Saturday, March 14, 2009

About the ASTP

The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was established by the U.S Army in December 1942 to identify, train and educate academically-talented enlisted men as a specialized corp of Army officers during World War II. Eligibility was based on brains and previous education. Most trainees were about Bill’s age-between 18 and 21 years old and were required to score significantly higher on IQ tests than even Officer Candidate School qualifiers.

Had Bill been accepted into the program as promised by his recruiter he would have returned to his studies at UCLA and embarked on a program described as “more rigorous than those at West Point or the Naval Academy.” Designated “soldiers first, students second”, the ASTPers were under strict military discipline at all times; wore military regulation uniforms; stood all normal formations, such as reveille; were subject to Saturday morning inspections; marched to classes and meals; had lights out at 10:30 PM; and generally behaved as soldiers. The standard work week was 59 hours of supervised activity, including a minimum of 24 of classroom and lab work, 24 hours of required study, 5 hours of military instruction and 6 hours of physical instruction.

By Christmas 1943 some 140,000 men were on campuses across the nation. This proved to be the program’s high point. On February 18, 1944, the War Department unexpectedly announced that 110,000 ASTPers would be returned to line duty. Bill’s dream of returning to UCLA was dashed. Most of the ASTP student-soldiers were assigned to the infantry, thus providing critically needed ground forces for the impending invasion of Europe. These men were aptly described as “Scholars in Foxholes.”


  1. Bill joins that time-honored refrain uttered by countless GIs: "But my recruiter promised me that ..."

    I wonder if part of the rationale behind A.S.T.P. wasn't to keep the best of the best of America's young manhood (not to mention the sons of influential and prosperous families) out of harm's way. In the 1960s we saw how college and reserve deferments worked to protect the wealthy from the war in Vietnam. Why wouldn't the same motives operate then?

    By early 1944, planners saw the high casualties incurred in the Italian campaign and realized that an invasion of Europe contested by the German army would be an expensive proposition. They needed these men for combat. 110,000 men is the equivalent of six or seven infantry or armored divisions. They needed more men, but they needed them younger. At the time of this letter, the army stopped drafting men over the age of 38 so the young A.S.T.P. men (and those promised the program) would have to finish their studies after the war.

  2. I had a 2-S student deferrment during the Vietnam War. We weren't wealthy and I worked throughout my college career, but as long as I took a minimum of 12 units a semester I was immune from the draft. I did not have a patriotic ferver to enlist, but would have done so rather than be drafted. The ASTP program made sense as long as officers were needed in key positions, but when infantry dogfaces became the priority it was prudent to scrap the program.

    Bill did indeed finish his studies after the War and graduated from UCLA with an English Degree in 1949, a short time after I was born.

  3. My dad served in the ASTP during WWII. He served while attending Veterinary School at KSU. He graduated in 1944 and all of the men in his graduation photo wore military tunics. I guess all of the men in Vet School at the time were in ASTP. There were only two women, I believe, in his Vet Class. The army dogged my dad for years after the war attempting to get him into active service but he finally resigned his commission as Captain around 1957.


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