Phillip Leveque, HQ, 354th Infantry
ASTP: The Army's Waste of Manpower
When ASTP was discontinued, two out of three ASTP were sent infantry
or a fighting branch. This is a brief story of their experiences.
In the long run the Army needed front line fighting men more than college
trained men, said Stimson, Secretary (of War. The Army would need 7.5
million men, the Navy, 2 million. This meant one in 13 Americans would
wear a uniform which was the lowest ratio of all belligerents, said Under
Secretary of War, Robert Patterson, but servicemen should have one years
training before being sent overseas. (This will be great news to many.)
Stimson planned for 3,600,000 by end of 1943; others said 20,000,000 men
and one-half in the Infantry. Boy, did this get snafued! General George
Marshal believed 10,000,000 by end of 1943 would be necessary. Congress
decided 7,700,000 men. The Armed Forces eventually had 15,000,000 men
By March of 1942, 93,000 ROTC men received commissions. This
outnumbered Army Regulars by 3 to1. This precluded ASTPers from
getting to OCS. During 1942, 104,000 Officers were commissioned
from civilians. These were mostly ROTC, but not all. Col. Lawhon,
early in ASTP program, stated that College training was first step to
commission. This rarely happened.
The Army wanted 198,000 reservists from Army Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC).
These were 18-19 year olds. The Navy wanted 80,000 but the Navy promised
these V-1 students to stay in school till graduation to be their Ensigns.
The Army ERC were to go to ASTP.
In late 1942, the draft age was lowered to 18, and the Army drafted
18 and 19 year old ERC students. This was really surprising because
Britain and Germany both deferred soldiers to go back to College.
This was rare in U.S. Army. The overall plan was that the colleges
would train 250,000 regular military, another 250,000 enlisted reserves
and Army and Navy ROTC. Another 50,000 would take correspondence courses. Army also had 900 Trade schools for Carpenters, etc. for the Engineers, etc.
General McNair saw ASTP as taking away from combat positions young
men most needed for leadership...(quote)"with 300,000 men short we
are sending men to college". He saw no reason why it should improve
soldiers fighting abilities. Unless the war lasted beyond 1944, he
wouldn't need college-trained men. Obviously~ he wanted lots of Dogface
In February 1942, the War Dept. ordered that 75% of men to the Air
Force must have high I.Q. scores. This hurt the Ground Forces.
This continued till early 1944 when almost everybody went to the
Infantry regardless. By October 1942 the three services requested
371,000 men: 52% to Air Force; 22% to Ground forces; and 26% to
Service Forces. In fact, the Service Forces ran the enlistees.
They ended up with a much higher class of Soldiers. Although General
Marshall stated that the Army was handicapped by a shortage of men
with intelligence, aptitude, education, and training in medicine,
engineering, languages, science, mathematics and psychology, he
was barely supportive of the ASTP concept of separating out high-grade
soldiers for ASTP. Col. Henry Beukema, a Professor of History at West
Point, became Director of ASTP. He was in charge of sending 200,000
soldiers to 227 colleges at cost of $127,000,000.
The basic phase of ASTP was 3-12 week terms, "equivalent to"
one and one half years of college. The advanced phase was usually
4 terms, except for medical courses. Almost none of the ASTPers got degrees,
even if they completed the ASTP course, which few did? The talking and
fiscal arrangements for ASTP were not "completed" till Dec. 17,
1942, and the programs were supposed to start "full blast" by mid-March.
The Navy programs were already going. Most ASTP programs started in
April or May but some not till autumn of 1943.
When ASTP started there were 1,300,000 eligible: 652,000
in the Army, 241,000 in High school, 70,000 in College in ERC and
405,000 not in ERC. In mid November 1942, the draft age was lowered to
18, and 402,000 more were eligible, but there was only a 150,000
quota for the whole ASTP program. The screening was based on the
AGCT (Army General Classification Test), with 110 required and
later, 115. The norm was 100.
Few volunteered for ASTP and Gen. Marshall ordered Commands to send
selectees to ASTP. Some were literally "shanghaied" to go to ASTP
and the results were variable. Some welcomed the academic experiences
but many hated it. "Let's get the War over" was their idea.
During 1943, two thirds of ASTPers came from Army Units and had
basic training. The rest were from newly inducted reservists and
High school graduates.
Although some enlistees had the choice of Army or Navy, the
Navy's program aimed at producing officers. Their requirements were
more demanding. Flunkies got the Army. After Feb. 1944, it didn't make
any difference. 80,000 ASTPers mostly Engineering trainees were
sent to the Infantry. Col. Beukema claimed in Feb. 1943, that
ASTP would graduate 50,000 students in 1943 and 150,000 in 1944.
He proposed the program would ultimately provide 290,000. He was
wrong. The combined Service programs would eventually put 450,000 men and
women in colleges. By fall, 1943, 100,000 trainees were
enrolled and 16,000 were being passed through STAR units on the
way to college. (STAR -Specialized Training And Requirements,
which were field selection units for ASTP). The ASTPR (a
reserve program for 17 year old students) was created in summer
of '43. The Army said only 25,000 were permitted, but much
fewer than that enrolled...maybe 5000. ASTP enrollment peaked at
about 140,000 in mid December of '43.
Although many ASTPers believed they were being trained for
future OCS, Gen. McNair made a strange statement:
1. 25% of Commanding Officers should be college graduates or advanced
2. 25% of Commanding Officers should have 2 years of college or basic
3. 25% of non-corns and technicians (T/5's, T/4's, T/3's) should have
completed all or part of basic ASTP training. It sounds like this
was made up after a night at the Officers club. None of these
suggestions were carried out, but during combat many of the old
line noncoms were casualties and ASTPers finally got stripes and some,
even bars. Some even turned down battlefield commissions. They would
see that second looeys had a high casualty rate. In fact, OCS was
turning out an excess of second looeys.
After the extreme infantry losses, especially in Italy in 1943, it
became evident that Infantry Riflemen were going to be the greatest
need. That's why the stuff hit the fan in Feb. '44. Non-military men
evaluated the ASTP programs and stated that there was too much
opposition within the Army and poor use was made of the ASTP soldiers.
Most ASTPers would say, Hail and Amen!
Neither the colleges, the teachers, the ASTPers nor the Army knew or
had any idea what would be the future of the ASTPers. They had to
"enjoy" college one day at a time. After being in the Regular Army most
of the ASTPers felt that college was almost like a furlough with a
bunch of highly intelligent classmates. Basic training was mostly something
to look back on with horror. If they had been picked for ASTP, the Regular
Army non-coins in general gave them hell and made their lives as miserable
as possible. One ASTPer at Fort Hood reported that most selectees training
was in the sun and at least seven trainees died of heat exhaustion.
(I think I knew one of them...a Chem engineering student at Oregon State).
After the deaths, they had training in the shade (an I.Q. test for the
Some of the Basic training Companies and Battalions must have seemed really
weird to the training cadres. Some had all High school graduates with many
who had some college and even college graduates. The Sergeants couldn't understand
why the trainees would go to the PX for ice cream and soda pop rather than
beer and pretzels, get drunk and throw up like "real men".
In the colleges that had ASTP and Air Cadets, there was considerable
rivalry but because they were in uniform with the threat of being sent
back to the regular Army, the conflicts were verbal but frequently pungent.
Occasionally an ASTP student would flunk out. Within a few days a
letter would come advising that their new assignment was in the Infantry
overseas. This was a strong motivator. One out of five ASTP trainees
flunked out usually in the first or second term of basic, but very few
in advanced...about 6%. The language courses required an AGCT score of
140. Very few of these flunked, but many were sent where their training
did little good. Just because they studied a certain language it was
no reason to think they would be sent where they could use it.
About 33 languages were taught but very few ASTPers were sent to the
right country or area. (It sounds like the Army, doesn't it?)
In the fall of 1943, most ASTPers had adjusted to the greasy grind
imposed on them. Being away from the Real Army courses caused them
to rename ASTP. To them it was All Safe Till Peace. What a surprise
in the next few months. Because most of the other young men were
overseas, in the real Army or Navy or whatever, the ASTPers had a
relatively free run at the college girls. At Georgetown University in
Washington D.C., 1000 WACS, WAVES, SPARS, WRENS, and civilian girls
showed up for a dance a few weeks after ASTP had arrived. Many of
these chance meetings ended in marriages. One ASTPer reports at Wyoming
there were 2500 girls and 250 ASTPers. It must have driven the boys
crazy. With the minimum wages of the ASTPers, as most were buck privates,
dating on civilian prices was a real pain. Even 50 bucks, less all
deductions, didn't leave much more than bus money to town. Thank God
for the USO's. They at least lent something of a normal life. The Sergeants
and the Officers had it much better. why should a gal go out with a low
life, low paid private? Most of us can remember the few times when
we had enough money to spend to do "something". It's too damned bad
it was usually in France, Germany, Belgium or Italy. Hurrah for
home or getting back home!
With all the real or alleged non-military carry1ng on of the ASTPers,
many wondered if they would ever be "real" soldiers. The Germans at
the Battle of The Bulge found out. They were just as good as any
Dogface. One group of ten in an ASTP Band went to the 102nd Infantry
Division. Of the ten, 6 were wounded and 2 killed. These are terrible
odds even for a Dogface. In addition to Purple Hearts, many got Bronze
Stars, Silver Stars or better and one The Congressional Medal of Honor.
Several got Battlefield Commissions. Many turned them down.
The heavy emphasis on academics took a toll for physical development but
P.T. was a part of the mix but usually no P.T. equipment was provided by
the Army. This necessitated sometimes running around in something like G.I.
underwear. Not tres chic!
There was a strange dichotomy about just what or who were the ASTPers. Secy.
of War Patterson said they were soldiers on the campus rather than college
boys in uniform. As such, they were banned from intercollegiate sports. This
was not a big deal as they still had the sports intramurally-that is if they
still had the time and energy.
One of the great advantages of ASTP was the chow. What it frequently amounted to
was "The best for our boys in uniform". However in many places contracts
were made with caterers at so much per meal. This chow degenerated so the
contractors could get in on the "big money" by supplying to the Army.
The best thing was NO K.P. the poor slobs had little enough time to
sleep. K.P. as punishment was weird. Those on K.P. could easily sabotage
the food. Many of us suffered okra, grits, greens and chicory. Talk about
"culture shock". I haven't tried any since the Army.
One ASTPer reported the Thanksgiving dinner of 1943: soup, salad, roast
turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, mince pies,
pumpkin pies, ice cream, coffee, candy and cigarettes. After that, who would
want to go back to the regular Army?
What did it take to run the ASTP programs? In Jan '44, at the peak of the
programs at 227 colleges, there were 1794 officers and 3345 E.M. about 8
and 15 at each institution. Mostly they did paper work and ASTPers would
be squad, platoon or company "officers" just for the experience.
Depending on the size of the unit. Officers were up to the Lank of
Col. What happened to these administrative officers and non-coms isn't clear.
I'll bet damned few saw the Infantry as the ASTPers did.
The shoulder patch of ASTP was a matter of great derision. It was
based on the Boy Scout merit badge for reading. Several names
were: Lamp of flaming ignorance, pisspot and reamer, flaming bedpan, the
favorite was flaming pisspot. Nicknames for ASTP were legion. About
the worst was by civilian students at Tulane. It came out Ass-Twerps.
Was this envy and jealousy?
The required surrender of stripes was one of the worst and
controlling factors for "volunteering" for ASTP. The smart Sergeants it
seems could see through the Army "chicken system". The Army seemed to
have enough sense to cut the "chicken" to the minimum. By and large
intellectual pursuits and the Army are mutually incompatible.
Few soldiers or ASTPers were impressed by the intellect of their officers
or non-corns. Their attitude was usually "lets' get the War done and go
Most of us remember the marching chant of "Sound Off" with all its
variations. The Air Cadets had their "Into the Air Army Airmen"…and would
sing it proudly while marching. Some of the ASTP commanders ordered
the ASTPers to sing while marching. They sang the raunchy marching
ditties of basic training. One Dean of Women was horrified and ASTP
singing stopped NOW. One ASTPer reported that ASTP taught me complete
disregard of Army discipline. This was after he discovered the Cadet
Captain and Lieutenant shooting craps in his room during duty hours.
It seems that most of us tried to avoid Army discipline as often and
as much as possible. I considered it a game, like "hide and seek".
Digging a 6X6 was one of the rare punishments. I had to do it once.
It was 6x6 feet but 6 inches deep. At that time, I was called to
Division Headquarters for a new assignment. I hope the hole is still
The day of disbanding most of the ASTP was Feb 18, 1944, and was known as
Black Friday. Rumors about this started in the Fall of 1943 and a
Chicago paper report of Dec. 11, 1943, which stated that the Army
had 650,000 officers. This was too many and many were discharged.
ASTPers for officers wouldn't be needed. The high brass of the Army
wiggled and waffled about ASTP and the 'campus Commandos.
The fact of the matter was that because of high brass mistakes in Italy, with
horrible casualties with a lot from trench foot, from fighting a
winter war in summer clothing, they needed replacements. The plan for
ASTP and other similar programs was to reduce to 125,000 by April 1,
1944. There were about 200,000 in the Army and Navy programs.
The big problem was that about 200,000 pre-war fathers had been excused
from the draft. This also would eventually be changed drastically.
Getting married and fathering was no longer to be an out. I couldn't
sympathize or envy those poor bastards.
On Nov. 5, '43, the Acting Chief of Staff recommended that ASTP be cut
to 30,000 in medicine, etc., with the rest returned to line units.
Gen. McNair concurred. This was truly a "kiss of death". By
summer of '44, the Army said it was 446,000 men short. Fathers not
in agriculture would be called up. 90,000 fathers were inducted with
more to come.
At this time, 5,000,000 had been deferred. One million non-fathers in industry,
and almost a million in agriculture. Besides that about '1/3 of
potential draftees were considered medically and/or psychologically
unfit. I found this weird. I had men in basic training who could
hardly walk, some with false teeth and one with only one eye.
I knew of others who had had hernia operations. The Selective Service
draft boards sure did some fancy dancing for the 4-Fs.
On Feb. 18, 1944 it hit the fan and 110,000 ASTPers went mostly to
Infantry Divisions. They went into outfits where Sergeants with grade
school educations and some illiterates were running the show.
What a place for high intellect "college boys". Black Friday was
Friday because nothing could be done till Monday and by
then many had been "shipped out". Within six months they were
in the worst combat of the war.
The Army said that the soldiers overseas were mad at the guys in
"campus foxholes". In fact, the troops were mad at the
strikers in coal, steel and rail industries and were not at all
mad at the ASTPers.
The Air Cadets got the business and went to the Ground Forces soon after
the ASTP but the Navy continued on its programs. The ASTPers usually
ended up as Privates, the lucky ones with one stripe. The newspapers
had a field day maligning the Army for all of this, but like a
drunken elephant the Army went merrily on its way. The
Army tried to promote the ASTPR (R for reserve) program for
17-18 year old high school boys. This was poorly successful.
Who wanted to go into the Army when the vets were coming home?
At the end of 1945 about 12,000 ASTPers were still in school in
medicine, engineering and languages. Some of the physicians got
their degrees into 1947. I don't know if these guys were really
lucky. Many got to go to Korea, which was even more SNAFUed
Most ASTPers felt a strong sense of betrayal and rightfully so.
They gave up stripes and even OCS to ASTP. Now they weren't even
trained as riflemen, but that's where they went. Some were calm
about going into the Infantry but most could read the papers and
D-Day and Normandy battles must have been sobering. The casualties
were terrible...with about 60,000 in the first 6 weeks.
The fact that ASTPers got no promotions was onerous to say the
least. My own uncle, barely through grade school, made Chief Petty
Officer. He thought it was strange that I was a college graduate and
made T-5. Well, he wasn't carrying an M-1 either, nor did he get a
C.I.B. Any personnel officer in the Army with more than 2 brain neurons
must have had a hard time figuring what to do with the "college
boys" to make use of their training. Most must have said to hell
with it and just made them line Dogfaces. That's what happened.
Going to line Infantry outfits was a real trial. In the Old Army,
75% had failed to complete High school and 41% had no High
school. It took 4-5 years to do better than P.F.C. These old
timers, now Sergeants, stuck together to the adverse effect of these
new "smart aleck" College boys.
Eli Ginzberg, a war historian, concluded that disbanding of ASTP
was a plot to put the best brainpower in the country in the most
vulnerable positions (the front lines), where the largest number were
likely to be killed. That's where most of the casualties were.
Some officers even threatened the old non-corns... "Screw up and
they'll get your jobs". This did not keep peace in the ranks.
Many ASTPers had given up several stripes because of the "promises"
of ASTP. Only a few recouped their stripes.
Some of the ASTPer were lucky enough to utilize their training, The
Signal Corps eventually took back 10,000. In the end, about 70,000
ASTPers ended up in the ground Forces (read Infantry) and 15,000
went to Service Forces. Many A4r Cadets ended up on the same short
Thirty-five Divisions, Infantry, Armored and Airborne received about
1500 ASTPers each. Twenty-two divisions received about 1000
Air Cadets. Most of these went to Infantry.
The last nine divisions to be shipped to the ETO had about 26% old
timers, 23% from "Repple deppels", 18% from ASTP or Air Cadets
and 33% from other branches such as Stateside Coast Artillery or
Antiaircraft. That these nine divisions made a creditable performance
says far more about the men than the Army.
Although the bulk of the ASTPers and Air Cadets were sent to about
nine Infantry Divisions, many more ended up as replacements in almost
every combat outfit in Europe to replace casualties. Because the Infantry
suffered 70% of the casualties but were only 14% of the troops with only
half of those as front line Dogfaces. It is clear where most ended.
Some in the most literal sense.
Possibly the worst example is the 106th Division...called the "hungry
and sick". About 15,000 of this Division were captured in the first days
of the Battle of The Bulge. Many were killed by being strafed by
American planes on their way to prison camps, where many more died of
starvation and cold. (This was the way to treat ASTPers?).
The final attitude of the ASTPers is mixed. Many used their ASTP
education to go on to successful post-college careers. Many of
those who went to active combat still wonder at the gross SNAFU which
put them there. Few survived the psychological damage of betrayal by
the Army. For those who survived the war, even with their Purple
Hearts and various medals, can look back on the experience as a proof
of their manhood. A guy with a medal or a Combat Infantry Badge
can look anyone in the eye and say, I've been there, I did that, and