Penn NROTC History

The University of Pennsylvania and United States Navy and Marine Corps team have shared a long and distinguished history with each other that dates back to before the birth of the Nation. It was at the university that many great names in military history matriculated. Major Samuel Nicholas, the first Commandant of the Marine Corps attended Penn until 1752. The first Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert was a graduate of the class of 1977. Adolph E. Borie, class of 1825, served as Secretary of the Navy under Ulysses S Grant. Through no small part, these men helped shape the future for our Navy and Marine Corps and undoubtedly, the future of our Nation.

It would be some time before the university would offer formal education in military science. In 1916 the university offered courses to young men in order to pursue a career in either the Army or Navy. However, it wasn’t until 1 August 1940, that the university president from 1930 to 1944, Thomas S. Gates, petitioned the Department of the Navy for a dedicated Naval ROTC Unit to be constructed at the university. His son, Thomas S. Gates, Jr., who was a 1928 graduate of Penn, would serve as a Naval officer in WWII and later become Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower. On 11 September 1940, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal confirmed the formation of the ROTC Unit at the University of Pennsylvania. The first class was compromised of sixteen midshipmen and by 1942 the unit was approximately 207 strong.

Anticipating a long war the Department of the Navy, on 1 July 1943 established a V-12 program at U Penn. The V-12 program’s intent was to create an influx of junior officers and consisted of V-12 medical and dental programs, V-7 academic refresher, and V-5 flight preparatory program. Candidates in these programs worked year-round and studied alongside ROTC midshipmen but were ranked as apprentice seamen or held their rank from the fleet. Many pilots learned their basic trade at the Philadelphia Naval yard while the doctors and dentist honed practical skills at the university hospital.

All unit students housed in Houston hall and ate at the famed basketball complex, The Palestra.The first class enrolled in the V-12 program numbered 600 strong and grew to 900 before the program was halted at the end of the war.

The ROTC Unit marched on, and on 27 March 1947 was located in Stephen Decatur hall. In July of 1965 it moved to Logan hall until taking up it’s latest residence at the Hollenback center in July 1968. During this time, midshipmen numbers shrank as the military reduced in size; however, the midshipmen began coming to the unit from other area schools including Drexel, Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s. Rutgers, Swathmore, Bryn Mawr, and Spring Garden until 1995. The current class enrollment comes from Penn, Temple and Drexel, and the unit commanding officer also over sees operations of Villanova’s ROTC Unit.

The Penn NROTC Unit has been commanded by 25 CO’s and has commissioned over 1,539 Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants; over 15 of which have attained the rank of flag or general officer. Also, one graduate became an astronaut. The unit is sponsored by three fleet commands; USS Laboon (DDG-58), USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), and VFA-87 “War Party”.