The spring issue of NC State magazine features a story on how the new GI Bill is bringing the largest wave of veterans to campus since the Vietnam era. The story looks at how the veterans are struggling to adapt to a different lifestyle, and how the university is working to try to accommodate their needs.
These veterans are arriving quietly and with little fanfare, in stark contrast to the period after World War II.
World War II took a toll on NC State like no other war before or since. In 1943, enrollment dipped from about 2,500 students to below 1,000, its lowest mark in 20 years, as college-age men went off to fight.
Those left on campus held blood drives and planted victory gardens. Students gathered 150,000 pounds of scrap metal for the war effort and hung a banner reading “To Hitler & Co. from N.C. State College.” In a cigarette drive called “Cigarettes for Soldiers, students sent 5,000 packs overseas. Instead of the usual tax stamp, the packs each had a sticker that said, “Good Luck from the Student Body of N.C. State College, Raleigh, N.C.”
When the war was over, returning vets flooded the campus. Enrollment shot up to 5,328 (more than 4,000 of those veterans) by 1947. The college built dozens of trailers to house married vets returning on the GI Bill, which allowed many first-generation college students to come to NC State. More students were housed in the area that is now Bragaw dorm, then called “Vetville” – a collection of Quonset huts and barracks. Temporary classrooms were set up in the Court of North Carolina. Vetville stood standing until the last of the Korean War veterans moved out in the late 1950s.
In an interview for an oral history project conducted by NCSU Libraries in 2001, Donald Moreland ’49 remembered that the veterans were more mature than the rest of the student body.
“I was told by some of the professors long afterwards that they had to change their approaches to teaching so as not to talk under the level of experience of the veterans,” he said. “It was rather hectic at times. There were still a lot of veterans suffering of shellshock [because they] had been through very traumatic experiences. If there was any sudden noise in the dormitories for that first couple of years, it had a traumatic effect on some of the students.’’
No other war had the effect on NC State of World War II. But others have left their mark on the university’s landscape.
The most important of those is the Alumni Memorial Bell Tower, erected to honor the 34 soldiers from NC State who died in World War I. Winslow Hall, formerly the Alumni Memorial Building, was originally the campus infirmary, but it was renovated in the late 1950s to serve as a memorial to the more than 300 who died in World War II and Korea. The building is now used by the administration.
During the Vietnam War, students who were in college were except from the draft, and many did not want to serve. Protests against the war on the Brickyard were common. The 1972 Agromeck features a picture of a long line of students carrying signs with the peace symbol marching down Hillsborough Street to the Capitol.
For more about the GI Bill and its effect on NC State, check out an online exhibit called “Transforming Society: The GI Bill Experience at NC State.” The exhibit, put together by NCSU Libraries, contains oral histories and historic photographs.
— Sylvia Adcock ’81