As part of its 2016 Veterans Day commemoration, Virginia Tech launched an online exhibit, Men Who Served: VPI in World War One, celebrating the university’s service during World War I.
During the First World War, 2,297 men from Virginia Polytechnic Institute served in the U.S. military, including those commissioned on campus. Twenty-six men died while in military service: ten were killed in action in France, twelve succumbed to disease, and two died while in training. More than twenty VPI soldiers were decorated for bravery by U.S. and French commanders.
“The First World War remains a presence on the Blacksburg campus,” said E. Thomas Ewing, a Virginia Tech history professor who helped coordinate the exhibit. “The Pylons, the Rock, and the War Memorial Building all carry remembrances of VPI men who served during the Great War. This digital exhibit will complement those physical tributes with something more personalized: the stories of individual soldiers.”
Ewing cited a trio of brothers from Leesburg, Virginia, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps: Dick Tebbs, Class of 1907; William Tebbs, Class of 1909; and Jack “Growley” Tebbs, Class of 1917. All three fought in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry in Aisne, France, where William was wounded and Jack survived a gas attack.
The exhibit connects the institution’s long and continuing record of military service with a set of issues critical to World War I: the mobilization of Americans for overseas service, the high costs of trench warfare, the devastating impact of the Spanish influenza epidemic, and the transition from peacetime to war mobilization to postwar adjustments.
“The exhibit brings together the unique perspectives of humanities-based research with Virginia Tech’s military service history in anticipation of the centennial of U.S. involvement in World War I,” Ewing said.
The United States was drawn into the war from April 1917 until the armistice in November 1918.
Research for the exhibit was coordinated by Daniel Newcomb (History ’13) from Monterey, Virginia, a master’s student dually enrolled in the Department of History and the School of Education, and Nicholas Runkel, a senior from Fairfax, Virginia, double majoring in political science and history.
“To me, the most interesting thing about our project is that it helps us understand VPI’s contribution to World War I by focusing on the lives of alumni who served in the war,” Newcomb said. “This focus brings the often forgotten experiences of World War I veterans to home, connecting Virginia Tech of the present with Virginia Polytechnic Institute of the past.”
Runkel echoed Newcomb’s appreciation of the exhibit’s value. “I would say the most interesting part of this project is the focus on Virginia Tech’s past and its impact on one of the seminal moments in world history,” he said. “Learning about Virginia Tech men in World War I has taught me so much about the war at large.”
Two dozen first-year students in the Introduction to History course, taught by Trudy Harrington Becker, a senior instructor in the Department of History, also contributed significantly to the research project. Several of those students will make remarks at the reception.
The exhibit is a collaboration of the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and University Libraries.
“The exhibit demonstrates the commitment of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to supporting undergraduate research in ways that connect to broader dialogues on humanities topics, such as the effects of war on society,” Ewing said.