West Virginia & World War II Training Programs
The world changed in 1939 as Germany invaded Poland and began World War II. America did not enter immediately but knew that the possibility was there. One idea to prepare for war was to take the best and brightest young men and educate them in programs to take on certain jobs in the military. The Civilian Pilot Training Act was one of the first programs to train pilots and was a starting point for entry into the Army Air Corps. Another program, the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), was implemented to educate men for certain roles in the Army. West Virginia was honored to have these programs in two of their colleges. Most importantly, these programs allowed barriers between blacks and whites to be addressed and broken down so that all could serve their country.
The first program began in 1939 when the Civilian Pilot Training Act was passed. This program allowed African Americans to be trained as civilian pilots. West Virginia State College was one of six colleges to offer this course on September 10, 1939. Pilot training would begin November 14, 1939. The fight for African Americans to become officers and pilots in the Army Air Corps would keep going. West Virginia State lost the bid to offer training for officers or pilots that would go to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Instead, West Virginia State president Dr. John Davis was asked to nominate graduates of the Civilian Pilot program to the “Tuskegee Experience.” Dr. Davis nominated George Spencer “Spanky” Roberts and Mac Ross who had graduated from the Civilian Pilot Training Program. George “Spanky” Roberts, from Fairmont, WV, graduated in 1939 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanic Arts. Mac Ross, from Dayton, OH, was a 1940 graduate from WV State.
These men started classes with 11 others in 1941 at the Tuskegee Institute. In March 1942 they became two of the first five to graduate from the program. Both became Second Lieutenants and among the first to receive their wings in the Army Air Corps. Lieutenant Roberts was placed in command of the 99th Fighter Squadron. The 100th Pursuit Squadron would be led by Lieutenant Ross. Both of these squadrons would join and make up the 332nd Fighter Group, first led by Colonel Benjamin Davis Jr. and then by Lt. George “Spanky” Roberts. By the end of the war, George “Spanky” Roberts had flown over 100 missions and would become Senior Air Corps ROTC instructor at Tuskegee and became the Dean of the school of Military Science. He reported to Langley Air Force base in 1950 and become the first African American to command a racially mixed unit.
Rosie Cousin, from Fairmont, WV, became the first woman accepted into the WV State College pilot program. She was 16 when she attended WV State to get a degree in Business Administration. While there she applied and was accepted to the Civilian Training Program after passing the same mental and physical test that the men did. She became the first African American woman to get her pilot license as she completed the rigorous training under the program and completed her solo flight. She did go to Tuskegee with the others to enter their program and was turned away because of being a woman.
The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was a short lived education program to develop officers or specialist to enter the Army ready to take on necessary roles. Top officials were concerned that if the war would last beyond 1944 certain roles would see a shortage of men to fill them. These roles involved areas of engineering, medical fields and foreign languages that calls for a college education. West Virginia University in Morgantown was one of the 221 colleges chosen for officer training for whites. West Virginia State College, which had the Civilian Pilot Training Program and the first artillery ROTC program, was one of the six chosen to serve the African American population for training. Men reported to these campuses by April and September 1943 to begin their education. Their day would involve “supervised activity, minimum of 24 hours of classroom and lab work, 24 hours of required study, 5 hours of military instruction, and 6 hours of physical instruction.” (Louis E. Keffer, The Army Specialized Training Program in World War II)The program was cut as the outlook of war changed in 1944 as preparation for the Normandy invasion took place.
These programs that West Virginia was honored with allowed us to contribute to the war effort through education. Through these education programs we addressed barriers that had far-reaching effects even after the war ended.