Living history: Navy V-12 alumni share their stories

Tuesday afternoon I joined members of the Phi Alpha Theta history honors society for a luncheon with local alumni of Milligan’s Navy V-12 program. These men came to Milligan between summer 1943 and summer 1945 as part of the Navy’s WWII officer training program. During those two years, the Milligan student body was composed entirely of Navy trainees and the campus was considered a naval base. Jane Anne Thomas organized the luncheon as part of Project Profile, which aims “to bring people in the Milligan community together with students, staff, and faculty they would not otherwise know.”

While we ate, the students, Theresa Garbe, Dr. and Jane Anne Thomas, and I talked to the V-12 alumni and their wives about classes and military training at Milligan. We took notes, were shown photographs of the men as uniformed students, and heard stories about what Milligan Blues inspection on Anglin Fieldwas like in the wartime 1940s. Back then, Stan Johnson told me, Milligan only had four buildings – the Administration Building (Derthick), Hardin Hall (then a dorm), Pardee Hall, and Cheek Gymnasium. Trainees woke up at 6am, reported for drill on Anglin Field for an hour, and went to “chow” at 7. Classes were taught by Milligan’s civilian faculty, including Sam Jack Hyder and Ivor Jones. A typical class load was between 17 and 20 hours with strong emphasis on math, engineering, and naval history. Basketball, baseball, wrestling, and football teams were formed and competed against other schools. In addition, an obstacleObstacle course course was set up in the athletic field and a running course wound around campus and up Pardee Hill (now Sutton Hill). Lights went out at 10pm after a long day of classes and physical training.

Many, but not all, of the young men who went through the V-12 program were deployed. After the war, some stayed in the Navy while others returned to civilian life. In 1945 Milligan was decommissioned as a naval base and launched a vigorous student recruitment campaign to help make the transition back into civilian use. In 1980 the first reunion of the Milligan V-12 alumni was held, and since then further reunions have been organized every couple of years. In talking with these alums, we could feel that they had good memories of their time on campus, were impressed with how far the college has come, and were delighted to share their stories about the V-12 and beyond with us.

If you would like to learn more about the Navy V-12 at Milligan, come by the Archives. We have lots of pictures and other materials to see!