Notes From Our Readers

  September 28, 2004

One of “The Happy Few”

Thanks for your coverage of the signatures on the Goodrich elevator shaft [“To the Happy Few,” Winter 2004]. I remember [that in my senior year] I had to ask Dr. Haenisch for permission to paint my initials in the shaft, especially since I was the first one to do so. I served as one of his lab assistants in the teaching labs for my last couple of years there.

Keep up the good work. Your magazines are a special treat!

Don McMasters ’53
Bloomington, Ind.


“The insidious siren of conformity”

Assistant Professor of Speech Jennifer Young received this email—with a copy sent to us—regarding her Fall 2003 Chapel Speech, which we excerpted in the Winter 2004 WM.

Professor Young,

A good friend has posted a transcript from your Chapel Talk [“Dear Diary: Five Things I’ve Learned about Wabash”] on his website. I enjoyed reading your reflections on your first semesters at the College. In fact, I have copied a quote from your transcript to post in my cubicle as a reminder against the office politics that plague those of us chained to these tiny soul cages:

“Beware the insidious siren of conformity that calls to you to look, act, and even believe the same things—so that you can, indeed, embody the vision of the ‘Wabash man.’”

This is a fantastic reminder when things mount and become miserable and it feels as though one may go down in the midst of brazen ignorance. With that, I think I need to finally get online and order that copy of Sun Tzu I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks . . . .

Robert L. Solloway ’00
Lafayette, Ind.


A Wabash Welcome?

Michele Tatar of the Alumni Affairs office shared this conversation with us after Ellwood Lewis ’51 recognized his friends in a brochure promoting the College’s “Big Bash” Reunion Weekend:

Ellwood Lewis ’51 called today to give me some history on the “W” haircut photo in the “Big Bash” mailer. He said the guys giving the haircuts are all from the Class of ’51. The man on the left with the clippers is Ben Calacci; he can’t remember who the second guy is; next is Bill MacDougall (former class agent for ’51), then Ray Bentley, and the guy on the right side with clippers is Don Mosiman.

The funny thing about the photo is that the guys getting the “W” haircuts aren’t Wabash guys—they are from Butler, and they were caught on the WC campus that fall!



War Stories: "I never forgot Wabash"

I planned to submit a Wabash Magazine blurb in 1988 while stationed at RAF Lakenheath, England, enjoying the pinnacle assignment of my Air Force career. I commanded the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, and my best competition came from a great friend, Wabash man, and commander of the 492nd, Tom Runge ’70. “Grunge” and I fought the Cold War in the F-111F—a scalded go-rilla of a jet.

That was a huge coincidence, but no more so than when I encountered Dave Decker ’67, my calculus tutor, in 1970 at Pleiku. He was calculating artillery trajectories for the Army. Wonderful guy. Hope he survived.

The first Wabash casualty in Vietnam came from the class of ’66—Mike Hall. His nickname was “Campus Leader.” Five-foot eight-inch nose guard. Fearless. Captain of the football team. President of the Interfraternity Council. Now he’s on Panel 33E, Line 86, [of the Vietnam War Memorial]. Mike’s 1967 replacement at nose guard also went to Vietnam as a Marine. Got blown up, but survived.

The Selective Service had its way with the class of ’68. I got the letter to report to a bus stop on 173rd Street in Hammond, but the Air Force recruiter in Crawfordsville saved me. Barely.

After the war I kept within the tight circle of my veteran friends. Didn’t read Wabash Magazine. Bad attitude. Pledge Brother John Hudson ’68 kept sending in my new addresses, and I kept moving around the world. Thanks, John.

But I never forgot Wabash.

I wanted to send a comment on the passing of that great leader, Dean Norman Moore. I knew him as a football coach. I always felt his friendship—even that Sunday night Al McElfresh ’71 tried to scare off the last remaining dance weekend date with strong language. Six of us were shoveling up beer bottles in a corner room of the Beta House. Frustrated after working dinner crew all weekend, Al had hung out a third floor back window and shouted his tirade. Five minutes passed, but the next door to open was ours. It was Dean Moore.

Said the Dean: “Al McElfresh, will you please quit yelling ‘fuck’ so loud I can hear it in my living room?!” (The Dean’s house was a half-mile away).

Then he left. Al was devastated. I didn’t feel so good either, but I think I caught a hint of humor behind the Dean’s round lenses.

I remember [Professor of German] Karl-Heinz Planitz, who served premium German brew at Senior Reading while we listened to Faust on the phonograph.

And Ed Haenisch. I had reached into the maze to adjust a clamp, one of several within a bubbling array of glass tubes, beakers, and burners. My elbow touched something. A thousand-milliliter graduated cylinder worth $87.53 more than my bank balance teetered out of reach. I watched it pause mockingly before a final fatal plunge. Heavy Ed stood in his white lab coat at the end of the table, shook his head, and made a note on his clipboard. He didn’t smile, but I did.

And brilliant Paul McKinney, who filled those sliding chalkboards at Goodrich, writing with both hands. Scary. I needed another brain to catch everything he threw. He made me work. He was a giant, and Wabash will miss him.

Congratulations to [John] Zimmerman on his long career. I apologize, Professor, for my last senior semester. I took my draft physical three days after the Tet Offensive of 1968. Fell behind in Phys-Chem lab. Spent spring break groveling in Goodrich Hall. When I said, “Stop me when I reach a C minus,” I was angry at the world, not you.

I almost responded in writing to a recent story in WM about stay-at-home dads [“Alligators, Beaches, and Tree Forts,” by Frank Amidon ’92], since that’s me today—taking care of Matthew, 3, and Joshua, 1. I am contemplating writing another book—Airborne Ranger and Fighter Pilot Guide to Childcare.

Tom Elkins ’53 finally pushed me over the edge. In your story about his book, North of Texas, he mentioned what he learned from Professor Bob Harvey. Indeed, Tom. In English 1A, I waived the regular stuff, but I read a book a week. And wrote a paper a week. But English 1A made easier my decision to start a second career in the craft of writing.

My own book, Quoth the Raven, ran around in my head like a hungry dog for years after I returned from Southeast Asia. I had to wait for the covert war in Laos to be declassified to shine light on that story. I lost a close friend every month for a year, and you meet them all in the book. No one dies until they are forgotten.

Presently, I’m researching an untold facet of the fall of Cambodia. I served on the Military Equipment Delivery Team in Phnom Penh in 1975. Congress cut off funds, and when the sky fell, we ran. Say what you will about that war or any war. I didn’t start it. I got drafted, remember?

The Yale University Cambodian Genocide Project reports that 1.7 million people died. When that story is finally told, I think I’ll go fishing.

I enjoy your magazine.

Jim Roper ’68
Fairfax Station, VA

Note: Dave Decker ’71 survived
Vietnam (with commendation),
earned a master’s degree from
Harvard, a Ph.D. from Rice,
and has enjoyed a distinguished
career in the field of lasers, optics,
and quantum electronics at RCA
and GTE.