Our Heritage Revisited

The Great War: The Silver Bugle At Wake Forest

by Amy Pierce // October - November - December 2019

Unlike during the Civil War, most colleges were able to remain open during World War I, largely due to the declaration of President Woodrow Wilson that “undergraduate students in colleges should continue in them, for awhile at least, in order to equip themselves better for future service.” The declaration was a great relief to administrators of colleges and technical schools and spurred President William Louis Poteat to write an article, “College Training in War Time,” published in the July 1917 Bulletin of Wake Forest College. It closed with these words: “The time of all times is here. No shirk! No slacker! No slouch poking about for an easy berth! Make the most of yourself for the bereft and needy world. Get ready for the widest and finest service, civil, military, naval, and of the country which is worthy of your best. To college, young man, young woman! This is your bit.”

Even with the government’s encouragement for students to remain in school, financial considerations for Wake Forest were great, as many students had already joined up. Of those remaining, ministerial students paid no tuition. On December 17, 1917, the faculty did not receive a monthly check. As the new year came on, it seemed apparent that more students would be leaving college, and so President Wilson initiated the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), a forerunner of the ROTC program, enabling students to continue their education while being trained on campus for possible military service. Schools were saved from closing once again, but there were some who believed that the College’s participation in the SATC program would be a violation of the separation of church and state. To resolve the conflict and to keep the College from a quite-likely closing, the Trustees accepted President Wilson’s plan, but with the stipulation that “this department shall not be permanent, but shall be abolished on the termination of the war.”

Thus was initiated a period when days began and ended at Wake Forest College with not the sound of the college bell, but that of the bugle, and Reveille and Taps became the tunes of the times. “There were some … who saw the significance of it all.” One of these was Mrs. John F. Lanneau (wife of the school’s Applied Mathematics and Astronomy professor) who, looking back, said in “The Silver Bugle at Wake Forest,” a February 8, 1919 article in The Biblical Recorder, “Why did the silvery tones of the bugle sound over Wake Forest College campus? Why? Because, and we say it proudly, our young men, the very flower of our boyhood, heard their country’s call ‘To Arms,’ and obeyed … Now the dear old college bell rings out loud and sweet, calling our sons to peaceful arts. But whenever we think or speak of the silvery bugle at Wake Forest, let there be a note of pride and almost a touch of reverence in our voices, for that bugle meant our soldier boys, God bless them!”

Amy Pierce

Lives in Wake Forest's Mill Village, where she is a writer, minister, and spiritual counselor.