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CSU salutes WWII vet at Veterans Day ceremony

Honoree Robert Bluford returns to thank the city for its hospitality

November 21, 2013

By Aziza Doleh and Jordan Gonzalez

Veterans’ Day is a special day to celebrate the brave. Veterans’ Day celebrations coincided with the season home opener for Cleveland State University’s men’s basketball on Nov. 9. The star attraction was not the players, but the men and women who chose to risk their lives to fight for our country to protect our freedom. The large crowd at the Wolstein Center was not only filled with fans, but also filled with veterans to join in on the festivities.

Among the veterans who were honored that day was World War II veteran, Robert Bluford Jr., 94, who came back to Cleveland to celebrate with the school and the city he remembered to be pleasant and gracious. They also got to watch current army trainees march a traditional salute around the arena.

This was the first time Bluford had been back in Cleveland since his training at Fenn College in the 1940s. A resident of Richmond, Va., he recalled his first day here back in April 1943.

“Of all the places I have been, none of them exceeded Cleveland of the appreciation of us being there,” Bluford said. “And they went out of their way to make us feel at home here.”

The new army recruits received ground school and initial flight training at Fenn College of Engineering (the U.S. Air Force wasn’t formed until 1947), which later in 1964 was merged with the law school to form Cleveland State University.

When the war started, Fenn was one of many colleges that had enrollment problems. Men went off to join the army, faculty members often did administrative war work and women worked in factories.

The federal government often made contractual agreements with colleges and universities to host first recruit training, Becker said.

“So what happened is it gave the school money to keep operating and it saved the government money because they didn’t have to set any of this up,” Becker said. “And after the war they didn’t have to take anything down.”

It was a synergetic relationship, Becker explained. There were still regular classes, but they were reduced and had fewer regular students. The Army Air Corp would send their instructors, but they relied on faculty members to teach basic navigation and mathematics to the recruits.

Bluford was at Fenn for about three months, where he graduated out of the third class of the Army Air Corp’s 53rd College Training Detachment.

The recruits, including Bluford, bunked in iconic Cleveland buildings such as Masonic Temple. They had classes at Fenn and received training at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.

A welcome booklet which was given out to the recruits, stored at Cleveland State’s archives in Rhodes Tower, detailed the vigorous 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. day. It included about 7 hours of classes, about an hour of military drills and some recreational time which was mainly used for sports.

It also made note of the welcoming and hospitable nature the city had. Often times there were too many families who offered their houses to the recruits for dinner.
The object of the training, according to the brochure, was to prepare students for the next step: pre-flight school.

Bluford would later go serve in Europe until the war was over.

“I never thought myself as a hero, a hero didn’t get back,” said Bluford.
After the war, he became a Presbyterian minister and later founded a free medical clinic in Richmond.

Bluford’s visit matched with a Veterans Day salute that was planned at the basketball game. After a slow start, the men recovered from a 15-point halftime shortage to comeback for a 73-69 win over Iona in the season opener.