SMC Daniel Berkes Walking Tour Stop 2: Pre-Flight Base
Congratulations! You have found the historical marker for the site of the old Naval Pre-Flight Training School!
“In 1941, the College was in poor financial condition…way out in the county, small, known only for football. In December, with Pearl Harbor, it became clear that aircraft would be a major factor in the war. But there was no Air Force yet, leaving the Navy with its airplanes the whole story….but with few pilots. At the same time, college-age students would be enlisting in the Army which was bad news for Saint Mary’s. The Navy needed to start training pilots, and by Christmas of 1941 they had chosen the Universities of Iowa, Georgia and North Carolina, along with Saint Mary’s in the West, to serve as the four Preflight training schools. They took over nearly the whole campus, renamed buildings and went on for four years. The trainees learned navigation, life-saving, etc and then moved on to Pensacola for in-flight instruction. An enormous drill hall and the biggest indoor pool in the world were quickly put up, followed by dormitories, a shooting range, and buildings for a band and medical services. Meanwhile, the few remaining students and the Brothers moved into a building on the northeast corner and continued the college’s operation. One of the staff for the Navy was a young coach named Gerald Ford, who you may know became famous. At the end of the war, almost all of the Naval buildings were demolished, except for Assumption Hall.”
The above paragraph was written by Brother Raphael Patton, who passed away on December 6, 2021, during the development of this project. I decided not to change the paragraph at all in order to preserve his invaluable collaborations to this project. Thank you Brother Raphael, and may you rest in peace in the light of God’s kingdom.
Have you found the other two historical markers yet? If you want to learn more about the vibrant history of Saint Mary’s, try and find the other markers! Your hints are: Cottrell Field, and Rugby!
“An Historical Guide to the Campus: Saint Mary’s College.” Saint Mary’s Digital Commons