World War II

Soldiers
Junior ROTC privates leave Durham for training camps, 1943

Jumpy Nerves

Everyone who lived through it remembers where they were when they heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Many UNH alumni remember listening to the broadcast of Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech while waiting in line for lunch at the Commons (now Huddleston Hall).

Durham's proximity to the seacoast and to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in particular added to the general anxiety. One alumna recalls:

The next morning, I woke up and I heard this big bang and I thought they'd bombed the Navy Yard. I got out of my bed and looked around. Everything looked all right out of the window. Then I realized someone was taking a shower and had hit her elbow on the shower enclosure, which was a metal thing that resounded.

Nature's Nighttime Glory

Before the New Hampshire seacoast became so populated, it was not uncommon to see the aurora borealis on campus. On three occasion (in 1916, 1920, and 1939) the Northern Lights were so brilliant that they were worth mentioning in The New Hampshire.

During World War II, seacoast towns were in a brown-out zone, once again providing the darkened conditions needed for seeing the lights. One alumna describes a night in January or February of 1944:

Planes from [the air base] buzzed the college about midnight and out everyone went to enjoy a Northern Lights display unlike any I've seen before or since. It was cold and clear and the ground covered with the sort of snow that squeaks underfoot. The whole sky was lit by ever changing streaks of neon color - pinks, blues, greens, etc. There seemed to be no one spot from which it emanated, and for at least an hour we watched in awe and pleasure.

Pioneering Women

Because of the shortage of male engineers during WWII, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Corporation established Engineering-Aide programs at the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, and UNH. One of the "P&W Girls" describes her experience in the program:

Our academic courses were all prescribed by Pratt & Whitney. However, most of the courses were the same as the Mechanical Engineering program at UNH. We did not take our courses with the men, but we had the same professors and we used the same facilities in the engineering school. That meant we became the first women to ever set foot in the engineering laboratories. We found them to be very dingy and dirty. As soon as possible we set to work to clean up the area. This did not make us popular with the men who also used these facilities. Perhaps they also disliked having the competition, for the P&W Girls turned out to be excellent students.

Making Good

In the spring of 1941, President Engelhardt received this letter from the father of a graduate who wanted express his gratitude to the university for its part in shaping his son's future:

I thought it would interest you and your faculty members to know that my son David, one of your boys of the Class of 1940, is now an ensign on the Flagship Pennsylvania, stationed at Pearl Harbor. He was not an outstanding scholar before he entered nor after he left the University -- but I now realize that he had qualities that his stay at Durham enriched and enlarged. He occupied a great portion of his time while at school in making and keeping friends as president of the Phi Alpha, working with Mask and Dagger, working with the basketball team, and doing all this pleasant work with a serious fervor...

You would only have to read his letters to know how proud he is to be on the flagship of the Pacific Fleet... He started crew racing on his ship and now all the ships caught on to the spirit. This in spite of the fact that his officers felt the boys wouldn't pull an oar on their days off-duty. In other words, the glory of Durham has reached Honolulu and to me this means more than a magna cum laude combined with the Nobel Prize. I don't know whether, along with all other honors, your university has had an admiral, but you now have a great start in that direction. Yours sincerely, G.B.

Best Laid Plans

In the summer of 1942, education professor I. N. Thut (pronounced "Toot"), serving as the Faculty Armed Forces Advisor, sent a letter to all male students explaining the various enlisted reserve corps programs offered on campus. The letter stated that, "All of these reserve corps offer deferment from immediate military duty, and it is hoped that in most cases such deferment will enable the student to graduate."

As the war accelerated, however, the various reserve corps were called into active duty one by one. To the students, these disappearing groups of men became know as "Thut's Lost Battalions".

Snow Job

In 1942, the UNH Women's Athletic Association began an intensified physical-fitness program as part of the war training program. Life magazine photographers and a couple of newsreel companies arranged to come to campus to take pictures of the women as they worked out. As chance would have it, it snowed the night before they were to arrive.

Rather than delay the story, the women gamely donned gym shorts and blouses and at the photographer's request, tackled the men's obstacle course in the snow. The UNH coeds received national attention when the magazine hit the stands and the newsreel were shown in movie theaters. Some of the women received marriage proposals from men who had seen their pictures.

The Women's Athletic Director received several letters from other colleges and universities requesting more information on the program. She also received several letters criticizing her for making her girls exercise outside under such harsh weather conditions!

Eyes Front!

Army Specialized Training Program
Margaret Edgerly Rhodes '45 describes how life on campus changed after Pearl Harbor was bombed:

In a very few weeks the university changed from a coeducational institution to almost a glorified women's college. Some of the women left also; either to join the services, or to answer the selling demand for defense workers. By the second semester, men on campus were scarce. Campus activities were sharply curtailed, as no large gatherings were allowed, and civil defense efforts were stepped up.

We were near enough to the seacoast to necessitate brown-out restrictions—lowered shades, dimmed street lights and so on, to avoid sky glow which might have outlined an outbound ship to enemy submarines lurking off shore. Dim-outs and air raid drills became a part of campus life as we settled into a wartime existence. The "man power shortage" on campus was somewhat relieved by the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) as there were opportunities for social interaction. We enjoyed having them around, and one of our favorite pastimes was for a group of us coeds to stand on a street corner as the troops were marched past, in strict formation. Some of us were good whistlers, and it was fun to watch the squad commander try to keep a straight face as he commanded 'Eyes FRONT!'

Behind the Scene

In May of 1945, four UNH students got a lesson in US war-time propaganda when they witnessed the arrival of one of four captured German submarines that surrendered at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Warren Robbins reported in The New Hampshire:

The first contingent of Germans to arrive consisted of twenty-seven men, four of whom were officers. To greet this motley group of bedraggled men was a veritable task force of about sixty helmeted Marines, heavily armed with sub-machine guns... Navy and civilian photographers called out instructions to the Marines: "Step a little to the left—that's it—hold your gun a little highe—ok now—look tough."

It got so that the Nazis themselves, along with the spectators, laughed as the Marines did their best to assume poses and facial expressions befitting their world-wide reputation. But only a handful of people saw this side of the story. Tens of millions of others will see pictures, posed though they may have been, and will put down their newspapers and magazines satisfied that the German prisoners have been taken into custody in a satisfactory manner and that they are not to being treated too softly.

Worth Fighting For

The attack on Pear Harbor by Japan marked a major turning point in the lives of all college students. One group that was affected more than many others were those of Japanese ancestry, who were interned by the US Government in detention camps around the country.

Rev. Bob James, director of the UNH Student Christian Movement, challenged the club to assisting at least one student in gaining a release from detention to enroll at UNH. When the SCM presented their proposal to the University administration, they were told that before Japanese-Americans could be admitted, every student group on campus first had to accept the students and pledge that no incidents of harassment would occur on campus.

Facing possible animosity and ostracism, club members met with every student organization on campus to try to gain their support. It took almost a year, but after some foot-dragging by a few groups, they finally reached their goal. Their triumph was quickly dashed by the registrar who informed them their student's name would be placed at the bottom of the waiting list just like any other student.

Frustrated to tears, Judith Austin Rantala '44 marched across the hall to Pres. Engelhardt's office, where she proceeded to recount the story from beginning to end. He told her he would look into it. To her great surprise, she soon received a letter saying their student's name had been moved to the top of the list. The next fall two Japanese-American students arrived to begin classes at UNH.

War Drills

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Student Council appointed a defense committee. Air raid wardens were selected and began a training course. One woman student remembered the drills.

We used to have fire drills and air raid drills in the dorms. It was interesting. You had to remember, which is this? Because with the fire drill, you left the curtains up in case someone's there in the window screaming so, I suppose, the fireman could see them. For the air raid drill, whew, pull down the curtains! Don't let anyone see anything. One of my friends was a girl who lived at the Navy Yard because her father was the foreman of transportation and she had a gas mask. That was pretty nifty. When we had these air raid drills, I stayed right close to her!

Neat Feat

dorm room
Submitted by James P. Kelly '52:

A note on my dormitory door instructed me to report to the Dean of Men. This caused me great concern because of an altercation two nights before in the dormitory lounge. I had requested a transfer to a single room, which was located in the dormitory occupied by veterans of World War II, directly across from the lounge where all night and day card games were conducted. Loud talking, laughter, smoking, and carousing made sleeping and studying impossible.

After two weeks of this, at one o'clock in the morning, I drove the card players out with threats of bodily harm. Now the dean wanted to see me. I thought I was in trouble. Dean Medsey caught me by surprise when he asked "Are you the fella that broke up that card game in the Veteran's Dormitory?"

When I told him that it was me, he waved his hand to stop my explanation. "Mr. Kelly, you've accomplished a feat that no other person has been able to do. I wonder if you would consider taking a position as a proctor? Mrs. Hyde, the house mother at Fairchild Hall, needs help with some unruly students. If you could handle a group of mature World War II veterans as you did, you can handle a bunch of hard cider drinking country kids in Fairchild Hall."

I became Mrs. Hyde's "special situation" proctor in Fairchild Hall with my own private room far away from the lounge.