Medical School Militarized

On Veterans Day the United States honors those who served in the United States Armed Forces. Washington University School of Medicine has educated many military men and women over the years, including one particularly interesting group.

During the Second World War it was possible to be an active serviceman or servicewoman and still attend medical school – or nursing or dental school – by participating in the US Army’s Specialist Training Program (ASTP), the Navy’s V-12 Program, or the Cadet Nurse Corps.

These programs were established in September of 1942 by Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War. With the draft depleting the number of students in US colleges, Stimson feared the military would not have enough soldiers with the needed technical and academic training. Universities and colleges were expecting a dramatic drop in enrollment, which could lead many of them to close. The ASTP and V-12 programs were thought to be a way to enlist the men needed while allowing them to continue their education and helping keep many colleges from bankruptcy.

In July of 1943 over 120 medical students reported to Washington University School of Medicine as part of the ASTP and V-12 programs. Those entering the ASTP were first sent to Jefferson Barracks for “processing and shipment” as enlisted men. Many, like John Herweg, WUSM Class of 1945 and one of the ASTP students, had been in the ROTC. But he and the others gave up both their civilian status and their future second lieutenant commissions. The ASTP differed from the ROTC in that participants immediately entered into the Army, not as officers, but as enlisted men with the rank of private. They would forego any assurance of entering the officer training program after graduation.

The benefit for the students was that the US War Department would pay for their tuition. The downside was that poor performance in school would mean not just washing out of the course, but being transferred to another military assignment. “If you failed medical school you were sent immediately to Attu Island in Alaska, so there was a great incentive to do well in school,” Herweg remembered.

In addition to a grueling and compressed war-time medical curriculum, they also had to drill just like any other military company. “I was the company bugler,” Herweg said. “We marched every Saturday in Forest Park.”

Washington University School of Medicine operated ASTP Unit 3708 under contract with the War Department. The school was compensated by the government with $187.50 per student, per quarter, for tuition, and an additional $10.50 per student, per quarter, for health care. Washington University was one of thousands of universities, colleges and schools participating in the ASTP, V-12 and Cadet Nurse Corp.

Stan London, WUSM Class of 1949, had entered the V-12 program and done his first years of medical school at DePauw University in Indiana. Other School of Medicine students in the ASTP and V-12 programs included Jack Barrow, Larry O’Neal, Alex Morris, J.B. Shapleigh, II, Virgil “Bud” Loeb, Jr., and Sam Guze, who all had distinguished careers at the Washington University Medical Center.

In addition to these student soldiers, this Veterans Day we remember the more than 150 doctors and nurses from the Washington University Medical Center who were on activity duty during the Second World War, many of whom served overseas.