Navy pre-flight school

During World War II, the university served as a major training center for the U.S. Navy. President Frank Porter Graham successfully lobbied the Roosevelt administration to select Chapel Hill to host one of the navy's pilot training centers. First announced in 1942, the UNC pre-flight school led to the construction of several new buildings to host the cadets and the renovation of many older ones. By the end of the war more than 20,000 people had received military training in Chapel Hill. Many notable people spent time on campus at the navy pre-flight school, including future presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. When pressed for staff to support the cadets, the navy brought in German and Italian prisoners of war from Camp Butner to serve as dining hall attendants.

In addition to the many ways that the navy transformed the campus during the war years, the pre-flight school was especially notable for its baseball team and its band. Nicknamed the "Cloudbusters," the school's baseball team had several professionals who were preparing to serve in the navy, including Ted Williams. The navy program also included the B-1 Band, an African American band containing musicians from North Carolina, many of whom were students at North Carolina A&T. The band members were the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Navy above the rank of dining hall workers and porters. When university officials refused to house them on campus, the band was welcomed into the community center in the Northside neighborhood west of campus. Each morning they would march to campus to play at the raising of the colors.


Date Established: 1942

Date Range: 1942 – Present

The B-1 Band at the U.S. Navy pre-flight school on campus, ca. 1944. U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School Photo Collection, North Carolina Collection Photo Archives, Wilson Library.