Vietnam memories, Professor Dale Wright, and an education in coed housing in the 1960s

The Choice of a Lifetime

Regarding “Why We Served” (Spring), I awoke my first morning at Oxy in fall 1964 to find my new Bell-Young roommate and lifelong friend, Brad Santos ’68, heading out the door. “Where to?” I asked. He said, “I’m going down to sign up for ROTC, want to come?” I tagged along and listened to the Air Force’s pitch. What registered was the $75-a-month stipend starting junior year. Count me in.

In many ways that was the most important decision of my life because it led to so much. First, this mediocre English major had a job after graduation. Second, I got to head off to pilot training and do things I’d never imagined. Third, I met my wife two years after graduation at “Go-Go Night” at the Norton Air Force Base officers club. Fourth, when I departed the Air Force in 1973, I got my master’s in urban and regional planning thanks to the GI Bill. And my Air Force experience actually helped me land a job, related to airport environs planning, in a county planning department that I eventually managed.

The Vietnam War was controversial for sure. And traumatic for some, but not for most. Many of us found wonderful opportunities serving in the military. I’m glad Oxy offered ROTC and that I took advantage of it. And I can never repay Brad [above right, next to Burnes] for asking me along.

Terry Burnes ’68
Gardnerville, Nev. 

Coming Home

I flew the first of my 226 combat missions in the F-4 Phantom out of Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, the rest out of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. I visited with Dave Hickson ’66 while passing through his base. As a Nite Owl at Ubon, I flew escort missions above Steve Ryf ’67 in his AC-130 Spectre Gunships. Nite Owl escorts attacked the anti-aircraft batteries that fired at Spectre. That was sporty. I went on to fly Nite Owl Forward Air Controller missions, keeping the Ho Chi Minh Trail under flare light, then on to a Special Air Ops-type group called Wolf. Wolf flew solo patrol missions behind enemy lines. We had only 12 crews and suffered a 42 percent shoot-down rate. Wolf FACs controlled air strikes in support of the Son Tây Prison raid in 1970. I was the last aircraft out of North Vietnam that day.

I returned to Southern California in 1971 and was treated like a criminal. My military haircut drew scornful glares. Oxy was little better. A classmate asked me how I could stand to live with myself. When I was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for taking out a heavy AAA battery, the Occidental publications did not print it. My base public relations office called Oxy to verify that the press release had been received and was told that the school “preferred not to be associated with people like that.”

This did not anger me as I held the then-liberal tolerance for others’ views.  What did anger me was the school ignoring the combat death of Jody Sampsell ’66. I was flying over the trail near the tri-border area when a “Mayday” call came in and later learned that Jody went down that night in that area, near Quang Tri. I linked the two, not verified. That memory haunts me.

I continued to contribute to the College but made it clear that my money went to Tiger track, as I still believed in the purity of athletic endeavor.

Nice cover and article. About time, some would say.

Burt Ballentine ’67
Keller, Texas

Band of Brothers

It was interesting to read Doug Beacham ’64’s account of Occidental alumni who served on active duty in the military during Vietnam. Major Donald A. Brown ’61 (“Casualties of War”) was an ATO fraternity brother. I was able to locate his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., several years ago. For those who have never visited the memorial, I strongly recommend you make the effort. Don is missed by his many ATO brothers.

Several other ATOs from my era also served their country on active duty during the Vietnam era. Among them are Col. Thomas W. Young ’61 (Air Force); Capt. Henry W. Field and Capt. David H. Jones (Air Force Reserve); Capt. Edward Schweizer ’61 (Navy); and Lt. Thomas E. Clark ’61, Lt. E. William Wedmore ’63, and myself, Comm. Coleman A. Swart (Naval Reserve). Each of us has special memories of our service time and are proud to have served during a difficult period of history.

Coleman A. Swart ’61
South Pasadena

The Wright Decision

Thank you for your profile of retiring professor Dale Wright (“The Meaning of Wright,” Spring). I served as an alumni member of the search committee that recommended him for his first appointment at Oxy. I recall what most attracted us to him was the clarity of his teaching and his ability to connect with students. These are quintessential qualities defining both Wright as a teacher and Oxy as an institution. I add my voice to many others in thanking Professor Wright for his exemplary service to Occidental and its students.

Dan Saperstein ’78
Saginaw, Mich.

What Happens in Norris …

Excellent article (“68 Is the New 50”)! However, Norris Hall opened in the fall of 1966, not 1967. It wasn’t exactly coed: Mostly sophomore men lived in one wing, and mostly senior women lived in the other. We did have more liberal hours than other dorms. Yet, as resident assistant, I had the unenviable job of telling our male classmates when it was time to depart the rooms of their female friends.

Lois A. Aroian ’67
East Jordan, Mich.

Landon and Donovan

I grew up with Landon Carter ’57 (Obituaries, Spring) in Burbank. We went to grade school, junior high, and Burroughs High School together. Lanny was the top running back on the football team and California state champion in the 440. In his senior year his family moved to Orange, and Lanny had a serious football/track injury which ruined his athletic career. Due to his positive spirit, he was team manager for Oxy’s Hall of Fame 1957 track and field Tigers. He would have been a star runner on the greatest small-college track team ever. He had a fine career as a coach and teacher in the Orange District plus he became an accomplished motivational speaker.

Donovan Lyon ’56 (“Casualties of War”) has been gone 50 years, dying in the Vietnam War on a combat mission. Don was the best natural leader I have ever known as captain of Oxy’s 1955 football team. Jack Kemp ’57 held Don in the highest regard. His leadership ability would have led to a fine military or business career and he left behind a fine family: wife Janice and children Suzie, Scott, and Donna.

Just wished to convey my thoughts about two outstanding people. Io Triumphe!

Mike Quint '58
Bend, Ore.

Corrections and Additions

A photo caption in “Twenty Something” (Spring) misidentified Richard Via ’19 as Greg Feiner ’18, and vice versa. Our apologies to both New Play Festival playwrights.


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