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.
Born and raised in Penn Yan, N.Y., Kenneth E. Barden ’47 expected that enlisting in the Navy V-12 program would result in traveling the world and exploring major universities. But for his first phase of the V-12 program in July 1943, he was sent to Hobart and William Smith, only a short drive from his hometown.
“I’d always wanted to be at a big university, and when I was ordered to Hobart, I thought immediately, ‘Oh shucks,'” says Barden, a retired school teacher and administrator in the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Concord, Calif., who now lives in Valejo, Calif. “But I was already quite familiar with Hobart, and I was able to go home during my free time on weekends, so it turned out just fine.”
Barden describes his time in the V-12 program as a “stark contrast” to the ordinary college experience for other Hobart and William Smith students, recalling the rigorous exercises required of the Navy recruits. Six days a week, recruits participated in early morning training, including exercising on the Quad each day at 6 a.m. V-12 recruits, unlike typical HWS students, had only Saturday afternoon through Sunday evening as free time.
Classes at HWS, on the other hand, served as an incredible unifying experience for the students and Navy V-12 members at HWS during the war years.
“We had normal college classes, which was interesting, because the V-12 program almost took over Hobart College,” Barden recalls. “Of course, there were still many William Smith students in our classes, but V-12 students had come from all over the country, from really interesting places.”
A history buff, Barden says that his world history classes stood apart from other courses as particularly meaningful. Though his days as a V-12 recruit were scheduled almost entirely with training exercises, competitions, and studying for classes, Barden reflects on the atmosphere of HWS and the surrounding Geneva community as patriotic.
“Everybody talked about World War II as a ‘good war,'” he says. “Everybody was patriotic and willing to ration gas, food and war materials. As I recall, it was a time for camaraderie.”
Barden was sent to mid-shipmen school on Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, N.Y., from which he graduated in June 1944. He then underwent intense training in Florida, where he learned to drive landing boats for the U.S. Navy. In December 1944, Barden went aboard a transport ship in the Pacific as a Navy officer.
“It was while at war in the Pacific theater that I was involved in the Battle of Okinawa,” he explains. “I was part of the initial landing in April 1945, on Easter Sunday. I was in charge of seven landing crafts with Marines on board, just over 70 years ago now.”
During the invasion, Barden was in the company of Ernie Pyle, Pulitzer-Prize winning American journalist and famed international war correspondent, who rode aboard Barden’s ship for the invasion. Pyle rode in Barden’s landing craft from the time of departure to the line of transfer. To this day, Barden calls this experience as his “claim to 15 minutes of fame.”
Following the end of the war, Barden was released to the Navy Reserves. In June 1945, he met a Navy nurse named Dorothy, who became his wife in August 1946, and would remain his devoted partner until her death in September 1999.
Barden returned to Hobart and William Smith after the war to earn his degree in history. Initially after graduation, he taught for four years in the Marcus Whitman Central School District in Gorham, N.Y. He and his young family then moved to California, where Barden served as a teacher and later as a school administrator until his retirement in 1983.
Throughout his retirement, Barden has remained an active member of his local community, serving as a senior assemblyman in his district. He has also been writing about experiences during the war and his professional life after, and many of his writings have been published locally.
“One memory I still remember well is from my days in mid-shipmen school,” Barden concludes. “It was a cold night, and I was assigned to perimeter duty, when I was approached by the Duty officer who invited me into the gully for hot chocolate. I informed him that I could not leave my post, and he informed me that he was the Duty officer in charge, and yes, I could! It stuck out because he was so kind to a young, V-12 recruit as a superior officer. I made up my mind after that to remember that when I made Officer all of my sailors were human beings deserving of kindness and respect, just like everybody else.”