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The Vietnam War Era, 1960-1973

The Vietnam era is one of the most controversial in the history of the United States. Throughout the nation, social changes took place that challenged many of the countrys national institutions. Societal changes were most openly reflected on college campuses. St. Norbert was no exception to this social change. The single most-controversial event of the ties, however, was the Vietnam War.

The official Army history series volume, entitled Advice and Support: The Final Years 1965-1973, states that, in 1960, an internal insurgency in Vietnam had begun and that the second Indochina war had begun. In 1961, Maj. Jefferson Rodgers was assigned to the ROTC cadre after completion of advisory duty to a Vietnamese Ranger battalion. Maj. Rodgers brought the first realization of what lay ahead for a great many St. Norbert students. The story of his Vietnam service was published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette of Aug. 26, 1962. Kenneth D. Simmet ’41 served as the assistant Army attaché in Saigon between January 1956 and January 1958, and is believed to be the first St. Norbert College officer to have served in southeast Asia. John F. Kennedy visited St. Norbert College in 1960. Former president and general of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Green Bay in 1964 and was greeted by the Corps of Cadets. The class of 1965 was sworn into the officer corps by the Commencement speaker, astronaut John Glenn.

The ensuing years left no one untouched by Vietnam. The St. Norbert commissionees served and contributed during repetitive tours of duty, again with unequaled dedication and heroism. As a captain, Brian Cundiff ’61 won the nation’s second-highest award for heroism, the Distinguished Service Cross, while commanding an infantry company in the 1st Infantry Division. During the war, seven St. Norbert students were killed in combat. As in Korea, the total number of graduates that fought or served in this war is unknown. With a conscript Army and mandatory ROTC training for freshmen and sophomores, St. Norbert students once again became well-known leaders in all strata of the Army.

On campus, the ROTC program confronted the reality of the times with dignity and a sense of soldierly purpose. Lt. Col. John O. Reeve reported that the year he became the professor of military science, 1967, was the year campus revolts began nationwide. These expressions of discontent were manifested at St. Norbert College with a small fire in the supply area and with a crowd pushing an ornamental cannon into the Fox River. According to the experienced members of the maintenance section, the cannon was retrieved and given to one of the alumni for safe keeping. The maintenance personnel were apparently pleased with this action. Prior to the cannons removal, it was routinely painted by enterprising student groups. To thwart these culprits, the maintenance crew, being equally clever, kept a light coating of grease on all surfaces of the cannon.

The reality of war, however, routinely destroyed any joviality. Reeve states that during the week of the TET offensive in 1968, ROTC cadre officers conducted 12 death notifications in the Manitowoc and Two Rivers area. This recurring duty throughout the war years was conducted in a most-sensitive and professional manner by the cadre. On occasion, cadets served as pallbearers and honor guards.

As a result of the controversy and discontent of the times, the question of mandatory ROTC service was considered by the faculty. In April 1968, the faculty voted 40-37 for retention of the mandatory basic course. In January 1969, the question was reconsidered and the ROTC basic course was made voluntary. The board of regents approved this action in February 1969 and it was implemented by Reeve. This act, when viewed from today’s perspective is the beginning of a national change from a conscript force to the volunteer army of today. From this day forward, it was the positive aspects of officer service that drew participants to the military-science program. The full effect of this change did not become apparent until the end of the draft in 1972.

The attitude of the college during these years appeared unique for the times. Unlike many schools and much of the United States population, St. Norbert College made distinction between national policy to conduct the war in Vietnam and those who were assigned to wage the war. The stated distinction between policy makers and policy enforcers was not popular in the 1960s, but was quite obvious during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and exemplified by many of those commissioned during this time. The 1969 yearbook was dedicated to the ROTC. It too, however, received the typical reactionary response of the era. The yearbook dedication is reproduced to emphasize the attitude of the college and support of the soldier.

It is unfortunate that the universal desire for peace is so often so easily (and illogically) changed into bitter hatred and open criticism of the military community. Unfortunate because there is nothing more precious to those who have been in combat than peace. And unfortunate because the good soldiers dedication to the principle of freedom is so far from the hatred of human life which marks a war-monger or paid killer.

And thus, since it is within the scope of the program to provide the country with men to lead in the cause of defending freedom, and because this society will always have need for this sort of individualism, the editor takes great pride in dedicating this work to the ... Reserve Officers Training Corps.

The De Pere 1969 
D. Fox, editor

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.
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