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World War II

The University in World War II (1939-1945)

From the Civil War through World War II, the University of North Carolina has been greatly impacted by war, but perhaps no other war so completely transformed the campus as did World War II. This massive transformation was largely a result of the placement of the United States Navy Pre-Flight School here in 1942. Prior to that time, however, the university was heavily involved in preparations for war. Consolidated university president Frank Porter Graham telegraphed Washington in May 1940 offering the facilities of the entire university to the United States government for use in national defense preparations. Graham's action was backed by the university's board of trustees in an August 1940 resolution. The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941 shook the university students out of their complacency. The Carolina Volunteer Training Corps organized 400 students into a battalion of four companies in January 1942. Pearl Harbor also awakened the Navy's need to revitalize its training programs. Realizing that the Pre-Flight portion of their extensive training program for pilots could be taught at college campuses, the Navy chose four Pre-Flight School locations in the country in January 1942, among them the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Every school and department of the university contributed to the war effort in some way. Many were engaged in war projects, and a large number of faculty and staff were on leave for war service. The curriculum was expanded with the addition of courses in naval science, military science, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, electronics, cartography, and personnel technology. The university allowed students to speed up their education in several ways: high school students could enter the university by examination prior to their high school graduation; degrees were awarded whenever the requirements had been met; and the university schedule was expanded to a full course of study in the summer. Students were admitted six times a year and could attend classes continuously until they graduated.

Though civilian student enrollment figures dropped sharply between 1942 and 1945, the combined enrollment of civilians, Pre-Flight cadets and additional military students usually surpassed the peacetime enrollment of four thousand. Female enrollment reached record highs during the war years: in 1944 nine hundred of the 1,690 civilian students were women.

During World War II, more than 25,000 men and women received military training at Carolina. In addition to the Navy Pre-Flight School, the university also hosted the Navy V-12 program and Naval ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), as well as several Army programs, including the Pre-Meteorology program of the Army Air Corps, the Medical Army Specialized Training Program, and the Foreign Area and Language Study program.