Early 1942 was, to put it mildly, a hectic time to be at Wesleyan. The United States had just formally declared war on Japan, and young men were being drafted. Seventy-six years ago this month, 250 young men arrived on campus to be trained for the Navy. From poring over old copies of The Argus, it is evident that the war consumed campus, its presence scattered across the pages in telling but unexpected ways.
The V-5 school, which prepared young men for flight-related work in the Navy, was instituted in December 1942. Before the program ended in September 1944, approximately 2,400 men were trained at Wesleyan to enter the Naval force. They were taught mathematics, physics, navigation, communications, and other flight-related curricula.
When trainees first arrived on campus, a mingling event was held for students and cadets to encourage friendship and fraternity between the two groups. An Argus article described the budding relationships between “active men in service and the inactive men awaiting call,” a fairly resigned reminder less than two months after the war had been officially declared. In February, 202 University undergraduates were drafted into the armed forces.
Around the same time, Captain Robert S. Fogg gave a lecture in the ’92 Theater on the recruitment process for the Army Air Corps Cadet officer training schools. Students and Middletown residents in attendance were educated on how to enlist, which some did on the spot. As a motivation to enlist, Captain Fogg noted that those who were recruited would be permitted to finish their studies through the semester, even if their number was called before then.
Several professors and visitors gave lectures and wrote a series in The Argus on how the war was going. Dr. Ellsworth Huntington, a visiting research associate from Yale University, delivered a talk analyzing the “strength and weakness west of the Pacific.”
“The Germans and the Japanese are more able than the Americans, the speaker said in his opening remarks,” The Argus reported on Huntington’s talk. “Their system of culture gives the Japanese an advantage over the Americans in many respects, for the Japanese are bound with a deistic love and veneration for the Emperor, which gives them strength through their unity.”
At first, The Argus sent every paper to each former Wesleyan student who had left the school to join the military, but that quickly became an impossible task. In the fall of 1943, only 153 undergraduates remained on campus. A huge proportion of the school’s population was made up of military trainees, whose programs financed the then-tiny University as the war raged on.
Squash, track, baseball, and swimming were all suspended until the end of the war, with the swimmers electing to discontinue their varsity team, in part, because their coach had to train the Navy cadets.
On March 3, 1942, the Middletown and Wesleyan communities participated in their first “test blackout.” Updates were printed on the “fine records” of many specific University students who joined the war efforts. When a small group of students graduated in October 1944, it was noted that “the commencement activities did not rival those of the pre-war years.” A band made up of students in the V-12 program, which trained Navy and Marines officers, played at a joint dance for the fraternities in August 1944. Multiple 1944 issues of The Argus featured ads for “Victory Cleaners,” a laundry service that specialized in cleaning uniforms. On July 12, 1944, the University’s “largest freshman class” arrived—with only 39 “civilians” seeking to pursue a Wesleyan education. Another 248 men came to train at the V-12 school. The V-5 school finally ended in September 1944.
Despite the difficulties that come with 2018, the University has a thriving population of over 3,000 students and no longer lives with the knowledge that, at any time, they could be drafted.
Hannah Reale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.