(Edited excerpt from: “From a Grove of Oaks,” by the late George Troxler, professor of history and University Historian)
In February 1942 Elon students became accustomed to going to breakfast in the dark when the nation adopted “War Saving Time” to save more electric power for defense industries. Commenting on the early breakfast, the Maroon and Gold observed that Elon students were “prepared for hardships and even expect them” and were glad to be doing something directly for the “defense of our Democracy.” During the spring the college conducted air-raid drills and blackouts organized by student fire wardens, one of whom was stationed in the Alamance cupola during the air raid “to locate fires caused by incendiary bombs.”
Elon, like most schools, adopted the quarter system at the request of the federal government to allow students to complete their degrees in three years. The 1942 spring break was canceled and graduation was held on May 19, a week earlier than scheduled, so that a summer quarter could began in June, enabling juniors to graduate in February. Most courses met five days per week and carried five hours of credit; 180 hours were required for the bachelor’s degree.
Although Elon did not have a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) unit, the school offered two courses in military science in the spring of 1942. Dr. Thomas E. Powell Jr. taught an evening course in military science and religion and philosophy professor Daniel J. Bowden had experience taught military drill. The students could not secure military equipment, so in order to learn how to handle a rifle they made their own wooden rifles.
Because of the declining pool of male students on campus, the drill courses were short-lived. In March 1942 the trustees voted to discontinue intercollegiate athletics until the end of the war. In January 1942 the two literary societies and the Maroon and Gold staff organized a “V for Victory” Club to promote conservation of scarce resources, correspond with Elon men in service, organize volunteer firefighters and air-raid wardens, and promote the sale of defense bonds.
By April the role of coordinating student war efforts was assumed by the Student Service Organization (SSO). Through the SSO, students volunteered for war-related work and extracurricular classes. In 1942 they helped farmers whose sons had enlisted harvest their crops. In the spring of 1942, coeds enrolled in an extracurricular daylong nursery course before volunteering to provide day care for preschool-age children so their mothers could take defense jobs. The SSO sponsored Red Cross first aid classes and training for student fire wardens. Students signed up at chapel programs to go to Greensboro and donate blood plasma at Piedmont Hospital, which the Army Medical Corps had authorized to collect blood.
As the number of male students at colleges and universities declined, the schools had empty dormitories and classrooms at a time when the army and navy lacked housing and instructors for the rapidly increasing number of recruits. Early in 1943 Elon was designated as the location of the 325th College Training Detachment of the Army Air Corps. Approximately 350 recruits would be at Elon at one time for five months of preflight training before being assigned to an Air Corps base for training as pilots, navigators, and bombardiers. Upon completion of flight training, they were commissioned as officers in the Air Corps.
In February 1944 the Air Corps notified Elon that they would not renew their contract after the last cadets completed their pre-flight training during the summer. During the approximately 15 months the program operated, 672 cadets completed the course. Smith had described the Air Corps’ selection of Elon for a training site as a financial “life-saver,” and faculty and supporters expressed concerns that loss of the revenue from the program might create a financial crisis. Fortunately, enrollment remained stable during the 1944–45 academic year, after which returning veterans would swell student numbers.