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Notre Dame, Navy partnership serves as foundation of historic series

| Friday, November 17, 2017

As many young men enlisted or were drafted into the military during World War II, Notre Dame’s enrollment sank and the University was on the verge of closing. Thanks to an agreement between the Navy and Notre Dame, however, the University was able to keep its doors open.

Observer File Photo

Members of the Notre Dame ROTC program perform an end of year Presidential Pass Review on South Quad.

Notre Dame’s connection with the Navy began in 1941, Capt. Mark Prokopius, the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Notre Dame, said.

“The students would go through a four-year continuum of classes and then get a reserve commission in the Navy,” he said. “But, with the advent of World War II, the Navy realized the need to basically make more officers.”

Thus, in 1942, the Navy began a V-7 program at Notre Dame to train midshipmen over the course of four months. In September of that year, Prokopius said, the Navy began a V-12 program at the University.

“The V-12 program basically really was designed to put more officers into the Navy,” he said. “Roughly 125,000 people went through the entire program in the entire country. Notre Dame did almost 12,000 of those. In the end, having those midshipmen, those Navy personnel on campus really saved the University.”

In return for the Navy’s contribution to Notre Dame’s success, Prokopius said, University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh established a football relationship between the Naval Academy and the University.

“When Fr. Hesburgh came back to the University in 1945 and subsequently became the president in 1952, he was so grateful for what the Navy had done for the University that he made the promise that we will continue the relationship with the Navy,” he said. “And that has then perpetuated into the longest running, uninterrupted, intersectional rivalry in the country.”

Navy broke Notre Dame’s 43-game series victory streak in 2007. Prokopius said at the time, he was commanding a submarine and several officers who had graduated from the Academy.

“I came in, in the morning, and taped to my computer screen was a picture of Jimmy Clausen getting sacked by a Navy defender, with the Navy defender in this horizontal dive,” he said. “It was a three-overtime game, and it was pretty rough breaking that string, but being a Notre Dame grad and then going at it with my Naval Academy junior officers that worked with me, it was fun.”

Sophomore Bridget Ralph, a member of the Naval ROTC at Notre Dame, said she is looking forward to the game this weekend because of her connection to both schools.

“I live in Annapolis and I’ve grown up near the Naval Academy,” she said. “I’m really excited for a Notre Dame-Navy game because I’ve been to a lot of games at home because my dad works at the Naval Academy. So I’m kind of a Navy fan, but obviously a Notre Dame fan in this game.”

The University is pulling out all the stops for the pregame festivities, Ralph said, as there will be a fly-over and a flag-unfurling.

“This game is the military appreciation game, so we’ll have our color guard on the field and then there’s going to be a flag unfurling,” she said. “I know a lot of people in the Navy ROTC do the flag-unfurling, so there will be a big flag and they’re practicing with the band and everything.”

Junior Matthew Bartilotti said both his father and grandfather were in the Navy — a tradition that influenced his decision to join the Naval ROTC. His father graduated from Notre Dame in 1990, which Bartilotti said affected his decision to attend Notre Dame. Bartilotti added that the University’s appreciation for the military also impacted his decision to attend Notre Dame.

“When you look at all the Navy ROTC programs, no school really comes close to Notre Dame’s respect and appreciation for the military,” he said. “I’ve heard from people who are ROTC units at California state schools or even some other schools where they can’t wear their uniforms to class because some students are so anti-military. Some professors, even, are so anti-military that they just avoid that confrontation.

“It’s kind of humbling to see how respected the ROTC students are for what they do at this school and what we will be doing. It’s really humbling to see how supportive and how appreciative our student body is.”

This respect for the military is evidenced in the Navy-Notre Dame games, Bartilotti said.

“Navy is the one team that nobody boos when they run out the tunnel,” he said. “I don’t know how much of that has to do with Notre Dame being a more conservative school than most other schools — I just think that our student body has a good sense of patriotism and pride for the military, which is so refreshing, especially when you hear what happens at some other schools.”

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