A Marine’s Short War in France
In the autumn of 1969, when the Naval Institute’s oral history program had just gotten started, John T. Mason Jr., the director, sat down for an interview at the Army-Navy Club in Washington. His interviewee was a distinguished elder statesman, Colgate W. Darden Jr., then president emeritus of the University of Virginia. During World War II, he had been governor of Virginia, and before that he was a member of the House Naval Affairs Committee as it dramatically built up the Navy’s strength prior to the war.
The two men sat together to discuss a period much earlier in Darden’s life, his service in World War I. In 1969 there was widespread unrest on U.S. college campuses because of opposition to the Vietnam War. The spirit was much different in 1916, when the idealistic 19-year-old Darden and three friends dropped out of the University of Virginia and volunteered their services to the French Army. He became an ambulance driver, evacuating wounded French soldiers in the area around Verdun. Darden and his compatriots drove at night—without headlights—because daytime driving would have subjected them to German artillery fire.