Pauling in the ROTC

1918i33

ROTC Cadet Linus C. Pauling, 1918.

As most of our readers are no doubt aware, this past Tuesday was Veterans’ Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in many other parts of the world.  In honor of this global occasion, we thought it appropriate to discuss a component of Linus Pauling’s story that may come as a surprise to many — his involvement in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

At the time of Pauling’s arrival in Corvallis for the beginning of his studies at Oregon Agricultural College, two years of ROTC service were required of all male students physically-able to participate.

[Indeed, compulsory ROTC remained a feature of university life at Oregon State until 1962.  OSU’s proud tradition of military training is documented nicely by our colleagues in the University Archives in the Historical Note to this finding aid.]

Pauling, decades away from the peace activism that, for many, continues to define his legacy, participated with typical vigor.  His marks for military drill were consistently stellar, and near the end of his freshman year Pauling received first runner-up in the Best Soldier competition at OAC’s Military Inspection Day.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918.  The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918. The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling’s commitment to service did, at least on one occasion, come at a cost:  in his Pauling Chronology, biographer Robert Paradowski notes an unhappy incident befalling the young undergraduate at the beginning of his second term.

After going home for his Christmas vacation, Pauling returns on January 7 to the OAC campus for the Winter Short Course. His financial problems become severe during this time. He is also asked to leave the boardinghouse because he makes too much noise tramping up the stairs in his heavy military boots. During the winter and spring, he goes through several changes of address, sometimes rooming with friends, other times taking whatever he can find.

Nonetheless, Pauling’s heart seemed fully in tune with the ROTC mission.  Biographer Thomas Hager, in the early pages of his Force of Nature, writes

Following his freshman year, in the early summer of 1918, Pauling and Mervyn Stephenson, along with a number of other OAC cadets, were sent to the Presidio in San Francisco for six weeks of intensive officers’ training.  Pauling and Stephenson spent the rest of the summer helping build wooden-hulled freighters in a shipyard on the coast of Oregon.  Whatever Pauling’s opinions about war later, during World War I he was in full support of the government’s actions.  Stephenson would later remember that Pauling was a strong supporter of the war effort, “100 percent for it.”

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Having completed the required two years, Pauling chose to remain active in ROTC for the duration of his time as an undergraduate, adding classes in camp cookery to his compulsory drilling.  By the time of his movement on to graduate work at the California Institute of Technology, Pauling had risen to the rank of Major within the Training Corps.

In later years, Pauling would answer the call to service again by engaging in an ambitious program of scientific war research on behalf of the Allied effort during World War II — the human blood plasma substitute oxypolygelatin, new types of rocket propellants, invisible inks and an oxygen meter for use in aircraft and submarines all arose out of this fruitful period.

For his efforts, Pauling received a number of awards from the U.S. government including a Naval Ordnance Development Award, a certificate of recognition from the Office of Scientific Research and Development, a certificate of appreciation from the Rocket Development Program and, most importantly, the Presidential Medal for Merit.

Though the later Pauling was, without question, a vocal and, at times, incendiary critic of U.S. military policy, one would be hard-pressed to make the argument that he was anti-soldier.  To Pauling, war was the greatest of all immoralities, but his criticism was always pointed at the world’s larger actors — the governments and war profiteers — rather than the men and women working in service to their countries.

On the contrary, service to a larger cause was clearly important to Pauling, to the point where he and his wife, Ava Helen, once pledged themselves as willing “Hostages for Peace,” offering to travel to North Vietnam to serve as human shields for Vietnamese citizens and U.S. prisoners of war endangered by the U.S. aerial raids being conducted in the early 1970s.

Clearly, amidst all the accusations and noise surrounding his alleged “anti-Americanism” or “communist ties,” Linus Pauling’s remarkable willingness to sacrifice, much like his earlier ROTC service, was an important but frequently-overlooked component of a terrifically-complex story.

Oregon 150

One Response

  1. […] Pauling in the ROTC:  often accused of anti-Americanism due to his pacifist beliefs, few people know that Pauling actually served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, ultimately rising to the rank of Major.  This post was among the first in our lengthy Oregon 150 series, celebrating Pauling’s relationship with his home state. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: