Oshkosh gets a Detachment
In the 1940s, air combat was arguably one of the most romantic aspects of military service. Windswept aviators harnessing dangerous new technologies and traveling at incredible speeds deep into enemy territory offering a hundred chances for valor was, indeed, the stuff of cinema. But what the army didn’t mention in its promotional reels was that before an aviation cadet could smack the enemy, his country had to send him off to school to learn the math, physics and other skills required to operate its complex aircraft. To provide this training, the Army Air Corps enlisted the help of many of the country’s colleges and universities to train detachments of aviation cadets in the fundamentals that recruits may not have picked up in their diverse educational backgrounds. In 1943, the Oshkosh State Teachers College (OSTC) added its name to the list of schools to play host to these programs and on March 28, 1943, the 96th College Detachment arrived to a community eager to do its part to advance the war effort.
Patriotism may have been an important motivator for OSTC administration when they decided to contract with the Army, but there were other, more fiduciary, incentives as well. In 1939, with the Depression in full force, OSTC saw a record 1,028 enrollees who had chosen to stay closer to home because they could not afford to go away for college. However, by 1942, enrollment had dropped to 330, and state support shrunk. As a result, the college had begun faculty layoffs. Then the 96th arrived in town, and during their stay in Oshkosh they brought more than 1000 aviation cadets to campus, which helped the college maintain its core services and retain staff.