Professor Bobby A. Wintermute stands at the Queens College World War II Veterans Memorial Plaza. Students under Wintermute's supervision researched and identified the 58 students and one staff member who died in the war and whose names now appear on one of three granite monuments in the plaza.
When he arrived at Queens in fall 2006, Bobby Wintermute took over a project begun a year earlier to commemorate WWII veterans from the QC community. It started with a curious artifact discovered in Rosenthal Library: a banner featuring a solitary black star with the numbers “58/1235” beneath it. It turned out to have been presented shortly after the end of the war by the former US Department of War, and indicated that 58 members of the QC community had died in the conflict (the number was later raised to 61) and 1,235 had been wounded. No names were provided.
But under Wintermute’s supervision, history students managed to identify the dead by painstakingly comparing student enrollment lists from the period to news accounts of those killed. The professor says surviving veterans and the families of the deceased have willingly provided large numbers of photos, letters, and other artifacts. The result is a website documenting their sacrifices (http://qcpages.qc.edu/history/wwiiveterans/).
Wintermute grew up poor in West Virginia. His grandfather was a coal miner; his father abandoned the family early on. After high school, Wintermute worked in a factory and as an insurance agent, only getting his undergraduate college degree 10 years later. “Many students here are nontraditional too,” he says. “I respect that. They really value their education and have many more life skills to pass on.”
Wintermute’s passion is the social impact of armies and war. Though still at the beginning of his academic career, he is a recognized expert on the subject, especially on the US Army’s role in promoting public health in the decades up to 1920. In his dissertation, Wintermute recounts how the army was preoccupied—often out of moralistic concerns—with the scourges of venereal disease and alcoholism. The army had prostitutes with symptoms of venereal disease run out of some American cities and towns with army bases (no cure was yet widely available). The authorities flip-flopped over allowing beer and wine at army canteens—to dissuade soldiers from turning to harder drink off base—until the government banned alcohol completely with the start of Prohibition in 1920.
Favorite book: Treasure Island, by Robert L. Stevenson. “I read it over and over; it just enchanted me.” He also loves comic books, “the great American idiom.”
Favorite music: Everything from Mozart to Motorhead.
Courses: Introduction to US History (American History, 1607-1865), Race and Gender in Military History, graduate seminars on The First World War and An Introduction to Military History and Theory.