V-12: The Navy College Training Program
By Carolyn Alison
The V-12 Navy College Training Program was initiated in 1943
to meet both the immediate and long-range needs for commissioned
officers to man ships, fly planes and command troops called to
duty in World War II.
When the draft age was lowered to 18 in November 1942, the
Navy quickly foresaw a shortage of college-educated officers for
its operations. Likewise, hundreds of the nationžs colleges and
universities feared economic collapse without students to fill
suddenly empty classrooms.
Help came from the federal government with the creation of
the V-12 Navy College Training Program. V-12 accepted students
already enrolled in the Navy and Marine Corps college reserve
programs, enlisted men who were recommended by their commanding
officers and high school seniors who passed a nationwide
Between July 1, 1943, and June 30, 1946, over 125,000
college-age men were enrolled at 131 colleges and universities
throughout the United States in the V-12 program. Fifteen
thousand of these men were in the Marines Corps V-12 section of
the program. All those in V-12 were on active duty, in uniform
and subject to a very strict form of military discipline.
Approximately 60,000 of those in the program were eventually
commissioned as Navy ensigns or Marine Corps second lieutenants.
V-12 schools ran the gamut from the Ivy League and large state
universities to small, church-associated colleges in very small
V-12 participants were required to carry 17 credit hours and
nine and one-half hours of physical training each week. Study
was year-round, three terms of four months each. The number of
terms for a trainee depended on his previous college background,
if any, and his course of study.
From the V-12 program, most of the Navy trainees went on to
a four-month course at a reserve midshipmenžs school, and the
Marines went to boot camp and then to the 12-week Officer
Candidate Course at Quantico, Virginia. The curriculum was heavy
on math and science for "regulars" -- or those entering college
for the first time. "Irregulars," those students who already had
some college credit, were allowed to continue in their majors
with the addition of a course or two in mathematics and science.
Blacks were allowed to enroll in the V-12 program in late
March 1943, nearly a year before there were any black officers in
the Navy. One black who gained prominence in the Navy after his
V-12 graduation was Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first
black to command a Navy warship and the first black to advance to
the rank of admiral. Referring to his experience, Gravely said:
"The V-12 program was a turning point in my life. It gave me an
opportunity to compete on an equal footing with people I had
never competed with before. It gave me an opportunity to prove
to myself that I could succeed if I tried."
The V-12 program thrust heavy responsibilities upon young
men at an early age. At least 38 admirals and 20 generals can
trace their first officer training back to the V-12 program.
Other V-12s who went on to prominence in many fields include:
Senators Howard H. Baker Jr., Daniel P. Moynihan and Jeremiah A.
Denton Jr.; former FBI director William Webster; Attorney General
Robert F. Kennedy; business leaders Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. and
Harold A. Poling; football coach George H. Allen; musician Roger
Williams; writer William Styron; and entertainment personalities
Johnny Carson and Jack Lemmon.
The V-12 program was an unqualified success in meeting the
urgent need for Navy and Marine Corps commissioned officers for
duty in World War II. It also had a major impact on American
Commandant of the 9th Naval District Rear Admiral John
Downes remarked on the uniqueness of the V-12 program just 14
days after it began on July 1, 1943. Speaking to the V-12s at
Northwestern University, Downes said, "For the first time on any
large scale, men are allowed to go to college, not on the basis
of social prestige or financial ability, but upon their own
The V-12 program provided educational and military leaders
to the nation for the pivotal 40 years after the wars end.
Source : Schneider, James G. The Navy V-12 Program;
Leadership for a Lifetime. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Navy & Marine Corps World War II Commemorative Committee
Navy Office of Information (CHINFO)
The Pentagon, Room 2E352
Washington, DC 20350-1200
The Navy V-12 program sent some 120,000 young men to college to receive up to seven semesters of college education.
Many of them would not have been able to go to college had it not been for the Navy program. These veterans, therefore,
want today's you men and women to know about the educational opportunities that today's Navy and Marine Corps offer.
Funds to sponsor this web site come from the V-12 Endowment which was established at the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation
by Navy and Marine Corps V-12 veterans.
The Navy V-12 Program
In fulfilling the strategy developed in the dark days of 1942 for retaking the continent of Europe from Nazi Germany
and the Pacific Ocean and contiguous lands from Japan, the United States Navy scheduled a massive shipbuilding program
that would extend over a number of years. The Navy knew it would need college-educated junior officers to help man these
ships. Likewise, the Marine Corps saw the continuing need for new lieutenants.
In November 1942, the draft age was lowered to 18, which would have cut off college enrollment for many potential officer
candidates. Because the Navy traditionally insisted that its officers be college graduates, the Navy V-12 program was
inaugurated to provide undergraduate education for selected applicants. Those who successfully completed their college
courses qualified for Navy midshipmen schools or Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, which led to commissions as Navy
ensigns or Marine Corps second lieutenants.
Through nationwide testing and from enlisted applicants already serving on active duty, 120,000 were eventually selected
to participate in the program. In uniform and in an active duty enlisted status, these selectees attended regular college
classes on the campuses of 131 colleges and universities. Of the Sailors and Marines in the program, about 60,000 completed
the curriculum and went on to receive commissions. Many returned to college after the war to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees.
The V-12 program led the way in commissioning opportunities for blacks. In December 1943, the Bureau of Naval Personnel
prohibited discrimination in the selection of V-12 candidates. This action was fully nine months before the first
African-American officer was commissioned in the Navy.
Navy V-12 had long-lasting results, as it produced leaders for the top echelons of business and the professions. Lawyers,
educators, and engineers comprised the largest group, but the fields of medicine, dentistry, business, industry, advertising,
journalism, sports, show business, and government service are well represented, too. More than 40 future Navy admirals and 18
Marine Corps generals started their military careers in the Navy V-12 program.
Among the most famous alumni of the V-12 program two were actors. Both would go on to play the role of a naval officer, Ensign
Frank Pulver, in productions of Mister Roberts. Jackie Cooper played the role on stage and Jack Lemmon immortalized the character
in the film version.
Other Distinguished Navy V-12 Alumni
Warren Christopher - Secretary of State
George Allen - Football Coach
Howard Baker - Senator, White House Chief of Staff
Angelo Bertelli - Notre Dame Football star and Heisman Trophy Winner
Johnny Carson - TV Star
Louis J. Cioffi - TV Newsman
Peter Hackes - TV Newsman, White House Correspondent
Jackie Cooper - Actor, Producer, Director
Alvin Dark - Baseball Player, Manager
Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr. - Senator, Navy Admiral
Daniel J. Evans - Senator, Governor
Samuel Gravely - First Black Navy Admiral
Elroy Hirsch - LA Rams Football Great
Robert F. Kennedy - Attorney General, Senator
Bowie Kuhn - Commissioner of Baseball
Melvin Laird - Secretary of Defense
Jack Lemmon III - Actor
Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. - Senator
James McClure - Senator
William Middendorf II - Ambassador, Secretary of the Navy
Daniel Patrick Moynihan - Senator, Ambassador
Robert C. Pierpoint - TV Newsman, White House Correspondent
Albert L. Rosen - Baseball Player
Carl T. Rowan - Columnist, TV Personality, Ambassador
Pierre Salinger - Newsman, Presidential Press Secretary
William Webster - Director, CIA and FBI
Thomas Wicker - Columnist
Roger Williams - Musician, Entertainer
This information provided by the US Navy Memorial - Navy V-12 Veterans
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