Rouge naval school trained WWII sailors in skilled trades

As the world was becoming engulfed in war in 1940, The Ford Motor Co. pitched in and helped establish the United States Naval Service Training School at the Rouge plant in Dearborn. By the time the school closed in May of 1946 it had trained more than 22,000 young sailors to repair engines, both diesel and gasoline, as well as sheet-metal work, electrical skills, and anything else required to keep a modern navy afloat.

The first 150 students arrived at the school in January, 1941, 11 months prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. By August of that year there were more than 1,000 sailors in the program, studying by day and performing navy duties like walking guard at night.

Most of the students, who came from all over the country, were selected for the program upon completion of basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. They were screened for aptitude, abilities and fitness for the intense training program at the Rouge, which generally lasted for three months.

Once at the Rouge plant they were trained in the plant shops as machinists, electricians, radiomen, sheet-metal workers, and other skilled trades. A certificate of completion of the course was almost a guarantee of quick promotion once the sailor was assigned to a ship or duty base.

In addition to the skilled trades instruction, the sailors also were given extensive swimming lessons at a newly built recreation center.

Throughout the war, the academy housed about 900 students at any given time. When news of the end of the war came in August 1945, the Class of 1945 was deeply involved in learning radar technology. The school closed down in May of the following year.


Naval trainees at Ford Rouge Plant

Three naval trainees work in the Ford Rouge Plant electrical shop in March 1941. From left: Vernon Mulvaney of Milwaukee, Martin Kohne of Leslie, Mo., and Hilton Odle of Wapello, Iowa. (Detroit News Archives)