JROTC History at Bangor High School

The City of Bangor, Maine, has the distinction of being the first City in the United States to adopt military training in its public school system. Bangor High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a direct outgrowth of the establishment of military drill during the Civil War.

On 2 December 1861, City Mayor Isaiah Stetson and the Bangor City Council directed the school committee to institute military drill in the public school system.

The report of the School Committee states: “Early in December, upon the recommendation of his Honor the Major, the City Council instructed the School Committee to introduce the military drill into such public schools as might be deemed expedient. The concluded to make the trail in the boys high and other select schools, and invited Captain David Bugbee and Lieutenant N. S. Harlow and Sergeant Henry McLaughlin to take charge of the matter. The former took the high school – the latter two, the select. Two hours a week, on Wednesday and Saturday forenoons, were devoted to drill, at Gymnasium hall. The Committee is highly pleased with the proficiency which has been made in both schools. The military instructors have given their time gratuitously and are entitled to the thanks of the City. The boys of the high school, and their instructor, are so much interested in the matter that they propose continuing their drill during the vacation.”

From 1862 until 1898 the unit was known as the Volunteer Drill Company, and eventually wore a gray uniform of the militia type. The boys furnished their own uniforms and equipment.

In 1898, at the outbreak of the war with Spain, interest in the military training unit increased greatly. A larger unit was formed, still at individual expense, known as the Bangor High School Cadet Corps, uniformed in the then “Army Blur”. Similar units were now being organized in other New England cities.

During the First World War the Bangor unit furnished many officers and non-commissioned for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Congress authorized the formation of the present Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, in high schools, military schools and colleges through the National Defense Act of 1916, and in 1919 Bangor High School was designated as one of the first Junior ROTC units. Captain Walter D. McCord was designated as the first Professor of Military Science and Tactics, and all expenses of uniform, equipment and training, were assumed by the Federal Government. The School Committee stipulated that, as a requirement to graduation, each physically fit boy should take two years of ROTC, with a third year being offered on a voluntary basis.

After four years the War Department queried the City of Bangor as to their desires on continuing the ROTC unit. A petition signed by 132 prominent Bangor citizens encouraged the School Committee to request retention of the unit.

In 1957 the School Committee reduced the requirement for graduation to include one year of ROTC. ROTC at Bangor High School then became a three year program with one year required for graduation. One-quarter credit was given for each year of military training. Over the years there was a gradual shift of thinking toward making ROTC a volunteer program for all three years. On three separate occasions during the 1968-69 school years when this matter was discussed at School Board meetings, the ROTC program was soundly supported and enthusiastically endorsed by the Board.

During the 1968-69 school year authorization for a Technical Track Program was requested by the Senior Army Instructor and approved by Department of the Army. Bangor High School now conducts both the Academic and Technical Track Programs.

The Bangor School Department Program of Studies Committee met on 23 November 1971 to discuss the matter of granting credit(s) to students taking Junior ROTC courses at Bangor High School. The discussion concluded with the following recommendation: “That any student presently enrolled in ROTC (Military Science I, II, and III) or has completed one or more years of ROTC will receive one (1) Carnegie credit per year toward graduation”. This recommendation was approved by the Bangor School Committee on 6 December 1971.

On March 6, 1972, the Bangor School Committee voted to change the status of ROTC at Bangor High School from mandatory to elective. This change became effective on March 7. On Tuesday morning, March 7, the Principal made an announcement, to the effect that, any sophomore boy, who so desired, could disenroll from the ROTC program immediately. Only three (3) boys chose to drop ROTC from their schedule.

The JROTC program has continued at Bangor High School from 1972 until the present as an elective. Credit is granted for each Leadership Education Training (LET) level taken. The credit given is the same as any other in the high school, with one credit earned for each two semesters of study.

The Bangor High School JROTC program was the only Army JROTC program in the state through the early 1990s. The Army made an effort to expand the JROTC program and added programs at Sacoppee Valley High School, in southern Maine, and Nokomis and Hermon High Schools in the early 1990s. Old Town is the newest school to be added to the JROTC program in the area.

Since 9/11 fifty percent of the young guys and girls have served in the Armed Forces, U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard and Reserves. Numerous cadets receive ROTC scholarships to universities and appointments to the Military Academies.

Current instructors at Bangor High School are Army Instructor Master Sergeant Bernice Dill who was hired in 2001, and Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Harris the new Senior Army Instructor who replaced LTC Jackson Kurtzman who retired after fifteen years of service in 2008.
Beginning in 2001, Bangor High School JROTC has won an astonishing ten straight Northern New England Drill League and Northern New England Raider League championships. These leagues compete throughout the New England States against thirty different school programs.

This year the program celebrates its 150th Anniversary and the 75th Military Ball, and wish to celebrate it with all generations of Bangor High School JROTC program alumni.