Last Tuesday a History 2710 class instructed by Christopher Case was treated to a lecture on the great depression and World War II. Retired Col. Robert Shafer of the United States Marine Corps presented the lecture to the class.
Shafer was invited to the class to give a lecture about the 1930s and 40s. Shafer is a 94-year-old gentleman with a long memory. He served aboard US aircraft carrier the Hornet. He was on board when the Doolittle Raid took place, which was the first time the US bombed Tokyo in April of 1942. He was also on board during the battle of Midway and served on light cruiser Montpelier.
“I looked forward to the lecture because he is such a primary source of information. I get a different perspective other than a book,” student Vida Liddell said.
Shafer started off by talking about the 1930s and the Great Depression. He explained to the class the difference between a solvent and an unsolvent bank. He talked about margin stock and how it worked, as it was the way many people in the 1930s bought stock. He explained how many stockbrokers jumped out of windows when the market crashed and told the class about the long soup lines people endured, as it was the only source of food for many.
“People stood on street corners selling apples for five cents. They also stood on street corners selling pencils for five cents,” Shafer said.
Shafer went on to tell the class about being on the Hornet’s maiden voyage. He said it was the biggest ship to ever go through the Panama Canal at that time. He informed the class of how dangerous it was back then to have airplanes take off and land on the aircraft carrier and then told of an airplane that crashed on the deck of the aircraft carrier. The impact caused a machine gun to fire and the man standing next to Shafer was shot through the heart by one of the bullets.
When talking about the late 1930s, Shafer explained how he had to pay $35 a semester for college while attending the University of Illinois. He also noted his wage of $1.25 per day working as a carpenter’s helper.
“You could get a hamburger for 10 cents and a meal for 35 to 45 cents,” he said.
While in college he had to put in two years of ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), which is military theory training. Back then, all healthy males in college had to put in two years. He told the class of the World War I Springfield rifles used and of the World War I military tactics learned in ROTC. Shafer joined the United States Marine Corps in 1940.
Marines are put on capitol ships like aircraft carriers as they are the only ones with access to weapons and ammunition aboard a ship in case of a mutiny – a method boasting British 17th century roots.
Shafer spent a few minutes telling the class about Hitler and Mussolini and the falling of France in 1940.
Case has had Shafer give a class lecture every semester for the last five years in efforts to give the classes information from a firsthand source.
“Firsthand experience is better than a book,” Case said.