In June 1952, General Order # 121 instituted Army ROTC at Eastern Washington College of Education. This establishment was based on a request made by college officials. As with all ROTC detachments at that time, all qualified males had to attend two years of mandatory military training.
The first Army ROTC classes began at Eastern in September of 1952 with an enrollment of 166 cadets. However, the size of the Cadet Corps at Eastern grew to over 800 students per year in the mid 1960s with the number of commissioned officers increasing to over 70 each year.
Corresponding to an overall nationwide move, Army ROTC at Eastern was made a voluntary program as of January 1, 1969. The number of cadets commissioned as officers started to decline to about 20 commissionees during the 1973-74 school year.
In late 1980, Eastern’s Military Science Department was tasked to be the host institution for an “expand the base” ROTC program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. A few years later, the detachment at CWU became its own entity.
Additional programs that were conducted in the years when enrollment figures were higher included military drill teams, and a military drum and bugle corps. Also an integral part of the cadet corps during that time was the Sponsor Corps, which consisted of young ladies who participated in drills and parades and served as hostesses at selected University functions. With the decline in enrollment and the overall integration of females into the ROTC program, these organizations were eventually phased out.
One incident, which supports the overall temperament of college students of the time, occurred at Eastern in May 1970. In response to the unfortunate incident at Kent State University, Ohio on May 4 1970, a group of distraught students approached Cadet Hall with the idea of occupying the building and protesting the presence of the military on campus.
The Professor of Military Science (PMS) at time was Colonel Andy Pribnow. He met the leaders of the protest at the entrance and through rational discussion was able to keep the situation at bay. Colonel Pribnow was assisted by the University’s baseball and track teams.
As some of the protesters moved toward the flagpole to take the U.S. flag, members of the athletic squads moved in, protected the pole, and restored order. The group of protesters apparently lost interest at this point and left the area. This is the only incident of overt student protest toward the military at Eastern. This speaks well of the student body’s acceptance and tolerance of the military and ROTC through the years.
On October 25, 2001, the Department of Military Science at Eastern Washington University began its “50 Years of ROTC at Eastern” celebration by hosting a reunion of ROTC alumni from the first commissioning class in 1955 to the present.
The reunion, which was organized and hosted by Eastern graduate and 2001 ROTC commissionee 2nd Lt. James Biggar, included seven guest alumni speakers from the years 1955, ’56, ’58, ’65, ’75, ’81, and 2001-culminating with an emotionally reminiscent and historically informative 45-minute multi-media PowerPoint presentation.
Some of the guests included: Richard Edwards, a 1955 ROTC commissionee and current owner of Inland Roofing and Supply, Inc. in Spokane, Washington; Colonel (retired) Tom Talkington, a 1958 ROTC commissionee, Vietnam veteran and former cadre member of Eastern’s ROTC; Billie Jean Hall, a 1975 Eastern graduate, former member of Eastern’s Sponsor Corps, and currently the Senior Admissions Advisor at EWU; and LTC Allen Abbott, a 1981 ROTC commissionee and current Commander of the 1/303rd Armor Battalion in the Washington Army National Guard.
The guest alumni spoke with a gleam in their eyes of their experiences as cadets and students while attending Eastern and shared their memories and opinions of military life, sometimes with a dramatic pounding of a fist on the podium or an authoritative pointing of a finger, with the audience of current ROTC cadets, cadre, and guests.
Several of the guest alumni speakers are proud veterans of the Vietnam War and stressed the importance of duty, honor, and an obligation for the young men and women of our country to continue to fight for the freedoms that made this country great.
The “50 Years of ROTC at Eastern Washington University” celebration will continue through the remainder of winter and spring quarters and culminate with the June’s Commissioning Ceremony at Showalter Hall.