Armory marks its 100th year

by Bei Hu

After 100 years of active duty, the castle-like Armory Building at 15 Church St. S.E. stands as a reminder of the University’s commitment to military training.
“It is symbolic of the land-grant university that we are,” University Regent Stanley Sahlstrom said of the building that houses the ROTC program. Sahlstrom is a retired colonel who served in the U.S. Army in World War II. “We have the responsibility to teach military science, agriculture, engineering and other subjects that are part of (the tradition).”
More than 150 ROTC cadets and military officers in full uniform gathered on Saturday to look on as Sahlstrom and Institute of Technology sophomore Shannon McGoffin unveiled a commemorative bronze marker cast by the Minnesota Historical Society to honor the Armory Building’s centennial. McGoffin, 18, is the youngest ROTC student on campus. The historical marker stands on the lawn in front of the Armory Building next to the student-soldier monument known as “Iron Mike.”
University President Nils Hasselmo recounted the history of the Armory Building at the ceremony.
“This marker will permanently commemorate the anniversary of the Armory Building and recognize the services of all those who have participated in military training on campus, and all Minnesotans who have served their country in time of peace and war,” he said.
As part of the 37th Annual University of Minnesota Tri-Service Review, the event also brought together more than 200 University ROTC alumni and the family and friends of current cadets.
The Armory Building is one of the oldest buildings on campus. Designed by Charles Aldrich, an architecture professor who taught at the University late in the last century, it was completed in 1896.
The Armory Building once served as the University’s town hall — hosting University president inaugurations, commencements and sports events. Guest speeches were also held in the building, including one by New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson, who later became president. But the Armory Building is more often associated with the University’s tradition of military training.
“The history of the University and the history of military training is kind of intertwined, much more so than I think a lot of people realize,” said Cpt. J. Stephen Fitzgerald of the University’s Naval ROTC.
Fitzgerald said military training at the University dates back to 1869 when Civil War veteran Richard W. Johnson, one of the University’s nine original faculty members, taught military science and tactics on campus. Through the years, the University’s military programs have trained more than 100,000 people. In fact, the University has one of the few ROTC programs in the country that includes all three branches of the armed forces — the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. There are currently about 200 students in the University ROTC program, Fitzgerald said.
Maj. Gen. Eugene Andreotti, who served as the reviewing officer for the ceremony, graduated from the University’s ROTC program in 1966 in the midst of campus protests against the war in Vietnam. Andreotti is now military chief of staff to the governor and commands the 1,100-member Minnesota Air and Army National Guard. He said the University’s ROTC program is valuable because of its leadership training.
Andreotti’s view was echoed by Hasselmo, who spelled out the University’s continued commitment to military training. “As I look forward to the 21st century,” Hasselmo said, “I know the University will continue to be a source of education and training for our future military leaders.”