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See Photos of WWII Naval Cadets Training Like Pro Athletes

January 24, 2019 in History

By Sheila Mulrooney Eldred

George H.W. Bush was among the cadets and Gerald Ford served as a coach in the intense war-time training camp that featured giant wheels, heavy sand bags and oversized balls.

They woke at 5 a.m., ate 5,000 calories a day, ran through chin-deep rivers, strapped sandbags to their backs and marched up and down steps. They even learned how to handle venomous snakes.

They weren’t training for the latest obstacle course race or reality show. These were the thousands of men who enrolled in the Naval Aviation Cadet Training Program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Among them were two future presidents: George H.W. Bush, who enlisted the day after he turned 18 in 1942 and went on to become a pilot and Navy lieutenant and Gerald Ford, who served as a coach of swimming and other sports. Ronald Reagan also once visited as an entertainer.

One of five such ground-training schools in the country, the cadets spent about six hours a day for three months in intense exercise.

Men lined up at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet Training Program in 1942. The program was one of five that trained U.S. aviation cadets for World War II. The cadets typically started their days at 5 a.m.

View the 15 images of this gallery on the original article

“Everyone had to be in supreme physical condition,” says Anne R. Keene, author of The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team that Helped Win World War II.

Some of the cadets were athletic prodigies who lettered in multiple sports, she adds. “On top of that, they had to practice military drill, marksmanship, avionics and other academic classes; as well as keep their individual quarters neat and tidy,” says WWII historian Donald W. Rominger, Jr..

Cadets Trained to Survive and Kill

Indeed, it wasn’t only the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill that had been transformed to host the nation’s newest Navy Pre-Flight school, with dorms serving as barracks and new additions such as a canteen, a new pool, a gymnasium and an obstacle course. The chemistry department ramped up with extra war funding, and courses in Russian and Japanese were added to the language department.

The cadets’ coursework included Morse code, navigation, meteorology, seamanship, physics, gunnery and psychology (if taken captive, they would need psychological skills), in addition to “the …read more


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