On, May 29, 1917, 127 Fordham students bid farewell to their friends and family in the banquet hall of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. They were bound for France, as part of the newly formed Fordham University Overseas Ambulance Corps, and their duty was clear: To help the U.S. and allied forces defeat Germany and end “The War to End all Wars.”
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., recounted inFordham: A History and Memoir (Jesuit Way, 2002) then President Joseph A. Mulry, S.J.’s words that night.
“His final thought, he said, was to urge them to look at the Goddess of Liberty as they sailed out of New York Harbor and remember that they were ‘going forth as Catholics who hear God’s call in the call of your country, and who see God’s face in the folds of the flag.”Saturday, June 28, marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that triggered what would come to be known as World War I. To honor those men, 36 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, Fordham’s Walsh Library will unveil a new exhibit on July 7.
Patrice Kane, head of archives and special collections at the library, said “Fordham Fights For Freedom,” will feature stories, images and mementos of the Fordham men who fought in trenches so almost a century ago.
Some objects from that time, like an Ambulance Corps banner and an American flag, will be on display along with the menu from that farewell dinner and an armband worn by Private Charles Curtin.
The first issue of the Ram newspaper will also have a place behind the glass cases of the library’s exhibition hall, as it was born as a newsletter sent overseas to the Fordham contingent.
Kane said the exhibit, which will run through December, will also include a selection of fiction books about characters suffering from shell shock and mustard gas, and several non fiction books about the war by the authors such as Winston Churchill and Barbara Tuchman. Times were very different then, especially at Fordham, she said.
“Catholics were still considered to be disloyal to the U.S. government, and more loyal to the Pope in Rome. Father Mulry, wanted to show at the time that Fordham men were just as patriotic as everyday Protestants. So there will be a few war mongering quotes that we’re going to use from him,” she said.
“And after the Civil War, we had the origins of the ROTC, and it was very important to promote that we had this military training program going on.”
Indeed, the language of the time is as instructive as the imagery of the tanks, trenches and barbed wire that were instrumental in the fighting.
“The first issue of the Ram says the Kaiser resigned because he heard Fordham men were coming overseas. I mean, that’s really filling them full of hope, but these poor kids were all of 18 years old, and all the sudden they’ve got Germans shooting at them from trenches.”
Visitors to the Rose Hill campus can also pay homage to Fordham’s World War I dead at the main entrance on Fordham Road and Third Ave. Plaques on the sides of the gate feature their names, as do columns extending along the perimeter of the campus on Fordham Road.