The Foundation Years, 1916-1936As both St. Norbert College and the nation grew, so did the military science program. The National Defense Acts of 1916 established the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. Optional military training began at St. Norbert College in 1928 in accordance with the National Defense Act of 1920. This act based the future safety of the United States not on a large standing army, but on the individual patriotism of a “citizenry trained and accustomed to arms.” Membership in the 34th Division—United States Naval Reserve and Battery B of the 121st Field Artillery of the Wisconsin National Guard was open to all students who met the scholastic and moral requirements of the college and had the permission of their parents to enlist in either of these organizations. St. Norbert encouraged qualified students to enter the Citizen’s Military Training Camps during their summer vacations, feeling that the training received was a valuable supplement to that given in college.
The first military organizations to appear on the St. Norbert campus were the Blue Jacket Club and the Caisson Club. These units became active in 1926 under the direction of the Rev. Anselm Keefe, O. Praem. Activities for these clubs consisted mainly of a weekly drill period with their respective units in Green Bay. The members of these clubs were paid regular military wages for the time spent at drill since they were actually members of the United States Army or Navy Reserve. They also participated in a two-week summer training program. The Blue Jacket Club had the purpose of stimulating interest in the Navy among the student body and pointing out the many advantages of the Naval Reserve. Several St. Norbert students were called to duty with the 121st Regiment, to aid in settling the violence of a serious milk strike. The summer training programs offered to these organizations were similar to the present ROTC summer camp for advanced course cadets at Fort Lewis, Wash. These clubs remained active on the St. Norbert College campus until the installation of the senior ROTC program at the college in 1936.
In early 1928, Fr. Keefe, then president of the college, wrote to the 6th Corps in Chicago requesting an ROTC unit for St. Norbert College. The request was denied due to a lack of funds. As a result, the college temporarily abandoned the idea. In Feb. 1935, Fr. Keefe attended a board meeting of the State Reserve Officers Association in Fond du Lac, Wis. At this meeting, Silas Evans, professor of military science at Ripon College, delivered a proposal to expand ROTC throughout eastern Wisconsin. He suggested having one ROTC unit installed at a university and one installed at a college, the university to be Marquette, and the college to be St. Norbert.
The subject was brought up again when Fr. DuPont, the registrar of St. Norbert College, and Fr. Wint, the director of athletics, suggested to Fr. Keefe that the institution try to get an ROTC unit. When Fr. Keefe reported on the Fond du Lac proposal, the priest fully supported the concept for two main reasons. Primarily, ROTC would greatly improve the social life on campus and secondly, the program would assist in the college's accreditation process by the North Central Association. The addition of the Army officers would alleviate the shortage of physical education instructors.
On May 3, 1935, Len Liebman wrote to the Pentagon requesting an inspection to see if St. Norbert College was qualified for an ROTC program. Several prominent businessmen in the area also wrote to ask for an inspector. This cooperative effort resulted in Colonel T.J. Christian from the University of Chicago coming to inspect the campus. He reported that his mind was made up before he had even left Chicago. As a result of Colonel Christian’s visit, Senator F. Ryan Duffey Sr. received a letter from Washington stating that St. Norbert College would be supported with an infantry ROTC detachment. During semester break, on Jan. 17, 1936, the War Department formally approved St. Norbert College and stated that the professor of military science (PMS) would arrive during that winter.
On March 6, 1936, Major Walter E. Lauer arrived to become the first PMS at St. Norbert College. Maj. Lauer remained here until he was assigned to a new position at the end of 1937.
The material on this page is drawn from a St. Norbert College ROTC history book compiled by ROTC alumnus and former military science professor Mike Egan.