by Jennifer L. Post

Albright and Swarthmore Colleges were head-to-head in a debate competition. Aired on WDAS radio, the debate over whether English speaking nations should form a union was in full swing when the broadcast was interrupted.

Bill Bottonari ’42 says he will never forget that debate. The date was December 7, 1941. “They interrupted to announce the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”

Pictured left to right: Arthur Faust 41, J. David Williams 42, Bill Bottonari 42 and flight instructor Theodore Fischer at the Reading Airport.  

Daily life at Albright during the World War II years was filled with uncertainty. Students were called into national service. Enrollments fluctuated. When the Selective Service Act was passed, 70 students and 10 faculty members registered for the draft on October 16, 1940. They were only the first of many.

According to Mae Jean Picking Rosser ’45, “I remember one day when 43 men left at the same time. My chemistry professor even left after my first year to serve in the war.” She adds with a chuckle, “We girls were scrounging around for fellas to take us to the dances.”

Faculty felt the effects of the war too. They carried heavy workloads as the college provided facilities for specialized training of Army, Navy or Air Force candidates. Many faculty members taught special courses for servicemen in addition to their daily classes.

But for all Albrightians, the most difficult aspect of the war was the loss of 19 members of the Albright family; 19 men who gave their lives for their country.

Albright was fully engaged in helping the war effort, as well as establishing programs to insure the academic future of the institution.

The Albright College Council of Defense was established on November 10, 1941. Seven students and seven faculty members worked to maintain an air raid and fire warning system; to train persons in first aid; to conserve essential materials, and to aid in the cause of defense in any emergency.

In June 1941, a tuition-free “Federal Program for Engineering, Science, Management and Defense Training” was established. The program was sponsored by the extension department of Pennsylvania State College. Milton Geil, head of Albright’s psychology department at the time was appointed administrative director of the Albright branch. The school operated until 1945, serving about 5,000 men and women representing 300 industries and businesses in the Reading area.

To keep the spirits up of those serving in the War, Albright’s Student Council kept in active touch with Albright students by sending the college paper, The Albrightian, to those around the world. Rosser served on the “Albrightians-in-Service” committee. She says she became involved because “we wanted the servicemen to feel a part of college life.” A Civilian Pilot Training course was also created on Albright’s campus. Known as “The Flying Lions,” Bottonari was one of the first to sign up. The program consisted of three classes – airology, meteorology and celestial navigation – as well as flying lessons at the Reading Airport.

Following graduation in June, Bottonari says he and fellow Albrightian Don Spatz ’42 “boarded a train at the Franklin Street Station on our way to Chapel Hill, N.C.” where they spent about three months as aviation cadets. A year later in April, Bottonari was commissioned as a Naval Aviator at the new primary flight school at Bunker Hill in Pensecola, Fla.

Bottonari was originally assigned to the Black Sheep Squadron VMF-214 that went aboard the carrier Franklin.

However, before he was deployed he was ordered to Tacoma, Wash. as a supply officer. “I wasn’t with them on the Franklin,” he says thankfully. “It was clobbered.” That carrier was the earliest major casualty in the Okinawa-Japan attacks.

Spatz, however, was not as lucky.

The History of Marine Corps Aviation in WWII by Robert Sherrod tells of this account:

“On the night of 14 April VMF (N)-532 made the Marines’ first successful interception by F4U night fighters. Lieut. Edward A. Sovik was able to reach 20,000 feet in ten minutes and explode an enemy plane four minutes after that; Captain Howard W. Bollman shot down another with which he almost collided. Both explosions were witnessed by ground observers. One pilot was lost: Lieut. Donald Spatz, whose plane the Argus unit at Eniwetok confused with another – he was given an erroneous vector which led him out of control range, and he did not return.”

When news like this hit Albright and was announced at chapel services, it was the hardest for those on campus.

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