By Emily Gold Boutilier and Katherine Duke ’05

After leaving college to serve in World War II, Frank R.L. Egloff ’46 (left) and J. Bruce Duncan ’45 (right) finally received their Amherst degrees on May 22, 2011.

Richard Hunter ’44 was aboard a ship in the Pacific when word came that his regiment would be on the front lines of an invasion of Japan. Scouts reported massive enemy land forces. Less than a week before the scheduled invasion, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and soon, the Japanese surrendered.

“None of you would be here if that invasion had gone forward,” he told his family earlier this year, after he learned that Amherst would honor him at Commencement on May 22, 2011.

Hunter would have graduated from Amherst more than 65 years ago had not World War II intervened. The same is true for J. Bruce Duncan ’45, Frank R.L. Egloff ’46 and C. Burns Roehrig ’45. At Commencement this year, the college awarded honorary bachelor’s degrees to these four men who left the college to serve their country. Then-President Anthony W. Marx handed degrees to Duncan and Egloff on stage. Hunter and Roehrig, unable to attend, received theirs by mail.

An email request from Hunter’s daughter-in-law sparked the decision to confer the degrees. Sara Hunter described her father-in-law’s fondness for his time at Amherst, his service in the U.S. Army and his subsequent admission to Harvard Business School. “Although grateful for this opportunity, as well as for his M.B.A., he has always expressed a certain sadness for not having received a B.A. from his alma mater,” she wrote. “Do you think there would be any way to award an honorary degree (or a genuine one) at graduation this year?”

Marx inquired as to whether there were other former students still living who, despite their departure from Amherst to serve in World War II, had still earned enough undergraduate credits to go on to earn graduate degrees. The Offices of the Registrar and Alumni and Parent Programs searched the college’s records and uncovered the names of Duncan, Egloff and Roehrig. The faculty and Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed Marx’s motion to present the veterans with honorary degrees. “Everyone agreed that we should do the right thing,” Marx says, “and honor these Amherst men who gave great national service.”  

Hunter arrived at Amherst in 1940 and remembers the student body being “decimated” by World War II; his roommate, David Cosgrove ’44, was killed in action in the Philippines. Hunter enlisted his junior year and served in New Guinea and Luzon and as part of the occupation force in Japan. With his brother, he went on to lead his family’s textile machinery company. Now retired, he lives in Naples, Fla.

Duncan enrolled at Amherst in 1941. After five semesters, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in the United States and Guam and, ultimately, in the occupation force in Japan. Without a bachelor’s degree, he graduated from Harvard Law, worked as an international tax lawyer and earned a master of law from New York University. He was a partner with More Phillips & Duncan in Greenwich, Conn. Today, he practices law part time in New Canaan, Conn.

Egloff left Amherst (where he learned to turn over faculty victory gardens) in 1943 to join the Army Special Training Program, which paid his way through Harvard Medical School in exchange for future service. A psychiatrist, he practiced medicine in the U.S. Air Force, treating soldiers and others at Westover (Mass.) Air Reserve Base during the Korean War. He continues to practice psychiatry in Woods Hole, Mass.

Roehrig also left Amherst in 1943, to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After completing his undergraduate studies at The Citadel and Vanderbilt University, he went to medical school at the University of Maryland and served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He practiced internal medicine, specializing in diabetes, at New England Deaconess Hospital and New England Baptist Hospital and was president of the American Society of Internal Medicine. He lives in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

In addition to the Egloff and Duncan families, Sara Hunter and her husband, Andy, attended Commencement, where they took video of the Class of 2011 giving a standing ovation to the vets. “These are your classmates, Dad,” Andy said when he showed his father the video.

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04