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 leaders including Major Samuel Nicholas, the first Commandant of the Marine Corps; Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy; Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie; and many others. The military graduates of the University of Pennsylvania have helped shape the course of the United States Navy and Marine Corps – and history as a whole.

Despite producing many of the military’s greatest minds throughout its history, 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 established at the University. Gates had a 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 consisted of sixteen midshipmen and by 1942, only 2 years after its inception, the unit had more than 200 members.

Anticipating a long WWII, 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 NROTC 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 soon grew to 900 before the program was halted at the end of the war.

After the war, The NROTC unit continued its mission. In July of 1968, the unit moved to its current home, the Hollenback Center. Although the total 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. In 1995, the number of colleges was reduced to three universities: Penn, Temple, and Drexel. The unit continues to mold students from these universities into Navy and Marine Corps officers today. The UPenn NROTC program is part of the Philadelphia Consortium and shares its commanding officer and many formal events with Villanova University.

The Penn NROTC unit has been commanded by 30 commanding officers and has commissioned over 1,539 ensigns and second lieutenants. More than 15 graduates have attained the rank of general or flag officer as well as one astronaut. The unit is sponsored by three fleet commands: USS Laboon (DDG-58), USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), and the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors.”