Part 2: UH Students Defend The Country in WW2

Read Part One: UH’s Involvement In World War 2.

The War’s Effect on UH

As the number of enlistees to the war effort grew, the UH student population continued to decreased. Enrollment dropped from 2500 in the fall of 1941 to just over 1000 in spring 1944. If the University hadn’t been proactive in inviting the Navy to campus, it would have likely ceased operation by summer 1944.
Dr. Kemmerer’s vision for the wartime campus was prescient: by securing payments from the Navy for 3 training units, an Army Air Corps unit, and the tuition from the war production classes and pilot training courses, UH was able to stay afloat until the war ended.
WWII was a watershed time for UH and its students. It was a historic opportunity for UH students to serve their country and aid in the war effort. They did so by enlisting, training in war production courses, or working in vital sectors necessary to a country at war. By 1943, 10,000 trainees were enrolled in war production courses at UH.
No one knows the exact number of UH students that enlisted but UH sent thousands of students to war. A total of 86 UH students made the ultimate sacrifice as they were killed or MIA.

A partial list of the 86 UH students missing or killed in action during World War II.

Vets & the GI Bill At UH

In late 1944, UH was selected as a site for a Veterans Administration Advisement Center. In a letter to Kemmerer, the VA explained that they wanted the advisement center to help “establish an independent, self-supporting American citizen” coming back from war.
The VAAC helped vets register for classes, get aid promised by the GI Bill, and offered career services. Having the advisement center pushed thousands of new collegians to UH and indirectly contributed to campus life.

Registration day for returning vets. They were quite eager to sign up for their first college courses
Registration day for returning vets. They were quite eager to sign up for their first college courses.

After victories in Europe and Japan ignited peace around the world, the Navy no longer needed a large operation at UH. Late in 1945, the Navy left and returning vets started flooding the campus. By Fall 1946, enrollment soared over 10,000 with veterans accounting for more than 60% of the total.
Once again, the UH campus was evolving. The Rec Center was transformed into the Cougar Den and became the center for student activity and housed the campus’s first jukebox. Large swaths of campus were turned into housing for vets as more than 1,400 former service men and women moved onto campus.

Those vets were instrumental in changing UH into a thriving community that helped build Houston into a world-class city. Veterans flocked to the University of Houston thanks in large part to forward-looking administrators like Dr. Kemmerer.
The proactive Kemmerer helped the University survive the war and thrive for decades to come.

Gallery: UH in World War 2

I went through 6 years of Houstonian yearbooks and dozens of articles and publications in search of photos for this story. I hope you enjoy this gallery of UH in WW2 photos and life at UH 1940’s. Click through the slides to get more information on each.


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