University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A NURSERY OF PATRIOTISM:
THE UNIVERSITY AT WAR, 1861-1945

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World War II - UNC Students in the War

Shortcuts: UNC Students in the War | UNC Alumni in Service | UNC Women in World War II
 
UNC Students in the War
Order of Gimghoul, 1944
Order of Gimghoul, 1944
Records of the Order of Gimghoul

Today's University of North Carolina student might be surprised to discover what it was like to be a student here during World War II. Imagine sharing a standard size room in your residence hall with three other students so that the United States Navy can requisition ten university dormitories for a group of 1,870 Navy Pre-Flight cadets who aren't even university students. These military men in training have taken over much of your beloved campus, including Lenoir Hall, Caldwell Hall, Woollen Gymnasium, most of the playing fields, both Memorial and Gerrard Halls, several fraternity houses, and even Kenan Stadium. They have built an obstacle course and dug ditches on your playing fields. On weekends they crowd Franklin Street eateries, shops and movie theatres. To add insult to injury, if you are a civilian male student you are asked to give up dating Carolina women students so that they will be available to boost the morale of the servicemen every weekend. If you are lucky enough to have gasoline or a ride out of town for the weekend, you are expected to loan out your dormitory bed for a military man to use, and your roommates are expected to "host" this khaki-clad stranger in your absence. If your family lives in Chapel Hill, you might arrive home for Sunday dinner and find that an extra place has been set for a hitchhiking man in uniform picked up by your parents on their way home from church. What's even more surprising, you go along with all these inconveniences and your only complaints are good-natured ones, because you are a Carolina student during a time of "total war." When the draft age is lowered to eighteen and you either enlist or are drafted for service, you hope that the civilians wherever you are sent for your own military training will be as accommodating as you have been in Chapel Hill.

Imperialism or People's Peace? flyer, 23 April 1941
Imperialism or People's Peace? flyer, 23 April 1941
North Carolina Collection
Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941, the University of North Carolina had already committed its resources to the United States government for "total defense and total war." According to consolidated university President Frank Porter Graham, the students "in spirit and intent" had offered themselves for service "wherever needed most." Nevertheless, many hoped that the United States could be kept out of the war, as this Gerrard Hall program illustrates.
R. B. House to the Student Body, 12 December 1941
R. B. House to the Student Body, 12 December 1941
Records of the Office of Chancellor: R. B. House Series
After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on Japan, so many UNC students rushed to enlist that university administrators had to encourage them to stay in school, arguing that the more education they received the greater their contribution would be to the war effort. In this memo to the student body, Dean of Administration Robert Burton House gave his "considered advice that the most patriotic step a man can take right now is to clean up on the job he has in hand and leave definite assignments to governmental authority...We are waiting for orders."
Wortham Wyatt '08 to President of University of North Carolina, 10 June 1940
Wortham Wyatt '08 to President of University of North Carolina, 10 June 1940
Records of the Office of President, UNC System: Frank Porter Graham
Negative press regarding a May 1940 peace rally held at UNC prompted this letter from a 1908 graduate of "the formerly conservative University of North Carolina." In spite of the fact that Wyatt characterized peace rally attendees as "the so-called liberals, the anti-war pacifists, the Communists and, I think, the Fifth Columnists," the Commander of the local American legion post defended rally organizers and described the rally as "an open meeting in which a committee of about a dozen students hoped to crystallize sentiment for keeping America out of the European war."
<i>Yackety-Yack</i> (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1944)
Yackety-Yack (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1944)
North Carolina Collection
The influence of the United States Navy on the students of the University of North Carolina was so clearly evident on the cover of the 1944 yearbook that it could easily have been mistaken for that of a military school. From front to back, the pages are full of men in military uniforms and women in leadership positions on the campus, some for the very first time in the history of the school. (See also "UNC Women in World War II".)
Campus Y, Blue Ridge Delegation, 1944
Campus Y, Blue Ridge Delegation, 1944
Records of the Campus
This 1944 photograph from a prominent student organization on campus illustrates the large numbers of men in military service within the organization.
Advertisement, <i>The Daily Tar Heel</i>, 1 November 1942
Advertisement, The Daily Tar Heel, 1 November 1942
North Carolina Collection
"He would like to know what's going on at Carolina" proclaims this advertisement from The Daily Tar Heel of 1 November 1942. In its fiftieth year of service to the Carolina student body (published every morning except Monday) the 1942 Tar Heel staff boasted such notables as newspaper man Orville Campbell, editor, and Hugh Morton, photographer.
Kay Kyser and Ish Kabibble returning from the South Pacific, 1945
Kay Kyser and Ish Kabibble returning from the South Pacific, 1945
Kay Kyser and Georgia Carroll Kyser
Carolina alumni James Kern (Kay) Kyser '27 was a big band leader and the Ol' Professor on the radio show "The College of Musical Knowledge." Kay was head cheerleader while a student at Carolina. His bouncy enthusiasm, quick wit and musical talent did much to boost morale during World War II. In 1944, Kyser married model, actress and singer Georgia Carroll, who had joined the show the year before. This photograph shows Kay and band member Ish Kabibble (Merwyn Bogue) being greeted by Georgia on their return from the South Pacific, where they had been performing for servicemen.
Purple Heart Medal, ca. 1944
Purple Heart Medal, ca. 1944
James Sexton Layton Papers
This medal belonged to James Sexton Layton '38, MA '41, a Carolina graduate who served in the 17th Field Artillery Observation Battalion of the United States Army during World War II. The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel who are wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States. The medal features a profile of General George Washington, who originally established the award called the Badge of Military Merit in 1782.
 
UNC Alumni in Service

In the late 1930s and early 1940s the university had a much smaller student enrollment and it was possible for deans and other university administrators to develop close personal ties with students. This was particularly true of Robert Burton House (Dean of Administration 1934-1945, Chancellor 1945-1957) and J. Maryon "Spike" Saunders (Alumni Association Executive Secretary 1927-1970). Their correspondence with alumni in the armed forces during World War II is well documented in R. B. House's records in the University Archives and in the folders of individual alumni at the General Alumni Association.

House was well aware of the importance of documenting alumni records, and often forwarded his personal correspondence with servicemen to Saunders to be added to the alumni files. Saunders was deeply committed to keeping servicemen connected to their university and to Chapel Hill, particularly during the war years, and he used the Alumni Review and its newsy postscripts and sports specials for that purpose. Servicemen often wrote to him that receiving the Alumni Review was the highlight of their day, and they often shared them with other Carolina alumni they encountered overseas. In addition to keeping in touch with alumni, Saunders also wrote to the families of men who were missing or killed in action, assuring them that the university shared in their sorrow. In a letter written in 1942, Saunders said: "The University is not just a campus, a collection of buildings, a group of students and professors. It is a spirit - and no institution has a group of alumni who embody a finer spirit than does the University of North Carolina."

J. Maryon "Spike" Saunders, ca. 1940s
J. Maryon "Spike" Saunders, ca. 1940s
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
J. Maryon "Spike" Saunders '25, MA '26 was Executive Secretary of the Alumni Association at Carolina from 1927-1970. As a student he was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Order of Gimghoul, Order of the Grail, German Club, YMCA Cabinet, Amphoterothen, and editor of The Daily Tar Heel.
Medal of Honor winner Captain Charles P. Murray '46 and Dean of Administration Robert Burton House, ca. 1945
Medal of Honor winner Captain Charles P. Murray '46 and Dean of Administration Robert Burton House, ca. 1945
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
Twenty-four-year-old infantry company commander Charles Murray "killed 20 of the elite SS German troops, captured ten others in foxhole positions and destroyed many others with mortar fire 16 December 1944 near Kayserberg, France. Although seriously wounded by an enemy hand grenade, he continued forward until the rout of the enemy was complete." Murray returned to the university after the war to complete his degree, and retired from the Army in 1973 as a colonel.
Randy Cooner '37, ca. 1936
Randy Cooner '37, ca. 1936
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
Ensign Bunyan R. "Randy" Cooner was wounded in the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and spent six weeks in the hospital recovering, rejoining his carrier in time for the Battle of Midway. As a dive bomber in that battle, Randy scored a damaging near miss on a Japanese cruiser, a direct hit on a carrier and a direct hit on a cruiser. Wounded in the action, he nevertheless brought his plane safely back to his carrier. On the morning of 16 June 1942 at Pearl Harbor, Randy was killed as his plane hit a construction derrick. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Battle of Midway. A 1937 graduate of the university, Randy lettered in football and track. He entered the Navy as an aviation cadet in December 1940 and was commissioned in September 1941.
"Reddy" Grubbs '41, ca. 1942
"Reddy" Grubbs '41, ca. 1942
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
Okla Gatewood "Reddy" Grubbs was a 1941 graduate of the University of North Carolina and a U. S. Navy fighter pilot during World War II. Reddy trained on a Grumman Wildcat and was assigned to the USS Ticonderoga. He was on that ship when they set sail for Japan in May 1945. On 2 September 1945 he led fighter cover against possible kamikaze attacks on the USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, Japan. Reddy flew approximately 100 missions during the war, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and several Air Medals. In a 1946 letter to Dean House he said, "Naturally my most proud possession was that 'I got back alive' medal."
Wade Leonard Cavin '38, ca. 1944
Wade Leonard Cavin '38, ca. 1944
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
Wade Cavin attended UNC as a self-help student and graduated in 1938 with a degree in commerce. He worked for Burroughs Corporation as a salesman prior to joining the Marines in 1941. A great favorite of both Dean House and Spike Saunders, Wade served with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal and spent a year and a half engaged in jungle warfare in the South Pacific. Both his university degree and his job with Burroughs prepared him well for his assignment managing the largest post exchange in the South Pacific. Elected mayor of Durham in 1975, Wade remained deeply attached to UNC throughout his life, establishing several need-based scholarships and leaving a record $4.4 million to the university when he died in 1998.
Wade [Cavin] to Spike [Saunders], Christmas 1943
Wade [Cavin] to Spike [Saunders], Christmas 1943
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
This Christmas card was designed by Tech Sergeant Victor P. Donahue of the United States Marine Corps and was reproduced for the 1st Marine Division to commemorate their lengthy struggle on Guadalcanal. The strategically significant Battle of Guadalcanal was fought between 7 August 1942 and 7 February 1943. It was the first major allied offensive launched against the Japanese, and was considered by many to be the turning point in the war.
Sam Gambill, ca. 1944
Sam Gambill, ca. 1944
Courtesy of General Alumni Association
Sam Gambill '43 left the university before commencement to join the Army. He was with the Combat Engineers in the 3rd Army, and was killed in Luxembourg 12 February 1945.
 
UNC Women in World War II
Coeds in the Office of Student Civilian Defense
Coeds in the Office of Student Civilian Defense
1942 Yackety-Yack, North Carolina Collection

During World War II, Carolina alumnae and women on the university staff enlisted in almost every branch of the military and served as dietitians, physical therapists, nurses, librarians, and in Red Cross units. Women who were enrolled as students here during the war found it to be quite a different experience from any years before or since. Because civilian male enrollment was drastically reduced, women found themselves with more opportunities to participate in campus life than they had previously enjoyed. Special courses were offered for women, they served in leadership roles in student organizations for the first time and with the influx of men in military training on the campus, they led very active social lives as well.

J. Van B. Metts to Frank P. Graham, 12 February 1941
J. Van B. Metts to Frank P. Graham, 12 February 1941
Records of the Office of President, UNC System: Frank Porter Graham Files
Prior to the commissioning of the Navy Pre-Flight School at UNC in 1942, the university operated a civilian pilot training program through the Civil Aeronautics Administration, admitting women as well as men. In 1941, because of the urgent need for men in the Army and Navy air services and a fixed CAA quota determined by the federal government, male applicants were given priority over female applicants. Adjutant General J. Van B. Metts made a personal appeal to consolidated university President Frank Porter Graham to allow the enrollment of the daughter of a close personal friend who had been denied. Though fifty-one men were available to fill a quota of fifty, Miss Newell was encouraged to begin her ground school work in anticipation of being able to apply for her flight training at a later date.
"Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill" brochure, 1941
"Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill" brochure, 1941
Records of the Vice President for Finance, UNC System
This 1941 brochure emphasizing military training at the university in Chapel Hill features a photograph of Virginia Broome Waterer '42, one of only four women to complete the Civilian Pilot Training Program at UNC and president of the Flying Club. Broome was the first Carolina alumna to join the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II as a ferry pilot. Ferry pilots delivered planes from the factory to air bases, conducted test flights and towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice.
Bulletin No. 4, College for War Training, ca.1941
Bulletin No. 4, College for War Training, ca.1941
Records of the Department of English
Acknowledging that "some introduction to certain training experiences will be of value to women who enter various training centers for war service," Dean Francis Bradshaw and Executive Officer Guy B. Phillips of the College for War Training issued this bulletin to inform women of the courses that might be of special interest to them. Note especially that "Aeronautics 31," "Military Psychology 35" and "Physics A (Radio Communications)" are included as well as "Red Cross Home Nursing 41."
Cadets open house poster, 1943
Cadets open house poster, 1943
Elle Goode Hardeman Papers
With close to eight hundred women enrolled in 1943 and a 6:1 ratio of civilian and military men to women, Carolina coeds never lacked for dates on a weekend during the war years. Gas rationing and transportation difficulties curtailed men's visits to the Woman's College in Greensboro; as a result, the Chapel Hill women were kept busy "boosting morale." Housed three to a room in McIver, Alderman and Kenan residence halls, the women became the focus for Navy Pre-Flight School cadets when the men were given liberty on the weekends. On Saturday nights it was not uncommon for the women to be summoned from their rooms by calls of "Anyone want a date?" The open house poster and "date cards" were found in the scrapbooks of Elle Goode Hardeman, a dorm matron in McIver Residence Hall during World War II.
Lee Bronson '44, First Woman Chair of Carolina Political Union
Lee Bronson '44, First Woman Chair of Carolina Political Union
1944 Yackety-Yack, North Carolina Collection
With women's enrollment at a record high of 925 in 1944, coeds stepped forward to assume various leadership positions in the student organizations on campus. Women served on the student legislature, the editorial board of the Yackety-Yack, and the Graham Memorial board of directors. They also participated in many other organizations as active members. For the first time, The Daily Tar Heel and The Carolina Magazine had women editors. Lee Bronson '44 served as the first woman to chair the Carolina Political Union.
Tar an' Feathers, May 1942
Tar an' Feathers, May 1942
North Carolina Collection
In its second year of publication, the Tar an' Feathers humor magazine at UNC featured articles satirizing life on campus in 1942, and claimed "the editors tried to stay away from obscenity altogether." There were women as well as men on the magazine's staff, and their objective "was to be whacky enough to get a laugh out of the fellows who were waiting for the drill sergeant."
 
 
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