Princeton University during the Korean War

By Spencer Shen ’16

Beginning in the summer of 1950, reserve officers and those enrolled in the Selective Service System were called up for service in the Korean War, including personnel at Princeton. J. Douglas Brown, then Dean of the Faculty, initially requested information to better cooperate with the government, but later opposed the universal military training advocated by Harvard University president James B. Conant and other educators. The “Conant Plan” called for all 18-year-olds and high school graduates to serve a two-year training period. Brown felt that the induction ages should not be rigid, summing up his position in the Daily Princetonian on November 15, 1950: “I believe that all able bodied young men will need to give two years of service to the Armed Forces at some time in their career, but the necessity for an uninterrupted flow of men trained in medicine, science, and engineering is such that we will need to defer certain men for eventual service.” Princeton students enrolled in either the Navy or Army ROTC programs were eligible for draft deferment through their reserve status. In 1950, 746 men at Princeton had served in the ROTC, 272 in the Navy and 474 in the Army.


Princeton University’s ROTC Class of 1950. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP190, Image No. 5116.

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Bronze Memorial Stars

Dear Mr. Mudd:

What is the origin of the stars on Princeton University buildings? Is there any database listing the location of each star?

The bronze stars on window sills of Princeton University dormitories commemorate the University’s students and alumni who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War. An additional 13 bronze stars honoring those who died on September 11, 2001 are located in a memorial garden between East Pyne and Chancellor Green.


Letter from the Society of the Claw to members seeking funding for the initial stars.

The original 140 stars, honoring students who lost their lives in World War I, were placed in 1920. These stars were donated by members of the Society of the Claw, an organization of members of the Class of 1894 who, as a sign-on condition, promised to either attend the next five reunions or every reunion throughout their lives. The Society also inducted honorary members who had done an “unusual service” or “brought exceptional honor” to Princeton, such as Woodrow Wilson ’1879. The Society of the Claw raised $431.65 for these stars, which were then placed on the window sill of each dorm room last occupied by a Princeton student who lost his life in the war.

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