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GU History: World War II Years

A guide to the history of Gonzaga University


World War Two had a major impact on Gonzaga.  Like many higher education facilities throughout the country, Gonzaga faced a financial crisis due to the shortage of male students, as well as faculty, who were enlisting.  Beginning in 1942, Gonzaga started receiving naval cadets from the V-5 program.   High school seniors were included in the V-1 program, the officer-training program.  

 V-5 bus

V-5 cadets in front of
DeSmet Hall, 1942


 V-12 Unit at Inspection
V-12 Unit at inspection, 1944

By March 1943, Gonzaga was given the approval for a V-12 program, the Navy’s collegiate program.  That July, 300 V-12 cadets arrived on campus.  The curriculum was 20 hours of lectures and labs including English, mathematics, physics, history, engineering drawing, and chemistry.  Naval officers resided on campus to instruct men in naval etiquette, physical education, drill and to enforce Navy discipline. Jesuit faculty taught most of the classes.  The V-1 and V-7 reserves were incorporated into the new V-12 program.  With the 150 V-5 cadets, the number of Navy men reached 450. 

 V-12 cadet classroom
V-12 cadet classroom, 1944

These military programs changed the campus atmosphere.  High school boarders were moved to university-owned residences.  Naval language and insignia became the norm such as the school was a ship, the floors were decks, the beds were bunks, and the corridors were passageways.  Military drills took place on the quad.  The parish hall of the former St. Aloysius Church was renovated and served as a canteen.  The stadium was Farragut Field.  By the time the V-5 program was discontinued in July 1944, approximately 778 cadets had participated in the program at Gonzaga.  That next year, the V-12 program was discontinued.  Over 680 Navy officers participated in the 28 months of its existence.

 Sammy Grashio Victory Course
Sammy Grashio Victory
course, c.1943

To assist with the physical training of the naval cadets, Fr. Arthur Dussault, alumnus and former high school coach, arrived in the summer of 1942.  Named the Sammy Grashio Victory Course, after a GU alumnus who was then missing in action in the Pacific, a 28-event obstacle course was built.  Considered one of the country’s toughest and most rugged, this course included the "belly buster," "bear trap," and "log hand over hand.”  

 S.S. Gonzaga Victory Ship
 S. S. Gonzaga Victory
 ship launching, 1945

On June 2, 1945 at Portland's Oregon Shipbuilding Yards, the S. S. Gonzaga Victory entered the waters of the Willamette River.      The S.S. Gonzaga Victory was the 434th vessel constructed at this Portland shipyard during World War II and the 82nd Victory type, which took 46 days to build.  The ship was one of a series of ships named after American colleges and universities.  It was 455 feet in length, with a beam of 62 feet and weighed approximately 10,800 tons.  Gonzaga donated books for the ship’s library.  The ship never entered the war as WWII ended soon after the ship’s launching. 

 Stadium being razed
West side of stadium being razed;
Dillon Hall in background, 1949

After America’s entry into WWII, football was stopped because there were not enough men on campus available to play.   Since football was financially draining to Gonzaga, the administrators decided to not bring the sport back.  Gonzaga’s last game was a 59-0 loss to Washington State in 1941.  The stadium was razed in 1949.





Updated March 2015


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