Jack Hayne, a retired Grumman employee and former Army captain living in Old Bethpage, never saw a day of combat during World War II.

Still, he was one of millions of American GIs whose wartime-era service helped revolutionize American society.

With combat leaders citing the need for tech-savvy soldiers capable of understanding cutting-edge gyroscopic navigation, radar detection, submarine propulsion and other emerging technologies, the Brooklyn draftee was selected for college programs designed to produce skilled officers and expert military technicians.

Drafted in May, 1943 as a high school graduate working on B-26 aircraft wings at a Glenn Martin plant in Maryland, Hayne initially was selected to participate in the Army Specialized Training Program, which sent soldiers to colleges and universities while on active duty.

When that program folded six months later -- a victim of pressure to divert more soldiers from classrooms to the battlefields -- Hayne was selected to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"I always wanted to go to college, but really never had the opportunity because I didn't have the background," said Hayne, 91. "I was elated, I was excited. I knew I was going to get an excellent education."

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Spurred by military education programs during the war and the GI Bill in its immediate aftermath, veterans were behind the almost doubling of college enrollments during the World War II era.

Once reserved almost entirely for the children of the upper classes, college enrollments surged from 1.5 million in 1940 to nearly 2.7 million a decade later. Military personnel and veterans accounted for the lion's share of this growth, with veterans making up one in two college enrollments by 1947.

Counting all educational programs, nearly half of the 16.1 million Americans who served during World War II -- 7.8 million in all -- trained at GI Bill-funded colleges, trade schools and in business and agriculture training programs, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"It changed things," said Hayne, who graduated from West Point in 1949, and saw combat in Korea a year later. "It provided a lot of opportunities for industry to get educated people -- some of them engineers, some of them liberal arts."

Hayne said his classroom training helped promote his military career, which included stints as an anti-aircraft battery officer during the Korean War, and as a guided missile officer at Fort Totten, Queens, and at Colorado Springs.

After he retired from the military in 1964, Grumman sought his technical background for work on cutting-edge projects, including the E-2 Hawkeye radar system and the A-6 Intruder aircraft.

"The technical education at West Point helped me at Grumman quite a bit," said Hayne, the son of a Manhattan restaurant employee and the first in his family to attend college. "And of course, tactical information helped in the Army."

Military leaders had begun stressing education even as war clouds were gathering in the late 1930s.

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One such leader was Rear Adm. Chester Nimitz, who in 1939 learned of plans to curtail the military's education programs in the event of war.

John Sanders, chief archivist at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, said Nimitz in a 1965 letter indicated that the military should not repeat the mistakes of World War I, when a rush to free more officers for combat duty led to the suspension of military-sponsored college programs.

Nimitz felt that led to a shortage of formally trained military leaders in the years after World War I, just as fighting forces were adopting battlefield technologies still in their infancy at the dawn of World War II.

"To my horror, I learned that [if war broke out] it was planned to close down the Naval War College and the Naval Post Graduate School in order to provide officers for an expanded fleet . . ." Nimitz recalled in the letter. "I immediately canceled those plans and prepared for expanded classes at both the War College and P.G. [Post Graduate] School . . . "

"In 1939, Chester Nimitz said we will not allow that to happen again," Sanders said. "So they increased the number of officers going into the college pipeline."

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Hayne said without the military's stress on education, he likely would have never pursued a higher degree.

"Had I not been drafted, I never would have gone to college," said Hayne, who retired from Grumman in 1988. "I had no math, no chemistry, no algebra, no physics in high school. I had typing, shorthand, bookkeeping. I had no academic training."

"After World War II a lot, not all, but I would say most of the soldiers who got out ... went to the college."