How did a failed college entrance exam influence D-Day?

Ned Jilton • Jun 1, 2017 at 12:17 PM

Have you heard the story of Edward E. Hazlett?

He played a major role in the D-day invasion, all because he flunked his college entrance exam.

After graduating high school in 1909, Hazlett applied for an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but failed the mathematical section of the entrance exam. Fortunately for Hazlett, he asked for, and received, a second chance to take the test.

To prepare, Hazlett asked a friend to help him study. The friend agreed and the two young men began studying three to four hours every evening at the gas light company owned by Hazlett’s dad.

It was during these study sessions that Hazlett began telling his friend about the Naval Academy and encouraged his friend to apply.

Hazlett’s friend was very interested. He came from a large family, being one of seven boys, and with one brother already in college, there was no money for him to attend. He was currently trying to earn money for college by working the night shift in a creamery where he moved 300-pound blocks of ice.

More important to Hazlett’s friend, the Naval Academy required no tuition. This meant the money he had already earned in two years at the creamery could be used by his younger brothers when it came time for them to enter college.

First, the friend wrote his congressman, but the congressman had no appointments to the Naval Academy available. Then he wrote his senator, Joseph L. Bristow, and requested consideration for an appointment. After several letters from members of the community, Sen. Bristow granted his request.

The two young men now threw themselves into their preparations for the entrance exam. Every day through the summer the two would study, asking each other questions. At the close of summer, Hazlett went to a “cramming” school to make sure his next effort to get into the academy would be successful while his friend took classes at the local high school to clean up his records and sharpen his skills for the test.

The big day came and both passed their tests with flying colors and were ready to enter the Naval Academy as classmates. But Hazlett’s friend had a problem.

In order to enter the Naval Academy at that time, you had to be between the ages of 16 and 20. Hazlett’s friend thought that meant under 21. Unfortunately it didn’t, and Hazlett’s friend was too old to enter the academy. They would not be classmates.

However, Sen. Bristow had stipulated that the test scores of Hazlett’s friend be applied to both military academies and his excellent test scores meant he could go to West Point, where the age requirement was different.

But there was a problem at West Point as well.

At the Naval Academy, Hazlett’s friend came out of the testing as a No. 1, meaning there was a space for him and he was in, had he met the age requirement. But for West Point he was a No. 2, meaning there was a space, but someone was ahead of him for that space.

It seemed that it was back to the creamery and the 300-pound blocks of ice for Hazlett’s friend when word arrived that the person in the No. 1 spot had failed to meet the physical requirements. Hazlett’s friend was in.

Hazlett graduated from the Naval Academy and reached the rank of captain, but a heart condition forced him to retire from the service early. He did, however, return to teach at the academy during the war and then became a professor of military science for the Navy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Hazlett’s friend graduated from West Point and I’m pretty sure you know his story. He went on to become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, planner of the D-Day invasion of France and president of the United States, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

How different things might have been if Hazlett had passed his Naval Academy entrance exam on the first try.

Ned Jilton II is page designer and photographer for the Times-News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected]

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