The Navy Pre-Flight schools of WWII, a little known but vital component of the war effort, is a major underpinning of the story told by A TIDE OF DREAMS. The curriculum taught at the schools were designed to both physically and mentally prepare the young enlisted cadets who were recruited specifically to be part of the Navy’s aviation program. Coaches Bryant, Laslie and Moseley, (Bryant a man I knew as “Uncle Paul”, Laslie, my grandfather, and Moseley my godfather the principals of this account) enlisted in the Naval Reserves before being accepted into the Navy’s premiere fast-tracked officer training at Annapolis, where graduates became known as the “90-Day Wonders.” It was a contribution, I would arguably make, that was responsible for our victory overseas and ultimately saved the world. Yep. You read correctly. College football. Saved the world.
Though I was astounded to find very little written about the program, what I did discover led me to believe that it was this military training combined with an intense focus on physical training and teamwork, accomplished through a total immersion in athletics, that ultimately built a fighting force unequaled in the world. Instituted in 1942, it ran until 1945, and was dismantled at the end of the war. That knowledge gave me fresh understanding and perspective into to the lives of those I was writing about for the years that followed the war: how the bond between these men as it relates to my work -Bryant, Laslie and Moseley – forged during their years playing football together at the University of Alabama, was strengthened and their subsequent coaching informed by the indisputable influence of those years when they trained the Pre-Flight cadets for survival on a foreign battlefield with skills imbued on the playing field.
Pictured above left to right: Coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Carney Laslie newly enlisted in the Naval Reserves, on their way to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Not long ago, while browsing Amazon, I fortuitously stumbled upon Anne Keene’s book, THE CLOUDBUSTER’S NINE: The Untold Story about Baseball’s Ted Williams, published in 2018, which won “Best Baseball Book in 2018.”
Keene’s work is a stunning account of the Cloudbuster baseball team of 1943, attached to the Pre-Flight program at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and tells the story of both Keene’s father, a bat boy during those years, and Ted Williams, who was a player on the team. It is an engaging, informative, and inspirational read. Her interviews with players, who despite their age (all in their 90’s), had vivid memories of their time spent as a Cloudbuster baseball player. To say it is inspirational doesn’t begin to adequately describe the emotions one feels when listening to these aged athletes share their experiences during the war years. To learn more and listen to Keene’s interviews and podcasts, click here.
Recently, after discovering Anne’s book, I contacted her. We had the opportunity to speak at length about our experiences writing our different accounts of this era. It is rare to find someone as enthusiastic and consumed by this subject matter as I am. With our mutual appreciation and fascination of this topic, we had a lot to talk about! And, as has been my experience all along, I was astounded once again at how the story keeps finding me. Imagine my surprise and delight when, unbeknownst to me, I learned her daughter is now at the University of Alabama. And with that connection too, it was clear our paths were meant to cross.
So what does all this have to do with college football saving the world? Learn more about football’s extraordinary and unique contribution to the war effort. A TIDE OF DREAMS comes out in June, 2022. To subscribe to a reminder email (you’ll only receive 2! I promise!) click on the link below.