PHInest Hour:
The Great Contribution of Phi Delta Theta in the Second World War.

By Jay-Raymond N. Abad, UC Irvine, 2002
September 2005

Newscaster Tom Brokaw has referred to a particular generation as the greatest the world had ever seen. They were the ones who lived through the hardships of economic Depression, fought in World War II and helped re-build society when the fighting subsided. This "Greatest Generation" no doubt is an appropriate label to members of Phi Delta Theta in WWII. Based on the sheer number of Phis involved, the high positions they've held both in military and civilian postings as well as the numerous high decorations many members received, World War II stands above all other periods as Phi Delta Theta's Finest Hour.

The Front Lines

A fighting force is only as effective as those who are fit to lead. Forty-two American Generals, 2 Canadian Generals and 6 Admirals engaged in the war were Phis. This total is believed to be a record of any fraternity- remarkable in that several other large fraternities during the war did not have high ranking officers reaching double digits. However, leadership is more than just numbers. The command of many of the generals and admirals were among the most important of the war. In the Pacific Theater of Operations some of the most notable were Major Gen. Edward King (Georgia 1903) who was in charge of the defense of the mainland Philippines from the Japanese Invasion, Vice Admiral William Ghormely (Idaho 1903), commander of the entire Guadalcanal Campaign, Admiral John McCain (Mississippi 1905), commander of all land based aircraft in the Pacific, Major General Ross E. Rowell (Idaho 1907), commander of the Marine Aviation and Lt. General Charles P. Hall one of only 7 Army Corps Commanders of the Pacific. In Europe, was Major General Paul Hawley (Indiana University 1912), the Chief Surgeon General of the Army who revolutionized battlefield care when he helped with the development of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) Units and Brig. General Edwin McNeil ( Columbia 1916), the Assistant Judge Advocate General. General Hawley established the European Theater of Operations (ETO) Chapter of Phi Delta Theta for Phi Servicemen. Of special interest is Brig. General Armand Smith (Univ. of Toronto, 1912), commander of the 1st Canandian Infantry Brigade. The brigade was the only Canadian unit to make it to France before the entire evacuation of allied forces from that country in 1940 following the Nazi invasion. Though the brigade was almost immediately ordered to evacuate upon arrival spending merely 2 weeks in France, General Smith was the first Phi general and one of the first Canadian generals to be directly involved in the war.

There were other instances when leadership was exemplified on the battlefield. One such example is that of Colonel Douglas E. Catto (Toronto 1923), commander of the Royal Regiment of Canada who participated in the ill-fated Raid of Dieppe on the French coastline in August of 1942. The Raid at Dieppe was the bloodiest day for Canada in WWII as wave after wave of Canadian forces were killed on the beaches. It wasn't until when Catto's regiment got on shore that some semblance of order was restored in the chaos of the invasion. Of the 6,000 who made the assault, roughly 1,000 were killed and 2,300 were captured within a 9 hour span. Among those captured was Colonel Catto. It has been argued that the lessons learned on Dieppe were instrumental in refining seaborne invasions which would become very beneficial for the eventual invasion of Normandy.

Though the virtue of leadership became a defining character of Phis in WWII, it was in the field of battle where some of the most courageous and poignant stories can be found. From Europe to the Pacific, over 17,000 known initaited Phis were in service (This figure is actually estimated to be over 20,000; see "Aftermath"). The first Phi to make the supreme sacrifice was Canadian Airman Horace George Yelland ( University of Manitoba 1936) who was killed on December 1, 1939 when his bomber crashed while on duty in a reconnaissance flight. Yelland was not only the first Phi, but quite possibly the first member of any college fraternity to die in the war. Two years later during the attack on Pearl Harbor two Phis were killed: Commander Thomas Kirkpatrick (Colorado College 1911), Chaplain of the well-known USS Arizona (where the present day Pearl Harbor Memorial is located) and Lt. William Manley Thompson (Univ. of North Carolina, 1941) who was on board the USS Oklahoma. Among other notable serviceman was Lt. Leonard Thom (Ohio State 1941) the Executive Officer and second in command of PT Boat 109, the ship that launched the legend of John F. Kennedy. Another Phi of note was Marine Lt. Colonel John Winterholler (Wyoming 1939), who survived the brutal Bataan Death March in the Philippines where 1/3 of those who were forced to march did not survive. William J. Vanderkloot (University of Virginia 1937), a civilian, was given a very dangerous job but one which carried a high honor. He was chosen as the personal pilot of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He was responsible for flying Churchill to numerous secret meetings throughout Europe and North Africa and was in constant danger of enemy attacks.

The courage of Phis did not go unnoticed. Lt. Colonel Leon Vance (University of Oklahoma 1937), earned Phi Delta Theta's only Medal of Honor during the war for actions on June 4, 1944 when he lead a critical bombing run over Wimerauex France despite being severly wounded. Lt. Robert Hampton Gray ( British Columbia 1940), earned the Victoria Cross, the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor, when he single handedly sunk a Japanese destroyer during the waning days of the war. Phi Delta Theta is the only fraternity to have a member awarded the Victoria Cross during the war. Tragically, both Vance and Gray would not live to see the end of the war. The best data available indicates that Phis also earned at least 26 Distinguished Service Crosses and 21 Navy Crosses which are the second highest awards for valor in the US military. Notable among these was submarine commander, Lawrence L. Edge (Georgia Tech, 1933) who received 3 Navy Crosses before losing his life in service. With numerous high decorations, Phi Delta Theta became one of the most decorated fraternities during the conflict.

The Homefront

The contributions of Phis on the homefront were just as remarkable and enduring. Elmer Davis (Franklin College 1910) became the frontman for news reporting in the country when he was placed in charge of the critical War Information Department. His role in the war was considered to be just as an important as a Field General in Europe or the Pacific. Davis was entrusted by President Roosevelt to not only present information but to ultimately sustain the morale of the American public and thereby winning the war on the homefront. In a complimentary role was Byron Price (Wabash College 1912) the Director of Censorship. Under his leadership was a staff of 14,500 individuals ensuring that crucial information did not end up in the hands of the enemy. With regards to news reporting he once remarked "Is this information I would like to have if I were the enemy?". The procurement of funds for the war effort was entrusted to Ted Gamble (University of Washington 1930) the Director of the War Bond Drive Dept. His department is probably the most recognizable today by younger generations who are familiar with the millions of War Bond Posters produced under his leadership.

Several other Phis in the Roosevelt Administration also provided their services to the war effort. Harold Ickes, (University of Chicago, 1897) who gained noteriety as the frontman for Pres. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the Great Depression served as Secretary of the Interior. It was his job to allocate the various natural resources of the country for war material. Serving as Under Secretary of War was Robert Patterson (Union College 1912) who was responsible for over $100,000,000,000 worth of supplies and equipment - the largest amount of business ever done by an organization in world history. Frederick Vinson (Centre College 1909) who would later serve as the 13th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was the director of the Office of Economic Stabilization and later the Office of War Mobilzation.

Powel Crosley (University of Cincinatti, 1909) and his company, The Crosley Corporation, were the first to develop the proximity fuse, a device which would allow bombs to detonate when close enough to a target. It was regarded as the third most important invention during the war behind the atomic bomb and radar. The Crosley Corporation was one of the most important defense contractors in the war.

However, simple ideas often yield some of the most memorable legacies. In May 1942, Colonel Tom Lewis (Union College 1926) became the founder of the Armed Services Radio Network. It was his duty to give the servicemen in the frontlines a taste of home and boost morale. A devout man, he explained “Neither radio nor any other media can completely reconcile a boy from Grand Rapids to a military life in Persia, but we can help in his adjustment.” The Armed Services Radio Network continues to this day.


The entire story of Phi Delta Theta's contribution during World War II is extensive. The preceeding is merely a fraction of a wide spectrum that eventually resulted as the most storied chapter in the history of the fraternity among its alumni.

According to Phi Delta Theta literature published in 1946, 14,243 Phis had served in the War. The 1947 membership manual reports that over 17,000 initiated Phis had fought. However, these numbers are not entirely accurate as it only takes into account those whose names were reported to the Phi Delta Theta Headquarters, a fact confirmed by fraternity officers at the time. Also, thousands of other veterans would be initiated years later when they were able to attend college under the G.I. Bill. It is estimated that well over 20,000 fought in the war. However, the exact number of Phis in uniform will never be known. The same 1946 literature indicated that 663 Phis died in service. The 1947 membership manual listed 756 killed. Subsequent issues of the Scroll years later reported names of other Phis who were killed in action in WWII but not yet included in any Phi casualty list. While the death toll is stated to be over 800 according to membership manuals published in the 1980s, the exact number of Phis who lost their lives in the war, likewise, will also never be known. However what is certain, according to the best comparable available data provided by other fraternities, is that Phi Delta Theta lost more of its members in World War II than any other fraternity which is indicative of the fact that the fraternity was one of the largest during that time. While tragic, this fact bears testimony to the courage of these men.