The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


During World War II, a Lutheran college helped the Navy

St. Olaf provided training

In January 1943, a U.S. Navy color guard marched past the administration building at St. Olaf College, a Lutheran (now ELCA-affiliated) institution in Northfield, Minn.

Photo courtesy Archives of the ELCAAccording to Joseph M. Shaw's History of St. Olaf College, 1874-1974 (St. Olaf College Press, 1974), the school established a Naval Pre-Flight Preparatory School on campus during World War II. Faculty accepted 600 Navy cadets into the program, which used space in Ytterboe Hall and Mohn Hall, as well as college dining, hospital and athletic facilities. Several St. Olaf instructors traveled to Liberty, Mo., to learn how to teach Navy courses.

The first cadets arrived in January 1943. Each contingent of 200 students spent three months at St. Olaf before reassignment. Before the program ended in October 1944, a total of 3,510 cadets had received preliminary training at St. Olaf. Although the commandant ordered "no intermingling," that order proved impossible to follow.

In 1944 and 1945, the school conducted a Navy Academic Refresher Unit and a Cadet Nurses Training Corps, which served 115 women. The college's service to the military gave it an economic boost during this period, as enrollment dropped from 1,186 in 1940 to 707 in 1943. By 1943, the ratio of men to women also changed dramatically, with 110 male and 597 female students. Fifty-six St. Olaf men lost their lives in World War II. 


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