Cornell University, perched high atop the East Hill of Ithaca, NY, provides a beautiful campus and an ideal academic environment for training future naval officers. The Cornell Naval ROTC (NROTC) unit is located within Barton Hall in the heart of the Cornell campus. Barton Hall is within easy access to academic buildings, dining facilities, libraries and athletic complexes on campus. The unit itself contains classrooms, staff offices, a weight room, computer facilities and a study area and lounge for midshipmen. The unit is the focus of the NROTC program at Cornell and the location of most training events.
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Cornell University has had a long and prestigious military history which started under the provisions of the Morrill Act of 1862 giving Cornell its land-grant status. According to the act, Cornell was to provide military training and education to the young men who studied there. This tradition continues to the present day, though in 1960 military education became voluntary.
Barton Hall, the current home of the Naval, Army, and Air Force ROTC units, was named after Colonel Frank Barton, class of 1891 who was the first Cornellian to receive a commission in the regular Army. The building was constructed in 1914 by New York State and originally served as an aircraft hangar during World War I and a drill deck and armory during World War II. It now contains a 200m track, basketball courts, the
Hart Memorial Library, and the Wortham Museum.
In response to national need during World War I, Cornell commissioned more than 5,000 officers, more than any other institution in the United States including the military academies. During World War II, Cornellians again responded to the national call to arms with more than 20,000 serving in the armed forces and in every theater of war. The two most decorated Cornellians during those wars were Alan Louis Eggers ’19 and Matt Urban ’41 who won Congressional Medals of Honor.
Though the military has had a presence at Cornell since the university’s founding in 1865, for many years only the Army was present. That changed in 1941 when naval training was implemented and 47 Ensigns arrived to study diesel engines at the Cornell College of Engineering. In 1942, the Navy expanded this program into a full-fledged officer training program. This expansion included enlargement of the Diesel Program and the creation of a number of other schools such as the General Service School, the Communications School, and the V-12 program. The training program also acquire six Yard Patrol Boats (YP’s – training boats that hold 20-30 students) and more than a dozen small craft which were used on Lake Cayuga.
The V-12 program was the largest naval program on campus partly because it allowed students totrain to become officers and receive their education at the same time. Previously, most naval programs had been open only to already commissioned officers. This program also allowed for students to be trained to become officers in the Marine Corps, and so brought the first Leathernecks to Cornell. From July 1943 through March 1946, 14,896 personnel were trained at Cornell, 9,848 of which were through the V-12 program.
Life in the naval programs was extremely regimented as it was for the Army as well. Student officers originally only lived in Sage Hall, but as the program expanded, the Navy used Cascadilla Hall and Sheldon Court to board the students. Eventually the program became too large even for these accommodations and so students were moved into the newer dormitories as well as rented out fraternity houses. With all of the students living together, it was easier for the command to control their actions. During these early years, student naval officers had to be back in their rooms by 10 o’clock every weeknight, and weekend leave was only rarely granted. During the weekends, students were generally discouraged from going beyond campus or Collegetown for fears that they would disrupt life for the residents of Ithaca (at the time there were only 20,000 permanent residents within the city limits).
In November 1945, the Naval ROTC (NROTC) program was officially established at Cornell. With this, the V-12 program was disbanded and absorbed into the NROTC program. The first class entered with 440 midshipmen in 1946 with the number of midshipmen in the program remaining around 400 until 1960.
Initially, the program requirements emphasized technical training and knowledge, but these standards started to shift towards a more rounded education in the 1960s. Midshipmen were required to take predominately technical classes on subjects such as communications, electronics, ship construction, and damage control. Today, NROTC midshipmen still learn about navigation, ship control, and engineering, but also take course in naval history, amphibious warfare, leadership, ethics, and management.
Over the years, the administrative facilities have also changed. The program was originally housed in Sage Hall with the Diesel Program being located in a temporary laboratory across the street from Olin Hall. In the 1940’s, the offices moved to a temporary Quonset hut located where Phillips Hall currently stands. In 1953 the unit moved to its current location in the purpose built blockhouse on the track level of Barton Hall.
Today, the Naval ROTC unit is smaller, but no less prestigious. Currently, there are around 50 midshipmen in the Cornell NROTC program, with seven choosing Marine option. In recent years, newly commissioned officers have been selected as Surface Warfare Officers, Submarine Officers, Naval Aviators, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officers, SEALs, Navy Doctors and Nuclear Power Officers.