September 29, 2008

Addressing an ROTC Wartime Emergency

This year’s congressional and presidential approval of bills authorizing more than $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan makes one wonder what Johns Hopkins administrators in July 1942 would have thought about such staggering sums. During that time they were hard-pressed to find a few hundred dollars to purchase wooden rifles for the university’s Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the country went into high gear to build up its military capability, the Army recalled all the rifles being used by ROTC cadets across the country. They were old Springfield rifles from World War I, and they were used mostly for drill purposes, but the Army said it needed every one it could get. What to do? The officers at ROTC suggested that a wooden rifle would enable the Johns Hopkins battalion to continue to drill on Homewood Field or on the lawn in front of Gilman Hall.

The unit needed 400 dummy guns, and quickly, before the fall semester began. A Capt. Reeder, under the direction of the unit’s commanding officer, Col. Lawrence Barrett, drew up the specifications. It was estimated that the cost of making the guns would be $800. Reeder told Provost P. Stewart Macaulay that the Army had no funds to reimburse the university for the cost.

In a copy of a memorandum, dated July 22, 1942, now in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library, Macaulay informed university President Isaiah Bowman that Barrett believed that “no other ROTC unit in the country would be so equipped and he believes that we have a jump on all the rest in the appearance and economy of the model we have.”

“Without any authority, whatever, ” Macaulay wrote to Bowman, “I have told him to go ahead and order the lumber so that production can be started at once. If your decision is against this expenditure, there will not be any appreciable loss since the lumber can be used for other purposes.” Macaulay said he thought that the project should go ahead “and that we should speed it up in every practical way.” Bowman replied in a large, bold scrawl across the bottom of the memo, “Approved Heartily.”

An order for 400 wood rifles was placed promptly with G.S. Robertson, 4623 Wilmslow Rd., Baltimore. The final cost was $500. The amount the Army awarded the university for developing the rifle was $19.