I n the 1950s and 1960s, Texas land grant colleges were directed by law to have mandatory U.S Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) for militaryeligible freshman and sophomore males.
Yep, you had to belong to ROTC if you weren’t 4-F (physically unqualified for military duty) or unless you had already done military service. If you so desired, after those initial two years, you could opt for military service, take ROTC in your junior and senior years and, upon graduation, qualify to enter the Army as a second lieutenant.
In the mid and late 1950s, the U.S. was not engaged in any military conflict, although the Selective Service System for the draft was in full force. If you were enrolled full time in college (at least 12 semester hours), you had to belong to ROTC. That meant taking Miliary Science class two days a week during those freshman and sophomore years, which required that you wear your ROTC uniform to classes on MS class days and on drill day. Yep, one hour of close order drill one day per week. If you were in uniform on campus and you encountered a member of the Regular Army cadre (Army officers serving as ROTC instructors and advisers) or any cadet officer ( juniors and seniors), you had to salute them.
It didn’t matter if you had two armloads of books (yours and your girlfriend’s), if you met one of the aforementioned officers, it was mandatory to salute. You could be required to stop for an officer to inspect you — uniform pressed and creased properly, brass polished, shoes shined, etc. — and you might get demerits. On drill day, you were subject to the same kind of inspection plus you were carrying an M-1 rifle that had better be spic and span.
After a militarily troublesome freshman year for me, I was tipped off that if you became the platoon guide-on bearer (a guide-on is a pole with a pennant type flag), two good things occurred. You didn’t have to carry a rifle, which meant you didn’t have to clean the rifle. Since I didn’t know the first thing about guns, that sounded great. Second, as guide-on bearer (carrying the platoon’s official designation), you didn’t belong to a squad. Each platoon was made up of three squads. At least eighty percent of all drill was through individual squads.
So, while squad drill was conducted, all the guide-on bearers sat in the hedge rows, being Joe Cool College and smoking cigarettes. We privileged ones sat there puffing away and snickering at the poor devils marching in the hot sun. We were just way cool. Well, at least we were convinced we were.
Our friends marching in the heat had some choice words for us, prompted by our privilege of having to do no squad drills.
Each spring, the cadet corps had a full blown inspection by a colonel from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Word was that if you flunked that inspection, you got 50 demerits, were booted out of ROTC and drafted into the Army. One guy thumbed his nose at the whole procedure. He appeared at inspection time — happily drunk, dressed in full western/cowboy regalia: fringed leather jacket, boots, hat, jeans. He slipped into the back squad just as the Army colonel was beginning to inspect that group. Well, the colonel spotted “cowboy” right away and trooped down the squad row to him.
After several seconds of deadly silence, the colonel asked: “Son, just what in !@#$ are you supposed to be?” To which the inebriated cadet grinningly announced, “I’m a %&*+ Indian scout, what’d you think!” With that, the cowboy cadet passed out.
The last I heard from that cadet, he was serving in an infantry unit in Germany. But, he showed ‘em, huh?
WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>