The war was raging in Europe in 1941 and the Allies were struggling. West Georgia College students who gathered for an assembly to commemorate Armistice day on Nov.11, 1941 were quite somber. The students were admonished by the speaker to remember “the men who have given their lives for a flourishing Democracy”.
Little did the young students realize that in a few short months many of them would leave their books behind and would be fighting on the other side of the world.
After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, things changed quickly on the quiet Carrollton campus. A mobile recruiting van came to Carrollton and many men volunteered to serve. The University system put all colleges except Georgia Tech and the Medical College in Augusta, on a system of four quarters of 11 weeks each. Students could complete four years of work in three. Students were encouraged to buy defense bonds and stamps.
Wooden guns made at the National Youth Administration woodshop were given to the young men to use for military drills because real guns were not available. The NYA, which was established at West Georgia in 1935, played a major part in the war effort in the Carrollton community. In this program, students from low income families came to the campus for classes for half a day and worked at various jobs during the rest of the day. The boys learned trades from brick laying to electric work. The girls were taught sewing, home gardening and other domestic skills.
By 1940 this NYA project was chosen as one of three in the state to help directly with the war effort. Additional buildings were constructed west of the main campus. Young men made bomb crates in the wood working shops. Some of the women students learned how to make uniforms. The women worked in every trade except the wood shop. In 1942, some of the women began to train in sheet metal work and welding to prepare themselves for jobs at the Bell Bomber Plant which was being built in Marietta. Faculty had to balance time in the classroom with time supervising in the shop. Thomas Boyd, who would later become president of the college in the ‘60s, taught welding in addition to his other faculty duties.
Patriotic pride pervaded the campus. For example, when there weren’t enough men to pick cotton, the college sent students out to help the farmers. Students were bussed in groups to cover the countryside. Everyone learned to improvise and make do with what they had. Students used laundry bags for picking sacks and they made straps from neckties, towels, and belts.
In one instance, more than 200 students and faculty working Saturdays and afternoons and on two school holidays, picked about 35,000 pounds of cotton. A “Cotton Victory Ball” was held and President Irvine Ingram crowned Fred Hyatt and Christine Campbell the title of “Cotton King and Queen”. Fred had picked 290 pounds of cotton and Christine 230 pounds.
The war dominated the decade, but campus activities continued.
The marines were looking “for a few good men” and so were the coeds who were left on the West Georgia College campus. At one point in 1944, with most of the men away at the war, sophomore women out numbered the men four to one.
Only a few students had cars and gas was strictly rationed. Students stayed on the campus except for an occasional excursion into town to go to “horse oprys” (Western movies) at the local theaters. As was true at other colleges, extracurricular activity between males and females was closely monitored. Holding hands on campus could result in a two week confinement. The faculty organized events in the gym on Saturday nights to keep the students busy.” (For guys who had trouble remembering names they were in luck if they could just remember the name Betty. Twelve out of 17 day students from Carroll County were named Betty).
Dating was allowed only on Friday and Saturday nights, with female students required to file a leave of absence card detailing the date and hour of their departure and their specific destination. Women were not allowed to park or to ride in cars with young men.
Paul Cadenhead, a student, recalled the spirit of the times in a document from the college’s archives:
“The dance at the gym on Friday and Saturday nights was the absolute highlight of the week. Since students could not travel, everyone was present for the jitterbugging, waltzing, and general dancing to the big juke box. A shortage of boys made it perfect for those remaining boys…But chaperoning was omnipresent and the walk to the dorm following the dance had to be along the most direct path from the gym.”
During this era, many students attended Sunday church services in Carrollton. The Voluntary Religions Association, VRA, held a regular vesper service and sponsored an annual Religious Week. Chapel meetings were held twice a week.
In 1940, a third year was added to West Georgia’s two year program. The outreach programs, started in the ‘30s, continued to grow. By 1943, West Georgia College was working in 16 public schools.
Farmers’ cooperatives were set up to preserve meat and vegetables. School centers were established for the joint purchase of seeds, fertilizer, machinery, and other products needed in large amounts by rural people.
All this good work didn’t go unnoticed. Carroll County schools were featured in Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Times. The Saturday Evening Post article was illustrated by Norman Rockwell from drawings he made when he visited Oak Mountain School - one of the schools getting help from West Georgia College. As these schools began to improve, the focus shifted more from the children in the schools to helping the adults in the community.
Back on campus, students continued to buy bonds and participate in blood drives and follow updates on the war on their radios.
When D-day took place in June 1944 the student body and faculty met for a worship service lead by Dean Fred Gunn. That evening, a vesper service was held to remember friends and classmates who died in combat.
The first West Georgia graduate killed in action was Preston Wright of Rockmart. Wright was an air force pilot who was shot down while fighting in the Aleutians. At least 15 other graduates died during the war. Although there are no complete records of the contribution of West Georgia College during the war, the college through the NYA trained 1,850 men and women for work with the defense industry. By October 1944, two out of every three men who had attended West Georgia College during its first decade of existence were serving in the military. About two out of every three of those serving were officers. Eight faculty members served as well. Even the president's secretary, Kennon Henderson, became an officer in the WAVES.
A memorable line in a country song about military service says: “All gave some, some gave all”. This was certainly true during the war years at West Georgia College. People sacrificed and everyone pitched in and did their duty.