Corps of Cadets
On October 1, 1872, Virginia Tech opened as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC). All students were cadets organized into a battalion of two companies with an enrollment of 132. The Commandant of Cadets was General James H. Lane, formerly the youngest general in the Army of Northern Virginia, who was wounded three times in combat. He worked to provide both the best education and the best military training in the state for his cadets based on his experience in the Civil War, as a student at VMI and UVA, and teacher at Florida State Seminary and North Carolina Military Institute. General Lane is considered the father of the Corps. He wrote the first cadet regulations and began a tradition of academic and military excellence. In 1878, President Charles Minor wanted to do away with the strict military requirements. Lane opposed him and their disagreement became so heated that a faculty meeting ended with a fist fight between the two. Both left campus in the ensuing scandal but the Corps remained.
In 1880, political mismanagement from Richmond helped enrollment drop to 78 cadets. In the ensuing years, however, enrollment and educational opportunities were expanded. In 1896, VAMC, by law changed its name to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. Right away usage took on its new designation abbreviated as VPI or Virginia Tech. Also, that year began a tradition that lasted nearly three-quarters of a century, the VPI-VMI annual football game in Roanoke. Known as the Military Classic of the South, the annual Corps trips and associated parades ended in 1969.
In 1898, with the outbreak of the Spanish American War, the Corps of Cadets formally volunteered to the governor for combat service. This request was declined, but most of the band and the director enlisted as the Band of the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment. Many alumni served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Among them, one was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Philippine Insurrection; another was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Santiago, Cuba and awarded the Silver Star. Alumni also participated in the Mexican Border Conflict between 1910 and 1919, including one who received the Medal of Honor for actions of a true peacekeeping nature in 1911.
The band had first been organized in 1892. Prior to that, as early as 1883 music was provided by the “Glade Cornet Band,” an organization made up of towns people. The summer of 1902 saw the band serving as part of the 70th Virginia Infantry during large-scale national military maneuvers held in Manassas.
With the approach of World War I, ROTC was established at Virginia Tech. In January of 1917, Infantry ROTC was established followed shortly by Engineer and Coast Artillery. During the war, Virginia Tech became an army post. Cadets were inducted and became enlisted men of the Student Army Training Battalion and its Navy detachment. They were uniformed in Army and Navy uniforms. Two army-training detachments of between 226 and 308 men each trained on campus.
CPT J.W.G. Stephens ’15, of the 26th Infantry, led the first American forces “over on top” in combat near Montdidlier, France. Many alumni served with distinction with the 1st, 2nd, 29th and 80th Divisions, all of which saw heavy combat. A hero of note was MAJ Lloyd Williams ’07, US Marine Corps. One of the famous quotes of the war, used for years as a Marine standard was attributed to him. “Retreat, Hell No!” was his reply to the French orders to retreat his company. His company held its ground but he was killed in the action and awarded the Distinguish Service Cross. In the air, alumni, even as early as World War I, foreshadowed VPI’s contribution to the Air Force. CPL Robert G. Eoff, ’18, French Foreign Legion, attached to the 157 French Fighter Squadron shot down the first of 6 enemy aircraft credited to Techmen. LT John R. Castleman ’19 was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in completing an aerial recognizance despite an attack of 12 enemy aircraft of which he shot down two.
Virginia Tech’s contribution to the war effort included 2,297 in uniform. These included 2,155 in the Army, 125 in the Navy, 19 in the Marine Corps, six in the Coast Guard, one in the British Army and one in the French Foreign Legion. One alumni was awarded the Medal of Honor, seven the Distinguished Service Cross, and one the Navy Cross. At least eight were awarded the Silver Star. Twenty-six died in service and another twenty-six were wounded. Based on this Virginia Tech was designated as one of twelve Distinguished Colleges by the War Department.
After World War I, veterans both as new cadets and returning cadets impacted positively on the corps and university. In 1922, the Corps was reorganized into a regiment of two battalions. Two years later, military service as a cadet was reduced from four years to two; however after two years of the camaraderie of Corps’ life, very few cadets chose to convert to civilian student status. During the national rail strike of 1923 the Corps again volunteered to the Virginia Governor for active military service. They were not called upon. A Third Battalion was added to the regiment by 1927. Rapid growth followed as Virginia Tech’s reputation as both an outstanding academic and military institution grew. In 1939, a Fourth Battalion was added.
For the duration of World War II, academic sessions and the Corps operated on a twelve-month cycle. The Corps had grown to a brigade of 2,650 cadets consisting of two regiments with a total of five battalions. The First Battalion was primarily Infantry ROTC. The Second Battalion was Engineer ROTC and the Third, Fourth and Fifth consisted of Cadet Batteries taking Coast Artillery ROTC. The war demanded that seniors were graduated and commissioned early. Juniors were on an accelerated schedule and brought on active duty. Finally, sophomores and freshmen over 18 were largely inducted into military service. The Corps soon numbered under 300 and was organized into a single battalion.
The Commandant, in addition to the cadet battalion, supervised a unit of the Army Specialized Training Program and Army Specialized Training Reserve Program (ASTRP) (soldiers under 18 years of age) and a Navy pre-flight training unit. These units included many former cadets and they adopted many of the traditions of the Corps to include the Honor Code and saluting the Rock. The young men of the ASTRP were actually uniformed in cadet gray. Once again Virginia Tech was largely an active duty military installation. During World War II, 7,285 alumni served in uniform. The army had 5,941 men, the navy 1,059 men, 110 in the Marine Corps, 29 in the Merchant Marine, 23 in the Coast Guard, and one in the Royal Air Force. These included ten brigadier generals, five major generals and a rear admiral. Of those who served, 323 died, three were awarded the Medal of Honor, seven the Distinguished Service Cross, two the Navy Cross and at least 73 the Silver Star and 94 the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Following World War II, returning veterans were not required to serve in the Corps and the great influx of veterans swelled the number of civilian students. Civilian students outnumbered cadets for the first time in 1946. That same year Air Force ROTC was introduced to Virginia Tech. Initially civilian-cadet relations with the corps were not good as most veterans were attending Virginia Tech for the first time. Thanks to the regimental commander, Cadet Rolfe Robertson ’49, a World War II Coast Guard veteran, greater understanding was promoted among his fellow veterans and the Corps continued to grow and flourish.
During the following years the Corps would expand again back to a regiment and eventually organize into four battalion size units. The Cadet 1st Battalion was housed at the Radford Arsenal for two years in what was known as “Rad-Tech.” They were in a section of the sprawling plant (declared surplus at the end of the war) that had been built to house and support workers at the ammunition factory. The cadets lived in barracks, ate in the dining hall, used the recreation facilities, and took many of their classes there. For classes not available there and for various meetings and activities, a fleet of buses carried them back and forth to the main campus. As new dorms were completed, the battalion returned to campus.
During the Korean War, 1,867 alumni served of whom 30 died in service and one was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1952, the university employed a retired general as the commandant of cadets. This was a departure from the policy since 1884 where the senior active duty military instructor functioned as commandant. In 1958, Virginia Tech became the first traditionally white southern college to graduate an African American, with the graduation of Cadet Charles Yates ’58.
In a move to expand educational opportunities at Virginia Tech, the Board of Visitors made participation in the Corps completely voluntary starting in 1964. However, Corps membership was still required for those in the ROTC program. The Vietnam War period saw unrest on campus outside the Corps ranks. In 1970, demonstrations were conducted with the aim of halting Corps drill. Cowgill and Williams Halls were occupied and over 100 arrested. Various other disorderly incidents occurred including the suspected arson of a campus building. Civilian-Cadet relations were at an all-time low. Throughout all of this, the Corps maintained discipline and high morale. The post-Vietnam years saw the Corps numbers decline and reorganization to a two-battalion size regiment.
On Feb. 28, 1973, the Board of Visitors gave final approval to a plan to open the corps to women provided that the women would participate in the corps on the same 24-hour-a-day basis as male members. Women—the first to join were Deborah J. Noss and Cheryl A. Butler—were accepted into the corps, except for the regimental band, in September 1973, making the corps one of the first in the nation to admit women to its military program. The women initially comprised L Squadron. Women were accepted into the regimental band in 1975, with Stephanie Hahn and H. Elizabeth Thompson the first to join.
The 25 women who joined the corps in 1973 lived in Monteith Hall, but in 1981 they were allowed to live in certain other residence halls but on different floors than male cadets. In 1990 they were fully integrated into each company area and began living on the same floors as the men.
The corps recorded its smallest enrollment in modern times in 1976-77: 325, including 41 women. In an effort to revitalize it and to reverse the trend of declining enrollment, the board of visitors in early 1977 relaxed regulations governing corps enrollment and resignation. That fall, enrollment increased for the first time in 10 years to 330 members, including 48 women.
In 1979 Selena S. Daughtrey became the first woman to command a company—F Company—comprised of both male and female cadets. In 1981, the Cadet dormitories became coed. Naval ROTC was established in 1983. The cadet regiment expanded to a three-battalion structure in 1998.
The commander of the corps of cadets, a position established in 1895, is known as the regimental commander. In 1985 Derek A. Jeffries became the first African-American to hold the rank of regimental commander, and in 1987 Denise Shuster became the first woman to hold that position. The first African-American woman to serve in the position was Christina Royal, who was regimental commander in fall 2005. Beginning in 2000, one cadet served as regimental commander in the fall and a different cadet served in the spring, a move by the commandant’s office to give more cadets an opportunity to gain leadership experience.
Today the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is one of only six senior military colleges outside the five federal military academies. Virginia Tech and Texas A&M are the only two large, public universities in the nation that maintain a full-time Corps of Cadets.