C. James Quann grew up on a small farm in eastern Washington and earned three degrees at Washington State University. He served as University Registrar from 1970 to 1990 and in significant administrative posts at Eastern New Mexico State, Central Washington University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a 40-year academic career. For the past decade, he has been on a mission to preserve history and honor the memories of WSU students, faculty and staff who served in the military during wartime.
He is founder of the WSU Veterans Memorial in Pullman, which was dedicated originally in 1993. “When we were doing the initial research for that, I came across several, maybe a dozen interesting stories of WSU students, faculty or staff that honored themselves, their country, their state and their university in the military,” he said. “I filed that away in my memory bank.
“The first week of June 1994, when I was serving as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at Santa Cruz (University of California) that was the 50th anniversary of D-Day. That’s all you saw on television: old film clips and the story of D-Day. I had a chance to talk with numerous students and I asked them, what do you think? They didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t care and they hoped it would get over soon so they could watch their regular fare.
“It dawned on me that there was a lot of important history going down the drain if somebody didn’t write it down.”
That was the start of what became a 10-year project to collect and write down those stories.
“I realized World War II veterans were starting to drop by the wayside rather quickly,” he said, “so I started a series of oral history interviews and every time I came away from one, I came back with three or four names that I didn’t know about.”
The result was “WSU Military Veterans – Heroes and Legends,” published in 2005 by Tornado Creek Publications, Spokane. The book recounts the stories of dozens of WSc and WSU students, faculty and employees who served in the military during World War II., Korea, Vietnam and the 1991 Persian Gulf.
Quann is a Korean veteran himself (34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Division). He served in the Army in Korea as a machine gun platoon leader, later company exec and regimental S-3 from October 1955 to April1957. His regiment was assigned duty along the De-Militarized Zone from Panmunjom westward to the sea.
The Korean military on both sides sent infiltrators across the line, he recalls. “We didn’t know if they were ours or theirs. We soon found out if they shot at us, they were theirs.”
One week a month, he flew along the DMZ in the back of a single-engine L-19 as an aerial observer. His toughest assignment was clearing mines when he was regimental S-3. “We were ordered to clear mines because the farmers wanted to move back and they were blowing themselves up. I couldn’t give the job to some underling so I took it on myself and brought in two platoons of infantrymen to clear minefields. We did that for maybe six weeks until the undergrowth got so bad we had to quit.”
Mines were found by gently probing the ground with bayonets. When a mine was found, it would be blown up with TNT.
“It was terrible because we didn’t have any maps. The South Koreans laid mines, the North Koreans laid mines, the Americans laid mines and the British laid mines. They were all over the place.”
Quann and his wife Barbara, B.A., Bus.,’54, have three children and six grandchildren. He is the author of four books and more than 60 articles published in professional journals. In 2007 the couple established an endowment for scholarships for low income students majoring in any field of agriculture or home economics.