Guest Blogger: from the Class of ’64, “A Bit of the History of ROTC at Davidson”

 A small group of ’64 graduates gathered over the few years to rethink the future for the sake of our progeny, to consider how we might transition into a future that is yet to happen.   One of the subjects proposed was Reinstituting the Draft.  Since most of us graduated after four years of ROTC with a military commission, many serving in Vietnam, there was the lingering question: why did the school require two years of Military Science instruction of all its students whether or not they opted for a second voluntary two years. In order to receive a diploma, unless there was a physical or other exemption we must have spent two years marching and cleaning our M1’s. Even students transferring in as juniors had to participate.

black and white photograph of 1922 James Sprunt scrapbook page for ROTC
Scrapbook interpretation of ROTC from James Sprunt, Jr. Class of 1922

The reason given for the requirement, as we were told, was that Davidson was a “Land-Grant” college. Indeed, the Morrill Act of 1862 provided funds from the sale of Federal land to encourage and assist states to establish schools to teach agricultural and industrial classes and also military tactics. The problem then arises: Davidson was and is a decidedly Liberal Arts college founded in 1837. So, how could she be a school that benefited from the Act, or even its expansion in 1890? Additionally, a search of the listings of Land-Grant colleges and universities finds Davidson nowhere mentioned.  The resulting evidence is that Davidson was never a Land-Grant college.

Here is a link where the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s ROTC program traces its history to the Davidson program.

https://arotc.uncc.edu/49er-battalion-info/history

Davidson’s ROTC, then the SATC (Students Army Training Corps) was begun 1917. In the beginning participation appeared to be optional, then later was mandatory.

1918 cartoon drawings of military exercises
1918 Quips and Cranks interpretation of military training
black and white announcement for military training with photo of the cadets
Announcement at the end of the 1918 Quips and Cranks

A half century later in 1968 ROTC became a voluntary elective with enrollment plummeting to where it is today. It was World War One which birthed Military Training at Davidson and it was Vietnam which nearly ended it.

All that being said, our take, until we are presented evidence otherwise, is that the Board of Trustees saw how Military Science benefited the students and the college, and made it obligatory. Somehow along the way, to give justification for mandatory ROTC, the idea that Davidson was a Land-Grant college was mentioned. Not being challenged, it stuck. That is, until 1968 – Tet, My Lai, and all, when no amount of justification would suffice.

We are open to any enhancement or rebuttal on the above comments.

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