Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2012 | Features

The Times of Their Lives

By IAM Staff
Overwhelmed by the response to October's "War & Peace" feature, Iowa Alumni Magazine editors highlight here some of the memories and perspectives that readers cared enough to share
PHOTO: DAVID LUCK COLLECTION/STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF IOWA, IOWA CITY

As a 24-year-old Vietnam veteran, I probably had a different take than most undergraduate students concerning the riots that occurred in downtown Iowa City.

While in Vietnam, I came to the conclusion that the war was a waste of our resources—both of our young men and women and our national treasure. It was so politically controlled that there was no way the military could win. While this war probably should never have been entered into, the way it was administered by the political leaders of this country was a travesty. Protesters who blamed the military and disrespected our returning veterans also proved a low point in our history. These young men, for the most part, were drafted without having a choice in the matter. The protests against the ROTC and military recruitment offices likewise were misguided and misplaced.

While the protests overall served a positive purpose, your article may overstate and almost glorify the nobleness of the students' actions.

Dave Topf, UIAA Annual Member, 72MA, 72EdS
Richmond, Va.

I vividly remember the spring of 1970 on campus. Over the years, I've read many descriptions about those days—mostly by people who supported the antiwar movement. In fact, all the former students whom you quoted shared this viewpoint.

I experienced the times from a different perspective, as I received my undergraduate degree from Iowa in 1964 and entered the Air Force shortly thereafter. After a five-year tour of duty, I returned to Iowa City in the fall of 1969 for graduate studies. I left a campus of football games and Homecoming queens and returned to one of demonstrations, protests, and violence. I had been actively involved in the Vietnam War, the Pueblo crisis in Korea, and the Six-Day War in the Middle East. I had lost friends and colleagues in Vietnam. I think these experiences gave me a much different view of the world than most of the student body in 1970.

The situation in Iowa City that spring was pretty much as described in your article. I was a five-year military veteran, but I didn't go downtown after dark as I was concerned for my safety. The vast majority of UI students and faculty did not participate in the protests and were disgusted with the violence (many non-student outsiders promoted such behavior).

Although I admittedly had very little contact with the radical leftists who were the major instigators, I was never treated badly by other students as a returning veteran. Many students supported the U.S. government and did not agree with the antiwar movement.

Whatever point of view, I think most people supported the right to protest. But what happened in Iowa City in 1970 went far beyond that. It was part of a national civil disobedience movement—organized and directed by organizations like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who were later discredited for their actions.

Let us hope that those days never return to campus. Articles that revisit this era are important so that later generations don't ever forget what can happen.

David Steele, UIAA Life Member, 64BBA, 70MA
Barrington, Ill.

I became editor of the Daily Iowan in 1966, my junior year. It was an exciting time to work for the DI, and we never had a slow news day. We did our best to report the news objectively, but we did take editorial stands. My own perspective was influenced by my earlier experience in Southeast Asia training with the Vietnamese and Thai military. I didn't understand why we were there, and the more I learned, the more I disagreed with our military direction. I expressed those opinions on the DI editorial page on a regular basis.

One day, I was passing through the union during one of the daily "soapbox sound-off" exchanges. I heard my name mentioned by a speaker who said that I should be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I let him finish, then took my turn on the soapbox and declared that I had already served my time. I then challenged anyone in the crowd who really supported the war to enlist and volunteer for duty there. I asked any supporters to show their hands. No hands were raised, but there was some muttering.

Fortunately, normal campus activities and organizations like the student council and the student union helped keep things in balance. Students still were there to get their degree and move on to the future. For some, the future was ominous. Several of my fellow graduates received draft notices on graduation day.

Nic Goeres, UIAA Life Member, 67BA
Irvine, Calif.

My mother was a graduate student in statistics from 1969 to 1972, so we were here in 1970. I was in sixth grade and my sister in fourth.

My mother's coursework required her to run computer programs; at that time, you deposited IBM punch cards at the campus computer center to have your program run, and then you picked up the results later. One evening, shortly after dinner, my mother had to make a run to the computer center. Leaving my sister at home, the two of us drove downtown, walked into the building, and picked up her job.

As we turned to leave, the campus police were chaining the door and preventing us all from exiting—students were marching on the center. My mother panicked, having left my sister home alone. She grabbed me by the hand and we ran for a back door exit. We managed to get out before that exit was blocked, as well.

Beth Ingram
UI Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education

I was invited to a reception for a visiting Australian government official at the home of his local Iowa City equivalent, who was terrified by all the different law-enforcement agencies about—all armed and without anyone responsible for their coordination.

There were campus police, city police, and highway patrol, as well as elements of the National Guard. With radical student groups, such as SDS, involved in marches and demonstrations and with resentment toward certain banks that refused to open accounts in the group's name, he feared that a brick through a window could lead to someone losing his cool and firing a shot. The potential aftermath could've been another Kent State.

I had my personal anxieties. All my research data for my dissertation was at the computer center being punched on to cards. There were no PCs in those days, just one very large university computer. At demonstrations on other campuses, students invaded their school's center and hurled the computer through a window. I prayed that our police wouldn't do anything to provoke Iowa students into similar action. Fortunately, for everyone's sakes, all turned out well in the end.

Clive Williams, UIAA Life Member, 70MA, 70PhD
Lavender Bay, Australia

It was a scary time to be on a large college campus. Iowa City had a curfew—everyone had to be off the streets by dusk. Plus, you really had to watch what you said because there were groups like SDS [at the time known for radical, and sometimes violent, approaches to war protest] all over campus.

Eugene McCarthy was a peace candidate for U.S. president. He came to visit at a rally in Iowa City, and students carried a coffin up the steps to the Old Capitol that day.

All of the student-teachers in the women's physical education department decided to finish their courses rather than go home early. Graduation was held a month later in the Field House. The Iowa City Press-Citizen shot a photo from the balcony that showed many peace signs on top of mortar boards.

Barbara Chiles, UIAA Life Member, 70BS
Aledo, Ill.

I was a graduate student at the UI College of Pharmacy from 1969 through 1972, although I had completed all requirements and physically left the university at the end of 1971.While my profession required restraint in political activism, I was opposed to the war in Vietnam and aware of student protests on campus. One evening, I stood outside my South Quad dorm room watching police disperse a protest with tear gas!

Later in 1971, I lived in Hiawatha. A neighbor took me to a Bill Anderson concert. He sang the song "Where Have All Our Heroes Gone." I made some political remark about Vietnam and the unnecessary death of heroes when my neighbor suggested that I keep my mouth shut or I would be killed by the conservative crowd. All too many Americans did not understand that their country was not always "right." Nor did they understand that a citizen could love his country, yet want to improve it. Very sadly, the same mindless attitude exists today: "My country—right or wrong."

As for me, I was in the first draft "lottery." I was lucky since my number was 318 and I was safe from being drafted. Others, including a law school dorm-mate of mine, were not so fortunate and were yanked out of classes to serve as cannon fodder for idiot politicians.

Arthur Yellin, UIAA Life Member, 72MS [pictured above]
Olney, Md.

In 1970, I was a self-absorbed freshman trying to survive my first year so I could have a second. I hit academic bottom about the end of March, but decided I was going to turn things around. By early May, I was headed in the right direction and good finals would finish my climb to a "C" in my two lowest classes. President Sandy Boyd's wise choice to allow students to finish the semester early made my climb a lot lonelier.

My roommate in Rienow 2 left immediately. He had brought all the cool posters, rugs, and other things that made our dorm room homey. They left with him. Maintenance picked up his mattress, leaving his metal bed frame to finish off the austere ambience of the room. I was living in a jail cell. It seemed that 95 percent of the students in the men's residence halls went home. The usual teeming masses surging to and from the dorms to classes stopped. I don't think there were more than 10 others in my residence hall. I'd walk to breakfast beneath Hillcrest and be about the only one there. Lunches and dinners soon revealed that the meals were an exercise in cleaning shelves and creative leftovers.

My finals schedule had Western civilization on the first day, financial accounting on the last. That last test was almost two weeks away. My first test went OK—then it was time to think about accounting. Turns out, I was the only one staying for the accounting final. I negotiated a C-minus with my TA without having to take the test. When I got home, my mom was thrilled to see me. She'd been sure that I'd get killed in a student riot, or by a mugger once the campus was empty. My dad pressed to make sure I had got his money's worth of education for the year. I assured him that I had.

Glenn Briskin, UIAA Annual Member, 73BBA
Lacey, Wash.

I finished my junior year in economics and political science at the UI that May. I attended all of my classes after they were optional, despite being accosted by "protesters." My response to them (the vast majority of whom were doing absolutely nothing productive; instead, they sat out in the sun and threw Frisbees) was that I was learning something and they were being lazy.

It turned out that my second-year calculus instructor gave an "A" grade to anyone who took the final examination, which, of course, was not announced until after the fact. That was the only way I could ever have received such a grade in that particular class.

At my commissioning as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force through the UI's ROTC program in May 1971, there were more Iowa highway patrol officers present at the ceremony than protesters. During my UI days, one could not wear an ROTC uniform and walk across campus without much harassment and the occasional thrown egg.

R. Carl Anderson
Concord, N.H.