Last Semester

I was, in spring 1959, approaching the moment of truth. I had two major decisions to make. One was getting a job, and the other what to do about my military obligation, as the draft was still in effect.

The job part was not too difficult. I accepted an offer from a local plant, a division of a larger company, Crucible Steel. I had a few other offers and this was the best paying. Most of all, it was a way to stay in Syracuse so Marge and I could be together. I did not plan on staying there after she graduated. Turned out to be longer than I had originally planned.

The military was another story altogether. The country had not yet evolved into a volunteer army one, and I had been draft deferred throughout my college 5 years. So, I had to do something about it. I had taken the more or less compulsory 2 year ROTC at Syracuse and was not at all interested in the Army. Much less so being drafted into the army as a lowly worm private.

The Army Guard or Reserve was a bit more appealing, but not much so, as one had to agree to both basic training, and I think another 6 months of duty. the Marines were completely out. I did not have the physique or mental attitude to be a marine. I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible and get on with my professional life.

The NY Air National Guard seemed a likely avenue to investigate. The Syracuse airport, Hancock Field, has both commercial and military facilities. At the time, there was a fighter squadron stationed there, and a much smaller Radar station of which I am now vague as to its mission.

Anyway, one day I went to the airport and interviewed both outfits. This must have been toward the end of January. Unfortunately, the fighter squadron had no openings, though the radar did. The catch was, the radar unit required the mandatory 2 month basic training, followed by at least 6, maybe 8 months of technical training. this training was to be at Biloxi, Mississippi, of all places.

Marge and I had some serious talks about this. If I chose the radar unit, she wanted to get married right away and accompany me. I had serious doubts about this, as did her mother whom Marge had great confidence in. She was the one that convinced Marge that Biloxi was no place for her, especially on the salary I would be making. The weather was miserable, she would have no friends, and really no job skills. This did sink in and Marge reluctantly accepted it.

I reluctantly decided that I could take the radar training as after all I was a graduate engineer, or would be, and had a hobby interest in electronics, even in high school.

So, I summoned my courage and on February 12, drove down to Hancock field. To my surprise, there was nobody there, with the exception of a civilian guard. At that time, the US celebrated both Lincoln and Washington’s birthday, not the composite of today. The base celebrated Lincoln’s, but SU did not. Perhaps this trip had some significance. I decided to wait it out and this worked. In April of that year, the fighter squadron had received approval for at least 30 new volunteers, maybe a few more. I heard of this from a friend who had graduated a year ahead of me, and was working in a bank. So, off I go and sign up. This was contingent on my passing a physical  exam in a week or so which I did easily. the REALLY good thing was that the only active duty required was the 2 month’s basic training, then 6.5 years of being a weekend warrior.
So, for the moment, I mad met both these critical goals. More on this later, regarding consequences of the decision, but that was the status in 1959.
Marge was a frequent visitor during the final semester. One rainy day in March, I heard a knock on the door. There was Marge in her yellow oilskin raincoat (I think so it was called) a matching hat and her overnight bag. She was convinced she wanted to run off then and there and get married. She was serious. We talked about for a while and when I pointed out that her mother would then lose child support, and I would be absent most of the summer anyway for basic training, the idea was dropped for now. Sure was good to see her though. As always.

June was the end of the end. Real graduation this time. Or was it late May? Could have been either. I do remember that it was hot and muggy and not too comfortable wearing the cap and gown. I don’t think we did the walk down the aisle, shake hands with the dean, and get our diploma. Instead, our Engineering class all sat in the same general location, The loudspeaker called for all of us to stand, which we did. then it informed one and all that we were duly graduated, and we sat down. That was it, and we got our diplomas in the mail. My Mom, Dad, and sister Karen were there as guests and I don’t remember what we did after, probably went to dinner. Marge was one of many in the crowd.

So, that was it. When the weekend was over, it was, for me, off to Crucible Steel to start life there as a Junior Engineer, and for Marge a trip back to Cornwall to spend another summer with her Mom.

School days were over, and another phase of life for me had begun. At least, I had Marge’s letters over the summer to comfort me.






About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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1 Response to Last Semester

  1. Allan T says:

    Interesting, good thing you didn’t get /go for the Rader job. you might have ended up in the “thick of things faster”; I would also thing you would have less control over life & death. But, what do I know, I was only 11 years old. Ask me then about Viet Nam and I would look at you dumbfounded.

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