This announcement came almost two months after the day that the falling bombs of Japanese carrier planes brought America into a war she had tried so vainly to avoid. In the interval, although outrage on campus was unanimous and sentiment overwhelmingly patriotic, few among the student body felt personally committed to the war effort. The only previous draft registration within the College itself had been conducted in the fall of 1940, when 175 students registered.
Thus it was, for most, the first time that the conflict raging in Europe and the tragic “day of infamy” would touch their lives directly. Some among the 250 men eligible for the draft would soon find themselves in surroundings far removed from the intellectual challenges of Amherst, fighting for their lives and for freedom in the deserts of North Africa and in the skies over the Pacific. Others, part of what President Stanley King would later describe as the “lost generation,” would complete their college education in a world so vastly altered by destruction and death that the age of innocence had become a faint memory.
For 40 students, their country’s call in her hour of need had already become too pressing. Of these, 13 had left the College to serve in the Army Air Force, and the majority of the remainder joined the Navy and the Marine Corps. Other Amherst men enlisted in branches of service including Merchant Marine, the Army, the Naval Reserve, the Marine Reserve, the Coast Guard, the Aviation Mechanics and the Ambulance Unit. Not all, however, would return to the snow-swept serenity of the New England winter they had left, and not all would walk in the familiar hallways again.