World War I Transformed NC State

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on the German Empire and entered “The War to End War.” The North Carolina College for Agriculture and Engineering changed forever.

Each of the students gave up something. Many gave up their education. Some gave their lives. Most were scarred forever.

In the fall of 1918, all 593 students were organized into the Student Army Training Corps. Each student received free college expenses and $30 per month in military pay.

“In a sense, the government commandeered the College,” college historian David Lockmiller wrote, “and the administration, faculty, and students loyally gave up their old studies and customs and cooperated in a program designed to win war.”

The school, the city of Raleigh, and the entire country were preparing for all-out war in 1919. Before any of the SATC officers were commissioned, however, the war abruptly ended. Most students received an honorable discharge from their military duties and returned to their studies for the 1919 spring semester.

Some NC State students or alumni became real heroes. James Henry Baugham, enrolled in school and played on the football team for barely two months before he took off for France in the fall of 1917. He was one of 180 American volunteers to make combat flights for the French Air Service. Twice he was shot down over the battlefields of France, suffering mortal wounds the second time.

Raleigh’s James Allen Higgs, a 1910 civil engineering graduate, flew in observation balloons over the battlefields of France. He was shot down three times, yet each time, he went back up in a new balloon. He was awarded a special war medal for his bravery.

Madison native Robert Opie Lindsay was a textiles major who had played basketball, served as business manager of the school paper and editor of the Agromeck. He became the only North Carolina-born pilot to earn the distinction of flying ace, while twice being shot down from 20,000 feet. During World War II, he organized the Oklahoma Air National Guard and served as the commanding officer of Fort Sill.

Raleigh native Frank Thompson was an early athletics hero, the head baseball coach at NC State, and both the head football and baseball coach at Wake Forest College. He enlisted as a lieutenant in the 15th Machine Gun Battalion. He died in action on the battlefield at St. Mihiel, France. NC State’s first gymnasium and current theater, Thompson Theatre, is named in his memory.

Eliza Riddick, daughter of school president Wallace Carl Riddick, died while comforting more than 500 students and faculty who were infected by the Spanish flu. The flu pandemic killed 10 times more people worldwide than the war. In addition to Riddick and fellow nurse Lucy Page, 13 students died of the flu.

William C. Lee, a starting fullback on the NC State football team in the fall of 1916, enlisted as an infantry soldier. After the war, he became the world’s leading expert in airborne infantry combat. He is remembered as the “Father of the U.S. Airborne” and the architect of the Allied Forces airborne invasion of France during World War II.

Source: World War I Transformed NC State
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