In early September 1951, drills were held on Barnard High School’s athletic field, currently Horace Mann School, on the hill behind the Manhattan College campus. By mid-February 1952 mass drills were held in Croke Park, later renamed Gaelic Park, and by the beginning of March, these “Manhattan Men” began to look like Air Force Cadets.
With the establishment of the AFROTC program at the College came the Arnold Air Society, an honor society whose mission was to “further the purpose, mission, tradition and concept of the United States Air Forces as a means of national defense, promote American citizenship, create a close and more efficient relationship among AFROTC of cadets.” On February 7, 1952 the Major William J. H. Holohan Squadron of the Arnold Air Society was chartered, named on behalf of Major William Vincent Holohan, Manhattan College Class of 1925, who died in service of his country during the Second World War. Under its sponsorship, students attended the first military ball ever held at Manhattan.
In the fall of 1951, as the AFROTC was beginning to function at the College, the cadet band was formed under the direction of Lt. William J. Vogel. Composed entirely of cadet musicians, the squadron provided music for all official functions, including the widely-celebrated St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day 1952 was the “Coming Out” party for the Air Force reservists and come out they did—800 strong. Marching up Fifth Avenue behind the AFROTC Band, they were rewarded for many weeks of work by winning the admiration of the crowds along the line of march.
Since its establishment on campus, the AFROTC also organized a highly successful rifle team. The Pershing Rifles were a national society founded in 1894 by General John J. Pershing “to foster a spirit of friendship and cooperation among men in the military department and to maintain a highly efficient drill team.” It was a military and a social fraternity with companies in all major college and universities in the United States. The Manhattan contingent worked hard during the 1951-1952 academic year receiving thorough instruction on small arms of all types and in October 1952 the unit was accepted into the national society and was given the designation of Company U-8. The handful of sharpshooters began their practices at the 168th Street Armory until a rifle range was added to the campus in the basement of Cardinal Hayes Library.
When the Hayden Science Building was officially opened in 1952, the AFROTC established its headquarters on the first floor. The advent of the Air Force blue-gray to Manhattan affected changes in scene and attitude on campus. In addition to drill exercises and the Military Ball, which quickly proved the highlight of the social season, the AFROTC periodically sponsored various lectures, masses, public information films and tea dances. With its establishment on Manhattan College’s campus, the Air Force ROTC provided an exemplar opportunity for entrance into the leadership of one of the primary means of national defense.