1928 Army ROTC officers.
1928 Army ROTC officers.
The 1936 Military Band.
The 1936 Military Band.
Rookies marching on campus in fall 1939.
Rookies marching on campus in fall 1939.
Today's Army ROTC students still train in the rain before serving their nation in Iraq, Afghanistan,and elsewhere.
Today's Army ROTC students still train in the rain before serving their nation in Iraq, Afghanistan,and elsewhere.

For more information on the Army ROTC at Michigan Tech:

aux.mtu.edu/armyrotc/

Eighty Years of Army ROTC at Michigan Tech

by Erik Nordberg, University Archivist

The cadets of the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps have been marching to their own cadence on campus and serving their country around the world since 1928.

The initial Army ROTC program combined military training with course work and study. According to an early promotion, the program "gives the student a training, which is valuable to him in his industrial and professional career, as it would also be, should the nation call upon him to act as a leader in its defensive forces." While enrollment in the unit was completely voluntary, more than 140 students applied for admission, with 98 men selected for the 1928-29 academic year. By 1940, the unit included more than 300 men in its program, fully one-third of all enrolled students.

The course of instruction comprised four years and was divided into a two-year basic course and a two-year advanced course. Students in the program were considered cadets in the Army (just as those at regular military academies) and formed their own Cadet Corps, consisting of one engineer battalion of three companies and a band.

In addition to regular academic curricula, cadets also undertook specialized courses in the department of Military Science and Tactics taught by Army officers. Courses offered in the early years included rifle marksmanship, map reading, combat principles, bridge and road building, and military administration.

The cadets and officers were close. James Westwater '34 was editor of The Lode when Sergeant Philip O'Brien's wife delivered twins. "We ran a headline: ‘Pair of Recruits Report to Sgt. O'Brien,' " he remembers.

During the fall and spring terms, drills were held twice a week on the campus. According to the 1930 Keweenawan yearbook, practical work in the winter term consisted of "map and sand-table problems, knots and lashings, and shooting on the gallery range with the Springfield .22 caliber rifle." Most winter terms included some type of cold-weather maneuvers.

At the end of the second year, cadets were assessed on their progress and selected to move on to the advanced course, including a six-week summer camp, usually hosted at Camp Custer in Lower Michigan or at Fort Sheridan in Illinois.

Cadets accepted into the advanced course also received $9 per month from the government, travel allowance, rations, and food stipend for the summer camp trip.

"That was a fair amount of money in those days," recalls Joseph Albert '36. "You have to remember that the country was deep into The Great Depression, so that money helped a lot."

Several student organizations spun off from Army ROTC. A rifle team was organized in 1928, drilling in an unheated rifle range scratch-built in the attic of the Club House building (currently the ROTC building). A new range in the basement of the Library Annex building was in use by 1938. The rifle team participated in matches with the local American Legion Post and the ROTC unit in Calumet, as well as intercompany shoots organized in Ohio and Indiana.

A chapter of Tau Nu Tau, an honor military engineering fraternity, was organized in 1930. Aside from its formal aims, "the TNT" also undertook some less-serious activities including, according to the 1938 Keweenawan, "an attack on the Haas Brewery, the capture of the University of Michigan hockey team at the Douglass House, and the Battle of Redridge."

ROTC also encouraged another Michigan Tech tradition—its band. Founded in 1928 by Arthur Kitti, the Michigan Tech band initially included ROTC and other students. By 1938, the unit was comprised entirely of cadets and known more generally as the "Military Band." Membership in the group was voluntary, but due to its popularity included a highly competitive audition process.

"I played the French horn in the band and it was a nice diversion from our studies," explains Charles Alvord '39. "If you didn't have something like the band, there wasn't a lot to do other than trigonometry or calculus."

The band furnished music for the annual spring military inspection, parades, sporting events, and other occasions requested by the college president. It also presented public concerts at the Kerredge Theatre in Hancock and broadcast its first radio program from station WHDF in 1932. Kitti also organized a separate drum and bugle corps, and the student band members founded an honorary band fraternity, known initially as Tri-Beta, in 1932.

Many of the alums fondly recall their ROTC days and their impact on them. Albert became a career Army man. "If you look at our nation's history, there has always been a need for military personnel," he notes. "ROTC training allowed me to come into the service at a much higher level than I could have during the draft."

Westwater valued the additional skills gained through the specialized training. "ROTC included a lot of hands-on civil engineering training with bridges and earth moving. Although I was training to be a mining engineer, ROTC gave me firm grounding in civil engineering aspects of the work."

Alvord sums it up pretty simply: "Being involved with ROTC and serving my country in World War II was the most fabulous, fantastic experience imaginable."