Story by Roger Moore, Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History Director
For 100 years, Oklahoma State University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has helped prepare young men and women for service in the military. Graduates of the program have served with distinction from World War I through 21st-century conflicts.
George Price Hays, commissioned a second lieutenant in 1917 after graduating from Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (OAMC), was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1919 for his actions in France. He commanded the 2nd Infantry Division’s artillery at Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion of World War II.
Charles Scheffel, an Enid native, was offered a full athletic scholarship by Henry P. Iba, legendary coach at OAMC. However, Scheffel did not pursue athletics, instead focusing on ROTC. Scheffel became a decorated infantry officer, leading men in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe during World War II. His honors include two Purple Hearts, a Bronze and a Silver Star.
After graduating in 1942, Henry Bellmon, a future governor and U.S. Senator, volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Pacific theater during World War II. Bellmon earned the Silver Star for Valor during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Lieutenant General Jerry Max Bunyard, a 1954 OSU graduate, served two tours in Vietnam. In 1963, he became coach of the 3rd Infantry Division baseball team. Following graduation, Bunyard played one summer of minor league baseball before starting a 35-year career in the U.S. Army.
Major General Douglas O. Dollar, a 1967 graduate, founded the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 1999. He, along with V.P. Hargis, better known as current OSU president Burns Hargis, class of 1970, were inducted into the U.S. Army ROTC National Hall of Fame in Fort Knox, Ky., in June. The hall of fame was established as part of the observance of the centennial of the founding of ROTC.
All come from different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: they were shaped in some form or fashion by their participation in OSU ROTC.
On September 7, 2016, the Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History will open an exhibit titled “1916-2016: A Century of Cowboy Cadets,” opening in September. The museum worked closely with OSU ROTC, Oklahoma State University Special Collections, and ROTC alumni to develop an exhibit that will provide a timeline of the first 100 years; highlight some of the prominent alumni; the role of women in the program; and a century’s worth of awards. A long relationship exists between Oklahoma’s first land-grant college and the military.
The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided some funding, equipment, and instructors for colleges required to include curriculum in basic military skills for all able-bodied students. OAMC, founded in 1891, initiated a military department and created the Oklahoma Territorial Militia Regiment, a student organization combined with what would become a National Guard. Enrollment was compulsory for underclassmen with upperclassmen serving as the regiment’s officers. The first two decades of the twentieth century impacted military attitudes not just in Stillwater, but nationwide.
War in Europe in August 1914 brought about a reconsideration of American military policy and by 1916 the Preparedness Movement became part of the political vernacular. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 where 100 Americans died also brought a larger audience to military affairs and led to a national debate regarding increased civic awareness, public responsibility, the role of military service in reducing class, ethnic, and regional antagonisms, and the preparation of American youth for leadership. Congress patched together proposals drawn from general staff, the National Guard lobby, citizen preparedness groups, and technical-corporate elite concerned about economic mobilization. On June 3, 1916, the National Defense Act of 1916 was passed. Following passage of the Act, OAMC became one of seventeen charter programs nationwide.
Throughout the 20th century, enrollment in ROTC has fluctuated. Membership was compulsory until 1965 and the number was large enough in the mid 1960s for the formation of a cadet division that consisted of 6,000 cadets organized into two brigades each with three battalions. Following the Vietnam conflict, ROTC membership declined to a single battalion of approximately 500. The OSU program has commissioned 6,000 officers since 1916 with 60 earning the rank of general; two have received the Medal of Honor.
Since its inception, ROTC has included women. Called “Sponsors” until 1925, female students served in administrative capacities as honorary captains, majors, and colonials until 1972. Two auxiliary units, the Blades and the Coed Drill Team of the Pershing Rifles, included female OSU students. Current Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin was a member of Blades during her undergraduate years in Stillwater.
While ROTC has undergone myriad changes over the last 100 years, the program’s home has remained somewhat constant and in the same general location on campus.
The Armory-Gymnasium was completed following World War I with the “Armory” designation dropped from the name of the building. Part of the Civil Engineering Building just west of Morrill Hall, the gymnasium, constructed in 1908, was beginning to show its age. In 1920, the gymnasium was remodeled for the printing department. A year later it was a cafeteria with the ROTC department moving into the second floor. The site is now the Architecture Building.
The 1920s also saw the construction of men’s and women’s dormitories with the men’s facility named in honor of Carter C. Hanner, a casualty of World War I, and the women’s facility in honor of Jessie Thatcher, the first woman graduate of OAMC. Both remained dormitories until 1968 when they became administration offices for various departments. Thatcher became the new home for ROTC in the early 1970s.
Thatcher married Henry A. Bost in 1901. Bost was also a member of the first OAMC class and participated in early military courses. Armon Bost, one of their sons, was commissioned second lieutenant in 1933 after completing the ROTC course in Stillwater; their other son, William, was killed in Italy during World War II. Grandsons Robert and James also completed the ROTC program at Oklahoma State.
Thatcher Hall’s front lawn provides a small window into ROTC’s history. A replica of a Korean War-era RF-84F fighter-bomber brings attention to the Air Force’s addition to ROTC in 1946 of Detachment 670. One of 76 programs on college campuses nationwide, Detachment 670 was originally part of the Army Air Corps; the U.S. Army and Air Force did not become separate entities until 1949.
The lawn also includes a British Breech Loading 60-pounder Mack I, one of 60 made for the U.S. Army for testing. Also, a 4.7-inch Gun Model 1906, another testing cannon, adorns the lawn.
Today, Army ROTC has a total of 275 programs with an enrollment of more than 30,000. Over 70 percent of the second lieutenants who join the active Army, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve are ROTC graduates. More than 40 percent of current active duty Army General Officers were commissioned through the ROTC.
Millet, Allan R., and Peter Maslowski. For the Common Defense: A military history of the United States of America. New York: The Free Press, 1984.
Sanderson, J. Lewie, R. Dean McGlamery, and David C. Peters. A History of the Oklahoma State University Campus: Centennial Histories Series. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University, 1990.
Sheerar Museum of Stillwater History archives