LEAVENWORTH HIGH SCHOOL JROTC: THE EARLY YEARS
Lieutenant Colonel Eric Hollister, U.S. Army (Retired)
On December 8th, 1896, an article containing the following excerpt appeared in the Leavenworth Times newspaper out of Leavenworth, Kansas:
GUNS ASKED FOR - Mr. Edmond, of the committee on cadet drill, reported that Capt. J. F. Huston had secured a commission from the department of war at Washington to take command of the High School cadets, and moved that the following resolutions be adopted by the board, which was done: “Whereas, The military drill that is now given the young men of our High School, meeting as it does the universal approval of the parents of the cadets and the patrons of the school, warrants the board of education in rendering the cadets all the assistance necessary for the continuance of drill exercises, so far as it is in the power of the board to do so; as the drill in the manual of arms will require much assistance as the board is barred from making, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Secretary of War be requested to furnish the High School of this city with 150 Springfield cadet rifles with bayonets, and 150 cartridge boxes and belts.”
...Mr. Edmonds reported further that every boy in the High School was enjoying the privileges of military drill...except three or four boys whose duties as newsboys made it impossible.
This small article announced the arrival of what would eventually become the ROTC program at Leavenworth High School, when the National Defense Act of 1916 led to the January 1917 designation of the Leavenworth corps of cadets as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. While this school year will mark the official 100th Anniversary of the program, the 20 years that preceded it truly demonstrate the pioneering spirit of the city of Leavenworth and its high school.
Tradition holds that students first approached Fort Leavenworth to gain drill instruction because of world events in 1896--particularly with an eye towards Cuba. Their desire for preparedness turned out to be warranted, as demonstrated by this line in the 1904 yearbook: “Several years ago the High School boasted of a cadet company. Because of the great demand for well-drilled officers during the Spanish-American war there was hardly a private left in the ranks of the corps.” As pre-1904 Cadet rosters have not been located, it is not known how dramatic this drain on personnel was, but numbers in the early years of the program generally ranged between 30 and 50.
Activities in these early years weren’t limited to military drill alone. In addition to tactics, cadets also conducted annual multiple-day marches to outlying cities. The 1908 yearbook describes a spirited event:
Early on in the morning of the twenty-second of April, in a heavy rain, the High School Cadets started on their annual hike. The ill-fated town of McLouth was their destination...Within a short distance of McLouth a farmer’s wife and two daughters commiserated the fatigued and hungry boys and undertook to feed them...Her pity changed to awe at the disappearance of victuals, then to wrath, and she forced the boys to evacuate, unconditionally, her premises...The distance of twenty-odd miles was made ...To avenge the loss of a baseball game to the natives, we paraded the town till the wee small hours of the morning, singing High School lays, and incidentally assisted at the McLouth school commencement exercises, though be it, our outside assistance was not appreciated.
A drill competition with Wentworth Military Academy was noted in 1906. That same year the cadets saluted Secretary of War Howard Taft as his trained rolled through the Leavenworth Station, and he returned their salute. In 1907, the corps of cadets began hosting dances at the high school, known as Cadet Hops. These dances soon evolved into the annual military ball.
One of the most interesting and unusual occurrences was the creation of a company of Girl Cadets in 1912. According to the yearbook, the Girl Cadets were organized and run the same as the boys’ corps “as nearly as possible, and subject to the same rules and regulations.” This organization is all the more remarkable considering the Girl Scouts began the same year, in Georgia. Clearly girls across the country were looking for adventure. The company boasted 25 members--only five fewer than the boys. The yearbook stated that the girls’ company “supplies a long felt need, and there can be no doubt but that it has come to stay.” Unfortunately, it appears this unique organization only lasted one or two years.
In preparation for possible entry into the Great War taking place in Europe, the National Defense Act of 1916 authorized and formalized military training at high schools and universities across the nation. Leavenworth High School applied to become a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and was so designated in January, 1917. This year the program is celebrating this centennial anniversary. If you are an alumnus of Leavenworth JROTC, you are invited to the Alumni Dinner of January 14, 2017. Please contact Eric Hollister at the JROTC for more details.