Montana Tech Honors Those Who Have Served

Montana Tech's service men
V-12 Enlisted personnel members. A December 1947 De Re Metallica article by Richard R. Douglas identifies all but one member of the photo. The names from left to right are Waler Bennett, Pharmacists Mate, 2nd Class; Peter Folini, Pharmacists Mate, 1st Class, Rodney Minnon, Chief Yeoman; Paul Hedman, Chief Specialist; Carlton Hoberg, Chief Specialist; John Robinson, Storekeeper 1st Class; Monty Clark, Corpsman.

As Memorial Day approaches we pause to remember those we have lost and honor the individuals who sacrificed their lives in the name of our country. Their selfless devotion, outstanding courage, and honor should inspire us to make their sacrifice meaningful. For today's Connections, we look back on the World War II V-12 Navy College Training Program and the role that Montana Technological University, then the Montana School of Mines, played in it.

Montana School of Mines Navy V-12 Program

When the United States entered the Second World War, American colleges and universities suffered huge enrollment declines. Men of prime draft age who would normally have gone to or remained in college were either drafted, volunteered for service, or dropped out and took jobs in agriculture or war-related industries. As a result, some colleges worried they would have to close their doors for the duration of the conflict.

revelry near Marcus Daly statue
Playing Reveille Near Statue of
Marcus Daly

Around the same time, in early 1940, the United States Navy realized that with the rapid expansion of its fleet that was in progress, the Academy at Annapolis could not possibly supply all the officers needed to man the new ships and stations being commissioned. The solution was the V-7 program and soon three schools Northwestern, Columbia, and Annapolis were turning out newly commissioned officers at a rapid clip.

In 1942 when the draft age was lowered to eighteen, a serious interruption in the flow of officer candidates for not only the Navy but also the Army and the Marines became apparent.

The War Manpower Commission and the Secretaries of War and Navy worked together on a plan that would address the shortage. For the Navy and Marines, the V-12 program was the result.

Realizing that there were not nearly enough "saltwater" facilities to train the needed number of officers, some 212 colleges and universities volunteered their services for participation in the Navy's program. The V-12 program was economically and functionally beneficial to undergraduate colleges and universities in maintaining enrollment during a general mobilization of manpower for the war, and also met and exceeded critical needs of the military. Over 70,000 apprentice seamen were sent to the schools. These seamen trained and later joined the fleet as naval pilots, deck officers, dentists, doctors, chaplains, ordnance and supply officers, or as any of the specialized engineers upon whom the fleet was vitally dependent.

Lieutenant Walter Welti Commanding Officer of V-12 Unit at Montana School of Mines
Lieutenant Walter Welti Commanding
Officer of V-12 Unit at
Montana School of Mines

Montana School of Mines was one of the first to volunteer for this service. At the helm was Lieutenant Walter Welti. Welti served in the Army in the First World War. He graduated from Cornell in 1924 where he also received his M.A in 1924. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in April of 1943 and after attending the officer training program at Columbia, he was appointed the Commanding Officer at the School of Mines.

Between July 1, 1943, and October 31, 1945 878 potential officers in all branches of the Naval Service were trained at the School of Mines. The basic education of an engineer, whether ashore or afloat, was essentially the same at the time, so little change was required in the curricula, though courses such as Naval History, Navigation, Naval Organization, and Report Writing were added.

To maintain physical fitness along with the scholastic training, sports such as boxing, handball, volleyball, tumbling, badminton, wrestling, weightlifting, ping pong, swimming, and basketball were encouraged. In addition, participants took part in a 700-yard obstacle course that was constructed on Leonard Field from rough logs gleaned from the surrounding countryside.

The men, all classified as apprentice seamen, regardless of former rating, lived and studied together through their entire course of training. They completed a maximum of eight terms for engineers or a minimum of two terms for aviation candidates. Since each academic year was divided into three terms, with 96 days of instruction per term, there was little time for anything but concentrated study and encouraged physical recreation.

V-12 Candidates Between Classes
V-12 Candidates Between Classes

Upon graduation, the men were transferred, either to other institutions of higher learning to continue their technical education or, in the case of deck officers, to Naval Midshipman Schools, for four additional months of intensive training followed by commissioning and transfer to active duty with the fleet.

In 1944, with the war over in Europe, and the effort in the Pacific turning in favor of the Allies, the Navy started to curtail its officer procurement program and the number of schools training officer candidates was reduced.

On October 31, 1945, the contract between the Montana School of Mines and the Navy expired, and the institution returned to preparing Mining, Metallurgical, and Geological Engineers, all programs that while not halted during the war continued to a lesser degree during the V-12 program.

With nearly 900 officers passing through our campus over the two years of the program, Montana Technological University can be proud of our place in our nation's military history and our long history of producing determined doers that impact the world.

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