Saturday, April 12, 2014

For My Granddaughters

ASTP emblem
That bottom drawer again – turned up a column I wrote in 1945 for the SU Daily Orange.  I had come to the University in the middle of World War II, when it was pretty much just a girl’s school, fraternity houses closed up, no sports, all the boys our age overseas.  And then with the war just ended, I was already nostalgic, writing to tell younger students what the wartime campus had been like when it was used for training courses by the Armed Forces.   
…when a entering freshman felt as if she were moving in on an army post, and dates – honest, no kidding – were a dime a dozen.  Many a new frosh woke up those first few days in total darkness, terrified, as she heard coming out of nowhere loud whistles and yells of “Come on, now!  Everybody out in formation.!”  As soon as we learned to sleep through this 5:30 a. m. routine, the army men got wind of it and varied the program by yelling in cadence as they passed our windows at 6.
This formation business was diabolic.  Starting across the Old Oval after first looking carefully in all directions, you'd reach the lamp-post in the center only to find six groups bearing down like menacing freight trains.  It cannot be denied that upon occasion the squadron leader even changed his commands so as to run down some poor coed, and ended the routine with an embarrassing “eyes right!’.
How quickly we learned to tell the Navy’s V-12s and the Air Corps’ men from the Army Service Training Program’s…The ASTP men who were learning Russian were impressive as they marched through the street singing Red Army songs [remember we were allies with Russia?]  If two were on the sidewalk conversing they’d switch to Russian as we passed.  It was awesome.  Air Corps men, though, had a nasty habit of changing from their very interesting songs to “Little Orphan Annie” as soon as a coed got within hearing distance.
They used to tell us, “It’s easy to tell the freshmen from upper-classmen; the freshmen smile back.”  It’s true, we were very friendly in those younger days.  Then the  Women’s Student Senate ruled that “Hello” and “Thank You” were all coeds should say to busy servicemen during the day.  We immediately rushed out and said “Hello, thank you!” to every man we passed.
Our dorms and “cottages” ran parlor open houses, usually on Sunday afternoons, and when word got around that the University didn’t provide those poor girls with Sunday night suppers, the whole house was usually taken care of for supper dates.  Six-thirty to 8 were the magic hours when the men were free and we hadn’t been [literally] locked in for the night yet. Coke dates were about all we could manage.  And almost every evening, Syracuse winters being what they were, we’d engage the servicemen in snowball fights.  Someone would plug a phonograph out on the porch – the tunes were “Sunday, Monday and Always”, “Boogie Woogie” and “Paper Doll.”  And oh! those graduation formals!  Colonel Reis El-Bara headed the receiving line and led the first waltz, and you felt like something out of the Court of St. James at the very least.
This newspaper carried military news [I notice in the article next to mine a reference to "the Nips"] and had no sports page.  We watched evening retreats in Walnut park, and on Saturday afternoons the reviews would completely fill the Oval or Hendricks Field. 
So all that’s left are some wonderful memories, a few real romances, and the double-deck bunks in some cottages that are stenciled  “AAF, 65th CTD.”  But the Sandwichman’s*  ring, every night at ten o’clock, will never sound as nice as “Taps” used to, ringing across the snow-covered campus.   
The Sandwichman sold his snacks (two slices white bread, mayo, one slice cheese) in the front hall.  If he had arrived before 8 p. m.,  he could have come in as far as the downstairs parlor (where the rule was "both feet on the floor")  In those pre-pill days, they must have been frantically worried about one of us getting pregnant.  And when one girl married her fiancĂ© just before he was sent overseas, she was not allowed to return to her room in the dorm.   Might have contaminated the virgins, I suppose.


  1. It certainly sounds more stimulating than the situation during my graduate school days at SU, when (with a few notable exceptions) the company was uninspiring. Of course, I ended up marrying one of the notable exceptions, so I can't really complain.

  2. I tried to post this last night but must have hit the wrong button at some point, so I'll try again: Your undergraduate experience at SU with the military trainees certainly sounds more stimulating than my overall graduate experience. With a few notable exceptions, the company in my department was uninspiring (at all levels). Of course, I ended up marrying one of the notable exceptions--so I can't complain too much, can I?