Trine Professor Emeritus Dr. Jim Zimmerman has provided this historical piece on Tri–State College alumnus General Lewis B. Hershey, who headed the U.S. Selective Service in the 1940s under U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As one of America′s leading experts on military manpower, General Lewis Blaine Hershey is arguably the most nationally prominent Trine University alumnus of the 20th century. He served presidents Franklin Roosevelt through Richard Nixon by administering the law which drafted young men into three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He was known to all Americans of that era as Mr. Selective Service.
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of General Hershey′s enrollment at Trine University (Tri–State College in 1910). Most alumni associate his name to the gymnasium that anchors the west end of campus, but few know the full extent of his brilliance in serving the United States. Those remembering General Hershey are the retired alumni and those nearing retirement who once received a draft letter signed by General Hershey which famously began with the a single word: "Greetings."
Lewis Hershey grew up on a farm located in Steuben County. What brought him to Tri–State College in June, 1910 was interest in becoming a Steuben County elementary school teacher. A May, 1910 graduate of Fremont High School, he had been offered a teaching position at a county one room school conditioned on his meeting Indiana certification requirements. He needed a high school diploma, passing marks on a state–administered examination, and three months of academic work at a professional school. Tri–State, which offered a professional course during the summer quarter, was located just five miles south of his home in a Steuben County region known as Hell′s Point.
With the sun rising above the horizon on a Saturday morning in early June, Hershey and his father went about routine farm chores with haste. They had scheduled a trip to Angola and Tri–State College to learn what must be done by Lewis to enroll for the summer quarter. Following breakfast, they left home by horse and buggy and headed south along what is now Indiana state road 27. Upon arriving at campus they hitched their horse to a post and went looking for assistance. An informant told them they should contact Professor Lester Rogers of the education department who lived two or three blocks down the road. Finding Rogers, who Hershey described as "friendly and gracious," they learned that for Lewis to enroll in the summer session he would need to "come up with $12 or $15."
Hershey returned to campus on Monday, June 6, 1910, to begin a six week session, the first of two held during the summer quarter. His first class met at 7:00 a.m., and it was followed at 8:00 a.m. by a chapel where students heard an inspirational talk. His second class met twenty minutes later. The day concluded with afternoon classes at 2:05 and 3:45. All classes met five times a week.
During the first session Hershey took methods of teaching from Professor Rogers and psychology from Willis Fox. He also took a course in physiology from college president J. J. Bryant and one in grammar from Fred Starr.
In a letter written to friend Ellen Dykert (later to become his wife), Hershey reported that he was in a group of "fifty or sixty" beginning students. Most were recent high school graduates though one was an "old lady" who, according to Hershey, was "fifty if she′s a day."
Hershey boarded with a family at 308 West Park Street. He paid one dollar for a week′s rent, and ate meals at Watson′s Restaurant in downtown Angola where for three dollars he got twenty one meal tickets. By skipping breakfast and eating only one meal on Friday, he made three dollars last a little more than two weeks.
He went home on weekends, sometimes walking the distance of about five miles (Hershey′s farm house stood where the I–69 underpass now leads to Pokagon State Park). He normally got a buggy ride back to campus though on one occasion after playing in a Sunday afternoon baseball game in Jamestown he crossed via a commuter boat from Lone Tree Point on the Lake James first basin′s north shore to Paltytown on its south shore. From there he took a train to Angola.
Lewis Hershey was an excellent student though on one occasion he revealed a common weakness. He fell asleep in class. This happened following a raucous July 4th celebration which lasted into the wee hours of the morning. I returned home, he wrote Ellen, at "about four [a.m.] ... or a little after." "I managed to get to my first class, but fell asleep during the second one." Then, I went "up town to obtain a newspaper and [to] read about the prize fight," but "got only a hazy idea." Returning home I took a nap, and as a result "missed Grammar."
While engaged in the summer quarter classes Hershey sat in mid–July for the teacher certification examination. He earned an average score of 87.8 with his best score being 100 in arithmetic. In other areas no score fell below 80. He told Ellen that he was satisfied with these scores, and pointed out that should he attend the county institute for teachers in September, the score would be adjusted to 89.8.
As the summer wore on Hershey found time to play tennis when on campus and baseball with the Hell′s Point semi–pro team on weekends. He also joined the college "militia."
The session ended on August 26. With but a few days to catch his breath, a county teacher institute to attend, Hershey began teaching at the Dewey School in Jamestown on September 11 two days shy of his 17th birthday. I have seventeen "scholars," he wrote Ellen, and all are "small," none above fourteen. The Jamestown assignment suited him for he could live at home, reaching school either by rig or by walking along roads and across farm fields. By living at home he pocketed the $2.25 per day salary which he received for his work.
In February, 1911, schoolmaster Hershey joined the Indiana National Guard unit based in Angola. It was the only way a farm boy could get to Indianapolis, he once quipped. He began as a private and by May, 1913 had been promoted to sergeant. Then on June 17, 1913, his fellow noncommissioned guardsmen elected him to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, it being the practice in those days for officers to be chosen by those in noncommissioned ranks. Guard duty called for attendance at weekly drills in Angola combined with a couple of weeks during the summer at Fort Benjamin Harrison outside Indianapolis.
When the term at the Dewey School ended spring, 1911, Lewis Hershey had saved enough money to return in the fall to Tri–State as a fulltime student. After twelve successive quarters he completed the requirements for degrees in sciences, arts, and pedagogy with grades of 90 and above in nearly three fourths of his courses. He mixed in with academics several extra–curricular activities, including varsity basketball. He also assisted the co–eds in forming a basketball team. In a letter written to Tri–State′s alumni director in June, 1970, one of the players (Mary Caldwell Thompson) recalled "coach" Hershey to have been "always so pleasant and agreeable — one of the most popular students on campus." In addition to these campus activities, Lewis Hershey assisted his father the county sheriff as deputy.
After graduating from Tri–State, Hershey accepted a teacher/principal position at the high school in nearby Flint. During his second year at Flint trouble developed on America′s southern border when Pancho Villa′s forces made occasional forays across the Rio Grande River. These raids led President Woodrow Wilson to send the Indiana National Guard to assist in policing the border. Led by two bands and to the cheers of citizens lining Angola′s downtown streets, the Steuben County Guard unit marched on June 17, 1916 to the depot on West Maumee where they bordered a train that would eventually carry them to southern Texas. They served there until December, 1916.
In January, 1917 Lewis Hershey enrolled in a graduate school program at Indiana University. During his first semester at IU the United States became militarily involved in World War I. Once again President Wilson activated the Indiana National Guard. After extended stateside preparations, the Hoosier soldiers landed in France in October, 1911 just one month before the signing of an armistice on November 11. Hershey could have returned immediately to the United States and continued graduate study, probably leading to a law degree, but he volunteered to remain in France where he was attached to a unit with responsibility for making the arrangements necessary in transporting American troops back to the United States.
It was during this assignment that Lewis Hershey decided to pursue a permanent military career by transferring from the Indiana Guard to the regular army. In the Twenties and on into the Thirties he was assigned to several stateside military posts and to one located on the Hawaiian Islands. In 1934 he attended the prestigious Army War College and in 1936 became secretary and executive officer of the Joint Army and Navy Selective Service Committee. It was in this assignment that Hershey participated in the design of a selective service plan that would take effect should Congress pass a draft law. This Congress did in 1940 following the outbreak of war in Europe. The law enacted the first peacetime draft, and President Roosevelt appointed Hershey to direct the agency with responsibility for implementing the law.
Lewis Hershey had long favored implementation of compulsory service in wartime. At duty in France in 1919 he wrote of this conviction to his father: "It [compulsory service] seems to me the most democratic thing to do." Individuals "must be either made to serve the government or government will be compelled to serve them." Years later President John F. Kennedy would make a similar point about national service in his inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
In 1973 at age 79 and after 62 years of military service and with the rank of four star general, Lewis Blaine Hershey retired. He was the military′s oldest active member at the time. In commemorating these years of service, President Nixon congratulated him for having "never lost sight of the citizen′s obligation to his country."
Among General Hershey′s many civic services was that of being a Tri–State College trustee. Having returned to Angola in the spring of 1977 to attend a board of trustees meeting and the spring graduation, he quietly passed away in his sleep at a motel located on a hill overlooking the land where his father once farmed. He is interned at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.