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[Audio] How the Navy Pre-Flight Training School Saved Murray State During WWII

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Matt Markgraf, WKMS, courtesy of Pogue Library
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During the second world war, the fledgling Murray State Teacher's College, like many schools during this time, was at risk of closing due to low attendance had it not been for the efforts of the administration to open up the campus as a Navy Pre-Flight Training School. Murray State's Pogue Library has a meticulously kept collection of documents from this time period, so as we think of our veterans this week, Matt Markgraf stopped by the library to speak with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian, about how this training school "saved" Murray State, beginning with some historical context.

Start of the War

Murray State Teacher's College started in 1922, Great Depression started in 1929 and went through 1939, then World War II began, making it a really rough 20 years to start a college to try and get going, getting admission and convincing people to spend money on education when they don't have money to buy food, Sarah Hopley says.

With the start of WWII in 1941, Murray State had a president who started a few years prior, Dr. Richmond, who was a lucky catch for Murray State for his connections to FDR - through running his campaign locally with Kentucky Democrats and also for his support of the war. He started doing war bond rallies, held chapel every week and encouraged people to go to college while supporting the country.

World War II saw the decline in college education nationally, so Dr. Richmond tried to find ways to bring people to the college and one of the ways to do this was through the Navy Pre-Flight Training School. Murray State would serve as the beginning hub for the training process for naval flight aviators. Before they'd get in the plane, they needed to learn the history of the Navy, physics, etc. The Navy needed places that could handle large amounts of students quickly, so they turned to colleges.

Pogue's Collection

The collection at Pogue Library holds several letters by Dr. Richmond seeking help from Senator Barkley, the governor, people in Washington, FDR's office, etc. outlining why Murray State was a perfect location for the training school. The first enrollment for Navy cadets came in 1943. The first class was over 200 and the number grew to over 1,000 enrolled over the course of the 21 months of the school's operation.

Pogue's collection has numerous receipts, correspondence, class schedules, etc. all in very good shape. One of the receipt examples shows meals served to both officers and enlisted men. The receipt shows that both ate the same meals at the same price of $.35 cents.

Some of the letters shows the correspondence between Dr. Richmond and Senator Barkley where one can interpret a legitimate concern for enrollment. "Many say that Richmond saved Murray State, that we wouldn't be here if he hadn't done all of this to bring the school here. Because by having the Naval Pre-Flight Training School here, it gave us over $100,000 dollars of federal aid to help keep Murray running," Hopley says.

Another letter from the Navy Department in Washington D.C. thanks Murray State for the service during the war, ending with the Navy's traditional phrase of approval, "a hearty well done." A humorous letter to Mr. Wrather is from the President telling him that the Navy boys need to stop opening the windows in the chapel while watching movies because the rain is getting in.

What Campus was Like

To the average person walking into a classroom in this time, they would have noticed male students in uniforms. Murray State faculty taught many of the classes, however, though the courses were much more accelerated. In a yearbook from 1943, one can see cadets and officers in uniforms in photos in the Quad and at various buildings.

Other traditional events were still held on campus during this time, too, like All-Campus Sing. It was like two worlds on campus. Women also attended Murray State Teachers College during this time, Hopley says, recalling some anecdotes about how the men complained that there weren't enough women on campus so there'd be get-togethers in the city of Murray.

A Navy School in a Landlocked State?

Why a Naval training school in a landlocked state? Mainly because Dr. Richmond sought to bring the school here, but also because many schools around the country had similar training operations going. The students would gain their classroom experience at Murray State Teachers College before being sent somewhere like the Great Lakes Naval Station in northern Illinois.

After the War

After the war, two things happened locally: Dr. Richmond died and Dr. Woods became the new leader, and the GI Bill came along and Murray State once again saw a boom in enrollment so many of the cadets from the training school came back to get their degrees and many ended up living in Murray.

More about special collections at Pogue Library

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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