Rewind Revisited: IIT Navy V-12

In an effort to increase the number of college-educated officers called to serve their country during World War II, the federal government initiated a nationwide education effort in 1943 known as the V-12 Navy College Training Program. IIT’s reputation as a leading academic institution headed by a patriotic president—Henry T. Heald, who understood the importance of engineering knowledge in contributing toward a successful war outcome—helped to position the university at the forefront of this effort. Before V-12 came to an end in 1946, more than 125,000 men were enrolled at 131 colleges and universities across the United States as program participants.

I was glad to finally see an article on the Navy V-12 program at IIT. I was afraid IIT had forgotten. I was part of that program, playing in the Navy band for the kind of naval review shown in the photo.

There is one correction I would suggest for your records. In the fifth paragraph you state that “they would become eligible for an officer’s commission upon graduation.” I did not graduate with my class but received the commission nevertheless. I had had two semesters of college before joining the program and had just enough credits to graduate when I finished. Unfortunately, just a few weeks before the graduation ceremony, the dean of engineering found that three of my credits came from a mandatory course in the New Testament taken at Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, Tenn. He deemed that not appropriate for an IIT graduate, which took me below the necessary number of credits to graduate. I was commissioned, nonetheless, and went off to sea. Perhaps successful completion of the requisite number of semesters was more important to the Navy than graduation. I did come back to IIT later and completed more than enough to graduate, so all was well in the end.

Mine is a sample of one story. Since the war had just ended, it may have been a “what-the-heck” case for the Navy, and it may or may not reflect the rules. But it did happen. Thanks for your article.

—Warner A. Eliot (EE ’47)

I was quite intrigued by the article I found in the IIT Archives on the school’s involvement with WWII efforts. My father was L. Roy Wilcox, who began his lengthy and rewarding career as a mathematics professor at IIT in 1940. He did not speak of the school's involvement with the V-12 program per se, but did mention that IIT had a prestigious role in training the men who went on to win the war. It was gratifying to read about the school in that context as it validated information I had but had not been able to completely confirm elsewhere. Your article is comprehensive and explains points of which I had only a vague understanding. Thank you.

— Jean Wilcox Hibben

Do you know if Robert D. Newman (ME ’43) was in this program? I was an enlisted man who served on the USS Hydrus, and Newman was an officer in the mechanical section. I subsequently met him once before I hosted a reunion of the Hydrus crew and later became the surviving editor of the periodical Masthead. I know his home addresses in Illinois and Florida but am curious about his education. My first wife also knew him from the IIT campus. Was there any other Navy program? When I arrived on the campus in the fall of 1947, I lived in graduate housing at the corner of 33rd and Michigan, sharing a study room with a senior in some Navy program and two freshmen in ROTC. I have been in some contact with the ROTC men, but Bill Jenkins graduated in 1948 and may have gone into the Marine Corps.

I enjoyed reading your article.

—Daniel J. Love (EE ’51, M.S. ’56)

Response from IIT Archivist, Catherine Bruck: I have found some information on Robert D. Newman in the IIT Archives. It does appear that Mr. Newman, who is deceased, was in the V-12 program. As for other Navy programs at IIT, I am only aware of the V-12 program and the NROTC program. From time to time, other branches of the military also had ROTC units on our campus, including the Marines.

I enjoyed your recent article about the V-12 unit at IIT and was reminded of my several years as an undergraduate there during the early years of WWII. While I served in the Navy during the war, I was not a member of the V-12 unit. I thought you might be interested in my undergraduate story.

I began my electrical engineering studies in the fall of 1941 at age 17, and the following year when I registered for the draft, I was deferred to continue my engineering education as a civilian; this status persisted until 1944, when my local draft board was “scraping bottom” to meet their quota. In 1942, IIT adopted a three-semester year, compressing the four-year, bachelor-of-science engineering program into three years. So, in the space of less than three years, I had completed three-and-one-half years of school.

During those years, the military services were periodically sending emissaries to the schools trying to recruit students. I attended all the meetings to hear their pitch. All the services were saying, “Join now and we will assign you to stay here and finish your schooling. When you go on active duty, we’ll give you a commission and you will be with a group of your choosing.” It sounded good, but I was severely nearsighted and knew I couldn’t pass the eye test required for a commission; so I never applied. Some of my friends who did join found that the services’ plans and promises could be changed and soon their schooling days came to an end as they were called to active duty. I never found out if their commissions came through as promised, so I continued as a deferred draftee through the first semester of my senior year, which ended in January 1944.

There were only a few of us civilians left in the senior electrical engineering class, which was augmented with Navy V-12 students beginning in about 1943. Most of these students transferred from other schools; I made several new friends, among them [the late] Dick Kuba (EE ’44), whom I dealt with several years later when he worked for a contractor that did work for Teletype Corporation, where I was employed.

One of the service delegations visiting IIT was different. A Lieutenant Commander Eddy made a Navy presentation and said that by passing the “Eddy Test,” we could pre-qualify to become Navy radar technicians. They would even accept me with my nearsighted vision! If I passed, I would be given a Seaman First Class rating (higher pay) and would be sent to a nine-month-long primary and secondary service school to learn equipment, theory, and maintenance procedures. The principal secondary school was at Navy Pier in Chicago. If I was interested in avionics, I would be transferred to Corpus Christi, Texas, for secondary school. Following graduation from secondary school, I would be assigned to the fleet or to a naval base. I liked the sound of this proposition and easily passed the test. Other civilian classmates of mine also passed the Eddy Test.

I was inducted into the Navy in July 1944 and after boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I began my Navy schooling at Michigan City, Ind., where I took a six-weeks pre-radio course. The Navy also offered the Eddy Test to high school seniors. A neighbor friend of mine passed the test and when he graduated from high school, he began his training. I served with him while we were stationed at the naval base in Gulfport, Miss., where we attended primary school in the fall and winter of 1944–45.

Secondary school was at Navy Pier, Chicago. I considered myself fortunate that, unlike many of my relatives and friends in the service, no one was shooting at me and at the same time, I was furthering my education. Also, my duty station was close to my home in Maywood, Ill., where I was raised and was able to spend some weekends with my parents and sister. Our company graduated in September 1945 and the war was over. I earned a Radar Technician Third Class rate and was chosen to take additional training to become a service school instructor. I began teaching classes at the primary service school at Great Lakes and served there until my discharge in July 1946, with almost two years of active duty. By then, I had an Electronic Technician’s Mate Second Class rate. I returned to IIT for my final semester in fall 1946 under the G. I. Bill and graduated in January 1947 as part of a small electrical engineering class with a few friends whom I had known before my naval duty.

—Bob Reek (EE ’47)

Thank you for your very nice article about the Navy V-12 program. I found it very interesting because I was there as one of the few civilian students with the V-12 men. I went though school on the same year-round basis as did the V-12, starting in July 1943 and graduating in February 1946 with a degree in mechanical engineering. We went to school all of the time; there were only four or five days off between semesters to register for the next semester’s classes.

I have been a Type-1 insulin-dependent diabetic since I was 13 (I am now 83) and so I was, of course, classed as 4-F as far as the military draft was concerned. The V-12 lived in what were the fraternity houses on Michigan Avenue, which were then called the Navy quarters. There were no dormitories; if you were from out of town, you would join a fraternity and live in the fraternity house. I lived in west suburban Oak Park, so I commuted to IIT on the El.

IIT has been an important school in our family. My father, Arthur P. Strong, and his brother, Paul A. Strong, graduated in electrical engineering in 1909 and 1913, respectively. I graduated in 1946, and my daughter Catherine Strong Conway graduated in the last group IIT had in fire protection and safety engineering, in May 1985.

—Arthur P. Strong Jr. (ME ’46)