Seventy years ago, the United States entered World War II. The tipping point in an ever-growing global conflict was the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon after, Dartmouth men went to war.
Instead of graduating that year, more than 90 percent of the Class of 1942 joined the war effort, to fight in locations they had never heard of: Anzio, Iwo Jima, the Leyte Gulf, the Coral Sea. Although these men’s heroics and sacrifices have not been forgotten, their experience of war, and war’s effect on their subsequent lives, hasn’t been recalled. Until now.
In a monumental effort, Leo (a World War II veteran and president of the Class of 1942) and Joanna Caproni, assisted by a battery of editors and supporters, have created a memoir to honor the soldiers of the Class of 1942. Dartmouth at War (publisher: Dartmouth Class of 1942) records the memories and war accounts of more than 100 men, told through letters, diary entries, maps, and photos.
Early on the morning (July 8, 1942), we got underway as part of the largest invasion armada yet assembled in human history — 3,000 ships carrying 160,000 men — its objective the beaches of enemy-held Sicily …. —Ed Stafford, Class of 1942
The project to collect these stories began in April 2010, says Leo, when “we made a mailing to all classmates and widows inviting each to write about their WW II experience — where they were when they heard the news, what they did in the war, followed by a short account of their present-day lives.”
The result was overwhelming, with stories pouring in from around the country. Widows and children of class members submitted accounts; many were from the 127 living members. The respondents were amazingly positive about the project, says Joanna. “They were very thankful for what Leo was doing,” she says.
“I felt honored that they would respond,” says Leo. “As a classmate, I knew the majority of members one way or another; there was always a close relationship as far as I was concerned.”
A seven-month editing and proofing process transformed a mountain of material in the Caproni’s small New York apartment into a 448-page memoir. The book is organized by theaters of operation, with authors listed alphabetically within each theater. Each memoir includes a photo of the author. In every case, says Leo, the author’s words are left as unaltered as possible.
In the preface to the book, Leo wrote about the veterans’ post-war years. “With few exceptions,” he wrote, “they either returned to Dartmouth to complete their education and earn a degree or resumed their work in business careers that had begun right after graduation.”
For some class members, the project was a chance to reconnect with Dartmouth, says Joanna. “It was really interesting,” she says. “We heard from a lot of regulars [engaged alumni], but others who hadn’t been heard of since the war have since reengaged with the College.”
“What we’ve accomplished,” says Leo, “is a historical record of the Dartmouth Class of 1942’s participation in World War II. It’s a chance for people to read the first-hand experiences, to learn what it was like. It will be there forever.”