SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Coming of War and Changes

Nacogdoches and SFA mobilize the home front

The outbreak of World War II was to bring SFA and Nacogdoches even closer together. The desire for victory strengthen their sense of community as they organized the county’s civil defense units, humanitarian relief organizations, educational awareness programs, and USO for the Home Front.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, the County Civil Defense Council developed coordination plans for the block wardens, firefighters and first aid personnel, bomb squads, and city utilities for emergency purposes such as an air raid or disaster. To man these organizations, it would take cooperation between townspeople and college students. The Defense Guard, organized back in March of 1941 to take over the local defense role when the Texas Guard was called to active duty, needed a minimum of sixty enlisted men and three officers for unit approval. While all men between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five were eligible and veterans from the First World War were highly sought after, it would take students and faculty of SFA in addition to residents to fill the ranks.

The day after the nation declared war on Japan, the Defense Council convened to assess the county’s readiness. The council pledged its support to the various civil defense organizations, including the Texas Defense Guard and the Red Cross. Captain C. C. Denman, local Defense Guard commander, reviewed his unit’s readiness and asked for additional men and weapons. The local Red Cross Chapter, co-chaired by SFA Dean T. E. Ferguson and Biology Professor Hal B. Parks, reported on the Red Cross’s readiness and recent training. The county sheriff and city police chief promised their support to prevent sabotage to the local industries. Judge A. W. Bell called for local residents and students “to do our work better than we ever have before.” On 22 April 1941, the Forty-Fourth Battalion officially inducted the Nacogdoches men into Company B, a part of the estimated 15,000 Texans divided into fifty battalions throughout the state. The city of Nacogdoches served as Company B’s headquarters and as the battalion’s headquarters; about four hundred men divided into six companies served.

The Eighth Service Command provided the Guard its valuable training. The first three weeks of training were described as similar to the army’s basic training. Afterwards, the guardsman received training in guerrilla warfare that included silent movement, explosives, sub-machine guns, and constructing roadblocks. V. R. Glazner, an agricultural professor at SFA and a lieutenant in the company, received his training at Camp Bullis by a colonel in the British Home Guard. Commenting on his training to the Pine Log, Glazner remarked that he had “learned to do everything but take a scalp.” Later, command of the company passed to Glazner and then to SFA Athletic Director Robert H. Shelton.

In addition to providing men to the Defense Guard, SFA contributed two Red Cross units to aid in the civil defense of the city and county. College student and faculty volunteers mainly made up the Red Cross Volunteer Detachment and the Motor Corps. The Volunteer Detachment initially maintained casualty stations at the Redland and Liberty Hotels, while the high school served as an emergency field hospital. Volunteers could man one station on short notice if the need arose. Throughout the county, the Red Cross staffed six field stations at local schools to serve as emergency first aid and training centers.

The SFA Motor Corps members, while trained in the use of and emergency repairs to their automobiles, were also experts in first aid. The Mast Motor Company generously permitted the volunteers to work on their vehicles using the company’s equipment and garage. Additionally, the motor Corps practiced handling casualties by stretcher. Members divided into squads, each capable of independently administering first aid. In an emergency, the Motor Corps volunteers planned to stabilize the wounded and then transport them to a casualty station or hospital. A qualified first aid instructor led each squad.

Dr. Hal B. Parks directed both SFA Red Cross units. The County Defense Council officially designated them to be in charge of all first aid activities of civilian defense for Nacogdoches County on January 1942. The SFA Red Cross organization, quite large for a town the size of Nacogdoches, was only smaller than the one in Houston in terms of equipment and personnel.

The first city-wide drill

The first test of the county’s civil defense organizations came on 19 December 1941, in the form of a blackout. Unlike the false air raid warnings that had panicked the West and East Coasts after Pearl Harbor, this drill was planned and the citizens forewarned. The day before the practice blackout, the Daily Sentinel published rules for dealing with the drill and for coping with an actual air raid. The rules were basic common sense: keep cool, stay home, put out the lights, and so forth.

The wailing sirens and whistles started the blackout a few minutes after eight in the evening. All across the town, people extinguished their lights. Air raid wardens, police officers, boy scouts, and defense guardsmen wandered the streets, enforcing the blackout. Company B guarded roads and blocked traffic entering the town. Even a Southern-Pacific freight train scheduled to pass through the town halted and extinguished its lights. One hapless business owner had forgotten to turn out his lights before going home for the evening; in a rush to get the lights out, guardsmen blackened his store’s windows with oil. In addition to this infraction, the air raid chief for the city, viewing the blackout from the water tank, noticed that numerous smaller lights could be seen about the town, especially flashlights.

On the college campus, SFA’s air raid warden, Jack Moore, patrolled for violators, yet he found none. At the Aikman gym, a basketball game between SFA and Oklahoma had just ended when the lights went out. Fortunately, everyone found the exits without incident. Although someone set off a few fireworks, by and large, and the students behaved according to the rules, and the campus betrayed little light. The next day, the Pine Log jokingly reported that 96 percent of the student body had a date during the drill.

Judge Greve, civil defense chairman, remarked that “the blackout staged Friday night was the most brilliant example of perfect coordination and cooperation that may be conceived by the human mind.” Although it had lasted only thirty minutes, it proved the efficacy of Nacogdoches’ civil defenses, and more importantly, proved the citizens could work together. To ensure compliance, the city council approved a $100 fine for those who failed to follow the directive.

On 7 December 1942, Nacogdoches participated in a statewide invasion drill designed to test the state’s civil defense readiness. Defense guardsmen secured the downtown along with police officers, while State Highway Patrolmen notified the nearby towns. Men of Company B protected vital positions with machine guns.

The SFA Red Cross Motor Corps provided the first major demonstration of its capabilities during this exercise. Lucille Norton, SFA women’sathletic instructor, led the Motor Corps. First aid stations were located at the Liberty Hotel, the High School, the West End School, the Women’s Recreation Center at SFA, and the R. J. Campbell School. This was another successful test.

Once the Allies took the offensive by 1943, the county ceased conducting major civil defense drills. It became clear that Nacogdoches would not be attacked; nevertheless, emergency forces remained at the ready.

Volunteer work in other areas

The Red Cross directed organizations in the county besides civil defense units. The Red Cross provided disaster relief and taught first aid. As early as 1940, Dr. T. E. Ferguson pressed awareness and enrolled citizens in first aid courses. After December 1941, classes were taken into rural schools, too. The goal: have at least one person in every household first aid qualified. SFA students demonstrated ample enthusiasm for wanting to earn their first aid qualifications as well. On the evening of 13 December 1941, over two hundred Lumberjacks enrolled in first aid courses, which highlighted the treatment of wounds resulting from aerial bombardment. Accordingly, many of these students would later serve in the college civil defense organizations.

The Red Cross Surgical Dressing Room Volunteers, which included many female SFA students, spent their time rolling bandages for use on wounded servicemen. This job was real and immediate; their bandages and dressings were shipped as part of the national effort. Only once, in late 1944, did this group stop work when they temporarily exhausted their supplies.

In July 1943, the county Red Cross chapter had thirty-five hundred volunteers working in its various organizations. Chairman Dr. T. E. Ferguson estimated that these dedicated volunteers had donated 120,000 hours in that year, proving that Nacogdoches County citizens and SFA students seriously cared about public service.SFA also provided war-related courses as a service to the town and county. Tips for victory gardens, canning, reusing old clothes, healthy lifestyles, and the conservation of resources were offered. Female instructors from SFA’s Home Economics Department taught all of these courses.

USO lounge established

Nacogdoches citizens also established a city USO lounge, a place for traveling servicemen and members of the SFA based Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) to socialize and spend off-duty time. Nacogdoches citizens donated the money to buy the furnishings for the lounge, which included a jukebox, a radio, desks, and writing materials. The lounge opened 15 May 1943, and months later business was booming. Patriotic women from the county SFA female students volunteered their time at the lounge. The lounge proved to be an overwhelming success, courtesy of the city of Nacogdoches.

The mobilization of the Home Front was a cooperative effort between SFA and Nacogdoches. Faculty and student teamwork was forthcoming because these elements felt a part of the community; and as a result, they were willing to contribute time and effort to the Home Front. Their help proved essential; for without it, victory on the County’s Home Front would not have been assured. The Guard, Red Cross, awareness educational, and the USO lounge all benefited from SFA’s involvement.