University of Nebraska-Lincoln Army ROTC During and After World War II

Michael Press, History 250: The Historian Craft, Fall 2021

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) introduced the Army Reserve OfficerTraining Corps (ROTC) in 1916, in the midst of World War I. As the years progressed, UNL ROTC began to expand as more and more students attended the University. By 1943 there were 2,906 male students, of which 1,991 were trainees.[1] However, onDecember 7th, 1943 the United States entered World War II and initiated an Army program accelerating the University curriculum. The program was called the ArmySpecialized Training Program (ASTP) which allowed trainees to graduate sooner, enabling them to participate in the ongoing national emergency. The specialized program was beneficial for the cadets as they were able to train for their military duties while continuing their education at a faster pace. The ASTP was the most necessary option to produce officers ready for war while still being able to live up to the University’s standards.

To facilitate sending Army trainees to war faster, the decision to take short cuts was made. The first decision was to cut general education courses. Trainees would only study the main courses of their major, which split their college curriculum into five terms.Trainees were also allowed to substitute classes. For example, a trainee could switch chemistry for geology and history for another comparable class. With the exchanging of classes, the total and weekly amounts of credit hours required to graduate was affected. During the two year time span of ASTP, trainees were only required to take 9 weekly University credit hours, 4 Military Science credit hours and 2 Military Science labs, both 2 hours in duration.[2] The importance of ROTC in peacetime had always been high, but during wartime, it became increasingly significant, giving way to military science rising above general educational studies. This method would show that ASTP was the necessary route to the success of commissioning trainees.

Even during war, the trainees still needed to pass their classes. To ensure this happened, mandatory study hours were implemented. In addition to the study hours, there were also supervised study hours where a University official or Army cadre member had to be present during the study session. The supervised study hours were an Army requirement and not a University policy. These logged supervised study hours resulted in more passing grades for the Army trainees. And since there was a high demand for officers across the nation, it was imperative for the trainees to pass their classes and achieve a commission. Theoretically, the more hours studied the more classes passed, resulting in a desired higher percentage of Army commissions. Which continued to make ASTP the best fit option for the continuation of Army officers.

As the war progressed so did the urge to join the battle, so much so that the trainees began to cheat to get there. Since not every trainee was able to do well in class, there was a huge spike in cheating amongst students. Disciplinary action such as forced physical fitness, hazing and janitorial duties were taken against cheaters.[3] But due to the desperate need for trainees to join the war, they were given another chance, while the regular students were not. However, if a trainee was caught more than once for cheating, they immediately parted ways with ASTP and any further action within the University was the trainee’s responsibility.

Distractions for trainees skyrocketed once the Army started pulling people out of school for military tasks. For example, the Army needed people to help stateside with tasks like making bullets, loading equipment and maintaining buildings. The Army would then pull trainees away from their studies to perform these tasks, resulting in many trainees performing poorly in school. So the Army was giving contradictory directions by telling trainees they have mandatory study in order to pass classes, yet the Army pulled them away from their studies for its tasks.

As the war continued, ASTP remained a solid producer of commissioned officers to support the war effort. However, many University and Army officials started to have possible regrets of ASTP. Since trainees were taking easier courses to graduate faster, they were not able to truly expand their minds and grow during college. Because of this, it resulted in a somewhat lackluster officer corps at the lower levels. Young officers were unconfident in themselves and their subordinates due to a lack of maturity.[4] ASTP was almost abolished entirely, but General Eisenhower pushed for it to continue as the United States was still desperate for officers. General Eisenhower’s endorsement benefitted UNL as the majority of the student body were trainees that came from active duty.

Due to the immense number of trainees in the ASTP program, they were divided into groups called battalions. The three battalions were Infantry, Field Artillery and Engineers all of which were combat related.[5] The battalion a trainee belonged to, would be the branch of the Army in which they would serve. Nonetheless, there was one miscellaneous battalion composed of trainees on route to becoming an Army doctor or dentist. Typically, the amount of trainees studying to become doctors and dentists is marginally lower compared to that of combat arms. However, the Surgeon General of the Army was requesting 4,400 annual medical and 1,100 dental officers which then allowed for enlisted personnel to become eligible to go to pre-med school for free. This would be beneficial for UNL as they would profit from the new attending students.

Throughout World War II, a substantial number of trainees at UNL, and around the country, wanted to switch from branching combat arms. Due to an extremely high mortality rate from the combat arms branches, people began wanting a more logistical branch like transportation or quartermaster.[6] There was an ASTP cultural change stemming from the large deaths in the war which made many trainees reconsider their branch of choice. The Army noticed this and needed to extinguish it as soon as possible, since the United States needed a large number of combat arms officers to have the best chance at winning the war. This affected the UNL ASTP by forcing them to only have a certain number of slots, varying each year, for each branch resulting in many trainees not getting the branch they wanted.

After a trainee completed the ASTP and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, they would first go to their respective Basic Officer Leadership Course(BOLC). BOLC is where they learned the basics of how to do their assigned job. Even this course had an accelerated version, from 15-19 weeks to 6-8 weeks. After completing BOLC, the new officer would be shipped off to war to fight in a locationwhere the Army needed them. For example, if a trainee was an academic junior at the starting of ASTP (1942), they would most likely be sent to Italy as they would have graduated in the same year. In 1942, the Army was getting closer to capturing Benito Mussolni, which eventually happened in early 1943.

Upon the ending of World War II, ASTP was dissolved within two months and ROTC was reinstated. The Army now had an overflow of combat arms officers and not enough logistic officers. In order to determine who would get what branch, the Army created the Order of Merit List (OML). The OML was a ranking of everyone in each class from top (best) to bottom (worst) based on how many points they have gathered from their time at ROTC. The different ways points were earned were GPA,extracurriculars within the University as well as within ROTC and the commandant's view of one's potential. OML would serve as the only way of getting the branch of choicefrom 1945-present.

During peacetime after WWII, the Army wanted to reduce its size enormously. Tostart, 12 million people were in the U.S. military, of that 7.6 million were overseas.However, byJune 30, 1947, the number of active dutysoldiers, sailors, marines, andairmen in the armed forces had been reduced to 1,566,000.[7] During this demobilization period, many soldiers protested the incredibly slow pace of the process. Due to the rapid downsize of every military branch, it affected ROTC in whether or not a cadet would be eligible for active duty. The overwhelming majority of cadets wanted to go active duty after college, but not everyone could, this is where the OML would come into play. The higher OML a cadet had, the better chance they had at competing for active duty. The minimizing of the Army also forced the down size of most ROTC programs including UNL.[8]

As active duty became more competitive, officials of UNL began to question thepracticality of allowing cadets to continue trying for active duty. There was a largedebate within UNL between the cadre of the ROTC program against UNL and stateofficials. From the officials side, it made sense to discontinue active duty competitionbecause it would allow for cadets to focus on their academics, rather than devoting more time into training to try and get active duty. The debate lasted roughly a semester as UNL officials gave in and allowed for cadets to remain competitive for active duty. Many would prove the officials wrong as an abnormal amount of cadets received activeduty slots.[9]

Overall, ASTP was the most necessary option for up and coming officers as it allowed trainees to obtain a degree while being able to focus on their military obligations. ASTP as a whole was successful in achieving its main goal which was to make trainees into officers as quickly as possible. Although that did not come without some hiccups, there were some problems ASTP created such as a major spike in cheating. After ASTP went away it helped to reshape ROTC by introducing the OML system which is still used today.


  1. Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), Records,RG-33-01-08. Archives &Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  2. Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), Records,RG-33-01-08. Archives &Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  3. Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), Records,RG-33-01-08. Archives &Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  4. 100th Memorial Book - George C. Marshall Foundation.
  5. “Big Red Battalion History.”Big Red BattalionHistory | Army ROTC | Nebraska
  6. 100th Memorial Book - George C. Marshall Foundation
  7. Harvey N. Lorenz, Army Specialized Training Program(ASTP) Records, MS-0177,Box: 001. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  8. Harvey N. Lorenz, Army Specialized Training Program(ASTP) Records, MS-0177,Box: 001. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  9. Milton Crum, Army Specialized Training Program(ASTP) Photographs, MS-0318,Box: 001. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Linco


  • Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), Records, RG-33-01-08. Archives & SpecialCollections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Accessed November 9,2021.
  • Harvey N. Lorenz, Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) Records, MS-0177, Box:001. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Accessed November 10,2021.
  • Milton Crum, Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) Photographs, MS-0318, Box:001. Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Accessed November11,2021.“
  • Big Red Battalion History.”Big Red Battalion History| Army ROTC | Nebraska,
  • Evans, Pierce.ASTP in WWII, Memorial Book - George C. Marshall Foundation.
  • ASTP Program,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Army ROTC During and After World War II