At the beginning of November, I was contacted by the Lexington Historical Society about an exhibit they were working on to honor the military service of my maternal grandfather, Ronald Dalrymple Brown (1899-1985). The exhibit would be displayed at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts throughout the month of November as part of the Lexington Remembers WWI project to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice that brought to a close the War to End All Wars.
The Saturday the exhibit opened, the members of my family still in the area met for lunch and a catch-up before heading over to the Cary Library to view the exhibit. It is particularly fitting that the exhibit be held at the Cary Library because the library was originally designed in 1906 by Willard Dalrymple Brown (1871-1944), Ronald’s uncle.1
The exhibit came about in part because of a personality quirk: Ronald could never throw anything away. When he died in 1985, he still had his WWI uniform, his helmet, his mess kit, his canteen, his regimental photographs, and his field manuals. His second wife, Ethel Lavilla Wright Brown (1908-1997), donated the items to the Lexington Historical Society.
I’d always wondered about my grandfather’s service in the Army because the dates coincided with his enrollment as an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I figured he must have participated in some kind of an R.O.T.C. program. The information accompanying the Lexington Remembers exhibit confirmed this suspicion and gave me those all-important search terms to find out more:
In June 1918, following his graduation from Arlington High School and Phillips Exeter Academy, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (R.O.T.C.) in Plattsburg, NY.
On October 1, 1918, Ronald was inducted into the United States Army. He was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and therefore became a private in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C). He was honorably discharged on December 9, 1918.2
My new search string, “Student Army Training Corps,” yielded over 300 hits on newpapers.com. The September 18, 1918 edition of The Boston Globe provided the conditions under which Ronald entered M.I.T. in the fall of 1918:
[Massachusetts Institute of] Technology is particularly fortunate in that its president, Dr. R. C. Maclaurin, is also chairman of the War Department’s committee on the Student Army Training Corps, the new plan which provides that a large proportion of the 18-year-old boys who come under the draft laws may get a college education before they are called into active service.
For the coming year Technology will be one great military barracks, with the students living under military discipline and studying a course constructed to meet the requirements of the War Department.
A boy of 18 who has registered will enter as usual on the first day. Then, if he can pass the army physical tests, he will be given voluntary induction into the Student Army Training Corps. Instead of paying tuition, he will be given quarters, private’s pay, uniform and subsistence by the Government. He will live in barracks, have military drill every day and live the life of a soldier, except that he will be getting what few drafted men get, a technical education.
When his turn comes to be called into active service, around next July, if he is 18 at entrance, he will be dealt with according to his military and scholastic proficiency at the Institute.
The best men will be detailed to the Institute to finish their intensive course to become engineers, chemists, health officers and the like. Men less fitted for hard technical study, but still first-class students will be sent to an officer’s training corps. Others will go to a non-commissioned officer’s school. The least promising will be sent to camps as privates.
. . . .
Every student in this Student Army Training Corps, which will exist in 400 colleges and technical schools in the United States, will have also a thorough training in the history of the causes of the war and the issues at stake for the United States. This course has been given successfully this Summer in the 150 training detachments where drafted men have been detailed for technical and mechanical instruction by the War Department.3
Fortunately for Ronald and his descendants, the War ended before he was eligible to be called for active service in July of 1919.
1“History of Cary Memorial Library,” Cary Memorial Library, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.carylibrary.org/history-cary-memorial-library.
2“The items in these cases belonged to Ronald Dalrymple Brown of Lexington and Arlington, Massachusetts,” (Lexington, MA: Lexington Historical Society, 2018).
3“Tech as a War College,” The Boston Globe (Boston), September 15, 1918, Sunday edition, 28.