Grateful to witness an evolution
The Vietnam War years provided a unique experience for ROTC students on the Ohio State campus. Even with the end of U.S. combat operations and the military draft in 1973, the ROTC experience differed greatly from today. The number of cadets and midshipmen was larger, the amount of dollars available greater and the campus atmosphere was exactly the opposite of today.
My Navy ROTC years, 1971–1974, immediately followed the Kent State tragedy and the campus unrest at Ohio State that resulted in the interruption of classes during spring quarter 1970.
My military training, with additional competitive drill team practice, at 0530 three days a week and active duty each summer aboard ships and on military bases, including U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, did not represent a typical college experience. But most of us considered NROTC not as an extracurricular activity, but as one of the most honorable, proud and important life choices we would make.
It was not, however, a popular one. The student protest at the spring quarter 1971 Corps Day Parade, in the Converse Hall lot, illustrates this. The annual review of all ROTC units before dignitaries and families was disrupted that day by 200 to 300 protestors screaming profane anti-war chants. The scene deteriorated into a bedlam of individuals cursing and, according to reports at the time, the throwing of mud, eggs and rocks at our ranks. I remember cleaning egg off of a midshipman’s blues and observing riot police waiting just inside the building in case the demonstrations got out of hand.
While there were no more demonstrations of this extreme nature after 1971, the unpopularity of the ROTC uniformed presence on campus was felt throughout my four years. For example, midshipmen learned to keep their distance from Ohio Stadium to avoid fruit or water-balloon missiles. We grew accustomed to hearing curses coming from open windows and passing cars.
Although proud to wear our uniforms, we often felt uncomfortable in class or walking across the Oval.The Lantern sometimes contained letters and articles critical of the military presence on campus, and we were asked in a questionnaire whether the ROTC program should be discontinued, as it had been at other universities.
Alerts to lock down the unit due to protests were not uncommon, and the university president was quoted as saying campus was not the appropriate atmosphere for the military. Even as late as 1974, while standing with the NROTC Marine instructor in the Converse Hall lot, I was not surprised to be saluted with that well-known profane gesture from a lone figure on Lane Avenue.
Still, the NROTC unit managed in those hard times to give us midshipmen very strong leadership, so the benefits of the program were obvious to us. As I look back from the perspective of having served years in the Marine Corps during the end of the Cold War era, remembering friends and acquaintances lost in too many aviation mishaps and the sacrifices of many, I cherish all these memories. And I realize that those against us were few, and the hate was misplaced.
Now, having retired from an aviation career, I reflect upon the difficult times Ohio State struggled through and am thankful for the education and the military training the university saw fit to continue. In this era of the all-volunteer military, it is common to be frequently and sincerely thanked “for my service.” While this still surprises me, I am very appreciative of the intent and grateful for better times.
Mark “Kevin” Hall served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1975 to 1986 and as a pilot for American Airlines for 15 years.