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Christmas 1943: the Aviation Training Program

December 2013

In March of 1943, the United States War Department began a pre-flight training program on the campus of Presbyterian College. Over the next sixteen months, approximately 1600 Aviation Training Program cadets attended classes and lived on campus as part of this program.

39th College Training Detachment of the Army Air Force<br />Aviation Training Cadets standing in the snow at Neville Hall on the Presbyterian College Campus, c. 1943
39th College Training Detachment of the Army Air Force
Aviation Training Cadets standing in the snow at Neville Hall on the Presbyterian College Campus, c. 1943
Brannan Woodham’s fellow cadets in the ATP<br />Close-up photo in front of Neville Hall, c. 1943<br />~click images to enlarge~
Brannan Woodham’s fellow cadets in the ATP
Close-up photo in front of Neville Hall, c. 1943
~click images to enlarge~

Studying here in complements of 400, the Aviation Training Program cadets who sat in PC classrooms totaled approximately 1,600 by the time the program ended in July, 1944.  This period of full operation brought the dining hall change from the seated family-style meals to the cafeteria system.  A separate curriculum was installed for the air cadets, to run simultaneously with PC’s regular civilian curriculum.  While the military gave overall administrative direction to its program, Dean Brown served in the extra capacity of academic director.  Some regular professors taught in both programs, and several new teachers had to be added for the pre-flight curriculum. [quoted from The Spirit of PC, Hammet, 86-87]

The cadets received special instruction in physics, mathematics, geography, navigation, and astronomy.  They also received special flight instruction to prepare them for more advanced flight training once they entered the service.

In addition to this war effort, “Presbyterian College also sent approximately 1,500 alumni into the fighting of World War II.  They served in every branch, but most of them were the infantry products of ROTC … the battles took a heavy toll–and by the time it was all over, 65 PC men had paid the ultimate price in helping to secure victory.” [Hammet, 86-87]

Brannan Woodham near Laurens Hall and the Bell Tower, c. 1943<br />A note with the photo says the patch on his sleeve is an ATP cadet emblem
Brannan Woodham near Laurens Hall and the Bell Tower, c. 1943
A note with the photo says the patch on his sleeve is an ATP cadet emblem

These photographs are part of a gift to PC from Brannan David Woodham of Alabama, one of the cadets in the program.  Mr. Woodham did not graduate from PC but went on to graduate from Alabama Polytechic Institute (Auburn University) after the war, earning a Bachelor of Industrial Management in 1949, continuing his service at Kelly Air Force Base, and ending his career as Chief of Avionics at Robins AFB.  Mr. Woodham passed away in 2010.

Of the 16 million WWII vets who returned to the U.S. after the war, approximately one million survive today and are at least in their 80s. [http://www.nationalww2museum.org]

Let’s remember those we lost in WWII during this holiday season and be sure to thank those few who remain with us for their service and their gift of freedom as we meet them on the street, at worship, or while holiday shopping.