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During fall term 2023 Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!

Blog post written by Preston Hobbs.

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, colleges on the West Coast became a military asset for two reasons. First, they could potentially provide the government with valuable talent and innovations to help win the war. Second, colleges were deemed vulnerable to Japanese attack and so had to prepare to defend themselves. A war mentality had already been developing on campuses[1], and the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in a wave of paranoia and patriotism that swept the colleges as much as the rest of the country. Oregon State College began to prepare for an attack, in conjunction with the city of Corvallis, by preparing air-raid sirens, fire-proofing buildings, and creating local defense units, among other things. Although this anticipated Japanese attack on universities never happened, the Japanese made several efforts to bomb the American West Coast and most of these attacks took place in Oregon. While Oregon State College administrators determined how to prepare for an attack, students shared their thoughts about the war.

Students made their feelings known about the attack in the student press. Written by and for students of OSC about the happenings around campus and the world, the Oregon State Barometer provides us with a valuable look at a student-centered perspective on how ordinary life collided with the new reality of war. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened in the middle of the school year, right before winter break. And so, it allows us to see both the road to war and the aftermath of the attacks from the perspective of OSC students. We can see how quickly students started to think more broadly about the war and what it meant for their way of life. In an article titled “Changing Ideas.” The author states: “It is difficult to see how the United States can continue to allow her citizens these luxuries, and still turn her maximum productive power to war.”[2] Opinion pieces like this by students offer us a window, to see how the psychology on campus changes from peace to wartime and the common issues they faced because of this worldwide event.

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Student Cadets salute both the national and armed forces flag. “Salute to the colors,” Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon Digital.

The first article after the attack on Pearl Harbor attack was published on Tuesday, December 9th, and it opened with the message of FDR’s famous speech following the attack. At the very top in big bold letters is the word Blackouts, informing all readers that the Benton County Chairman of Civil Defense, Donald Hout, stated blackouts would continue (they had been in effect since December 7th) until further notice. The blackouts were to take place between the hours of 11pm and 7am, According to the blackout order, “Civilians must stay indoors during the blackout hours. Students in living groups must keep light from shining to the street during these hours. All vehicles, except police and emergency cars, must be kept off the streets and highways.” Lights could act as a guiding beacon for enemy bombers to their targets, and so light had to be kept to an absolute minimum during dark hours. These blackouts applied to the whole West Coast and lasted many weeks after the initial attack.[3]

OSC, in cooperation with the city of Corvallis, put several air-raid sirens around the campus and city, as we can see in a Barometer article referring to a tryout run of the new system on January 7th, 1942.[4] On campus, at least two air raid sirens were installed by administration on the Physical Plant as well as the Agriculture Hall, both located near administration buildings and the library. However, all buildings on campus were modified or updated by the college administration to prepare for war conditions. The college received gas masks from the federal government and put them in all students’ wardrobes.[5] Fire exits, and fire-fighting equipment were made readily available and were updated. OSC was most worried about the potential fires caused by bombing, and so fire drills became regular and making buildings fireproof and or easy to escape was prioritized. The roofs of both the Armory and the Heating Plant were painted camouflage to make them less visible to aircraft. New phone lines were also set up to ensure communication between major buildings like the Physical Plant, Library, Administration and Armory would still be possible during an air raid, and for the first time OSC considered creating a 24-hour telephone service.[6] Buildings in the city of Corvallis also received renovation and air raid sirens, but the local city government also organized a home guard of about 70 men to protect the city in the case of a Japanese invasion.[7]

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Aerial view of OSC campus, likely captured in 1944. Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon Digital.

OSC’s administrators also participated in preparation for a possible bombing in the local area, especially Oregon’s forests. As part of a wider national effort, OSC created its own group of dedicated firefighters for its own protection and sought to recruit and educate future firefighters to protect the rest of the state and country. That’s because this was part of a wider national effort to create Army Engineers dedicated to protecting the vast forests of America. The army started researching the idea in June 1941 and by that same time the following year, the first forestry units were activated by the Army Engineers.[8] In the Pacific Northwest this was especially true as not only were the forests plentiful, but they were considered incredibly valuable “to guard one of the most precious resources of the nation… the northwest’s valuable tracts of timber, from which more than half of the nation’s softwood lumber is obtained.”[9] The lumber of the Pacific Northwest was vital to many wartime industries, and a local staple. OSC wanted to ensure it had a role in the defense of Oregon’s primary resource, as well as its main vulnerability. This project was not just for the purpose of the war but also for ordinary wildfires, so its true goal was long term.

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Army special training graduates pose with field artillery.
Historical Images of Oregon State University. “OSC student members of the Army Specialized Training Program posing with a field gun on graduation day” Oregon Digital.

As it turned out, the fear that the US government had about the Japanese using the American forests to cause damage was quite well-founded, even if the Japanese did not have the full capabilities to pull it off on an effective scale. Oregon was the only state on the US mainland the Japanese bombed directly, and it happened on four different occasions. The first occurred June 21, 1942, when a Japanese submarine launched a torpedo towards Fort Stevens near Astoria.  This resulted in nothing more than a crater on the beach, but it put America and Oregon on higher alert. The next attack came on September 9, 1942, when Japanese veteran pilot Nabou Fujita launched his plane via catapult from a submarine off the coast of Brookings in Southern Oregon. His goal was to drop a firebomb in the middle of the forest and ignite a large forest fire that would engulf Brookings and beyond. He tried the same thing twenty days later near Port Orford. Both missions were complete failures, as the bombs were either duds or failed to cause a big enough fire in the damp forests.[10] The last effort, and the only one to produce fatalities, happened on May 5, 1945, near Gearhart Mountain. The Japanese had unleashed hundreds to even thousands of balloon bombs from their mainland across the Pacific Ocean, intended to land in the US and set fire to the American Forest. However, few ever reach the American Coast, and only the one that landed in Oregon resulted in any casualties.[11]

Oregon State College worked hand in hand with local and federal governments to secure the OSC campus and to support the national war effort. At home, school administrators put the campus on a war footing by renovating the campus and preparing students. On the national level, the college participated in efforts to train new units for defending the nation and its vital resources. For more information on the subject the SCARC Archive, and specifically the Barometer articles, are a great source of information on the history of OSC from the student side.

Works Cited

Biennial Report of the President for 1941-1942, 1942, Oregon State University Special

Collections and Archives Research Center, Annual and Biennial Reports (RG 013 – SG 12) Box-Folder 6.03: 16-19.

“Blackouts,” Oregon State Barometer. December 9, 1941.

Derek Hoff, “Igniting Memory: Commemoration of the 1942 Japanese Bombing of Southern

Oregon, 1962-1998.” The Public Historian 21, no. 2 (1999).

“Changing Ideas,” Oregon State Barometer. December 11, 1941.

“Forest Defense,” Oregon State Barometer. February 28, 1942.

“Gas Mask Attire of Student Soon,” Oregon State Barometer. January 24, 1942.

Larry Tanglen. “Terror: Floated over Montana: Japanese World War II Balloon Bombs,

1944-1945,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 52, no. 4 (2002).

“New Air Raid Signal Tryout Set for Today,” Oregon State Barometer. January 7, 1942.

“Steps Taken to Secure Home Guard for City,” Oregon State Barometer. February 24, 1942.

Troy Morgan, “Wood for Warfare: American Forestry Soldiers in Action,” Army History, no. 48

(1999).

Cardozier, V. R. Colleges and Universities in World War II. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1993.


[1] Cardozier, V. R. Colleges and Universities in World War II. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1993. 170.

[2] “Changing Ideas,” Oregon State Barometer, December 11, 1941.

[3] “Blackouts,” Oregon State Barometer, December 9, 1941.

[4] “New Air Raid Signal Tryout Set for Today,” Oregon State Barometer, January 7, 1942.

[5] “Gas Mask Attire of Student Soon,” Oregon State Barometer, January 24, 1942.

[6] Biennial Report of the President for 1941-1942, 1942, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Annual and Biennial Reports RG 013 – SG 12, Box-Folder 6.03: 16-19

[7] “Steps Taken to Secure Home Guard for City,” Oregon State Barometer February 24, 1942.

[8] Troy Morgan, “Wood for Warfare: American Forestry Soldiers in Action,” Army History, no. 48 (1999): 10.

[9] “Forest Defense,” Oregon State Barometer, February 28, 1942.

[10] Derek Hoff, “Igniting Memory: Commemoration of the 1942 Japanese Bombing of Southern Oregon, 1962-1998,” The Public Historian 21, no. 2 (1999): 65–66.

[11] Larry Tanglen. “Terror: Floated over Montana: Japanese World War II Balloon Bombs, 1944-1945,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 52, no. 4 (2002): 79.