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‘I’ve got to do something for Uncle Sam’

November 8, 2018
historic image of soldiers lined up to drillThe Students Army Training Corps at the University of Rochester in 1917. November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I. (University photo / Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation)

When the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, Jules Fish knew he must serve.

“I’ve got to do something for Uncle Sam,” the Rochester first-year student told his mother.

At 19, Fish was two years under the draft age. And standing at 6 feet, 6 inches, he was rejected by several branches for being too tall. But he persisted, and the 23rd Infantry finally accepted him that summer. Fish’s parents reluctantly signed a consent form, and he set sail for France that September.

“It will all be over in a few months,” he reassured his worried mother. “I’m not going to be gone long.” On April 6, 1918—the first anniversary of the United States’ entrance into the war—Fish was killed in a battle near Maizey, France.

“We all lived in hopes that the inevitable had not occurred,” infantryman Donald McGary wrote in a letter to Fish’s mother. “But after the attack was over, our hopes were shattered as we witnessed four Red Cross men carrying a real hero, our pal Jules Fish, to his final resting place.”

Fish is buried in St. Mihiel American Cemetery in France. The University awarded his degree posthumously in 1920. Fish was one of 862 University students, alumni, and faculty members who served for the Allies in World War I—at home and abroad, on the front lines, in hospitals, and on American training bases.

Of them, 326 served outside the United States, at sea, on land, or in the air. Twelve Rochester women are also known to have served. Eleven men gave their lives.

This Sunday, November 11, marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that brought to a close “the War to End All Wars.” Here are profiles of a few University community members who answered the call.

historical portrair of Carolyn Emerson

Carolyn Emerson

Class of 1908

She was University class president her sophomore year and interrupted her career as a French teacher to join a wartime YMCA canteen service in France, providing food, beverages, and personal items to soldiers. Emerson’s University yearbook quote spoke to her character: “Many are called, but few get up.”

historical portrait of Lawrence Atkins

Lawrence Atkins

Class of 1915

Atkins served as student body president at Rochester and was a member of the baseball and track teams. He joined the 106th Ambulance Company and was sent to France, where he was struck by an influenza pandemic that would kill an estimated 30 million people. He died in a French hospital of bronchial pneumonia on October 30, 1918, just 12 days before the war ended.

historical portrait of Margaret Neary Bakker

Margaret Neary Bakker

Class of 1913

The Rochester native graduated with a degree in chemistry and served as a bacteriologist at Base Hospital 19 in Vichy, France, during the war, then joined a Red Cross unit for 16 months. Never content to stay in one place, she lived in Hawaii, Austria, China, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, England, and France.

historical photo of Raymond Ball

Raymond Ball

Class of 1914

The Wellsville, New York, native enlisted in the US army in 1917 and served two years as a captain of a machine gun battalion in France. He went on to hold several executive posts at the University, including treasurer and chairman of the Board of Trustees before embarking on a long career in Rochester as a banking president.

historical photo of Vernon Brown in uniform

Vernon Brown

Class of 1920

The Canada native left school after nine months to join Britain’s Royal Flying Corps and was credited with downing at least two German planes. He went missing in May 1918 and was presumed dead. In fact, he had been shot down, wounded, and placed in a German prisoner of war camp. Although he didn’t return to the University, the faculty awarded him a bachelor’s degree in 1920 in deference to his war service.

historical portrait of Charles Evans

Charles Evans

Class of 1918

Evans left school in the spring of 1917 to join the Navy reserves. That June, he was on a patrol boat off Boston Harbor when an excursion steamer emerged from heavy fog and smashed into the boat’s cabin, tearing off Evans’s left arm. Five comrades gave blood transfusions in a desperate effort to save his life, but he died two days later and received his degree posthumously from the University.

historical photo of Prentiss Gilbert

Prentiss Gilbert

Class of 1906

The great-nephew of Martin Brewer Anderson, the University’s first president, he served as a captain in the Military Intelligence Division during World War I. He became the University’s first director of its Extension Division and later was named US representative at the League of Nations and appointed chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Berlin, Germany, by President Roosevelt. He died of a heart attack at the embassy in 1939, at age 55.

historical photo of Eleanor Gleason in graduation cap and gown

Eleanor Gleason

Class of 1903

A member of the University’s third female graduating class, she received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. During the war, she was a YMCA canteen worker at a French hospital and set up a library system in the Virgin Islands after it became a US territory.

historical photo of Harold Kimball

Harold Kimball

Class of 1911

The Rochester native was 25 and working as a machinist for the Rochester Boring Machine Company when he joined the Canadian army in April 1916, a year before the United States entered the war. He was killed in France on April 9, 1917, becoming the first University community member to die in the war.

historical portrait of Nathaniel Kendrick

Nathaniel Kendrick

Class of 1921

The first to enroll at Rochester after active service in France, he left high school during his senior year to join the American Field Service and drove a front-line ambulance for six months. Kendrick became a longtime history professor and dean at Bowdoin College in Maine. His grandfather, Asabel Clark Kendrick, was a member of Rochester’s original 1850 faculty and taught Greek for 45 years. His father, Ryland, taught Latin and Greek at the University from 1881 to 1937.


Read more

collage of six portraits of student veterans Making the move from the military to the University
Rochester is currently ranked 13th by US News and World Report in its list of best colleges for veterans. As Veterans Day approaches, six University students from each of the branches of the armed services share their stories of moving from the military to the classroom.

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