From the Archives: For Those on the GI Bill, College was Serious Business

Summer 2009

GI-BillBefore Keefer Stull ’49 stepped foot in a Johns Hopkins engineering classroom, he had amassed a lifetime of stories. To name a few: Stull had walked the streets of a just-liberated Paris (Nazis and Parisians still openly traded gunfire), and trudged through frozen conditions near the Rhine River in the Battle of the Bulge.

Not your typical undergraduate, but the mid-to-late 1940s were different times. Stull and millions of other young men spent what would have been their college-age years serving in the military during World War II. Hundreds later came to Johns Hopkins courtesy of the GI Bill.

Officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill provided federal aid, including tuition assistance, to help veterans adjust to civilian life. The act would have a profound impact on college enrollment nationwide, including at Johns Hopkins.

By April 1944, the School of Engineering’s enrollment had dwindled to 162 undergraduates. In his 1945 annual report, President Isaiah Bowman lamented the wartime disruption of higher education.

“Too few male students are available in the educational scheme to fill our graduate and professional schools next year and for years to come,” Bowman wrote. “The kind of higher education that gave us our technological superiority over the enemy was first curtailed drastically in the name of military necessity; now it has become a victim of military indecision and political delay.”

The end of the war and creation of the GI Bill changed all that. Throughout the summer of 1945, the Registrar’s Office received on average 100 application inquiries per day. In response, the university created a Veterans Office responsible for interviews and correspondence with entering undergraduates, allowing the Registrar’s Office to focus on returning students.

At the start of the 1946–47 academic year, enrollment in the School of Engineering rose to 730, of whom 531 were veterans. The numbers of enrolled veterans would steadily rise over the next several years.

Stull joined Johns Hopkins in 1947, at the age of 23, after a stint in postwar Germany where, among other things, he inventoried looted equipment. He had arrived in Europe in the fall of 1944. Blind in one eye, he served in the 102nd Infantry Division as a radio operator and repairman.

At Hopkins, he worked in Ferdinand Hamburger’s lab, mostly doing repair work. Stull said he focused on studies and spent the majority of his free time with faculty and other vets. “I already knew more than [the faculty] could teach me, so I spent a lot of my time teaching undergraduates and the guys from [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute],” Stull says.

He graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering but did not leave the university until 1955, remaining to take graduate classes, conduct research, and teach radio classes. He later went to work for Westinghouse in its Aerospace division, where he helped develop pulse Doppler radar for fighter planes.

James Stimpert, university archivist, said that Stull’s undergraduate experience of all work no play was likely archetypal for a veteran.

“My sense is that a lot of the student traditions, such as freshman hazing, went out when the veterans came to the campus,” Stimpert said. “I can imagine an ex-infantryman, entering Hopkins in his 20s, telling a nonveteran upperclassman: ‘You want me to do something stupid and ridiculous like that? Buddy, I spent months in foxholes with shells and machine gun fire all around.’”

Even those who didn’t see combat duty, Stimpert says, undoubtedly held special status on campus. Men like Joe Strohecker ’53.

By the time Strohecker made it to Europe, the war was over. He served in the Army Air Corps as a radio operator aboard a B-17 bomber that flew classified missions over Germany for one year.

The Baltimore native applied to Johns Hopkins in 1948 but was wait-listed. He studied elsewhere (Lehigh University for a brief stint, then Loyola College in Baltimore) before getting the green light of admission from Hopkins, where he studied industrial engineering. Like Stull, Strohecker’s approach to his education at Johns Hopkins was far from frivolous.

“We weren’t kids. A lot of us vets were very serious. We just wanted to get our degrees and get on with the rest of our lives,” says Strohecker, who went on to a long career at Western Electric. “For me, that meant no lacrosse games and not much in the way of social events. I spent most of my spare time working part time in a lab.”

The GI Bill paid Strohecker’s tuition in full, until it ran out his senior year. He went to Bill Kouwenhoven, then dean of the School of Engineering, to explain his situation. Kouwenhoven gave him a 50 percent scholarship, which meant Strohecker had to come up with the remaining $150.

“JHU did a lot for me. I sure count my blessings,” Strohecker says today. “I was able to attend a fine university, one that people respected. For me, it was the finest education I could get.”

A Boost for Today’s GIs
Whiting School alumnus William F. Ward Jr. ’67 is so grateful for the Hopkins education he received under the GI Bill that he has made a $1 million gift to benefit today’s returning servicemen and women. To be eligible for the fellowship, a student must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student, honorably discharged, with at least one full year of active service.

“In 1970, when I completed my active duty military obligation and returned to Baltimore, I was fortunate in that I was provided the resources to complete my undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins,” says Ward, a university trustee and WSE National Advisory Council member. “In the current environment. the GI Bill, while very helpful, does not provide sufficient funds to attend Johns Hopkins. I would hope that the gift I am making to the university would allow returning service personnel the ability to attend Johns Hopkins and benefit as I have from that opportunity.”