Remembering the 32nd Air Crew At Dickinson College

Student Memory

Through close examination of various oral histories, newspapers and yearbooks it becomes evident that the Air Corps program had an undeniable effect on how alumni of Dickinson College remember their time and experiences in Carlisle during World War II.  Many students articulate their general feelings about the War, and how the College changed as a result of America's participation.  Wilma Prescott of the class of 1944 states, for example, that "if you have someone you love in the service, you're thinking about that, and you want to know what's happening.   As for changes at the college, the Red Cross recruited a lot of girls. .. .The only visible difference,  physical difference during the war was that our place of eating meals was changed." (50) More generally speaking, Helen Bachman of the class of 1946 asserted that students "did everything they could to help the war effort." (51)   Most of the former students remember that they were then constantly reminded of the sacrifices which so many people were making during the War as a result of the service flag which was raised over Old West and the national flag flying from the College flagpole.  Virginia Weber of the class of 1946 recalled that the students of Dickinson College "were very involved in the war effort because the flag was raised everyday.  Walking across campus, students stopped and waited and saluted the flag.  It was very much on the students' minds with no question." (52) In general, Dickinson College seemed an institution with students extremely mindful and committed to assisting in the national effort during the second world war.

Cadets Folding the Flag at the College flagpole at day's end

More directly speaking, the students of Dickinson remember the presence of the air cadets on their campus with vivid detail.  They saw the Air Corps program as having a substantial effect on their academic and social lives at the College.  Some students like Joyce Anderson (class of ‘44) were puzzled at to why the Air Corps cadets were at Dickinson at all.  Anderson states, "What the heck were they (32nd Training Detachment) doing there?  Why in the middle of the war were cadets there studying academic subjects? I found it a little puzzling." (53)  Other students, such as Jacob Barber, felt that the Air Corps program did not have a great effect on the regular college students because the two groups were completely separate.  Barber asserts, "we did not share any classes with the training detachment– they would march back and forth to classes singing, and of course we were just rambling around." (54)  Increasing this feeling of separatism was a curriculum which did not integrate the cadets and the regular students.  The cadets had most of their classes with each other, having very little interaction with the ordinary students of the College.  The only effect that the Air Corps program really had on college students was that "the scheduling as far as just attending classes was a little confusing and mixed up because with the army using college classrooms, some of the classes started at seven thirty and eight o'clock." (55)  Despite the fact that some students did not feel that the Air Corps program had a substantial impact on their educational experience at Dickinson, most all of the students realized the economic relief that the detachment was affording the College in times of great monetary distress.  Helen Bachman spoke with regard to this subject stating, "the college was probably very thankful that they (Air Corps) came because it (enrollment) dwindled from 800 or more students to maybe 200 or 250.  Financially, the tuition would not have kept the College going." (56)

Cadets taking a break from class outside one of the side doors of Old West

The most notable effect the cadets had on the rest of the students possibly came in the forum of social interaction between the two groups.  Most of this interaction predictably came between the female "co-eds" and the cadets.  While some female alumni deny the fact that there was any dating between the officers and the students, others remember a great deal of engagement between the two groups.  Virginia Weber states,

we dated the 32nd CCD which came in.  We used to always go down for a Coke, and things like that which was very normal life. . . We knew men at the Carlisle Barracks.  So, we didn't have a dull social life. . .We didn't affiliate with the (usual student) men on campus, because there weren't very many.  They just dropped dramatically and of course there were younger men that were there. (57)

With this influx of men on campus, College administrators were forced to take an official stand defining appropriate relations between the cadets and the students.  Some administrators were terribly afraid of the harm that might come to some of the Dickinson girls by wrong associations with the officers.  Consequently "they had very strict rules about dating. . . You were not to go in any cars, you were to be very carefully supervised . . . Associations were chaperoned, very careful associations." (58) These rules and regulations did not however, stop the cadets from interacting with the female students.  In fact, in a April 9th, 1944 Dickinsonian article it was rumored that the cadets were ordered to march to and from classes to cut out the lengthy "good mornings" to the coeds." (59) In addition to this, The Dickinsonian, in its weekly publications wrote editorials called "Vignettes of the Army" in which were reported any violations by cadets perpetrated against female students.  One such edition reads, "A group of coeds were held up at West and Louther Streets while the Air Corps filed by.  Bringing up the rear was a little, dark-haired soldier who, on seeing the group, muttered out of the corner of his mouth, 'Say, girls, aren't you going to help me with my homework.'" (60) While these reports may appear trivial, they effectively demonstrate the conservative nature of the policies the College adopted with regard to student-cadet relationships.

One area of social engagement between the students and cadets which may go unnoticed was the interaction between the men on campus and the officers.  Despite the fact that there were very few male students at Dickinson during the war, it would be expected that these men would harbor some kind of awkward feelings towards the military personnel.  Dorothy Nagle, class of 1946, refutes this by stating that she "was not aware of any resentment" between the cadets and male students, saying that the male students "were pretty important on campus and had a lot of leadership positions in clubs and certainly in the fraternities." (61) Many of the men left on campus worried how the cadets viewed them, thinking that the soldiers did not think that the male students were doing their part in the greater war effort.  Jacob Barber expresses his feelings with regard to this issue,

I felt bad about being left out of the war, and being, if you can call it lucky, to be going on with my life, you know, with all of my preparation.  You always wondered how other people felt about you.  There were these reserve guys, you know, I mean a trained detachment marching around.  I always wondered how they felt about the other guys they saw strolling and rambling about the campus.  So you had very mixed feelings about it. (62)

The experiences which many students had with the 32nd College Training Detachment had a great influence on how they remember their time as an undergraduates at Dickinson College.  The Air Corps cadets changed the academic and social realities of the College, thus leaving a lasting effect on all students who came into contact with them.

Cadet Memory

All of the information about how cadets regarded their time at Dickinson College comes from various publications of the Eager Eagle and the Quintillion.  The Eager Eagle was a cadet written newspaper which came out every two weeks.  In this publication soldiers would write about their experiences at the War College, while also keeping the public up to date of any important up coming events. (Click here for Squadron Report From "Eager Eagle") The Quintillion was a Air Corps sponsored "yearbook" which was published at the end of each of the five week training periods. (Click Here For Photographs From Sixth Quintillion)  As a result of the lack of personal documentation on the cadets part through diaries and letters, these two sources remain the only ones that could possibly display how the soldiers remembered their time at Dickinson College.

The Eager Eagle's content was much like any other newspaper.  For example, one such edition on July 24th, 1943 has reports of Judy Garland visiting the Training Detachment.  Its headlines were "Judy Says Hello, Goodbye To Large Campus Crowd," also saying that the famous young actress "appeared before 3,500 people at the barracks, singing eight numbers to the enthusiastic crowd." (63) In addition, the cadet newspaper gave weekly reports on the physical and mental state of each of the squadrons.

Perhaps the best example from the Eager Eagle with regard to a cadet's memory of the 32nd Training Detachment and the College came in a letter which a soldier wrote to his uncle outlining the Air Corps program.  The title of this letter was "J.B. [junior bird or Jefferson Barracks(?) - editor] Man Writes "Unk" To Give Low Down On 32nd" and it reads,

Dear Uncle:
      I figure that it is about time that I sat down to write you a serious letter, and as I have nothing to do except math and physics, which I can't do anyway, I may as well write you now.
      I guess that you have heard through the family grapevine that I was headed out of Jefferson Barracks last Saturday.  They packed about a hundred and thirty-odd of us into three day coaches, and the show was on the road.  The army being a secretive organization would not tell us where we were going, and so we never really knew until we arrived here.  Anyway, I spent thirty five hours on a day coach trying to sleep with a pair of number eleven GI shoes in my face all the way, and this is quite feat just in case you never tried it. . . At last through my native talents of navigation, I managed to ascertain that we were headed East.  What a relief, what a sensation, East – where the dust is green grass, and the hills are for mountain climbers only and not for cross country.  To make a long letter short the first thing that I knew I was at Dickinson College.  Unk, I am telling you, it was like stepping in to the garden of Eden to pass through these campus walls into the shade-studded college grounds.  Even a double chocolate malted, or a new zoot suit could never take the place of this.  Now, don't misunderstand me, it is not like I dislike J.B., never that, but Dickinson– ah!
      After a week of orientation I find that my first sentiments were not worthy enough to describe my new post.  Like it here?  Unk, Everybody likes it here.  I heard that one upperclassman nearly suffered hysteria when he had to leave, and I can well sympathize with him.  It is the spirit that counts.  The whole attitude around here seems to teem with the highest of ideals ‘Mister' instead of ‘BOY,' and ‘will you please' instead of ‘Z@%&#$@' do this.  The idea that the school is run for pre-cadets by pre-cadets is enough to encourage any fellow to stay on that old ball.  Somehow, it gives one a feeling that at last he has a definite place in this struggle for a better world, and that he is not just a number scratched on a dog tag.
         As ever,
                       Elmer (64)

This letter provides a perfect example for how one ordinary cadet considered his experiences in the 32nd Training Detachment.  It would appear that most soldiers upon arriving at Dickinson were struck by its aesthetic beauty.  As noted, for Elmer, the Dickinson Campus was "Eden," and believed completely that "Everybody likes it here."

The Quintillion also shows that the cadets seemed to have had an enjoyable experience during their time at Dickinson College.  The publication relates, for example, that upon arrival the cadets had many questions revolving around the quality of the food, the integration of academic work with physical training and the state of the residence halls.  All of these questions were quickly answered as "the food was grand.  The living quarters were great.  And the Academic and physical training did us (the cadets) good." (65)

 Portrait of the Sixth Graduating Class of Cadets, 1943

The cadets also found that the social scene was vibrant.  One soldier states "Until the wee hours of the morning fellows related their adventures in Carlisle, or Boiling Springs, or Harrisburg.  Every one of us felt like a new man." (66) Another indication that the cadets enjoyed their time at Dickinson immensely can be identified through their mixed feelings upon graduation from the Air Corps program.  One cadet on his graduation day exclaimed, "our spirits rise and fall with the throbbing tempo of the drums." While many cadets realized that it was time to move on and use the training they had received in dangerous and often fatal flying duties in Europe and the Pacific, many men clearly were going to remember Dickinson and the place where they had become soldiers.

Cartoon from an issue of the Eager Eagle

Next Page

Introduction Dickinson and World War II Establishment Termination Remembrance Conclusion

End notes