Those Other Grads

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Because of the growing realization that the United States was about to be drawn into the war that had been raging "over there" in Europe for three years, the Naval Academy's Class of 1917 was graduated two months early on 29 March. Eleven days before that, the students of the Naval Postgraduate School (then located at the north end of the Naval Academy grounds in what is today known as Halligan Hall) had received orders discontinuing their studies and assigning them to "special duty." Then came the expected climax on 6 April 1917, when the Superintendent, Captain Edward W. Eberle, ordered the following message from the Secretary of the Navy read to the midshipmen during the evening roll call: "Sixteen ALNAV—The President has signed Act of Congress which declares that a state of war exists between the United States and Germany…"

On 28 June, the class not due to graduate until the Spring of 1918 was graduated a year early, and planning commenced to reduce the Naval Academy's curriculum from four years to three for all classes until cessation of hostilities. But no one could have expected even these emergency measures to satisfy the need for more naval officers brought about by the war. Jack Sweetman, a former history professor at the Naval Academy, wrote in his book, The U.S. Naval Academy: An Illustrated History (Naval Institute Press, 1979): "If everyone of the 4,822 officers the academy had graduated since 1845 had been available for active duty, the wartime fleet would still have had only a fraction of the number it needed."

To alleviate this problem, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels sent a letter to Captain Eberle proposing a plan to train additional officers at the Naval Academy. Eberle promptly implemented the plan, and on 5 July 1917 the first Naval Reserve Officers' Class reported for a ten-week crash course in navigation, gunnery, seamanship, naval regulations, and nautical customs. The candidates, who numbered 192 in this first class, must have completed at least two years of college and had the physical stamina to meet the Naval Academy's rigid requirements. The average age was 29, and they came from nearly all walks of life. Some were college graduates, and some had prior service as enlisted members of the naval reserve. Many had neither. Before reporting to Annapolis, they were commissioned as ensigns in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force (and some, with special qualifications, were commissioned as lieutenants, junior grade). Some had wives, whom the Navy Department advised not to come with their husbands. But evidence in Anchor Watch and The Wake ("yearbooks" for the fourth and fifth classes, respectively) indicates that many did not heed the advice. By the time the final day of training arrived on Friday, 14 September, 23 had dropped out or been eliminated, leaving the graduating class 169 strong.

Academy and Navy officials deemed the program a success and graduated five Reserve Officers' classes between September 1917 and January 1919, with numbers ranging from 169 to 523. Special classes of various durations accommodated marine engineers, civil engineers, aviation intelligence officers, assistant naval constructors, and pay officers, and the deck-officer course expanded from 10 weeks to 16. Guest speaker at the third deck graduation was none other than Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The early classes of reserve officers were quartered in Bancroft Hall along with the midshipmen, but by December 1917 temporary barracks on what h ad been the Naval Academy's tennis courts (such are the sacrifices of war) housed all subsequent classes. In contrast to the blues and whites worn by the midshipmen, the reserve officers wore khaki uniforms. But the difference in uniforms was not the only distinction between the two groups. The midshipmen saw the reserves as competitors for coveted spots on the seniority list and resented the comparative brevity of the reserves' course of instruction. Many of the reservists looked upon the midshipmen as "callous young snobs." But the spirit of wartime camaraderie prevailed—particularly when word came back from the fleet that the "ninety-day wonders" were acquitting themselves well—and the antipathy between the groups eventually transformed into a healthy rivalry.

All told, 2,569 reserve officers graduated from the Academy's Naval Reserve Officers' School during the relatively short duration of U.S. involvement in World War I. The fifth (and final) class of deck officers (whose planned beginning date for the course of 7 October 1918 had to be postponed until 21 October because of "influenza conditions in the country") was in session when word of the signing of the Armistice came on 11 November 1918.

When World War I ended, the Reserve Officer School closed at the Naval Academy. Classes there returned to their normal four-year curriculum, and the nation settled in for the deceivingly quiet postwar years. But by 1941, despite a last-stand effort by the proponents of isolation, the "winds of war" were blowing again in the United States, and changes were once again afoot at the Naval Academy. The Class of 1941 had its summer cruise shortened, and members of the first class would graduate in February rather than June. Once again, naval planners began looking to other sources for augmenting the officer corps.

The NROTC program had begun in 1.927 at six universities. By 1940, 27 schools had established units, with a total enrollment of 3,096 students to supplement the Academy's annual production of approximately 425 officers. Prewar planners had no idea that the Navy's need for officers would exceed 300,000 to lead a Navy that would be three-and-a-quarter-million strong. By the end of 1943 the number of officer candidates alone equaled the total officer and enlisted strength of the Navy in the summer of 1939. But without fully appreciating the dimensions of the coming problem, these planners at least foresaw the problem itself and began to take action in the spring of 1940. Northwestern University established a Reserve Midshipmen's School, as did the Prairie State (the former battleship Illinois [BB-7] then moored in the Hudson River to serve as a training ship). Once again, the Naval Academy was the site of a similar school. The Navy grouped these new officer procurement sources under the cryptic title of "V-7 program." (Other officer procurement plans devised prior to and during the war years had similar designations—V-1, V-5, and V-12.)

Planning for the new reserve-officer school at the Academy began immediately, and by July a "General Plan for Instruction of Reserve Midshipmen" placed the new unit under the command of the Academy's Commandant. The plan specified that the training would be "divided into 12 weeks of instruction plus three days prior to commencement of academic instruction for organization and familiarization, and three days at the end of the course for making preparations for departure and graduation." It also called for more instructors, to include "41 line officers plus officers for services [medical, supply, etc.] plus 12 chief petty officers." In predicting the roles of these added officers, the plan admonished that "the time thus definitely allotted plus the time which will be necessarily spent in preparing for daily lessons, working up lesson sheets, marking papers, and general administration, will make the augmented officer's work load considerably heavier than that of instructors' in corresponding subjects at the Naval Academy.”

The first group of V-7-program reserves, divided into Deck and Engineering groups, completed training in May 1941, commissioned as ensigns in the Naval Reserve. All subsequent classes were trained only as engineers. During that summer, another group already commissioned as ensigns outside the V-7 program came to the Academy. They had already received specialized training and were subsequently assigned as Navy ordnance inspectors at ammunition- manufacturing sites.

Word reached the Naval Academy on the afternoon of Sunday, 7 December 1941, that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Sightseers were immediately rounded up and escorted out the gates, which were then closed and placed under armed guard. Patrol boats began a roaming vigil of the Severn and adjoining creeks, blackout shades were mounted in windows, and the first and second decks of Bancroft Hall were designated as air-raid shelters. Twelve days later, the Class of 1942 graduated a full six months early. The war was on in earnest, and an expanded officer corps became a matter of utmost urgency.

Ten classes of reserve midshipmen ultimately trained at the Naval Academy between January 1941 and December 1944. Quartered in Bancroft Hall, they wore blue uniforms exactly like the regular midshipmen, except for a thin, three-inch long band of gold braid on each cuff. They studied marine and electrical engineering as well as naval organization and customs. During the first month of training, candidates were designated "Prospective Reserve Midshipmen" and subjected to the demands of what was designated "elimination training." Thereafter, those who survived this weeding-out period enjoyed the privileges of First-Class midshipmen, "as laid down in the U.S. Naval Academy Regulations." The total number of graduates by war's end was 3,319, with nearly 400 other men entering but failing to complete the program.

Although the Reserve Midshipmen's School at the Academy produced only a fraction of the officers needed in World War II (the Navy's V-12 program alone produced more officers than all other officer programs combined), the contribution was one of many components that allowed the Navy to meet the unprecedented challenges of the war. On 21 December 1943 during the commissioning ceremony of the 7th class of V-7 reserve midshipmen at the Naval Academy, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ralph A. Baird said:

The Navy has always depended upon reserves in time of war, and they have not been found wanting. Some of the most brilliant actions of this war to date have been carried out by men who, two years ago, were architects or lawyers, farmers or advertising men, factory workers or electrical engineers.

Indeed, by May of that year, two V-7 graduates from other schools had been awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Board of Visitors to the Naval Academy is a committee of congressmen and specially appointed citizens who oversee how it is being run and report their findings to the President twice a year. In its report dated 5 May 1968, the Board included the following remarks:

The very sharp increase in Junior Officer Requirements for the Navy has so overloaded our Officer Candidate School at Newport [Rhode Island] that they cannot possibly handle the Phase II ROC [Reserve Officer Candidate] program this summer, so it has been transferred to the Naval Academy…

The report went on to summarize some of the problems expected in this unusual move, such as additional workload on Academy officers and restrictions to summer maintenance normally performed on Bancroft Hall while the midshipmen are away on summer cruise. But the report concluded by saying that the "ROC program is very important to the Navy" and entails "acceptable compromises of our own program."

But such willingness to open the gates to reservists had not always been the case. On 22 May 1948, a mere three years after the World War II V-7 reservists had closed up shop at the Academy, the Chief of Naval Personnel sent a letter to the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., describing a new officer procurement program that would provide "two summer training periods of six weeks each for students attending college." The letter went on to detail the program under consideration, then added that, "in its role as the mainstay of naval tradition and because of its facilities and unique experience in this area of training, the Naval Academy is considered ideal for this program." The Superintendent was then invited to "advise the Chief of Naval Personnel whether it would be practical to count upon the Naval Academy for support of this program." Admiral Holloway's response was clear, if not necessarily the desired one:

…I regret that, after following through all of the ramifications that would be involved in absorbing this program for the summer months, I am constrained to strongly recommend against it…The Naval Academy stands alone in its singleness of purpose, inspiring continuity of traditions and professional excellence. My evaluation indicates that implementation (of this new program) will detract from the Naval Academy's contribution to the Naval Service as a whole.

Some of the admiral's specific objections included the undesirability of having "college students, operating under what must be perforce a more lax and less rigid system, quartered and trained simultaneously in Bancroft Hall with the incoming Plebe Class." He also described a number of administrative problems and physical limitations that would arise and warned that "the influx of a large group of additional officers for temporary duty at the Naval Academy (as instructors), particularly reserve officers assigned on temporary duty, is considered most inadvisable." Admiral Holloway's objections succeeded in preventing the new program from residing at the Academy, but the proposed program, called Reserve Officer Candidate (ROC) School, did come about in the early 1950s, finding a home for a while in Long Beach, California, before eventually joining the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. This arrangement worked well until the Vietnam War, which increased demand for commissioned officers. By the summer of 1968, it was apparent that the facilities at Newport would not be able to accommodate the ROC class due to report. This time, when asked, the Naval Academy was more receptive to the idea of sharing its facilities and agreed to provide a summer site for the program.

On 22 June 1968, 529 Reserve Officer Candidates, "ROCs" as they were called, reported to the Academy to begin an intensive training program that lasted until 20 August. Unlike their predecessors, who received all their officer training and their commissions in Annapolis, these reservists received only half of their officer training at the Academy and returned to their respective colleges for their senior years before reporting to Newport for the second half of their training and commissioning.

Instructors and company officers for the ROCs came from a variety of sources, including the Naval Academy (some staff officers were provided as well as 19 newly graduated ensigns), Officer Candidate School in Newport (assigned to Annapolis for temporary additional duty), and temporarily recalled reservists (mostly teachers and law and graduate students in their civilian lives). The ROCs themselves came from colleges and universities all over the United States, temporarily leaving such curricula as literature, mathematics, and history to spend their junior summer studying navigation, tactics, seamanship, damage control, and other naval oriented subjects. They were quartered in the seventh wing of Bancroft Hall, wore khaki uniforms in sharp contrast to the midshipmen whites, marched to and from classes in company formations, stood the rigors of countless inspections, competed in intramural sports, and soaked up the rich naval history and traditions so unique to the Naval Academy.

At the end of it all, 493 of the original 529 remained, earning the privilege of returning to Newport the following year for a second summer of similar challenges. The program was deemed a success. But it never happened again; changing trends in the war and in the Navy required no repetition. But two officers who had served as instructors of the ROCs that summer wrote in a coauthored article that appeared in the December 1968 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings that "there was an inescapable sense of history implicit in the summer's experience. This 'sense of the place' will undoubtedly prompt many of these men to recall, in later times, that, among their first days in the Navy were those as 'students at the U.S. Naval Academy.'"

And I do.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the Naval Science Instructor at Walbrook High School in Baltimore, Maryland. During a distinguished career teaching history at the U.s. Naval Academy, he wrote Brown Water, Black Berets for the Naval Institute Press, about his experiences in riverine warfare in Vietnam, and served as a contributing editor for Proceedings. He was among the ROCs who spent the summer of 1968 at the Naval Academy. His book The Battle of Leyte Gulf: 23-26 October 1944 (New York: Harper/Collins) is due out this summer.


Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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