World War II Documents Now on Exhibit in Nancy Thompson Library

January 28, 2015

For the first time in nearly 70 years, letters written during World War II are on public exhibit. They can be seen in three exhibit cases on the ground floor of the Nancy Thompson Library.

These documents represent the efforts of the men and women who sent them from training camps and battlefields throughout the world, as well as the hundreds of students and teachers on the home-front for whom the war was the defining moment of their generation.

As the specter of war grew more likely in the beginning of 1941, a small trickle of current and former students and faculty at Newark State Teachers College left their schooling and occupations to join the United States armed services. Within twelve months there would be the declaration of war and many more men and women would join the ranks. By war’s end the number would total over two hundred enlistees with ties to Newark State Teachers College.

After the United States entered World War II in 1941, Nancy Thompson began reaching out to students and alumni in the armed services. Many wrote back. The letters and other materials were compiled in a scrapbook that we call the Nancy Thompson WWII Scrapbook Collection.

Displayed in the exhibit cases are photographs, letters, pictures and other memorabilia from the Scrapbook Collection and the University Archives, touching on the lives of soldiers and students during this pivotal time in history. The following are included in the exhibit.

Newsletter: The Service Men’s News, November 1942
A paper designed primarily for the troops so they could keep in touch with the college and exchange news about themselves. It was published from 1942-1946 and includes 17 issues.

Photograph: Newark State Teachers College War Service Map, c1943
The original, standing 5 feet tall, was displayed at the college and listed the names and whereabouts of students and alumni.

Clipping, Sheet Music and Photograph, 1943
The 1943 production “College Daze” was a musical performed by male students of Newark State to benefit the Red Cross. The music and lyrics were written by student Ralph P. Sozio, who died while in service on the homefront. Included is a photograph of students participating in a Red Cross activity.

Letters and Self-Portrait Greeting Card, 1942, 1945
Here we follow the journey of Robert Kaeppel (1944). In the first letter we read that he’s attending Photography School and in later letters we read about his photographing assignments. Check out the self-portrait from Guam on the greeting card.

Letters, Newsletter Clippings, Newspaper Clippings and Photograph, 1943-1944
Here we follow the trail of Lt. Sidney Leigh (1941). He taught a Control Tower Operators course on the home-front and later flew with the Army Air Force in England. What happened next? Have a look and see.

This collection is part of the Kean University Archives and Special Collections, a treasure trove of primary sources available to students, faculty, and staff by appointment. Please contact Kean University Archivist, Erin Alghandoor at ealghand@kean.edu for further information.

Shane Derris is the Assistant Director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy.