In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of World War II, HWS initiated a series featuring the service of alumni, alumnae and community members who were involved in war efforts overseas and at home. To honor all alums who have served, the series explores themes of change, patriotism and pride that were felt at the Colleges and across the globe.
World War II drastically changed America: most young people, especially men enlisted in the armed forces, put their lives and careers on hold to support the war effort. As a patriotic institution of change and engagement, Hobart and William Smith, too, was heavily invested in the global conflict during the war years. One of its most significant contributions, begun on July 1, 1943, was the Navy V-12 training program.
Since most young men were either being deployed or being trained to be deployed to fight in the war, Hobart College’s enrollment totaled only about 30 students in 1943. When the Navy V-12 Program was instituted, several hundred Navy recruits arrived at the Colleges’ campus in Geneva. A unique training opportunity, the V-12 unit members attended classes with HWS students and worked toward earning a bachelor’s degree, all the while training to enter the war.
Emil Geering ’44 was one such young man. Though he began his studies at Manhattan College, he almost immediately enlisted in the Navy program and began his career as a Hobart student and V-12 member.
“Many of my classmates were very enthusiastic and patriotic, so we volunteered for the Navy V-12 unit,” reflects Geering, during a recent interview from his home in Grand Island, N.Y. “It was the best option of all our possibilities, because we could continue our college education as well as serve our country.”
The unit had the opportunity to earn degrees in studies such as pre-dentistry, pre-medicine, business administration, civil engineering, aviation and other fields. (Geering went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. from Polytechnic Institute of New York University.) V-12 unit members were housed together in Medbery Hall and Geneva Hall as well as traditionally female dorms such as Miller House and Comstock Hall; these dorms were larger and able to accommodate the entire unit.
In addition to earning college credits, the Navy V-12 program also entailed military training. Throughout the war years, it was a common sight to witness the unit assembling and marching on the Quad. The members learned to march in formation and train for Navy-related tasks on campus. As unique members of the campus community, the V-12 students participated in aspects of social life in their free time, such as attending dances and socializing with civilian students, as well.
“Of course, none of us knew what was going to happen to us after this, which is a really destructive thing to the life of a young kid,” Geering says. “But the vast majority of us were willing to enter the war and do what we had to do for our country.”
Geering remembers attending classes as a valuable experience and chance to make connections with dynamic faculty. “To the professors,” he says, “we could just be typical college students, but of course we weren’t. We knew the professors were very supportive of us and very patriotic.”
In a multitude of aspects, Hobart and William Smith rose to meet the country’s needs by training the young men of the V-12 unit and providing a quality college experience to them. Following his graduation from the program, Geering attended mid-shipment school in Chicago. Originally transferred to San Francisco, Geering was stationed in the Pacific Ocean on a tanker ship, the USS Gazelle, which refueled U.S. battleships in the Pacific Theater. After V-J Day in 1945, Geering was a recipient of the G.I. Bill allowing him to attend Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn, where he earned both his master’s degree and Ph.D. He also holds a B.A. in chemistry from Hobart College. Following this, he began his professional career at Occidental Chemical, where he worked for 39 years until retirement.
Geering, who has kept in touch with several of his classmates from the V-12 program throughout the years, remarks, “I’m proud of the service that I was able to give to my country. In many ways, it was the best part of my life.”