08 December 2008


Having thought only of Annapolis for seven years, I was caught short on colleges after I got the bad news about my eyesight. Fortunately, I was in the first group of Baby Boomers. Illinois State University (just renamed from its 107 year old “Illinois State Normal University) was the first and leading teachers’ college in Illinois. In 1964, it was still a small school of some 3000 undergraduates, 80 percent of whom were women. The fledgling liberal arts college was ready to grow, so when I applied in April, I was accepted by early May.

By this time, I was completely turned off by LBJ, whom I considered to be a charlatan and a fraud. After the Billie Sol Estes scandal which had caused JFK to consider dropping Johnson from the 1964 ticket, I wanted nothing to do with him. He was, in my youthful, idealistic opinion, unfit to follow in Jack Kennedy's footsteps.

Additionally, Johnson had not served in WWII. (Of all the presidents of my parents’ generation--JFK through George H.W. Bush--only Jphnson had avoided service in WWII.) He had merely “resigned” from Congress just long enough to go to Australia where he took an observation flight in a B-17 for which he was “awarded” the Silver Star Medal. He then “unresigned” and returned to Congress “at the President’s request.”

I spent the summer of 1964 working for the Goldwater campaign in a heavily Democratic county in southern Illinois. My Mom, a “yellow dog” Democrat, was appalled. “Oh, dear,” she cried. “If you work for that man, you’ll end up in Vietnam!” Turns out, she was right, but that’s a story for another day.

My first year at ISU was typical of the era. We were a conservative lot who wore sports shirts and khakis to class. Women students wore skirts and blouses. (My history professor, Dr. Helen Cavanaugh, once ordered a young woman out of her classroom with the admonition, “Ladies do not attend class in trousers!” The coed was wearing an expensive, well-tailored pants suit. A different time, indeed.)

In February of 1965, I learned that the first of my high school graduating class had died in service. Jim Nash was a crew member on a CH-46 helicopter that was taking off from Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Ana, CA to fly to an LPH for deployment to the Western Pacific (“WesPac”). His chopper collided with another and both crashed, killing all on board.

A few days later, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, Third Marine Division became the first American ground combat unit to land in South Vietnam. 3/9 and then the rest of the Division soon followed.

Then, in April, as I was walking through the Student Union, I saw a Marine Officer Selection Officer handing out literature concerning the Platoon Leaders’ Course. He informed me that he had just come from Notre Dame and had filled his quota, but he took my name for the Fall.

My last summer as a civilian was upon me.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Rev Kim said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Thank you also for your service to our country.