“…and military tactics….”

In 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, the United States Congress enacted the Morrill Land Grant Act, which helped to found Cornell University. Along with agriculture and engineering, the Morrill Act mandated the teaching of “military tactics,” and Cornell’s Charter explicitly includes it. Military training, from the early Cadet Corps to modern-day ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), has always been a part of the Cornell curriculum. Some of the early students, faculty, and staff had seen service during the Civil War, and Cornellians have played a role in all of our nation’s subsequent conflicts. Clifton Beckwith Brown ʼ00, who served with Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in the bloody charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill, became the first Cornellian to die in combat while in his country’s service. War memorials commemorate Cornellians from all subsequent conflicts, up to the present. Currently, Cornell hosts Excelsior Battalion United States Army ROTC; Naval ROTC (founded in 1945); and Air Force ROTC Detachment 520 (originally part of Army ROTC, formally becoming a separate unit in 1950). Women have participated in ROTC since 1972.

World War I

During World War I, Cornellians went to France to assist in medical care. Mary Merritt Crawford ’04 served on the staff of the American Ambulance Field Service (AAFS) at Neuilly. Edward Tinkham ’16 left Cornell a year early to drive an ambulance elsewhere in France. For his extraordinary heroism at Verdun, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. After returning to Cornell in 1917 to finish his degree, he organized a Cornell unit in the AAFS. The unit arrived in France on April 14, 1917, by which time the U.S. had already entered the war, so it transferred to the American Motor Transport Unit. Commanded by Tinkham, this was the first American fighting unit to carry the American flag to the front. By 1916, the Cadet Corps included over 2,200 men. In 1917, Cornell became one of the nation’s six collegiate locales for the U.S. Army School of Military Aeronautics and began to offer classes in radio engineering and aerial photography. In 1918, the university replaced the Cadet Corps with a unit of the United States Army’s Student Army Training Corps (SATC). Created by the U.S. War Department, it was the predecessor of today’s ROTC.

During World War I, Cornell provided a total of 4,598 commissioned officers to the war effort, more than any other institution, including West Point. During the war, Cornellians earned 526 decorations and citations; several of them received special distinction. Five Cornell pilots became aces, and three physicians served as the first female officers in the United States military. The War Memorial on West Campus, commemorating Cornell’s 265 casualties during World War I, was dedicated in 1932.

World War II

During World War II, the U.S. Selective Service Act mandated compulsory military service for all men. After Pearl Harbor, the University reacted swiftly to the crisis, enlarging and accelerating its programs.1942 also saw a major military presence on campus, with the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which trained over 3,500 enlisted servicemen and included Area and Language Studies (Russian, German, Italian, Czech, and Chinese). Largest of all was the U.S. Navy V-12 program, with almost 15,000 students. Army ROTC continued to train civilian students. The Medical College sponsored the Army’s General Hospital No. 9, in the South Pacific, which received the Meritorious Service plaque for superior performance.

On campus, students, faculty, and staff mobilized. The colleges focused on war-related projects: the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training Program for the war industry, a one-year program for the industrial training of women, Military Psychology, a controversial course in Contemporary Russian Civilization, and an intensive Russian language course, in cooperation with the ASTP. The Student Council organized a Cornell for Victory Committee, and war bond drives and other fundraising efforts included a Victory Chest Drive and a Red Cross War Fund Drive. Fraternities, dorms, and temporary barracks housed Army and Navy men; women headed many of the student publications and chaired numerous activities; and a “Reunion by radio” was held in 1942.

In 1943, the S.S. Andrew Dickson White launched into the Pacific from a Sausalito, California shipyard; simultaneously, the S.S. Ezra Cornell launched into the Atlantic from South Portland, Maine. A year later, the S.S. Carl E. Ladd launched, named after an alumnus and dean of the College of Agriculture. These “Liberty ships” were mass-produced vessels commissioned to transport war materiel and troops. Other Big Red ships included the S.S. Cornell, a 16,000 ton tanker, and the S.S. Cornell Victory, a cargo ship.

Representatives of the military branches at Cornell during World War II included Frederic H. Deutsch ʼ47 of ROTC, William F. Hunt ʼ45 of the Marines, Richard W. Jordan of the Navy V-12 program, and Army Student Training Program Corporal Leonard Cautela.

Previous Section | Next Section