World War II, 1940-1945
The United States’ entry into World War II had little immediate affect on the ROTC program at St. Norbert College. Although several students enlisted in some branch of the armed forces, there were still 350 students enrolled at the college in the spring of 1943. However, in the summer of 1943, when a call for manpower was sent out, St. Norbert College enrollment was decimated seven times over. Of the 350 students, only five returned the following fall. The total civilian population of the school consisted of 50 students. This decrease had a definite impact upon the ROTC program. The 1943-1945 ROTC units were the smallest in the history of the school. Many of the students who would have been in basic or advanced training had enlisted or been inducted into the armed forces. The advanced unit was discontinued for the duration of the war, and the military teaching assignment was handled by Sergeant John O’Leary, the only ROTC instructor on the campus at this time.
To fill the gap created by the departure of so many regular college students, the Army established a program of military training on college campuses. Known as the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), this training began at St. Norbert College in July 1943 with the arrival of 400 trainees. St. Norbert College became the headquarters of the 3658 ASTP unit. The course of study in the program was divided into three 12-week periods of basic engineering training. Replacements continued to come in for those who graduated or were transferred, until January 1944, when the unit was reduced to 300 men. In the spring of 1944, all the ASTP trainees were called back to active duty, and the program was terminated. To partially replace this program, the Army set up the ASTRP — the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program — designed primarily for high-school boys. Since the junior ROTC unit at St. Norbert High School had been transferred to Central Catholic High School (renamed Premontre) in Green Bay in the early 1940s, the ASTRP helped to engender an appreciation of military life in future St. Norbert College students.
As the ASTP and ASTRP flourished, the graduating classes of 1940, 1941 and 1942 began establishing the standard of service that is common to all St. Norbert College graduates. Between 1940 and 1942, 50 officers were commissioned. Of the 39 St. Norbert students or graduates killed during World War II, at least six were commissioned through the ROTC program in 1940 alone. Virtually all of the others would have received training in some form through the ROTC. Several graduates report that their ROTC training allowed either early commissioning or early entrance into commissioning programs. Simply stated, a conservative estimate of 600 students received military instruction between 1936 and 1940 and eventually serving during World War II in all branches of the military. A passage from the 1944 yearbook sums up the effects of World War II on St. Norbert College: “The war has taken all the sweetness out of college life and left only the bare essentials.”
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.