Colonel Charles Forbes must have been nervous on a cold February day in 1923 after arriving at the White House for a hastily arranged meeting with President Warren G. Harding. The president had summoned Forbes, the first director of the newly formed Veterans Office, to Washington after he could no longer ignore evidence that his old friend and poker pal was corrupt and stealing money from the government.
Gathered in the red room of the White House, the two men embarked on a violent battle of screams, the crazy president bubbling would have shouted in the face of his friend: “You yellow rat! You double-cross bastard! A witness even insisted he saw Harding put his hands around Forbes’ throat. After their clash, the visibly shaken Forbes rushed out of the White House and then resigned.
The scene couldn’t have been different just a year and a half earlier, in August 1921, when Forbes, 43, a decorated World War I veteran, stopped by Chillicothe to see if Camp Sherman recently abandoned could be used. for something useful for veterans. The much admired and respected Forbes was still on top of the world at the time and arrived with great fanfare.
The president had just appointed Forbes to lead the new Veterans Office, Harding’s flagship program, and the country was counting on him to clean up the mess that had been created as a result of the government’s failure to prepare for the return. thousands of wounded soldiers. of war in Europe.
Part of the problem was that there were around 90,000 veterans, many with physical and mental injuries, enrolled in 3,000 vocational schools and colleges across the country. Too many men, Forbes accused, “were enrolled in institutions where the only interest … is the amount of money that can be obtained from the government.”
His solution to the problem, against the advice of vocational education experts, was to centralize the vocational training of ex-combatants in four large national centers. And the first of four vocational schools, it was revealed during Forbes’ visit, was to be established at Camp Sherman. The school’s official name was US Veterans Bureau Vocational School No. 1, but soon after it opened on December 1, 1921, everyone called it Sherman Tech.
The weeks leading up to the official opening of the school were eventful and perhaps reminded many residents of the early days of the war when thousands of recruits descended on Camp Sherman. Train after train, trains of veterans whistled through the city from Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and many other places. The old excitement was back in the air.
Director Forbes, of course, returned to Chillicothe for the grand opening, the biggest hype seen in the city since the end of the war. Sherman Tech was his baby, and he was in command of the stage that day, giving a thrilling pep talk to the nervous professor, who had been hired to teach subjects as diverse as auto repair, beekeeping, carpentry, electrical work, pig farming, plumbing. and typewriter repair.
“We intend to make Sherman the largest school of its kind in the country,” Forbes told instructors. “Do you intend to give your all to make it a success?” Are you ready to fulfill the obligations that such a school demands? The 50 or so instructors and support staff shouted, “We are!” “
Later that evening, a reception was held for around 400 camp students (more should follow) and 100 guests, including the mayor and other local dignitaries. Col. CJ Symmonds, the school’s first president (it will only last two months), moderated the event and introduced the handful of speakers
After Chillicothe Mayor Walter Story took the stage, he greeted the veterans on behalf of the town, sharing how proud the residents were of Camp Sherman, and now Sherman Tech. “But remember for a minute boys,” the mayor warned, “that the eyes of the whole country, and especially those of Washington, are on you, and on you depends on whether the remaining boys are entitled to the re-education receive it or not. “The words of the mayor would prove prophetic.
As Colonel Forbes rose from his chair, the veterans greeted him with three loud cries of hurray! He started off with a few light jokes that got the veterans going, but quickly got serious. “You are here to rehabilitate yourself and return to society and that of your families as useful men,” he demanded. “I want you to make a commitment tonight to give back as much as you receive, to cooperate with me, and to help me as I help you. Will you do it? “The men almost got out of their seats.” We will! “They promised.
And for the next two years, the School for Veterans dominated the local news as Forbes’ big experiment unfolded at Sherman Tech. Unfortunately, as the mayor predicted, the school was also subject to the relentless glare of the national spotlight. What he revealed was not pretty. In fact, by the time the school closed in June 1924, it was widely regarded, as the fallen Forbes, as a national disgrace.
The next few columns will highlight what went wrong at Sherman Tech. The stories are incredible and will explain why, after the school closed for good, the Gazette reported that it “brought a sigh of satisfaction to most Chillicothians.”