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Col. Rene Studler - Bluffton's professional soldier

4th in our series of famous Bluffton High School alumni

 Call him Bluffton’s professional soldier. Recipient of the Legion of Merit,  the nation’s highest military award for non-combat service, Col. Rene R. Studler served in many capacities in two world wars and became the U.S. Army’s chief of research and development on small arms, holding that post until his retirement.

Rene R. Studler

Bluffton High School class of 1913

Born: Feb. 10, 1895

Died: Aug. 6, 1980


• Under his direction and direct involvement, the U.S. Navy created the fighter plane ejection seat and canopy removers,

• Chaired the development of the .30 caliber M1 carbine,

• Chaired development of the M-3 submachine gun, firing .45 caliber slugs at the rate of 450 rounds per minute,

• Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with his son, Lt. Commander Harlan R. Dickson, who also attended Bluffton High School


Born in Bluffton, his devoted his entire adult professional life to the U.S. military, where he toured the world and retired as an Army colonel. Upon his death he gave a $2.3 million bequest to the American Cancer Society.


Here’s his story:

Rene Studler, a 1913 Bluffton High School graduate, grew up in Bluffton, living with his parents in a house standing today at 224 S. Jackson St.


While a Bluffton High School student, Studler was active in several student organizations and played football, basketball and baseball. Following graduation he briefly attend Bluffton College, eventually receiving a bachelor’s from Ohio State University.


In 1915, the Bluffton News reported that his parents attended a play given by the OSU French Club in which he had a role. It is believed that he spoke French at home because his mother’s family, Banderet, came from Canton Newchatel, a French-speaking area of Switzerland.


He joined the Bluffton Masonic Lodge in 1916, where he retained his membership. In 1976, the Lodge presented his 60-year membership pin, as a delegation from Bluffton visited him in Washington, D.C.

  1911-12 BHS boys' basketball team

His military career began surprisingly in Canada. During World War I he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and when the U.S. entered the war he transferred to the U.S. Army flying corps becoming flight instructor.


The Bluffton News followed his career closely, reporting on his military experiences, keeping readers updated on his whereabouts, as he was a town celebrity.


For example, the News reported that in 1918,  he was part of a flying circus in an exhibition of serial acrobatics comprising the 258th Aero squadron stationed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.


Described this way: “There flyers with utmost nonchalance, performed loops, barrel rolls, half barrel rolls, Immelmann turns, vertical reversesements and the falling leaf maneuvers to within a few hundred feet of the ground, so that many a sturdy veteran held his breath and women turned pale hearing the intrepid flyers.”


When the U.S. entered the war, First Lieutenant Studler was in charge of an overseas service squadron.


Following World War I he received a master’s in engineering in the field of small arms from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and  then spent two years at each of the United States military bases.


1912 Bluffton HS football team

Eventually, stationed at Manila, Philippine Islands, from 1936 to 1950, he was an assistant military attaché in London. In his London post he had the opportunity to inspect and study small arm weapons used by the warring nations.


A 1937 Bluffton News article described one experience while in London: “Captain Rene R. Studler was recently presented to King George of England, at a reception at St. James Palace in London. Captain Studler is assistant military attaché at London. He was presented with members of the diplomatic circle.


“Other members of the Royal Family present at the affair were the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, the Marquess of Carisbrooke, and the Lord Louis Mountbatten.


“Many other English celebrities, including several high government officials attended. Members of the diplomatic corps of all nations were presented to the King at that time.


“For the function, His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honorable Corps of the Gentlemen-At-Arms was on duty in the State Saloons; the King’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard was on duty in the palace, and a Guard of Honor of the first Battalion, Welsh Guides, was mounted in the garden of the palace.”


In 1940 he was assigned  to the War Department in Washington to work on the design of aircraft turrets. At that time Major Studler became chairman of the Ordnance Committee Department Technical Committee charged with all development and standardization of ordnance items for the military services.

Countless projects were developed under his leadership in which he had direct involvement. Among those included development of a “pocket-size” machine gun light in weight and deadly in operation and research in helmets and body armor combining a maximum of protection with a minimum of weight.

Class of 1913 at juniors

Also under his direction was development of new and lightweight weapons, new ammunition, and ejection seats and canopy removers, which saved lives of many pilots.


He oversaw development of the .30 caliber M1 carbine. The speed with which the M1 carbine was developed and readied for quantity production (which exceeded 6.1 million pieces during the years 1942-45) is a striking tribute to his energy.


Studler was credited with development of the M-3 submachine gun, firing .45 caliber slugs at the rate of 450 rounds per minute.

Col. Rene Studler

In 1944, the Bluffton High School alumni association named him that year’s outstanding alumnus. His citation was the result of his invention of the machine gun adopted by the army, revolutionizing  the use of that weapon in combat.


In March of 1946, Studler received the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious services in the Army Ordnance Department during World War II.


His citation stated he was “instrumental in developing and increasing the fire power of numerous small arms, decreasing the weight of similar items carried by the foot soldiers, developing powerful recoilless weapons of man-portable weight, developing  more effective types of small arms ammunition, improving its packaging and in developing head and body armor for the individual soldier.”


He eventually became chief of research and development on small arms, holding that post until his retirement in 1953.


After retirement, he was a consultant to the Army and Air Force on weapons development and to a number of industries engaged in defense work. He retired a second time in 1978.


An ardent horseman, Studler was a past president of the Washington Bridle Trails Association, and executive vice president of the Washington International Horse Show in the 1960s.


Studler died of cancer on Aug. 6, 1980, at the age of 85.  His estate left a bequest of $2.3 million to the American Cancer Society. Of that, one-half million dollars provided free cancer screening to Washington, D.C., residents.


Leaving the funds in memory of his late wife, Mildred, originally as an anonymous request, Studler’s name was obtained during a news conference when the free screening program was announced.


Lt. Commander Harlan R. Dickson

Studler’s son’s accomplishments

Although Col. Studler did not live in Bluffton following his entry into the military, his son, Harlan R. Dickson, attended Bluffton High School in 1929, according to the Bluffton News. The assumption is that he lived with his grandmother at this time. He later graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. 


Dickson was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy on May 1, 1943. He died in a dive bomber crash after his return as a hero of the naval battle of the Coral Sea and Midway Island.


The Bluffton News reported the when he died, at age 29, he was one of the youngest officers with his rank in the Navy.


He was a hero of the Coral Seas and Midway battles, and had received two Navy crosses. One was awarded for striking two Japanese carriers and the other for locating and directing planes to sink an enemy carrier from which planes had taken off to attack the Yorktown. He too, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, making Dickson and Studler Bluffton’s only known father and son buried there.


A posthumous honor was accorded Dickson with the launching of a Navy destroyer bearing his name later in the war.


The internet includes dozens of references to Col. Rene Studler. Here are three:


ArchiveGrid (of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center

The Rene Studler papers 1917-1974

1912 Bluffton High School football team

Col. Studler greets Alice Roosevelt Longworth at the Washington International Horse Show in 1967

Army Col. Rene Studler


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902



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