The Struggle for the Navy Pre-Flight School

In 1941 the United States Department of the Navy was determining which four universities would house the Naval Aviation Cadet Instruction Centers. The schools under consideration had to have extensive recreational facilities to accommodate the rigorous physical training required for naval cadets. Furthermore, there needed to be classroom space, dormitories, mess hall space and infirmary space available. All of this also had to be supported by janitorial services, laundry facilities and regular maintenance services. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believed that it could provide all of this, and if it did not already exist, further infrastructure would be built to fill the gaps. However, UNC was fighting an uphill battle. The University of Georgia had been appointed as the southern region school while UNC was still being inspected by the Navy for suitability. Below is UNC Controller William D. Carmichael Jr.’s response to the news (click to enlarge).

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Letter from William D. Carmichael Jr. to Tom Hamilton. From the Office of the Vice President for Finance of the University of North Carolina (System) Records, 1923-1972, #40011, University Archives.

The president of the United States at that time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, apologized personally when he found out the University of Georgia had been appointed for the southern region over the University of North Carolina:

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Letter from F. D. R. to Josephus Daniels concerning appointment of Navy Pre-Flight Schools. From the Office of the Vice President for Finance of the University of North Carolina (System) Records, 1923-1972, #40011, University Archives.

This meant that UNC had to fight to be the eastern region school, and this was a much tougher battle to win. Through hard work, and a lot of lobbying,  UNC won the battle against all of the universities in the northeast to host the eastern region pre-flight school. It was not just patriotic fervor that pushed the administration to bid for one of these pre-flight schools–there was also a financial advantage. The Navy split the costs of  improvements and additions to the campus that were made to house the pre-flight school, paying the lion’s share themselves. The Navy also paid for the housing and feeding of their cadets while stationed at UNC and compensated the university for any wear and tear to the facilities used. The following is a breakdown of the work done at UNC to enable the Navy pre-flight school to operate.

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Report on work done to make the UNC Chapel Hill campus ready for the Navy Pre-Flight School. From the Office of the Vice President for Finance of the University of North Carolina (System) Records, 1923-1972, #40011, University Archives.

Another advantage of having the Naval Aviation Cadet Instruction Center at UNC was bragging rights. The UNC administration at the time was adamant that UNC would become the “first” of the four schools, meaning the very best  of the “Annapolises of the Air”.

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