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R.O.T.C. at Tarleton

By Frank Chamberlain

The United States Congress established the Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1916. Texas A&M adopted the new ROTC curriculum and assumed control over Tarleton in 1917. However it seems that this new program did not officially begin at Tarleton until several years later (Guthrie 81).

Tarleton had maintained a military tradition since its earliest days. The male students certainly resembled soldiers, being referred to as “cadets” and being required to wear uniforms. Military drills were a part of the physical education curriculum. The unit known as “John’s Army” was assembled shortly after the school was accepted as a member of the A&M system. However, there was no government sponsored military science program on campus until 1918.

The first government funded military installation at Tarleton was a branch of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) that was based on campus in the fall of 1918. This program was designed to train officers for service in World War I. The time the SATC stayed on campus was brief but tumultuous. The problems stemmed from the fact that the new organization operated as part of the army and was not subject to the rules and regulations of the college. Hence, a great deal of dispute arose concerning which institution would govern the lives of the students. The SATC seems to have effectively taken over the college as regular class work was interrupted by the ardent adherence to military drill and discipline. The Armistice was signed in November, eliminating the need for such a training program (Guthrie 47-48, 81).

Chemistry professor S.F. Davis served as the first commandant of the Cadet Corps at Tarleton. In normal ROTC branches, civilians such as Davis were not placed in command of the programs. Instead, regular army officers were sent to each campus and placed in charge of the students. Davis was first given the position in 1917, but saw his role briefly phased out during the SATC months. After the war, Davis resumed his duties and began preliminary work to bring a permanent ROTC program to the campus. The War Department finally approved Tarleton for this status in 1921 and sent Captain Ray W. Harris to oversee the program. In summary, there was definite military presence at Tarleton since 1917. However, an official ROTC did not arrive until 1921 (1921 Catalog, Grassburr 1923 112, Guthrie 81-82).

Every male student was required to join the corps of cadets. This included wearing uniforms and receiving daily military training. However, only the freshmen were required to be members of the actual ROTC. After the first year, students had the option of leaving the program and become merely a member of the cadet corps. The students were placed under the overall command of a Commandant who oversaw the entire military science program. The army sent an officer (usually a captain) whose duty was to manage the ROTC. Both of these men were subordinate to the Dean of the college, thus eliminating the type of power disputes that had characterized the SATC months (Guthrie 82).

Catalog for 1921-1922

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.

“The Development of John’s Army”, 1923 Grassburr p.112