When Richard “Dick” Smith, Oregon State ’47, met siblings Earl Bleile ’48, and Harry Bleile ’48, none of them knew that one day, they’d all become SigEps. They also had no way of knowing that in a few short years, they’d join the fight to defeat Adolf Hitler in World War II.
Smith first met the Bleiles when the three Boy Scouts attended a winter camp in 1936. He said their friendship was cemented years later when they all attended Oregon State University and joined SigEp’s Oregon Alpha chapter.
After the U.S. entered World War II, he and Earl Bleile joined the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force. The pair trained as navigators and graduated from the flight training program at Ellington Field in Houston. A year later, Harry Bleile, Earl’s little brother, also enlisted and completed training as a radar navigator at the Army Air Corps’ facility in Hondo, Texas. Each participated in several missions and were awarded a total of nine medals.
When the war ended, the trio returned to school and the company of their Oregon Alpha chapter brothers. Smith recalled that he was officially discharged on a Friday. The next day, he drove to campus and registered for classes. There weren’t many Oregon Alpha brothers on campus when he arrived. “It gave me a kind of a puffed-up feeling to be one of the first brothers back after the war,” Smith stated.
Even as campus and Fraternity life resumed, Smith said the war continued to make an impact on students. “Friendships deepened and relationships became more significant. It was a more mature student body in general. There was more focus on academics.”
The three friends continued to enjoy college life, though. Social activities resumed as more fraternity men returned to campus and began to engage in activities like intramural sports again. Smith, who served as Oregon Alpha’s house manager, said he and his friends became involved in a variety of school activities. He recalled that Harry was active in the Roundtable, one of the more high-profile organizations, and became known as a “big man on campus.” The three enjoyed going to the beach and crabbing together, and often brought along dates and other friends.
Post-college, Smith moved to the East Coast to attend seminary school, and the Bleiles remained on the West Coast and joined their family’s lumber business. Smith and the siblings kept in touch over the years. When Smith moved back to Oregon, the three picked right up where they left off, attending dinners, football games and chapter alumni events together. They also vacationed together with their wives and whenever they took a trip, made a point of trying to do something unique rather than just visiting the typical tourist attractions.
Earl Bleile passed away in 2020. While Smith misses his good friend, he feels fortunate that the Fraternity played a part keeping the brothers in his life for more than 80 years.