As it observes Veterans Day, one Boston institution is mindful of its own military past
By Dennis Nealon
This year marks a century since the day we know as Veterans Day was established on Nov. 11, 1919 as Armistice Day, in recognition of the first anniversary of the end of World War I. By that time, Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston was two years into its new role as a major military training post for the U.S. war effort.
A little more than a decade after Wentworth was founded in 1904, the Institute eagerly adopted that military mission, which during World War I transformed the university’s campus into “Camp Wentworth” for the training of servicemen heading off to battlefields and war-support positions.
Beginning in the spring of 1917, the Institute for a time became a residential military installation. Recruits pitched rows and rows of tents and mustered on campus. In World War II, Wentworth answered the U.S. government’s call again, and became a commuter school for military trainees. Each day, according to historic accounts, naval recruits marched a mile to and from campus from their quarters at the Hotel Somerset on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Kenmore Square.
“The role the Institute played during World War I marked perhaps the finest hour of its first 100 years,” wrote Joseph P. Clifford in A Century of Honesty, Energy, Economy, System, Wentworth Institute of Technology 1904-2004. “Over the course of 18 months, Wentworth trained 4,077 men for war service, molded an entire corps of military engineers, and transformed its college grounds into a secure training encampment. In the process, the Institute came of age virtually overnight as an educational institution.”
Clifford’s work also chronicles the role that Wentworth assumed in the winter of 1942, less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. War Department asked the Institute to run the Naval Training School. Before that, from 1939 to 1941, Wentworth and the New England Aircraft School trained 2,500 mechanics for the Army Air Force. And from 1940-1942, Massachusetts War Industries sent about 5,000 students to the Institute for brief technical instruction.
Wentworth went above and beyond providing critical educational support for the country’s 20th-century war efforts. Graduates of the Institute gave the ultimate sacrifice during both World Wars; 28 alumni were killed in World War I, and 48 in World War II—their service commemorated on plaques in Watson Hall, just outside the auditorium where the school each year holds a Veterans Day luncheon to honor its Veteran-students and all men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.
“It is interesting to note that our annual Veterans Day tributes evoke Wentworth’s own long and rich history pertaining to military service,” said the school’s president, Mark A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Thompson addressed about 150 attendees at this year’s Veterans luncheon on November 7, offering a quotation from the late U.S. Senator, Veteran and prisoner of war, John McCain.
“He [McCain] said, ‘Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you.’
To those who have served our country and shielded us from harm, know that you have brought glory to us all. Thank you very much for your service and God bless you all.”
Today, Wentworth is fleshing out its contemporary mission as a Veteran-friendly institution where Veterans can find certificate and degree programs that are intended to help reintegrate them into productive civilian lives. Just recently, also on November 7, Wentworth held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new study and lounge area on campus specifically for Veterans. And the school has enlisted local corporations and Veterans who helped to fund that renovation and pay for support programs and scholarships for servicemen and servicewomen.
“Wentworth remains a veteran-friendly university,” said Wentworth Professor Gloria Monaghan, an ROTC academic advisor and Student Veterans Club advisor who is also a member of the staff-faculty Veterans Committee.
Dennis Nealon is the director of Public and Media Relations at Wentworth Institute of Technology