May 17, 2011

By Katherine Duke ’05

Richard Hunter ’44, J. Bruce Duncan ’45, Frank R.L. Egloff ’46 and C. Burns Roehrig ’45 would have graduated from Amherst College more than 65 years ago, had not World War II intervened. On Sunday, May 22, at its 190th Commencement exercises, the college will award honorary bachelor’s degrees to these former students who left the college to serve their country in the military.

Hunter ’44, in

It was an e-mail request from Sara Hunter, Richard Hunter’s daughter-in-law, that sparked the decision to confer the degrees. She described Hunter’s fondness for his time at Amherst, his service in the U.S. Army and his subsequent admission to Harvard Business School, where he earned an M.B.A. “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?”

The idea immediately found enthusiastic support on campus, and President Anthony W. 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 through the college’s records and uncovered the names of Duncan, Egloff and Roehrig. The faculty and the Board of Trustees then each unanimously endorsed Marx’s motion to present the veterans with honorary degrees at Commencement. “Everyone agreed that we should do the right thing,” said Marx, “and honor these Amherst men who gave great national service.”   

“We seek to recognize your selfless service to our country, as well as the substantive coursework you completed during your time at the College,” read the invitation that Marx sent to each honoree. “You offered up your talents, your youth, and your very life to preserve our freedoms, at the ultimate cost of an important building block for your future prosperity and professional development, a college degree.“

“You have afforded us all a wonderful opportunity to finally get him to talk about his experiences in New Guinea, the Philippines, and the Japanese occupation—something he has rarely opened up about in all these years,” Sara Hunter wrote back on behalf of her family, after learning that her father-in-law would receive his honorary B.A. “Typical of his generation, he is very modest and is feeling he ‘doesn't deserve it,’ but we have assured him he does.”

Richard Hunter, a fifth-generation native of North Adams, Mass., attended Deerfield Academy before arriving at Amherst in 1940. An English major, he wrote for the Amherst newspaper and played varsity soccer and golf. He remembers the Amherst student body being “decimated” by World War II; his close friend and roommate, David Cosgrove ’44, would eventually be killed in action in the Philippines. In his junior year, Hunter enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent with the 158th Regimental Combat Team to the front lines in New Guinea, where they captured the island of Noemfoor, and then to the Philippine island of Luzon, where the team lost 226 men. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hunter was part of the occupation force in Japan. He has since received both a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for his bravery in service. Upon returning from the war, he accepted admission from Harvard Business School, earned an M.B.A. and, with his brother, took leadership of his family’s textile machinery company, Hunter Machine. He was married to his grade-school sweetheart, Lucy Adams, for 61 years before her death in 2009. The couple raised their four children in Williamstown, Mass., where Hunter served in the town government and was known never to miss an Amherst-Williams football game. Now nearly 90 years old and a grandfather of four, he is retired and living in Naples, Fla.  

J. Bruce Duncan '45, today

J. Bruce Duncan attended Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange, N.J., enrolled at Amherst in 1941, majored in chemistry and joined the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. After five semesters at Amherst, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, which sent him to Williams College for two semesters and then to midshipman school in Plattsburgh, N.Y. His Navy career sent him to New Orleans, Miami, Key West, San Francisco, Hawaii and Guam, and ultimately, like Hunter, he served in the occupation forces in Japan. Upon returning to the U.S., though he did not have a bachelor’s degree, he attended Harvard Law School and graduated near the top of his class with a J.D. in 1949. He worked with numerous major corporations as an international tax lawyer and then, in 1986, he earned a master of law degree from New York University. From 1988 to 1997, he was a partner with More Phillips & Duncan, P.C., in Greenwich, Conn. Today, he still practices law part-time in New Canaan, Conn. Following the death of his first wife, Leila Hammond Duncan, he married Catharine McChord Duncan; between them, the couple has eight children and 18 grandchildren. He enjoys spending time in Chatham, Mass., and Sullivan Island, S.C. In recent years, he has served Amherst College as a Class Agent.

Frank R.L. Egloff, a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, left Amherst in 1943 to join the Army Special Training Program, through which the military paid his way through Harvard Medical School in exchange for future service. After earning his doctorate in 1947 and then doing his residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and at Massachusetts General Hospital, he practiced medicine as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, treating soldiers and others at Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts during the Korean War. He moved to Hartford and then Farmington, Conn., and ultimately settled in Woods Hole, Mass., where he continues to practice psychiatry to this day. Dr. Egloff’s wife, Nancy Ojerholm, passed away in 1994; several of his six children plan to be in attendance when he receives his honorary degree from Amherst.

C. Burns Roehrig ’45, M.D.,
in uniform

C. Burns Roehrig, originally from Brookline, Mass., followed in the footsteps of two of his three older brothers when he enrolled at Amherst College in 1941. The chemistry major left the college in 1943 to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. From there, he was sent to finish his undergraduate studies at The Citadel and Vanderbilt University and then to the medical school at the University of Maryland. After World War II, Dr. Roehrig completed his clinical training in Boston and postgraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. As a flight surgeon and captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, he was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base but served military members and civilians throughout Alaska. He met his future wife, nurse Patricia Orme, while delivering a baby at the Rest Camp at Mt. McKinley National Park.  After their marriage in 1952, the couple settled in Wellesley, Mass., and Dr. Roehrig practiced internal medicine, specializing in diabetes, at the New England Deaconess Hospital and the New England Baptist Hospital until 1991. Among many leadership roles, he was president of the American Society of Internal Medicine in 1984 and 1985 and editor of Today’s Internist magazine from 1987 to 1999. He was elected a Master of the American College of Physicians in 2005. Retired from medicine since 1996 and widowed since 2002, the 88-year-old Dr. Roehrig has three children and five grandchildren, and his son-in-law and two nephews are Amherst graduates. He now lives on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

“We all appreciate that Amherst is recognizing our Dad in this way,” wrote Roehrig’s daughter Jennifer Munn, on behalf of all of Roehrig’s children. “He has always felt the absence of a diploma from Amherst, and this degree means a great deal to him.”

Of the four veterans, only Duncan and Egloff are able to attend the Commencement ceremony; Hunter and Roehrig will be given their honorary bachelor’s degrees in absentia.