Two Navy programs were involved. One, the V-12 program, was part of the officer training regimen. The other, the V-5 program, was for naval aviators.
Fletcher announced the first of the programs in a letter to alumni on March 11, 1943.
"The designation of Southwestern for the Navy V-12 program by the War Management Commission has caused a great deal of rejoicing at the college this week," he wrote."According to press reports, these men will be in uniform, receive regular Navy pay, but will be enrolled as regular students and may take part in any of the college activities, such as fraternities, athletics, etc."
That last provision helped SLI form a football team, led by Alvin Dark, that became nationally recognized and played in and won the first Oil Bowl. But the overall program also created a bit of havoc in campus life.
On April 30, 1943, Fletcher wrote in another letter to alumni, that one of the stipulations for the flight program was that the school would have to agree to house 100 men in one of the dormitories.
"Well, about noon the next day," he wrote, "there was an exodus of young ladies from Foster Hall ... to let the Navy move in. Now almost all day long out on the quadrangle there is the '1-2-3-4' of petty officers giving ... flight candidates foot drill." He said the women should receive medals for giving up their comfortable dormitory to crowd into the basement of Harris Hall.
He said that within a month or so the campus would see the full complement of Navy men on campus--100 naval preflight candidates, 600 officer candidates, and 50 Navy medical trainees.
Other problems: The night watchman quit because he couldn't sleep during the day when training planes were roaring over the campus. The campus laundry couldn't keep up with demand made by Navy students to keep uniforms cleaned and pressed.
Getting everybody fed on time was another challenge. Dean Joseph Riehl reported in 1944 that dietitian Margaret Ball's patience and "unfailing good humor," helped the situation but "there were times when ... tempers threatened to flare, such as the time ... arrangements for feeding both Navy and civilian students in the ... dining hall broke down and new plans had to be perfected."
There was also the simple fact that sailors will be sailors.
Fletcher wrote in one of his letters, "The Navy has been with us for over a month now and we have become very salty already. . . . At the first assembly in Martin Hall Prof. [Howard] Voorhies [band director] tried to please everyone and played the songs of the three branches, Navy, naval fliers, and Marines, and it took an innovation by the priest to get the crowd quiet again."
The training programs were disbanded after the war but the character of the campus didn't change that much. Enrollment swelled almost immediately with salty-tongued men who'd served in the war and were now flocking to school under the GI Bill, many of them kids from Acadiana who would never have seen a college classroom otherwise.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.