A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker soon will be placed recognizing the efforts made at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to train officers, pilots, and cadets during World War II.
The marker commemorating the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School at Chapel Hill will be dedicated at 300 E. Franklin St., Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.
This training program was one of only five such schools in the country during World War II. It served two linked purposes — to offer rigorous training for budding aviators and to keep open the doors of participating universities.
Two future U.S. presidents spent time at Chapel Hill Pre-Flight: George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. Others included future football greats Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and Otto Graham, and future Alabama football coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. At the time, the most famous cadets were professional baseball players who gave up their salaries to serve in the armed forces, including Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves, and Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. Members of the school’s African American band integrated the Navy in May 1942.
Chapel Hill was an attractive location for such a school for several reasons. The small town of 3,500 offered few distractions for the soldiers. The campus had what the military needed such as classrooms, mess halls, sports fields, an airfield, libraries, and dormitories that otherwise could not be built in a short time.
On Oct. 15, 1945, the Navy Pre-Flight School at Chapel Hill was decommissioned. From May 1942 until the end of the war, the Pre-Flight School and the V-12 programs trained 18,700 cadets. In addition, 360 French cadets, 78 French officers, and 1,220 Navy V-5 officers went through the programs at Chapel Hill. The number of officers trained at UNC was far greater than any of the other college or university-hosted military training programs in the state, with Duke University the closest, having trained about 4,000 Navy ROTC reserves.
After the war, the university had gained over $1 million worth of new buildings from federal wartime investments. The state contributed $127,000 to that amount. Enrollment at UNC increased to 6,802, the majority of whom were veterans who had postponed their education because of their military obligations.
For more information about the historical marker and the event, please visit https://ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=G-140.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.