RADM Robert H. Spiro NROTC Dedication Speech
President Romesburg, Trustees, faculty, students, and distinguished Midshipmen – good morning all. It is a special honor and pleasure to be here today. My wife, children, family dog and I arrived here at JU in September 1964. We were excited about coming to JU and its beautiful campus here on the banks of the St. Johns; about its students and faculty; its extreme youth as a college (only 30 years old at the time); it’s very recent accreditation; and certainly its promise.
I had the honor and pleasure of serving as President of JU for 15 years and selecting many fine faculty. Faculty such as Quinton White, who is making a magnificent contribution as Executive Director of the marine Science Research Institute, whose building dedication is this very day.
My tenure as university President here embraced the entire turbulent Vietnam War. Over much of the period (1964-1973), unrest and even violence disturbed many American colleges and universities, in some campuses erupting in physical attacks on ROTC buildings and even libraries by radical students and faculties. Jacksonville University shared in the national unrest but its students and faculty remained civilized and rational, actively discussing issues but committing no violence nor disruption.
I became aware early on that Florida, a maritime state, with a coastline (Atlantic and Gulf) totaling 1,350 miles (longest among all states except Alaska), had no Naval ROTC. As President of JU and as a Navy man strongly believing in national security, I thought that JU should be the first institution in Florida to establish a Naval ROTC. At that time we needed to grow our enrollment and Navy Midshipmen were, and are, among the best students at any university.
Holding that view, and believing it’s important for JU, I spoke to many members of the faculty and student body, then took the proposal to the Board of Trustees, which approved the idea after study and discussion. I then sought public support from the Jacksonville Mayor and City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Governor and Legislature. I sought approval by the Navy Department and reasoned that in a period of Vietnam turmoil when many ROTC units were under attack, when the Navy needed more young officers, a new Navy ROTC in the strategic state of Florida would be important to national security.
I shall never forget talking to Navy Secretary John Chafee, and Undersecretary John Warner, on the telephone – we made formal application for a unit before my personal contacts. John Warner was by that time Secretary, and he said to me ‘‘Bob, do you mean that Jacksonville University actually wants an ROTC? Some ROTCs are under attack, particularly in New England and on the West Coast!’’ I firmly replied, ‘‘Aye, Aye Sir.’’ He added that on that very day a large group called ‘‘Women Strike for Peace’’ had surrounded the Pentagon, throwing faux blood (red paint) on the Pentagon doors.
Soon our application was approved, and here we are today… 40 years later. Trustee Billy Hatcher agreed to build the first ROTC building, a small but important location for the unit. We’ve had excellent skippers including Captain Steele and Captain Berdar. The distinguished Captain Chuck Walker is here today. He served extremely well as the 2nd skipper in the 1970s.
Early on in the mid 70s we asked the Navy for permission to enroll women. ‘‘Permission granted’’ was the reply. We proceeded to enroll them. It is said that we were the first university NROTC unit to enroll women… most certainly we were one of the first. Later I learned that the Shah of Iran had contracted with the Navy to enroll a few young men in the NROTC programs in the U.S. We enrolled them here at JU and each year 30 Iranians studied and drilled with us.
Secretary Warner came to Jacksonville for the celebratory opening of the JU unit and he expressed surprise and excitement with the event, the parade and flags flying and the obvious approval of students and faculty and community… during Vietnam!
During my tenure Secretary William Middendorf visited JU, Secretary Chafee had come earlier in 1971 for an official visit, and many other Navy and Marine personnel, civilian and military, have come to express approval and support. I must say that I have greatly enjoyed observing the success of the unit and as President of JU I took special pleasure in removing my academic robes at commencement to reveal my Navy uniform, and then conferring degrees and commissioning midshipman into both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The entire University community and also the city, state and nation have benefited from this unit.
Captain Berdar tells me the enrollment now totals 185 and this unit is one of the largest in the U.S. JU has now witnessed the commissioning of more than 1,100 officers both Navy ensigns and marine 2nd lieutenants. Our graduates have done extremely well. Some of the early graduates are now flag officers.
During a long life I have ventured into several fields of endeavor: Navy and Army, business, foundation work, and of course academe. My work and service here at JU is the highlight of my carrier.
During my tenure here at JU we – the Board, faculty, administration, students and friends – built many buildings including Howard and Gooding; we doubled the size of the Library; we doubled the faculty salaries and PhDs; we created the Order of the Dolphin, and restored the Greeks to campus; we successfully lobbied the Governor and legislature for tuition vouchers; I chaired the City’s Sesquicentennial of 1972, and out teams did well in basketball, baseball, soccer and golf. And all the while we sought to enhance scholarship and intellectual growth.
We even tutored and conferred a degree upon Nellie in St. Augustine, thus creating the first and only dolphin alumna of an accredited institution of higher learning in the civilized world! I hear that today Nellie is not only the best educated but also the oldest and wisest dolphin in the world.
And looking back through the lens of hindsight and experience, I value the establishment of this unit and this program, perhaps the most.
I have a deep and abiding affection for Jacksonville University. Daniel Webster said it best in 1818, when he declared in the Dartmouth College case: ‘‘It is, sir, as I have said, a small college and yet there are those who love it.’’
I am one of those who loves and appreciates Jacksonville University. And I am honored today to participate in some small way with this latest addition to JU’s beautiful and vibrant campus. Thank you.