2-077 Editorial Note on R.O.T.C., 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on R.O.T.C.

October-November 1939

Even while expanding enlisted manpower, Congress was reluctant to increase significantly the number of Regular Army officers; this meant that Marshall would have to call into active service an increasing number of men from the Officers’ Reserve Corps for temporary duty. Since August 1935, the Thomason Act (see note, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-048 [2: 53-54]) had permitted the army to select and train several thousand Reserve Corps second lieutenants and to offer permanent commissions to a few each year. The chief source of such men was the college Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which had granted just over 100,000 Reserve commissions since 1920.

In the late 1930s, interest in the R.O.T.C. was growing, and the number of students enrolled, at both the college-university and the high-school levels, had increased by approximately 11,000 (or 6 percent) from the autumn of 1938 to the autumn of 1939.

While of great potential value, this growth presented Marshall with immediate problems. The army’s own expansion required more officers; it was difficult to spare more for the R.O.T.C. program. During the 1939-40 academic year, 5 percent of the entire Regular Army officer corps (824 men) were on R.O.T.C. duty. The army had permitted no increase in the number of units (365) in the program since 1938, despite applications for new units from 48 colleges and universities and 108 high schools. In addition, the facilities and equipment available to many existing units were of dubious quality. The army spent only $4.7 million on various R.O.T.C. projects during fiscal year 1939; $5 million was being requested for fiscal year 1941. (Statistics on the R.O.T.C. were presented to the House Appropriations Committee. See Military Establishment Appropriation Bill for 1941, Hearings [Washington: GPO, 1940], pp. 752-74. For further information see Marshall’s testimony regarding the R.O.T.C., Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-132 [2: 167-69].)

On October 28, 1939, Marshall traveled to Indianapolis to speak to the Indiana Reserve Officers’ Association. (There is no draft or transcript of this address in the Marshall papers.) At the gathering, he met a friend from the Infantry School, Colonel John F. Landis (U.S.M.A., 1910), who had been professor of military science and tactics at Indiana University since May 1938. A year previously, Landis had written to Marshall to explain the “strange situation” that the university’s R.O.T.C. program faced. “Though the basic course here is compulsory and the authorities are friendly towards the unit, our training facilities are pitiful.” Landis strongly advised that the War Department find a way of helping the institution to build an armory of a quality comparable to those at the University of Illinois and Purdue University, with which Marshall was familiar. “With such an armory it is no exaggeration to say that the value of our unit could be doubled.” (Landis to Marshall, October 19, 1938, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)

Following the Indianapolis meeting, Landis wrote that he hoped Marshall would find the time in the near future to examine the country’s R.O.T.C. situation in detail. “After having spent a year on ROTC duty I have reached the conclusion that as regards their potentialities our ROTC units are, conservatively speaking, perhaps 25 or 30% efficient.” Marshall replied, “Write me a little thesis on the subject. . . . I am much interested at the present time in the effective development of the R.O.T.C. and its closer amalgamation with the Reserve Corps.” (Landis to Marshall, October 30, 1939; Marshall to Landis, November 1, 1939, ibid.) Landis sent his paper within the week, saying: “I fear that my conclusions about the ROTC situation may be different from any you have heretofore received. . . . During the recent government building program we should have obtained suitable armories for all our principal ROTC units. We missed a big bet.” (Landis to Marshall, November 6, 1939, ibid. The editors have been unable to locate a copy of Landis’s paper.)

On November 14, Marshall spoke on the R.O.T.C. problem at the meeting in Washington, D.C., of the National Association of State Universities. He told the assembled delegates: “I have felt that for the R.O.T.C. the last period of twenty-odd years since the World War was a period of evolution, as it were, in an attempt to find the best method to integrate that sort of training into the ordinary life of the country. I believe that the progress has been excellent, but there remains room for further improvement, and I always feel embarrassed as to War Department limitations in this respect.”

He emphasized the difficulties the army faced not only in finding an adequate number of officers for R.O.T.C. duty, but also in finding those who had “the personality, the attraction, and the ability to accomplish his result without aid of the authority to give direct commands.” Moreover, these officers had to be capable of adapting themselves to a college life which was “quite different from anything that he has had up to that time.” Marshall invited the delegates to give the War Department their opinions on how to meet the pressing problems of “where to get the officers, how to provide the acceptable ones and also what should be the attitude of the War Department in relation to the colleges and universities in case we were called in some more serious crises to mobilize.” (The transcript of Marshall’s address contains only about 800 words, but he spoke off the record for some time. The speech was published in Transactions and Proceedings of the National Association of State Universities 37[1939]: 211-13.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 104-106.

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