At the request of Capt. Tim Zelek, a few retired seamen made one last push into Iwo Jima this past Saturday – not the notable Japanese island, but into a cleverly named room for lunch in North Hall, the University’s ROTC headquarters. Alumni of the Navy V-12 program came together to commemorate their 60th anniversary in a day that honored their service to their country and to the University.
The V-12 program was established in 1943 to address the Navy’s need for college-educated officer candidates during World War II. From the summer of 1943 to the summer 1946, more than 120,000 men entered the program, and 60,000 were eventually commissioned as officers in the Navy.
131 colleges and universities across the nation were involved with V-12 during its run in the 1940s, and members of its ranks were considered active duty members of the Navy or Marine Corps.
With many of the alums approaching 80, their numbers continue to dwindle. But the ROTC hopes to learn from the experiences of V-12 members and pass on their knowledge to the next generations of Navy officers.
“We wanted to make sure that (the) campus never forgot that there was a V-12 unit there,” said retired Rear Adm. Lee Landis, a V-12 alumni of Union College in New York and the keynote speaker at the reception for the alums.
Landis commented on current and future happenings in the Navy, but his remarks extended beyond a starched- collar address; he said that many ROTC veterans are grappling with the reality of fading unnoticed into history.
However, the likely high point for attendees was the opportunity to reminisce about older times with the veterans.
The old sea stories ranged in topic from Landis having to “buy booze for the officers club”, to old accounts of duty, to the post wartime inflation of Japanese Yen.
Current Navy ROTC members both from the University and Eastern Michigan University were also present at the ceremony and most were in awe of the tradition at hand.
“The military heritage of our navy is one of the things you can gain,” said LSA senior Midshipmen Jonathan Zang, battalion commander of the Navy ROTC unit at the University.
Other Navy ROTC members emphasized the interest in the service experience of the V-12 members, “It was a crazy time to be in the military, it was a crazy time to be anywhere,” said EMU junior, Sgt. Michael Morrison. “We’re so much about tradition,” he added.
During the reception, the V-12 alums were presented with certificates for their contributions while the wives of the V-12 alums were also honored with the pinning of corsages, blue and yellow of course.
The commanding officers of the University’s Navy ROTC unit said they were just as excited to be hosting the alumni, but for additional reasons.
Captain Michael Owens said that the alumni connect very well with the student midshipmen, and spending time with former servicemen gives the officers in training the opportunity to see what the military is really like. Because of the benefit to ROTC students, the unit has recently stepped up efforts to have alumni events.
Zelek, a key organizer for the event expressed that the gratitude received from alumni is overwhelming. The alumni enjoy coming back because when they do “they have someone to share sea stories with – they have someone to reminisce (with),” he said.
The V-12 participants have come together every five years since their 40th reunion, with numbers shrinking at each meeting, according to Jim Thompson, one of the V-12 alums. However, the future of V-12 reunions was unclear to Landis. “(Will) we have any more?” he asked, “Let’s not wait five years. Every year is precious.”