But how soon will we free Americans forsake the healthy 1914 status for a return to the rapid mobilization of 1917?
—editorial column, The Daily Tar Heel, 15 September 1939
From the standpoint of military remembrances, we are living today within a curious historical alignment: we are amid the final year of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, which ended in April 1865; we look back 100 years on the start of “The Great War,” which began in the last days of July 1914; and we mark 75 years since the beginning of World War II in September 1939. It is that final conflict that falls within the sphere of Hugh Morton, who 75 years ago today began his first day of classes as a freshman at the University of North Carolina.
Frosh Morton likely would have read the school year’s first issue of The Daily Tar Heel, in which the student newspaper’s editors reprinted one of its articles from 1918 about the first world war and now called for neutrality in the second. In an editorial titled, “The War: Stay Sane; Stay Out of Europe” they wrote,
. . . may the University student body of 1939—well augmented as it is this morning by a heavy influx of new blood, the Men of ’43—steep itself in the attitude of the 1914 group: a general interest in keeping America neutral and uninvolved!
The “Men of ’43,” however, included women. The Daily Tar Heel noted elsewhere that coed registrations had already surpassed 300 women, with the total anticipated to reach 500—a number dwarfed by total registrations expected to reach 3,600.
There are few photographs in the collection from these early days at Chapel Hill, either of or by Hugh Morton, because his camera was stolen soon after he arrived on campus. The group portrait above is one of the few in the collection that depict Morton during this time period. It is not related to the war, but it is interesting to note that Hugh Morton was a sharpshooter with a rifle. Perhaps this posting will lead to some additional identifications and a more precise date. The only clues we have about the above photograph stem from comments made on a post a few years ago about a photograph made around the same time on the Canadian border.
Much like developments between 1914 and 1917, American neutrality ended at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Hugh Morton enlisted in the Army in 1942, and his military service relied on his eye as sharpshooter—not as rifleman, but as a combat movie cameraman.