In 1926, the Navy created the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) by establishing six units located at Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Washington, and Harvard University and Yale University. In June of 1930, 126 midshipmen graduated from college and received commissions in the United States Navy. The Marine Corps entered the NROTC Program in 1932, offering qualified NROTC graduates commissions in the United States Marine Corps.
Although the NROTC program did not provide scholarships during its initial years, the Northwestern battalion had about 60 midshipmen enrolled by the late 1930s. Furthermore, the NROTC program as a whole did not require an active duty commission until the onset of World War II. Instead, those commissioned were sent to the reserve force.
Influence in World War II
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the focus of the Northwestern NROTC program shifted. The United States Navy set up a Midshipman Training School at the Chicago campus where nearly 26,000 college-age men received accelerated training to become officers in the Navy. This "Annapolis by the Lake" was one of only three set up by the Department of the Navy nationwide. Each of the 25 classes that participated in this V-7 program underwent a rigorous four month regimen to fuel the growing demand for junior-level officers. Many of the men commissioned during the latter stages of the war were assigned to the landing craft that were so crucial for invading Japanese-held islands.
The war was not cost-free for the Northwestern community. Twenty three men commissioned under the Northwestern NROTC banner lost their lives during the four years of combat. One graduate, Ensign Hal Christopher, died aboard the USS Nevada when it was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor. These sacrifices were commemorated in 1981 with the construction and dedication of a monument on a placid field near the university library.
After 1965 and the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, many students and faculty members called for the removal of the NROTC unit from the Northwestern community. Sustained anti-NROTC activities were initiated by the Students for a Democratic Society and others between 1969 and 1970. Windows in Lunt and Swift Hall, where the unit was housed, were smashed. At other times, the unit spaces were trashed. Protestors placed flowers in the rifles of drilling midshipmen, and one unit officer went so far as to burn records to prevent them from falling into the hands of protestors.
Following these protests, the faculty of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences voted to stop giving academic recognition to NROTC classes. Northwestern History Professor Richard Leopold, a naval officer himself during World War II, almost single-handedly saved the program after making an impassioned speech to the faculty outlining the benefits of the program. Just as he respected the rights of the protestors to make their political beliefs public, he also supported students who chose to serve in the military. Many of today's civilian and military alumni still remember his influence and what he did for the battalion.
The strife of the Vietnam era continued to impact the program well into the 1970s. The unit was housed for 7 years at the off-campus football arena, and the unit presence on campus was much less than it had previously been. Uniforms were only worn for two hours a week during drill periods, and those were conducted off campus. A general anti-military sentiment also induced a reduction in the number of students attending Northwestern as midshipmen.
Into the New Millennium
After the declining numbers of the 1970s, the battalion once again had a resurgence of interest from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Unit class sizes reached levels not before seen. This was due in part to the Reagan-era defense buildup, but also to the recruiting efforts of then-commanding officer CAPT Victor Gulliver. Under his leadership, the battalion returned to the main Evanston campus where it has remained to this day and midshipmen were once again seen walking around campus in their blues.
In recent years, the battalion has gotten smaller, but the quality of individuals has not declined. Recent alumni have held leadership positions in their fraternities and sororities, the Associated Student Government, other student organizations and athletic teams. The Navy and Marine Corps Birthday Ball remains one of the most anticipated social events for those fortunate enough to attend from the non-NROTC student body. The battalion at Northwestern continues to cultivate the future leaders of tomorrow.
We strive to remain connected with the rich tradition of our past. We are always learning more, and are very interested in any stories or anecdotes you may have about our organization. If you have any comments or questions, please contact us.