Going to War and Going to College: Registration

Going to War and Going to College: RegistrationWith the outbreak of hostilities in Europe with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the capacity to raise troops and military equipment became a serious question for U.S. policy makers. Voluntary enlistment was insufficient to fill the needs for military manpower and to protect U.S. interests in the face of escalating hostilities. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in 1940 and this legislation provided for the registration and conscription of troops. Registration was the first step in the process that the military used to enumerate the pool of potential military manpower and identify men able to serve.
With the direct attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1940, the United States became a full combatant in the war and military manpower needs grew rapidly. Initially, patriotism fueled many enlistments, but volunteers stopped far short of meeting the rapidly expanding military manpower needs. Combat in Europe, Africa and the Pacific generated sustained demand for additional military manpower through the Japanese surrender with the release of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August of 1945.
The first wave of registration under the Selective Service Act of 1940 required all men between the ages of 21 and 26 to make contact with local draft boards. Over the next two years, the second, third, and fourth registrations added youth who entered the draft-eligible age range during the next two years, while also adding older men to the registrant pool. The fifth and sixth registrations responded to the dwindling manpower pool by adding those in the age groups between 18 and 21. The final registration prohibited voluntary enlistment, presumably to reduce competition among the services for the most able recruits.
Following registration, men were classified by the local draft boards based on their ability to serve and their eligibility for deferments. Classification status was determined by the local draft board with the primary reasons for deferment (Classes II-IV) physical or mental disability (Class IV) or employment in war production or agriculture (Class II). For men eligible for World War II service, physical unfitness, the presence of dependents and employment in a sector of strategic importance to the war effort were the primary deferments or classifications that kept a man out of military service.