Oregon State College & its history with the Army Specialized Training Program, 1943-1946

During fall term 2023 Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!

Blog post written by Lily Ayola.

Students taking a Russian language class at OSC, taken some time in the 1940s. This language was added specifically for ASTP students by the Dean of Science Francois Gilfillan. Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon State University, “Russian language class,” Oregon Digital.

The document I have chosen outlines many facets of the Army Specialized Training program at Oregon State University during World War 2. This document was produced in 1943 and is in very good shape according to the digital version of this document. The part of the document that I am analyzing is the eligibility requirements for joining the army specialized training program (ASTP) at Oregon State College (OSC).[1] The document first explains that the program was created because the men that were being sent to the army lacked what the army was looking for in a leader. This document gave me some background on the ASTP as well as led me to many other documents. After this document, I was left wondering why Oregon State College was chosen by the ASTP.

At Oregon State College (now known as Oregon State University) there was a program called the Army Specialized Training Program which was implemented in 1943 and dismantled in 1946. This program was meant to create a new “breed” of solder, an educated man who was capable of leading his fellow men in war.[2] The main objective of my research was to find out why Oregon State College was chosen for this program.

This is an image of ASTP students in an electrical engineering class, and was taken in 1943. Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon State University, “Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) students,” Oregon Digital.

What I have found using archival documents at OSC points to a couple of possible conclusions. Those conclusions being that the Army needed engineers, that OSC seemed willing to change the curriculum and rigor of their classes, while also adding completely new classes that would better serve the ASTP agenda. According to the “Biennial Report of Oregon State College” meeting notes I analyzed for the years 1943-1944, university administrators added more language courses and more nuances to said courses to service the ASTP students.[3] It’s also through the analysis of this meeting that we can see how willing OSC was to change or add courses. This was very favorable for the ASTP and probably was a main reason for why the ASTP decided to set up camp at OSC. This leads me to my first secondary source titled “Birth and Death of the Army Specialized Training Program” by Louis E. Keefer, where he discusses many topics, but most importantly he discussed the implementation of the quarter system, which was developed to help men returning from war learn more in a shorter period of time. I’m sure this revised schedule also helped men learn faster so they could leave for the army as well.[4]

This is an image of a swearing-in ceremony for new cadets in the ASTP. This image was taken some time around 1942, and appears in the 1943 OSC yearbook. OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University, “Swearing in new cadets during WWII,” Oregon Digital.

One of my main conclusions was that OSC had a lot of engineers already attending the school, so it was easy to implement the ASTP at OSC if there was an embedded baseline interest in the major the army wanted most, engineering. First, I analyzed the 1942-1943 registration statistics, which showed that in the spring term of the 1942-43 school year, engineering was the most popular major.[5] This sort of answers my question, that this is probably the leading factor in OSC being chosen to host the ASTP. OSC had a lot of people attending school already who were interested in continuing their education in engineering, which the ASTP stated was one of the majors they wanted more people to enroll in. The next thing to analyze is the enrollment numbers specifically for the ASTP. Something about this that I immediately found interesting was they only list the enrollment for students in the following majors: Basic Engineering, Advanced Engineering, ROTC seniors, and “area and language”.[6] This information suggests that even though the Army was looking for people in more areas than those listed, these were the only majors they really cared about. The next source I looked at seems to be a collection of letters requesting credits from the Mr. E.B. Lemon. From what I understand, these students either weren’t given the proper credits for classes they took at OSC, or they took similar classes in high school, so they wanted college credits for those courses.[7] All of these letters imply that young men at the time really wanted to meet the requirements to join the ASTP, which goes towards my question of why Oregon State was chosen, and maybe it was because there was so much interest. The next source I looked at was the Camp Adair Sentry newspapers to see if there was anything regarding the ASTP there and I found an article from 1944 talking about how ASTP registration was open again,[8] as it had been closed for some time. This is interesting, as I discovered the Army could only have 150,000 trainees at a time, and this lets me know it was a popular program to enter, and men seemed eager to join the ASTP.[9] One thing I found intriguing was that there was a course just called “military”. Although, later in the ASTP policies and procedures book it lists the fact that students could now choose to strike the military course from their schedules, meaning they wouldn’t have to take it anymore under ASTP guidelines.[10] My theory for why this happened was because it was taking up too much time, and schools needed these Army men to be learning faster.

Another point I have for why OSC was chosen for the ASTP is because of how eligible the men at OSC already were prior to the ASTP being implemented. According to the Army Specialized Training Program “essential facts” under the “eligibility” section of the booklet, the army created this program within colleges to encourage a flow of educated men from a college into the Army. Any man that had scored a 115 in the Army General Classification Test qualified for the ASTP, but they needed to meet some other education requirements. These requirements included: efficiency in a language or taking a class for one year that involves math, physics, or biology. These qualifications were raised based on how long they’ve been in college and how old they are. Men aged 22 or older needed “substantial background in one or more foreign languages” or their education had to include a year of math, physics, or biology. Men who had completed three years of college needed to major in either engineering, pre-medicine, or pre-dentistry.[11] According to my secondary source titled “ASTP” by John R. Craf, where he discusses the eligibility requirements for young men to join the ASTP, the eligibility requirements here are slightly different from the ones I found in the “essential facts” booklet, which were more specific.[12] It seems that the program simply evolved. We know that OSC joined the ASTP program in the spring of 1943, and this paper was written in November of 1943, so maybe the requirements changed before the program made it to OSC. Overall, the ASTP at OSC was an institution designed to bring as many educated men into the army as possible. It does seem like they were desperate for members but never short of willing young men who wanted nothing more than to fight for their country.

In conclusion, I can use these sources to infer that the ASTP chose OSC because it was a valuable place for them to hold their program. OSC had a high volume of engineering majors already at the school, and OSC was willing to shift curriculum to better accommodate the ASTP requirements. These factors made OSC a good place for the ASTP to set up their program to bring more educated men into the Army.

[1] US Army Services Army Specialized Training Program, Essential Facts About the Army Specialized Training Program (Army Specialized Training Division: Washington, D.C., 1943).

[2] US Army Services ASTP, Essential Facts, 1.

[3] “Biennial Report of Oregon State College 1943-1944,” Special Collections Archive and Research Center (hereafter SCARC), Registrar’s Office, RG 013- SG 12 Box 9 Folder 10.

[4] Louis E. Keefer, “Birth and Death of the Army Specialized Training Program,” Army History 33 (Winter 1995).

[5] “Registration Statistics 1942-’43,” SCARC, Registrar’s Office, RG 053-SG 1 Box 9.

[6] “ASTP Registration Statistics 1943-44 to 1945-46,” SCARC, Registrar’s Office, RG 053-SG 1 Box 23.

[7] Letter from Office of the Dean of the School of Engineering and Industrial Arts to Oregon State Registrar E.B. Lemon, October 18, 1941, SCARC, Registrar’s Office, RG 053-SG 1 Box 23, Special Military and Defense Courses World War II, item #2.

[8] “Limited ASTP Schools Again Open to All GIs Not Now in the Infantry,” Camp Adair Sentry, June 30, 1944: 2,  https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn94052685/1944-06-30/ed-1/seq-2/#words=ASTP.

[9] US Army Services, Essential Facts About the Army Specialized Training Program, 3.

[10] “Biennial Report of Oregon State College 1943-1944,” SCARC, Registrar’s Office, RG 013- SG 12 Box 9 Folder 10.

[11] US Army Services, Essential Facts About the Army Specialized Training Program, 2-3.

[12] John R. Craf, “ASTP,” The Journal of Higher Education 14, no. 8 (1943): 399, https://doi.org/10.2307/1975350.

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