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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC No Stranger to War Efforts

Bill Friday, former president of the UNC system, said the University played a key role in the World War II effort.

But officials say it's too early to know how similar the University's role will be to the one it assumed in previous wars, when UNC was called upon to offer assistance such as research contributions and professors' expert advice.

In World Wars I and II, UNC was transformed into military training grounds. Barbed wire crisscrossed campus and Navy cadets ate at Lenoir Dining Hall.

Former UNC-system President Bill Friday said that during World War II, UNC played a key role in the training of armed forces. "In World War II, UNC was the center of preflight training," Friday said. "Over 18,000 men came through for Navy training."

Naval aviation cadets were housed in upper and lower quad North Campus residence halls vacated by students who enlisted in the military. Cadets used existing UNC physical education facilities, such as Woollen Gym and athletic fields, as well as the newly constructed Lenoir Dining Hall, which closed to students so the cadets could eat there.

"While the University continued to operate, it operated at a significantly reduced scale," said John Sanders, former Board of Governors member and UNC student body president in 1951.

Besides lending its facilities, UNC also offered its professors' expertise to the government in World War II.

Professors were called to consult agencies like the Naval Research Laboratory, the Board of Economic Warfare and the Department of State.

And some past and present UNC officials said the University might contribute in a similar way if the nation goes to war in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"If we are to believe what (President Bush) has said, and I do, it will be a war of biology, chemistry, nerves, psychology and terror," Friday said. "This calls for the mobilization of people who understand these things, and that starts first in universities."

Richard Kohn, chairman of the curriculum in peace, war and defense, said a number of faculty members have done governmental consulting work in the past. "It's possible the government might call on people for specialized information," Kohn said. "If called upon, we have a considerable amount of expertise."

He said faculty members in the UNC medical school could offer government agencies advice on handling epidemics, germ warfare and biological warfare.

Kohn also said officials in the School of Public Health could help the nation formulate a response plan if terrorists attacked cities with biological weapons.

Tony Waldrop, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, said he also expects involvement from the UNC community in the form of advising from expert faculty members.

"There are certainly faculty at UNC whose work is closely related to the issues at hand," Waldrop said. "The School of Public Health is currently considering the contributions it might make."

Waldrop said the University could also contribute its research capabilities, as it has done previously. During World War II, research projects in physics, chemistry and public health were conducted on campus, including development of new or improved war materials.

In terms of possible future wartime research, Waldrop said a war would bring the added necessity of safeguarding research operatives and data, even animals used for testing. "It also brings to mind past instances at other universities where terrorists destroyed research data, so it will be important to be especially vigilant," he said.

But while some campus leaders recognize UNC's potential role in a conflict, they also say they are not sure what to expect in the days ahead. "I'm not sure we have any more answers than anyone else does at this point," Sanders said. "But I am sure that when the University is called on, it will respond."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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