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  Readers Write
     
   

To the Editor:

I wanted to let you know that after all these years, the Holy Cross Magazine of April 1999 finally became relevant.

I enjoyed reading about some of the people of that era, particularly their accomplishments. I also valued the story concerning the descriptive episodes during the campus recruiting by General Electric, since everything I knew came from the newspaper and was incomplete. I think some of the student demands at the time were excessive, but I also think that the school’s administration probably acted before they thought out the problem.

At any rate, as I look back on nearly 60 years, my reaction today would be different than it was at the time. Good show.

A.G. Mack, M.D., ’40
Trumbull, Conn.

To the Editor:

Raising five small children, hating and disagreeing with the Vietnam War, praying for the “boys” whose lives were on the line, being disillusioned by those who chose the route to Canada … that’s how we spent the 60s! Yesterday, we read the Vietnam issue and my wife was touched to tears. Being a Korean War veteran, I was struck by the pathos evinced on both sides for what History has established as a fruitless conflict. Thank you for a remarkable edition!

Bill Collins ’49
Springfield, Mass.

To the Editor:

In the April issue of the Holy Cross Magazine, Mr. Donald N.S. Unger noted that Holy Cross was spared the violence experienced by other campuses in the 1969–70 academic year and asked, “Why?” The article credits Fr. Swords (then president of the college), David O’Brien (a history assistant professor) and the sense of community on campus. Since the article deals almost exclusively with the first semester of that year, I would like to address the second semester and offer other factors that were at least as important in avoiding conflict as the ones cited.

1. Pacifist students. There was a large bloc of students at Holy Cross who opposed the war in Vietnam and who also opposed the use of violence in expressing their anti-war views. On key occasions in the spring of 1970, they spoke up or intervened to keep incidents from escalating to violence.

2. ROTC students. As emotions erupted over the Cambodian invasion, the Navy and Air Force ROTC students at Holy Cross adopted a deliberate policy of restraint and conflict avoidance that was intended to prevent confrontations that might explode into something more dangerous.

3. The staff of Today. The daily newsletter was a valuable aid in providing accurate information during the crisis and in squelching rumors that might have snowballed into incidents.

4. Deans Shays, McClain, Harrington, and O’Neil. They were visibly present at the major events of May, yet remained in the background. Students who desired to avoid violence had an immediate outlet for passing information they thought might be useful.

5. Fr. Brooks (then vice president of the College) and Fr. Fahey. As your photo on Page 14 shows, Fr. Brooks was also a visible presence during the crisis. I have no other direct knowledge of his and Fr. Fahey’s contributions, but I suspect they were active in helping Fr. Swords behind the scenes.

6. The small size of the college. Most of the student antagonists in the crisis had shared classes, majors, dorms, other extracurricular activities, and friends. In some classes, there was considerable personal respect, and I think all of this helped temper events.

7. The Kent State example. Nobody remotely expected anything like Kent State to occur at Holy Cross, but it reminded us all of the unexpected directions that uncontrolled passions could take.

8. The fundamental sense of fairness at the college. The majority of students truly believed that while they might disagree with someone, that individual had a right to an opinion.

One final note. In April 1975, I was plane commander of a Navy, land-based, P-3 patrol aircraft operating out of U-tapao Thailand during the fall of South Vietnam. As I taxied out with my crew at dawn on the 28th to support the Seventh Fleet, two South Vietnamese F-5s which had just fled their country were being disarmed at the end of the runway. When we returned at sunset, the field was jammed with all kinds of South Vietnamese military aircraft, including many transports, and I was told that 2500 refugees had flown in that day. The scenario was repeated the next day and, during our dawn to dusk flight on the 29th, another 1500 refugees landed in U-tapao. Their country was gone and the war was over, one of the saddest chapters in American history. While I did not take part in the Vietnam War, I essentially attended the funeral for South Vietnam.

Brendan J. O’Donnell ’71
Fairfax, Va.

To the Editor:

As a proud alumna of The Cross, I am writing to express my enjoyment of Holy Cross Magazine. Since graduating in 1993, the magazine has evolved into a magnificent representation of the pride and honor many alumni exude over their alma mater and the time spent there. This issue in particular, April 1999, did a superb job with its main feature on Vietnam and its effects around the country, including Worcester, Mass., and the Holy Cross community. Kudos to all involved in this classy production. Thank you tremendously for the hard work on Holy Cross Magazine.

Lisa M. Cascio ’93
Norfolk, Va.

To the Editor:

You are doing a marvelous job with the new format of our alumni/ae magazine. While I’ve always enjoyed past publications — every issue — each new edition seems to improve on the prior one. This latest issue on Vietnam was by far your finest. Please keep it up and please thank all of your staff for the effort and care that is so obvious with each issue.

As I said, I believe this Vietnam issue is your best. When I began reading, I did not put it down until I had read it cover-to-cover … NONSTOP! I’ve spoken with some classmates and several other grads and their feelings mirrored mine. And, whether you were “pro” or “anti” war, all were moved by the memories the magazine rekindled. Personally, I had forgotten the depths of the turmoil that raged across America. I hope that your fine work helps the younger generation appreciate the horror that was Vietnam. I lost friends and classmates over there. Others I knew damaged their lives attempting to halt the carnage. That period was also the beginning of the American public seriously questioning the credibility of our government, whether “pro” or “con.” Your work reminded everyone of the many facets of daily life which were seriously, severely impacted by “VIETNAM!”

Thank you and please keep up the excellent journalism. Hold your heads high. You should all be extremely proud of the magazine you’ve created.

Robert P. Trudel ’64
Haddam, Conn.

To the Editor:

The Holy Cross Magazine Vietnam issue is a notable achievement and the writers are all to be congratulated for capturing the tone and complexity of that time. I could barely put it down when it arrived. It is an old story — Vietnam — as old as Cain and Abel, and as new as Kosovo, today. The Wheel of Misery rolls over and over through human history.

Reading it, memories flooded my mind. About my hearing, while going through Freshman Class Orientation in September 1966, of the death of a childhood friend on a jungle battlefield. Of Martin Luther King asking at a rally in Central Park in April 1967, “What will we tell our children we did to stop the bombing in Vietnam?” Of the banner unfurled from the top of St. Joseph Chapel in October 1969 with the words “Jamais plus d’guerre.” Of the confusion I felt during those years at Holy Cross why there were so very few who seemed to feel as I did about the war and the society that created it. Was I — and some close friends, like Richard Dufresne ’70 and Peter Benner ’70, whose struggles of conscience I knew — somehow disordered and the mainstream not?

I entered Holy Cross as an earnest boy intellectually committed to pacifism rooted in the New Testament I read in a Jesuit high school. Four years later, I left Holy Cross committing nonviolent felonies up and down the East Coast to disrupt the war effort any way I could. How is such a change to be explained, even to myself? In between, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are assassinated; the Crusader regularly reports the death of recent graduates; members of my generation are gunned down on college campuses; more than a million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans die; Philip Berrigan ’50 is in prison; and, Daniel Berrigan, S.J., chooses to be a creative fugitive rather than surrender to federal marshals and FBI agents who are, in all probability, also Holy Cross graduates. There is a war abroad and a war at home. I chose not to be a guilty bystander.

What troubles me about the Vietnam issue is the even-handed celebration of warriors and dissenters as though they are the moral equivalent and all choices equal. Did we not all hear the moral injunction of the Commandment “Thou shall not kill,” or understand the Beatitudes’ “Blessed are the Peacemakers?” Or, were they just empty word to the many? While I have learned enough of the horror into which the GIs and lowly junior officers were placed, to be compassionate of their plight (just read We Were Soldiers Once – And Young: la Drang, the Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam, to know what I mean), these thoughts nag me.

Are we not called to discern the Truth? Is Philip Berrigan, of whom a federal judge in Portland, Maine recently called “a moral giant of his generation,” the moral equivalent of a three star general (also a Holy Cross graduate) who had command authority in Vietnam? Should we be nonjudgmental about the choices by each man during those years? Or, is not judgment demanded? Does Holy Cross, a Jesuit institution of higher education, judge right from wrong? Is there a difference between Holy Cross and, say, Ohio State? When will Philip Berrigan be honored with a Sanctae Crucis medal? Are prophets ever honored in their own generation? Or, is their truth too harsh, and the disruption of good order not to be pardoned?

So, accuse me of being mired in recrimination, but the anguish of those years is still raw in my soul. They remain the crucible of my life and perhaps yours as well. For me, the words of Camus still resonate loudly: “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

After three decades, this question still remains: Why did so many Men of Holy Cross serve in Vietnam and so few resist?

Shawn M. Donovan ’70
Hanover, N.H.

 

 

Letters should not exceed 250 words. Due to constraints of space, we will print letters that are representative of the response generated by a given feature. Holy Cross Magazine reserves the right to edit all letters for length and clarity. Opinions expressed in Holy Cross Magazine do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

 

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