In the December 1968 Proceedings, Lieutenants Alexander Monroe and Thomas Lane wrote: “There was an inescapable sense of history. . . . 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 spent as ‘students at the U.S. Naval Academy.’”
This acknowledgement of the Academy’s unmatched atmosphere comes as no surprise to those familiar with the hallowed grounds along the banks of the Severn River, where naval heritage is nearly as ubiquitous as the mortar that binds the bricks of the many walks that crisscross “the Yard” in a combination of apparent rhumb lines and great circle routes. What makes this attribution unusual is that it comes from two officers who were not Naval Academy graduates themselves, and those “students at the U.S. Naval Academy” were not midshipmen.
These two authors were reporting on a program that had brought young men to Annapolis in the summer of 1968 to live in Bancroft Hall, take classes in various academic buildings, swim in the natatorium, march on Worden Field, and ultimately earn their commissions in the Navy. They were known as “ROCs”—Reserve Officer Candidates—who would normally have been trained at the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. But on the other side of the world, ships of the 7th Fleet were gathering in greater numbers in the South China Sea, pouring naval gunfire on enemy targets ashore and launching airstrikes from places code-named “Yankee” and “Dixie” stations. Ensigns and lieutenants (junior grade) were commanding small combatants called Swift Boats in the Vietnamese littoral and leading patrols of fiberglass patrol craft into the jungle-fringed waterways of the Mekong Delta. Naval bases, some of them requiring immense personnel contingents, now dotted the coast of South Vietnam at places like Danang and Cam Ranh Bay. All of this called for a significant augmentation of the officer corps, and that was why ROCs had joined midshipmen in Bancroft Hall in the hot summer of 1968.
To date, that was the last time the Naval Academy was used to train officers other than regular midshipmen, but it was not the first time this had occurred. On 6 April 1917, “Sixteen ALNAV” was read to the midshipmen at the Naval Academy, declaring that “a state of war exists between the United States and Germany.” The curriculum was soon changed to three years instead of four, but it was evident that more innovation was needed. Jack Sweetman pointed out in his classic history of the Naval Academy that “If every one 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 needed.” To alleviate the problem, a ten-week crash course in navigation, gunnery, seamanship, naval regulations, and nautical customs was set up at the Academy.
World War II brought a similar reaction, and again the Academy’s population swelled with reserve interlopers, this time spending 12 weeks in the Yard preparing for a world war at sea.
All told, 6,381 officers earned their commissions by attending the Naval Academy in this unorthodox manner: 2,569 in the “Naval Reserve Officer’s School” of World War I; 3,319 in the “V-7” program of World War II; and 493 in the ROC program during Vietnam.
Such things as ROCs and V-7s are now consigned to the pages of history, and one hopes that conditions will not again require such measures, but one also is well advised to never say “never.”