The War at the Center of Central: World War II and Central High School

World War II, arguably the most pivotal event in the last century, had a large impact on the entirety of the United States, Central High School is no exception. 50 million men between age 18 to 45 registered for the draft in the U.S. between 1940 and 1945. Nearly 2 million were from Illinois. Hundreds of those were drop outs of Central to help the war effort. The ones that did not drop out, however, did make yearbooks. These yearbooks included patriotic themes salutes to troops (both from Central and not), democracy, and the mighty U.S.A. From 1942 to 1945 the World War is a recurring theme, with the exception of 1944 when there was no yearbook due to a nationwide paper shortage. This article explores the effects of World War II on Central High School solely using yearbooks.
Throughout the yearbooks in the early 1940s, the war does get a lot of attention. Although, the 1942 yearbook, hardly mentions World War II. Up to December of 1941, the U.S. had not been partaking in the mass fighting in Europe. After Pearl Harbor, the nation was in shock, and while the draft had been implemented on September 16, 1940 (the only peacetime draft in American history), men were not leaving their homes to fight until after the surprise bombing in Hawaii. What the 1942 yearbook does have is three paragraphs that depict the loss of teachers to the draft early that year, only a couple months after Pearl Harbor. The yearbook has several sentences like, “Sometime in February, Mr. Hess was caught in the draft.” The 1942 yearbook does not have much content related to the war because the first half of that year (when school was in session for this yearbook) the nation was in shock and the severity of the war had not fully set in. Hence why World War II and patriotic themes are more common in the consecutive yearbooks.
“Enrollment in Champaign Senior reflected the nation at war, with the starting figure of 925 dropping to a total of 815 as the second semester neared the end.” Page 21, 1943 yearbook.
Right off the bat, the 1943 yearbook screams America at war, the cover is a maroon background with a patriotic crest placed squarely in the middle. Page 4 contains a list of students who enlisted during the school year. Throughout the yearbook, the stars and stripes can be found on almost every page. The yearbook as a whole follows a patriotic theme.
The 1944 yearbook as previously stated was never produced due to a nationwide paper shortage caused by the war. While it will never be known what the 1944 yearbook would have contained, one can imagine that, just as 1943, the war would be a common topic.
“While the school season of 1944-1945-our fourth war year-may reasonably be listed with other war casualties. On that [first] day, registrations showed 750 were entered-the smallest number on opening day for a number of years. The armed forces had reduced had reduced the ranks of the upper classes, several of the seventeen year old lads signing up for the navy.” Page 12, 1945 yearbook.
1945 brought the end of the war, but not until the beginning of the 1945-1946 school year, so the 1944-1945 school year was more of the same for students and teachers at central, Additionally, the yearbook was more of the same for the most part, the war showed up all over the place.
The 1946 yearbook has no trace of the war, probably due to the fact that the war ended a few days before school started.

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