Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Scholar Soldiers

There were dozens, if not hundreds, of programs implemented during WWII. Some continue to operate to this day, while others only lasted a few months. One such program was the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

Implemented in December 1942, ASTP was a highly accelerated program of study in the areas of engineering, science, medicine, dentistry, personnel psychology, and foreign languages (thirty-four different ones!). Reports are conflicting, but at its height, nearly 150,000 students were enrolled in over 225 colleges across the United States. Considered the best and brightest America had to offer, eligible candidates had to achieve a score of 110 (later 120) on the Army’s IQ-type test, and already possess some college credits. Accepted students were required to complete thirteen week of Infantry training prior to beginning classes.

West Point’s Colonel Herman Beukema was appointed ASTP director and ensured that each university operated their program under strict military discipline. Students wore regulation uniforms, were subjected to inspections, marched to classes and meals, and followed a regimented timetable.

According to diaries and memoirs written by several participants, rigorous doesn’t begin to describe the schedule. The standard work week was approximately sixty hours of “supervised activity” and included a minimum of twenty-four hours of classroom/lab time, twenty-four hours of required study, five hours of military instruction and six hours of physical instruction. Most accounts indicate classroom time was more like thirty hours per week with military and physical instruction being closer to ten hours each.

The program was not without its naysayers, and in fact, graduates often found themselves ridiculed when they arrived at their unit as being soft college boys rather than “real soldiers.” Fortunately, most critics were proven wrong when the units came under fire. Criticism also rose from politicians and military leaders. General Lesley McNair commented in 1944 “with 300,000 men short, we are sending men to college.”

It was not long after that 110,000 men were transferred out of the program to combat units. By early 1944, there were fewer than 40,000 men in the program. A waste of time as some thought? Consider the following short list of graduates before you decide:
  • Actor Mel Brooks
  • Senator Frank Church
  • Diplomat Henry Kissinger
  • NY Mayor Ed Koch
  • Newscaster Roger Mudd
  • Author Gore Vidal

A freelance writer for over ten years Linda Shenton Matchett also writes historical fiction. She is currently seeking a publisher for her series about WWII war correspondent Ruth Brown. Visit Linda at www.LindaShentonMatchett.com


  1. Airmen even had to take classes, though it didn't last for the whole war. At one point, with the dire need for pilots, you have to wonder why they had to take the time to study subjects that wouldn't help them fly.

  2. I was unaware of this program. Thank you for sharing!