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 recently finished his first year at Harvard. An active participant in student affairs on campus, he was exposed to many debates and discussions on the war held by student organizations, many of which included the participation of faculty. The three points of view generally debated and discussed were: support for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s initial stance of ‘isolationism’ and the avoidance of all involvement in the war; support for the Allied Powers; and support for 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 was taken and 47 said no to providing support, with 21 saying yes to providing support. By this time, however, a movement for ‘preparedness’ was already gaining momentum throughout the U.S. with 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. In this dynamic and polemical environment, Don Pedro decided to pursue military training.

As far as the specific views Don Pedro held, on one undated occasion known to be before the U.S. officially entered the war on April 6, 1917, he is known to have 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 authored 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.” He also said, about 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 became known as the Harvard Regiment and was officially approved by the university president on February 10, 1916. Following the passing by Congress of the National Defense Act of 1916 on June 3rd, the university eventually reorganized it into the Harvard Reserve Officers Training Corps program, one of the first R.O.T.C. programs created in the U.S. While his membership in the Harvard Regiment is not clear, we do know that it is the R.O.T.C. program that Don Pedro was a part of. That program immediately began instruction but was not officially recognized by the government until February 1917.

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 number of officers and non-commissioned officers running the program was not sufficient. Nevertheless, in that time when the Harvard R.O.T.C. program 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 finally addressed in April 1917. Using the recent U.S. declaration of war as leverage, the president of Harvard was able to get approval from the U.S. War Department and French government to host disabled and/or retired French officers willing to assist with the R.O.T.C. program’s instruction. The head of this group would be Lieutenant Colonel Paul Azan. According to an article in the Harvard Crimson, this group 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 cadets took turns camping for a week on a range where they were trained in firing rifles, surviving in the field, and more. Following this event, now the end of the academic year, Captain Cordier was given military orders away from Harvard, at which point 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.

Cadets continued to be instructed in infantry tactics, map sketching, and general military science, and began preparation for three weeks of field training at Camp Barre. During these three weeks, from July 23 to August 11, cadets lived in shelter tents and conducted training maneuvers during both the day and 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 this period have, to put into perspective all the qualities and influences present at this point. He has been acknowledged as gifted with a genius-level intelligence and talent for public speaking. He has been increasingly active as a vocal supporter and organizer in favor of anti-colonial revolutionary struggles. He converted to Catholicism and adopted a spiritual approach to dignity and sacrifice in service of others. He entered law school at a time when international law was at the global forefront. He volunteered to receive military training as a cadet in Harvard’s R.O.T.C. program. All of these are significant elements recognized as key factors in Don Pedro’s form and style of leadership years later in Puerto Rico. That they are all present within this one period at Harvard is noteworthy and underlines the formative experience that his time at Harvard was.


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