Before the Military's Estrangement, ROTC Members Do Their Part

Lt. William Cronin

Lt. William Cronin during his commissioning ceremony. Harvard ROTC despite being controversial now was a relatively well accepted part of Harvard life during the 60s.

As a young second lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Paul C. Morgan ’61 remembers being woken up late one night by a senior officer while aboard the USS Saufley. Because of the danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the destroyer had to prepare to set sail immediately.

Only one year after Morgan’s graduation from Harvard as a member of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he was charged with waking up others onboard and getting the ship ready to sail, without disclosing the reason.

“It was just like a movie,” he says.

At a time when service in the military was an expectation for a majority of young men, Morgan joined a number of his classmates in participating in ROTC—which remained a normal part of University life through the escalation of the Vietnam War.


As the Class of 1961 graduated from Harvard, the U.S. military was rapidly increasing its presence in southeast Asia, with troop numbers tripling from their levels earlier that year. The Korean War had ended less than a decade before, and conflict was on students’ minds—but it was not until later that anti-war fervor would sweep through Harvard’s campus.

A fear of being drafted led many of the cadets to join ROTC—in many cases, those who volunteered for service were able to avoid combat zones. But a number of students say they had other reasons as well.

Experiences in the military, for one, were more familiar than they are to today’s average Harvard student. Samuel H. Young ’61 signed up for Army ROTC because of the importance that his family placed on military service.

“It was my father’s duty to be in World War II,” he says, “And it was my duty to do officer training.”


On June 14, 1961—the day before their graduation from Harvard College—62 ROTC students received their commissions as officers in a ceremony where former Defense Secretary Neil H. McElroy ’25 spoke. There were 39 Naval midshipmen, 18 Army cadets, and five Air Force cadets.

Receiving a commission meant that each of the 62 students had completed the classes required for a Harvard degree as well as the military science courses and physical training that differentiated them from their peers.

Most ROTC graduates from the Class of 1961 say that ROTC was not seen as unusual.

“It was a pretty accepted part of the scenery,” Col. Arthur L. Boright ’61 says.

And being in ROTC did not necessarily make the students stand out individually.