POCATELLO — Had it not been for the influx of veterans who decided to attend college after both World War I and II, then Idaho State University would have probably never turned into one of the Gem State’s major schools.
“The first time the military saved us was during World War I. When that broke out, all the male students, staff and faculty left,” said Scott Turner, who heads student recruitment at ISU. “Essentially, only the women were left, and I think there were only a couple hundred people left. (But) right after the Armistice, soldiers came back and ISU gained momentum."
Since the beginning of this school year, ISU officials have discussed the possibility of building a memorial that would commemorate the university’s veterans. Cadet Field, which is located just east of the Rendezvous Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is being turned into open space, and ISU intends to build the memorial in that area.
Turner said the university hopes to build the memorial sometime this year but will need grant money to do so. He said ISU is asking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to fund the project.
Ideas for the memorial include installing flags, building a small monument or turning the area into a student square.
“Our intent is to have something that will memorialize that piece of ground and the military history of ISU,” Turner said.
While the return of World War I veterans helped keep the school in operation, it wasn’t until the World War II era that ISU started becoming a major state institution.
During World War II, ISU, then known as the Southern Branch of the University of Idaho, added a number of U.S. Navy programs to its curriculum.
One of the Navy programs at ISU during World War II was the V-12 program, which was established to meet the wartime demands of commissioned naval officers. From 1943 to 1945, the V-12 program boosted enrollment to nearly 700 students.
Recruits who took part in the V-12 program spent a year on campus. During that time, they enrolled in a mixture of both classes and military training.
Lisa Burtenshaw, the director of development for ISU’s business college, said the V-12 program maintained a small, but regular, stream of students. She said the military draft at the time caused a massive depletion in enrollment.
“(The V-12 program) alone was very instrumental in getting people, who needed to go to college, through the officers program,” she said, adding that the V-12 program benefited both the school and the military.
ISU took the first step to becoming a four-year institution a little more than a decade before the U.S. entered World War II.
“The first efforts to become a four-year institution was in 1929,” Turner said. “In order to (eventually) grant the school four-year status, they made it the U of I’s southern branch.”
Enrollment during World War II, however, dipped to a level that would have made it challenging for ISU to gain four-year status.
Shortly after the war ended, veterans using G.I. Bill benefits hit college campuses across the country, and ISU received a large number of returning servicemen.
Turner said the low enrollment prior to the war’s end was the main barrier to ISU’s attempts to becoming a four-year school. He said veterans who returned after the war helped boost enrollment to between 2,000 and 3,000 students.
“Although enrollment at the campus was depleted tremendously (during World War II), the returning veterans helped build (ISU) and made it greater after the war,” he said.
The effort to build a memorial on Cadet Field has gained support from students.
Jonathan Heideman, a freshman at ISU and a member of the Idaho National Guard, runs a Facebook page called “Operation Cadet.” The page, which has 74 Facebook fans, gives updates on the effort to build the memorial and provides photographs of Cadet Field, an empty lot that was formerly used as both a softball field and practice ground for ISU’s Army ROTC program.
“We’re trying to get part of (Cadet Field) turned into a memorial, and it’s obviously to pay tribute to the soldiers at ISU,” Heideman said. “That and ISU has one of the most veteran friendly campuses I’ve seen.”