R.O.T.C. Training At Harvard

Deciding To Receive Military Training During WW1

When the First World War began on July 28, 1914, Don Pedro had just finished his first year at Harvard. An active participant in student affairs on campus, he was exposed to many debates and discussions held on the war by student organizations, many with faculty participation. Some expressed support of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s initial stance of ‘isolationism,’ or avoiding all involvement in the war, others spoke out in support of the Allied Powers, and some even spoke in support of the Central Powers.

On November 10, 1915 a university forum was convened at Harvard and a debate was held on whether the U.S. should provide the Allied Forces moral and economic support — a vote of 47 to 21 was in favor of not providing such support. By this time, however, a movement for “preparedness” was gaining momentum throughout the U.S. and had the support of President Wilson who was changing from his earlier isolationist stance. On November 30 the Harvard Crimson paper announced a resolution by the Student Council, inspired by this ‘preparedness’ movement, to organize a company of students to receive instruction in military science. It was in this dynamic environment that Don Pedro would consider receiving military training.

As far as the views Don Pedro expressed, on one undated occasion known to be before the U.S. officially entered the war on April 6, 1917, he argued the side of the Allied Powers during a public discussion hosted by the Diplomatic Club. He received a large ovation and, a few days later, a special invitation by the club to become a member. On April 14, eight days after the U.S. entered the war, the Harvard Crimson published an article he wrote titled “Porto Rico and the War.” In this article Don Pedro wrote about Puerto Ricans welcoming the U.S. flag in 1898 as a symbol originally conceived to represent “democracy and justice,” further stating with regard to the war, “there is no division among us, we detest German tyranny and arrogance, and we will give good account of ourselves in actual voluntary military co-operation with the United States.”

The company of students organized at Harvard would become known as the Harvard Regiment and would be officially approved of by the university president on February 10, 1916. By the following September talks would begin around its reorganization into Harvard’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program, one of the first R.O.T.C. programs created in the U.S. following the passing by Congress of the National Defense Act of 1916 on June 3rd. While his membership in the Harvard Regiment is not clear, we do know that it is this R.O.T.C. program, which immediately began instruction but was not officially recognized by the government until February 1917, that Don Pedro joined.

The R.O.T.C. Training That Don Pedro Received

The commander of Harvard’s military program, appointed by the U.S. War Department, was Captain Constant Cordier. In his first speech to the Harvard Regiment on January 4, 1916 he detailed the approach he was taking, stating that the focus would be on the infantry training that all branches of the military are based on. When the R.O.T.C. program was initiated that Fall, it became apparent that the small group of officers and non-commissioned officers responsible for the program was not enough. Nevertheless, in that time when the Harvard R.O.T.C. was under his command, Captain Cordier and his team managed to provide the course ‘Military Science and Tactics 1’ in addition to “close and open order drill, gallery practice, and bayonet instruction.”

The need for more personnel was relieved at the end of April 1917 when, as a result of a U.S. War Department-approved effort by Harvard’s President Lowell immediately following the U.S. declaration of war, the French government agreed to his request to send a group of disabled or retired officers to assist in instruction. The head of this group was Lieutenant Colonel Paul Azan. This group of French officers provided lectures on “various important phases of modern warfare as the grenade, the automatic rifle, the machine gun, field fortifications, trench routine, principles of infantry in modern combat, and the role of the high command.”

At the start of June three battalions of R.O.T.C. students would take turns camping for a week on a range where they were trained in firing rifles. Following this, now the end of the academic year, Captain Cordier was given military orders away from Harvard and Captain James Shannon, who had been with the program from its beginning though mostly tending to office work, was named the new R.O.T.C. commander. Students continued to be instructed in infantry tactics, map sketching, and general military science, and would also begin preparation for three weeks of training at Camp Barre. During these three weeks, from July 23 to August 11, cadets would live in shelter tents and conduct training maneuvers during both the day and the night. This served as the culmination of that first Harvard R.O.T.C. class, of which Don Pedro was a part.

It is worth taking a moment, as others writing about Don Pedro’s development during his university studies have, to put into perspective all of the influences that are coalescing in this period. Gifted with an acknowledged genius-level intelligence and an undeniable talent for public speaking, increasingly active in favor of anti-colonial revolutionary struggle, adhering to Catholicism with a deep sense of dignity and sacrifice in service of others, Don Pedro committed to military training at the same time as he is being educated in the history and practice of law in a historical moment when international law is being pushed to the forefront as a result of WW1.


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