Penn NROTC History

The University of Pennsylvania and the United States Navy and Marine Corps share a long and distinguished history that dates back to the revolutionary war. The University of Pennsylvania has taught many famous military men including Major Samuel Nicholas, the first Commandant of the Marine Corps, the first Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie, and many others. The military graduates of University of Pennsylvania have helped shape the course of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and history as a whole.

Although teaching many of the military's greatest minds, it was not until 1916 that the University began to offer courses specific to a career in the armed forces. On 1 August 1940, University President Thomas S. Gates, petitioned the Department of the Navy for a dedicated Naval ROTC Unit to be constructed at the University. Gates had personal interest in the Navy as his son Thomas S. Gates, Jr., a graduate of Penn, served as a Naval officer in WWII and later became Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower. On 11 September 1940, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal approved Gates' petition and created an NROTC Unit at the University of Pennsylvania. The first class was compromised of sixteen midshipmen and by 1942, only 2 years after its inception, the unit had more than 200 members.

Anticipating a long world war II, The Department of the Navy established a V-12 program at UPenn on 1 July 1943. The V-12 program created an influx of junior officers by providing medical and dental courses, academic refreshers, and flight preparatory programs. 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. All unit students were 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.

After the war, The ROTC Unit continued forward. In July of 1968, the unit moved to its current home, the Hollenback center. Although the number of midshipmen decreased because of military downsizing, students entering the program became more diverse: traveling from Drexel, Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Rutgers, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Spring Garden to participate in the program. After 1995, the number of colleges was reduced to three. Currently midshipmen at the unit are from Penn, Temple and Drexel. The Upenn NROTC program is part of the Philadelphia Consortium and therefore shares its commanding officer, and many formal events with Villanova University.

The Penn NROTC Unit has been commanded by 30 CO’s and has commissioned over 1,539 Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants. More than 15 graduates have attained the rank of general or flag officer and one even became an astronaut. The unit is sponsored by three fleet commands; USS Laboon (DDG-58), USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), and VFA-87 “War Party”.