Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The GI Bill - Steven Ambrose

When they came home from WWII, soldiers and sailors, some of them our parents, flocked to college campuses all over the country.  The picture is of "Trailerville" located at the southern end of the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas.  Susan and Bill (Hunsaker) Craig and Bob Mitchell's dads were students living in this particular village.  I'm sure there are others in the classes attending EHHS who could add some names to the residents of this "town."

Susan Begley recalled the very tight post-WWII housing when her family had to live in a trailer with her brother sleeping in a dresser drawer during this period.  My father attended one of the UC campuses in San Francisco.  No doubt there were others.

The author-historian, Steven Ambrose, spoke some of the most revealing words I've heard on this topic in a 2000 NPR interview:

"Of the 15 million WWII vets, only 2.2 million went to college and it is calculated that only 500,000 of that group would not otherwise have attended.  Only about 23% of WWII vets were high school graduates.

"Millions of GIs who never, never dreamed that they might be able to go to college suddenly had the opportunity, and these guys went, and they became the best students we've ever had.  God, they worked so hard, and they - all of them - came back to America feeling I just wasted the best years of my life.  I know how to man a machine gun; I know how to fire a mortar; but I can't make a living out of this. 

"And now they had college opened up to them, and these guys went on to take 21 hours a semester, 24 hours a semester, and they worked. They just wanted to get that education.  I lived in a small college town in Wisconsin, and the houses all around us were divided up into little rooms where the GIs could stay.  We had a basketball court in our backyard, and these guys would come over and we'd play - I was 10 years old - we would play basketball together - shirt and skins - damned near every one of them had a scar.  And the only recreation they ever took was we'd do an hour of basketball and then it was right back to the books for them, and they're the students that every teacher in this country would just kill to have.  Steven Ambrose

"One of the things that the army or the navy or the air force or the coast guard or the marines had done for them was - they could see - you do your job, you do it well, you're going to get promoted. And if you do that job well, you're going to get promoted again, and pretty soon you're going to be in officer's candidate school. And then you're going to get a battlefield commission and then you're going to go from lieutenant to captain and captain to major and so on. They saw it with their own eyes. They experienced with their own bodies the joys of moving ahead.  Steven Ambrose

"Listen, these GIs -- and that includes the marines and the navy and the air force of course - these GIs made modern America, and they did it because the government had enough sense to say we're going to educate these guys."

My father attended UC-Berkley on the basis of having seen the campus in a Life Magazine pictorial and liking the look of the place.  Some years after graduation, he found that copy of Life.  The pictorial was of Stanford...he had gone to the wrong school !

One of my early professional mentors spoke of his view of attending college just after WWII as a non-veteran.  He was too young to have served during the war and came of age just afterward.  He was somewhat irritated to find the college campuses in his local area that he could afford, all full of veterans !  He also described working with them at the large company we all called "work" at the start of our careers.  "They were much more mature than I was," he said.  "And they, all of them, were ready to fight at small provocation, if they thought it necessary to maintain their position.  They had no problem with and never complained about working long hours."



Anonymous said...

I saw these guys at a couple of points in my career. First as airline captains and ATC. They were sharp, no nonsense men who brooked no crap of any kind from us youngsters. Later, they were mid-level to upper level corporate managers where they were older, sharp, no-nonsense men who brooked no crap from anyone. As older men, they were kindly and magnanimous. I just thought the world of them.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. I have never seen a picture of that place before. But I remember it well. I grew up there, in Trailerville. My parents told me that the first word I ever said was the one I heard the most, living in that cramped little trailer with Mom, Dad and two older sisters, "Move". We played in Ownby Stadium. We would go out to the stature of Peruna and play on that. We thought it was a sleeping pony. We had big bath houses - mens and womens. I only rememember going to the womens. I was born there and lived there until 1952 - when my dad finally graduated.