The mission of the WSU World War II Commemoration Project is to revive and complete President Holland’s original vision of honoring WSC’s war dead, but this time in digital form accessible to a twenty-first century audience. By presenting the photos and life stories of the generation of Cougars who died in the fight against fascism and militarism, the project aims to restore the humanity and the spirit of these approximately 250 WSC war dead, transforming them from names on a plaque to young men that contemporary Cougars and the public can readily relate to. It is thus intended to serve both as a scholarly resource and as a means to advance public understanding and appreciation for the service and legacy of these former Cougars in this defining moment of American and world history.
For more background on the project and project team members please view the WWII Community Service Project video available on Youtube and the article from the Winter 2020 issue of Washington State Magazine
This project has its roots in the Second Annual Teachers Conference of the Friends of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. in July 2017. Attending the conference was Raymond Sun, Associate Professor in the WSU Department of History. Participants in this national conference of World War II educators were each tasked with creating a school service project centering on WW2 veterans in their home communities.
Fortunately, Dr. Sun knew from previous work that the WSU Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections (MASC) holds the records of WSU (or WSC, Washington State College in the 1940s) students-faculty-staff who served in World War II, including approximately 250 who died or were killed during the war. Under the guidance of former WSC President Ernest O. Holland (served 1915-45), WSC had collected materials about the Fallen Cougars to print a commemorative booklet in the late 1940s, but for unknown reasons the project was never completed.
In 2006 the former WSU Registrar C. James Quann published WSU Military Veterans: Heroes and Legends. Based on both oral interviews and research in the WSU archives, Quann’s book is the best published source to date about the WSC war dead, and an essential starting point for the current project.
The mission of the WSU World War II Commemoration Project is to revive and complete President Holland’s original vision of honoring WSC’s war dead, but this time in digital form accessible to a twenty-first century audience. By presenting the photos and life stories of the generation of Cougars who died in the fight against fascism and militarism, the project aims to restore the humanity and the spirit of these 250 WSC war dead, transforming them from names on a plaque to young men that contemporary Cougars and the public can readily relate to. It is thus intended to serve both as a scholarly resource and as a means to advance public understanding and appreciation for the service and legacy of these former Cougars in this defining moment of American and world history.
In the initial year of the project (Fall 2017 to Spring 2018) Dr. Sun supervised approximately one dozen student volunteers drawn from his two-semester class on the Second World War. Using the records in the MASC War Records collection, as well as additional sources such as the WSC student newspaper (The Daily Evergreen), yearbook (The Chinook), local and regional newspapers, and military records websites, each student compiled a short life history of a serviceman who died or was killed in either the European or Asia-Pacific Theaters. Each history included information about their life prior to attending WSC, their experience at WSC, and their military service, culminating in the circumstances of their death. When possible, the reports also discuss how they were remembered or memorialized by their family and community.
From Summer 2019 to the present, research has continued with new undergraduate volunteers and paid graduate student researchers. Fallen Cougars aspires to commemorate each of the approximately 250 WSC World War II war dead. As of December 2021 the project has created records for almost half of the total, and plans are underway for another round of research in Spring and Summer 2022.
The Fallen Cougars Project is indebted to the Friends of the World War II Memorial for the initial inspiration and ongoing encouragement, and the WSU Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation (CDSC), the WSU Center for Arts and Humanities, the WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC), and the WSU Department of History for their technical and financial support of Dr. Sun and the following graduate researchers: Jordan Bergstrom, Kyley Canion-Brewer, Samantha Edgerton, and MJ Vega. University of Idaho Professor Emerita Katherine Aiken (WSU History PhD) generously contributed her family’s graduate fellowship in the Department of History to support additional graduate research over the Summers of 2020 and 2021. Adriana Janovich and Kris Faulkner did a wonderful job in sharing about the project with the WSU community in text, photos, and video in the Winter 2020 edition of WSU Magazine. Dr. Sun also thanks the undergraduate volunteers from his World War II history classes for their interest, hard work, and contributions in helping to connect the World War II generation to the present-day Cougar Nation over a span of eight decades.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services, for the fantastic close-up of the WSU Veterans Memorial.
Raymond Sun is an associate professor in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his undergraduate degree in History at Swarthmore College, a small Quaker liberal arts school near Philadelphia, and his PhD from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1992. He has been teaching at Washington State since 1991 and specializes in courses on the world wars, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and how societies remember and commemorate war and genocide. He is the 2018 recipient of the WSU Sahlin Faculty Award for Excellence in Instruction.