons of the Great War by visiting Bucknell-related memorials and other sites in France and Flanders.
The 10-day trip was the latest stage of the Bucknellians in World War I project, conceived three years ago by Professor David Del Testa, history, with a goal to identify and commemorate Bucknell alumni who served in World War I, whether as soldiers, nurses or ambulance drivers. Del Testa, who teaches courses on World War II and the Vietnam War, was drawn to the topic after Isabella O'Neill, University archivist, described some items in her care related to Bucknell's involvement in World War I.
"I realized that the sheer commitment of Bucknellians to the war made researching it an interesting prospect, and I also know that project would attract undergraduate research interest as well," he said. The trip also represented an important step in Del Testa's aim to "to create a history for the school that doesn't exist. There isn't any amalgamation of the history of World War I for the institution."
With the help of three Presidential Fellows, A.J. Paolella '18, Julia Stevens '20 and Julia Carita '20, 730 alumni connected to the conflict were identified and documented in a database. All three students took Del Testa's Bucknellians in World War I class. Another student, Amy Collins '18, is studying the lingering environmental damage caused by World War I as aDalal Family Fund for Creativity & Innovation Fellow. A fifth student, Dante Fresse '18, accompanied the group to film a documentary of the trip, supported by a student research grant. Professor Adrian Mulligan, geography, who is a specialist in the study of memorialization, co-led the trip with Del Testa. | Read the group's blog about the journey.
Before departing for Europe, participants chose individuals from the Bucknellians in World War I database they could connect to locations in France or Belgium. Stevens, a French & Francophone studies major, chose Katherine Baker, Bucknell Female Institute Class of 1892, as her subject. Baker was a World War I nurse who ultimately died as a result of treating patients who had been exposed to mustard gas.
Stevens learned that the Henri Rollet Association, a facility that serves at-risk children and youth and was co-founded by Baker, still exists in Paris. The research team touredthe facility and learned about the organization's genesis and how it provides a safe and positive environment for children and young adults.
After visiting the Paris campus, the team traveled via van to northeastern France, where Bucknellians served as members of the American Expeditionary Force, stopping first at the Pennsylvania Memorial Bridge in Fismes. The bridge over the Vesle River was built in 1928 by Pennsylvania to honor the soldiers of the 28th Division, who'd turned back the Germans there in July 1918.
Collins, a history and political science major, waded into the river to collect water samples, which she sent out to test for the presence of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. "I'm looking at the long-term consequences of war," she said. Her aim is to publish a research paper on her findings and perhaps develop an interdisciplinary career blending science and public policy to study the environmental effects of warfare in different world hotspots.
In the Argonne Forest, the group visited the location where Dwite Schaffner, Class of 1915, performed an act of bravery that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of two received by Bucknell alumni. A bust in his honor is located in the lobby of the Kenneth G. Langone Athletics & Recreation Center.
On Memorial Day weekend, the group honored three Bucknellians. At the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, its members located the headstone of Lewisburg native 2nd Lieut. Baker Fairchild Spyker, Class of '22, among the 15,000 graves. The students placed a Bucknell banner in front of Spyker's white cross before moving on to 2nd Lieut. Wilson Chalmers Acheson of Pittsburgh, who was killed Oct. 12, 1918, a day before Spyker and less than a month before the war ended.
The group also visited Haumont-près-Samongneux, a ruined French village whose land is still contaminated by the 1916 German assault that drove its citizens permanently from the town. Thomas Agnew, Class of 1920, a volunteer for one of two Bucknell ambulance units that served during the war, had been stationed in the area in 1917. Carita, an art history and political science major, chose Agnew as her subject. | Read her blog entry.
At the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Collins placed an orange-and-blue banner on the grave of her subject, 1st Lieut. Charles O'Brien, Class of 1909, a recipient of the Purple Heart. | Read her reflection.
For Del Testa, the trip made palpable the contrast between the project's "bright, mature, directed and feeling young people who are still living and the thousands who didn't get the same chance 100 years ago. How are [current students] the children of World War I, and how do they deal with its legacy?"
This fall, the Presidential Fellows will continue to expand the database, and Carita and Stevens will prepare papers about their Bucknellians to present at a conference in Japan or Hawaii next spring. A second research trip, co-led by Del Testa and Mulligan, is planned for fall 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. The project's ultimate goal will be a book-length manuscript, with chapters written by team members. | Read an op-ed by Del Testa and Mulligan.
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