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From the Fall 2013 edition of UNO Magazine
Good things do come to those who wait.
At least that’s one lesson from UNO’s dogged pursuit of landing an ROTC unit on campus.
Detachment 470 — the “Wolfpack” — was begun at UNO in 1951 and in the seven decades since has established itself among the best campus ROTC units around. Just last year 470 won second place in the national Right of Line award for best small detachment in the Northwest region.
But the push to get ROTC to UNO started long before the ‘50s.
As early as 1937 — around the time the university prepared to move to its present location at 60th and Dodge Streets — then-President Rowland Haynes and the board of regents began to push for ROTC, the Gateway reporting that they were “heartily in favor” of such. In a 1939 Gateway poll, students voted two-to-one in favor of establishing such a unit.
Not everyone supported the move, though. One Gateway columnist advised the Board of Regents to “…take cognizance of the fact that 90 percent of the students are burdened with out of school work … any form of compulsory military training could very easily interfere with working hours and form an impediment in the path of education for those of us who have taken advantage of the service offered by this working man’s school.”
Having so many students who worked hampered the university’s ability to meet an ROTC regulation requiring the commitment of at least 100 men in order to establish a campus unit. So ROTC had to wait. As OU restructured its academic programs in the early 1940s to meet defense industry demands for a better-trained workforce, the university continued to apply for an ROTC unit, doing so in 1945 and again in 1948.
Both applications were denied, in part because the University lacked appropriate facilities — i.e., space to drill.
That changed in 1949 with construction of what now is the Lee and Helene Sapp Fieldhouse. One year later, the United States went to war with Korea, prompting 1.3 million volunteers for military service nationally and sparking an interest in on-campus training.
In January 1951, school officials learned the University could submit a U.S. Air Force ROTC application — but had only 11 days to do so. Administrators worked feverishly to gather the necessary information. J.E. Woods, university director of veteran’s information, took no chances and flew with the completed application directly to Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan then to Mitchell Field in New York. Within three days the application was in the Pentagon office with the national ROTC director.
The university was told that a campus poll was necessary to complete the application and on Feb. 9, 1951, then-president Milo Bail addressed the student body at a hastily called special assembly, bluntly asking, “Do you favor an AFROTC at OU?”
Of the 88 percent of the student body who voted, 94 percent were in favor of such a unit.
Air Force officers were sent later that month to inspect OU and its facilities. Shortly after the inspection, President Bail received a telegram from Nebraska Senator Hugh Butler:
"Municipal University of Omaha has been selected to receive a new Air Force ROTC unit … Glad to furnish this information."
AFROTC at UNO was an immediate success, doubling Bail’s expectations of 200 attendees with 400 male students signing up in the fall of 1951. OU was one of 62 colleges and universities chosen nationally out of 450 applicants that year and the only Nebraska school to receive a unit.
One year later the university founded the nation’s first Angel Flight, a group of female students who supported the AFROTC unit and were involved in community service. It became a national organization, later named Silver Wings.
Today, Detachment 470 also includes students from eight neighboring universities, including Creighton University and Bellevue University.