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Post Final Days of Vietnam War; Capt. Alan Olsen
Created by John Eipper on 05/11/17 4:02 AM

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Final Days of Vietnam War; Capt. Alan Olsen (David Duggan, USA, 05/11/17 4:02 am)

On May 2nd, I was asked what had happened to then Capt. Alan Olsen USMC (and I'm sorry for the misspelling: I should have checked), who had flown the second-to-the-last helicopter off the deck of the Saigon embassy on April 30, 1975, 42 years ago.

Although I haven't seen Alan in nearly 50 years, I have been in touch more recently with his twin brother Bret and their parents, who had been part of a life-long cadre of friends whom my parents had cultivated in the western suburbs of Chicago. They (and perhaps one other) are the last survivors of that group of 1950s supper-club suburbanites who fostered the baby boom, built through their taxes the now mostly empty schools in the now underpopulated enclaves, and watched as sex, drugs and rock-and-roll destroyed the culture which they had created and sustained.

Capt. Olsen won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts and left the Corps in the late 1970s with the rank of Major. He married an admiral's daughter and they have lived for the last 40 years in South Carolina, where he has managed a Michelin tire plant in Greenville. He recently turned 68 and I understand that he has retired. His parents still live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where his father and my father were raised and graduated from Glenbard High School (where the mid-1980s coming-of-age-film Lucas was shot). The senior Olsen was an architect and designed the Seven Seas Seaquarium at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, the first salt-water dolphin exhibit far away from any seacoast. He was later the chairman of the board of the Shedd Aquarium when it built the Oceanarium which brought belugas to a habitat thousands of miles from their arctic waters.

I mentioned the cadre of friends which my parents had: five or six couples who had grown up together or had been integrated into the group because of deaths or moves. They would get together monthly for potlucks and golf trips to nearby resorts (The Wagon Wheel in Rockford, Eagle Ridge in Galena, and French Lick in Terre Haute, Indiana), playing bridge through the night. My mother, a tireless networker, was sort of the glue which held that group together and after her death 11 years ago, it largely disintegrated. As a single man living in a city, I suppose my knowledge of what happens among married couples in the suburbs is limited, but I know of no parallel of lifelong friendships among my contemporaries. Whether it's mobility, an increasing insularity or simply the lure of 300 channels on cable, it seems that we live lives separated from the communities which our parents helped create.

This month also marks the 47th anniversary of the Cambodian "incursion" and the follow-on Kent State killings and national student strike. I was a freshman at Dartmouth then, and I could have taken a voluntary withdrawal from my courses, receiving a passing credit for no work at all but chose not to--and whether for fear of my parents' reaction or in some subliminal resistance to the popular self-indulgent culture I cannot say from a vantage point half-a-century removed. Instead, as my more senior colleagues at the Daily Dartmouth withdrew, I devoted myself to sportswriting and playing tennis as a walk-on on the freshman team. I'm glad I did: I honed my writing skills and developed enough of a tennis game to sustain me for the rest of my life.

Later that summer, I received my draft number: 169. Though it put me in the top half of the class, so to speak, it was good enough and I was able to avoid having to face the courage of my convictions that no matter how bad the war in Vietnam was, it was better than the alternative, and I'm sure the 3 million Cambodians who died in the killing fields, not to mention the million or so Vietnamese boat people who fled the tyranny, would agree. Other than Capt. Olsen, none of the offspring of that cadre of my parents' friends had to see a day of service in a foreign field, and he was of course a volunteer. I wonder if they realize how lucky they were.

JE comments:  The suburban 1950s in America conjure up images of martinis, Polynesian meatballs, and Ray Conniff.  David Duggan has recreated the era perfectly.  Another factor that brought that culture to a close:  the two-career household.

David, please tell us more about the "voluntary withdrawal" students at Dartmouth in 1970.  Was this the result of Kent State, the antiwar protests, or the general unrest on campuses?  I arrived at Dartmouth just 12 years later, but never heard mention of it.

I'll make the spelling correction for Captain (Major) Olsen.


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  • Student Strikes 1970: Dartmouth and Elsewhere (David Duggan, USA 05/12/17 4:55 AM)
    I can certainly understand how Dartmouth in the mid-1980s would have downplayed the student unrest of the late 1960s-early 1970s. It was the era of Reagan and Dallas, big hair and big bombs, baseball strikes and getting ahead by going to Goldman Sachs or Salomon Brothers. But there it was a dozen years before and the 1970 national student strike was at the mid-point of four years of springtime irrational exuberance among the students at the nation's elite colleges and universities.

    It all started at Columbia in 1968, where students took over the administration building. There's an iconic picture (how I hate that word) of a sun-glassed and hippie-hairdoed student at the desk of Columbia's president, Grayson Kirk (no relation), smoking one of his cigars. A year later, at Cornell, Harvard and Dartmouth, students took over a building. The photograph of an afroed black student protestor at Cornell with a rifle and a bandolier of ammo graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. Nobody seemed to care that the ammo wouldn't fit into the weapon's chamber. And nobody seems to care now that the student photographed, Tom Jones, is on Cornell's board of trustees. At Dartmouth, students took over the administration building, and were photographed wrestling Dean Thaddeus Seymour, son of a president of the American Bar Association and brother of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Whitney North Seymour, senior and junior) out the door. Dean Thad as he was known, was the model for Dean Wormer of Faber College of Animal House. He later became president of Wabash College in Indiana, one of the last all-male colleges in the United States which is not a religious seminary. The New Hampshire state police was called in to restore order. And at Harvard, SDS took over University Hall. It was the swansong of Pres. Nathan Pusey, a distant relative of one of the founders of the Anglican church's Oxford Movement, Edward Bouviere Pusey.


    As earlier noted, the 1970 student strike was nationwide and started, not quite spontaneously, following the Kent State and later Jackson State (Mississippi--later Walter Payton's alma mater) student killings at the hands of public safety officials (national guard at Kent State, municipal or state police at Jackson State). When I say "not quite spontaneously," the editors of the Ivy League newspapers got together and agreed that they would push their individual schools for a cessation of classes with the option to withdraw without penalty, taking a simple pass in the course. Many seniors, whose graduate admissions had been secured, took advantage. The movement snowballed down the East Coast from there and ultimately many schools throughout the country joined suit. The then-influential New Hampshire newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, called Dartmouth's new president, John Kemeny, a "lemon" for having allowed the students to do this. Kemeny, who had learned his theatrics from Albert Einstein while serving as his mathematician at Princeton, responded by brandishing a lemon at a student rally.


    Fast forward a year, and the restless students, not content with shutting down their own colleges and universities, decided to shut down the government and marched en masse in Washington on May Day 1971, the 100th anniversary of the Paris Commune after the disastrous Franco-Prussian war. Together with Attorney General John Mitchell and senescent FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the government devised a plan to keep the District working (Nixon refused to give federal employees a day off), with barricades throughout the city, and RFK stadium open for business as a jail. More than 12,000 were arrested, the largest mass arrest in US history. I was safely recuperating in the Clinique Ste. Odile in Strasbourg France, after suffering a bout of acute appendicitis and was less than concerned with the students' First Amendment rights being curtailed. More interesting in my view was that French gendarmes were walking around their cities with carbines slung over their shoulders. I didn't think they had to worry about their ammo matching their weapons.


    Hoover was dead a year later and not a day too soon. For nearly 50 years he had ruled the FBI with an iron fist, compromising national security by focusing on the commie threat, meanwhile missing active spies like Alger Hiss and Whitaker Chambers, not to mention the organized crime control of various key industries (Fulton Fish Market, concrete, teamsters). People are quick to compare James Comey and his firing to that of Archibald Cox, the first Watergate special prosecutor, two years after these student excesses (by then the draft was over and Vietnam was on the back burner of national concern as Spiro Agnew had just resigned for having accepted bribes relating to his tenure as Maryland's governor), suggesting that a constitutional crisis is brewing. Other than that both are tall, there is no comparison. Cox, a Kennedy hand (he was solicitor general of the United States in the mid-1960s) was a pure politico; Comey, though Deputy Attorney General under Bush II and Attorney General John Ashcroft, has forsworn any political allegiances. That did not excuse him from becoming Loretta Lynch's and Hillary Clinton's "useful idiot" in saying last July that "no reasonable prosecutor" would have brought charges against Hillary. Jim: it's not your call. Even though you were a prosecutor (US Attorney for the Southern District of New York), your job as FBI director is simply to gather the evidence, not make judgments as to whether it will be admitted or the weight a jury should give it. By stepping over the bounds of proper investigative judgment, you became a liability. Enjoy your retirement.


    JE comments:  David Duggan's memory is photographic, or nearly so.  I cannot remember this amount of detail from last November's elections, much less the events of 47 years ago.  I do clearly recall taking Math 6, or Computer Science for Humanists, with Professor Kemeny in 1983.  His gravitas was matched only by a dry wit, perfectly articulated in his Hungarian accent.

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    • Student Strikes 1970: Dartmouth (Orlo Steele, USA 05/16/17 4:51 AM)

      I would like to comment on David Duggan's May 12 report of students taking over the administration building at Dartmouth in 1969.


      At the time, I had recently returned from a 13-month tour in Vietnam and as a Major, was serving as the Marine Officer Instructor (MOI) with the Navy ROTC Unit at the college. Beginning at the fall term of that academic year the burning issue at faculty meetings centered around the future of the ROTC programs that for the navy had been resident on the campus since WW II. The local SDS chapter, joined by a number of faculty members, was extremely vocal in its demands that the Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC units should be unilaterally terminated right away.


      After considerable debate on the subject, in March of 1969, the college administration announced its decision to accept new ROTC students who were scheduled to arrive in the succeeding fall term, but that no ROTC students would be taken in thereafter. In essence, ROTC would be ended by attrition with the graduating class of 1973. It was this late afternoon announcement that prompted approximately 40 SDS activists to take over the administration building (Parkhurst Hall).  As reported, in the process they bodily evicted the Dean of Students. What David did not mention however, was that the activists also removed the President of Dartmouth, John Sloan Dickey, from his office as well. The heavy front doors of the building were nailed shut. Students sat in the building's windows and hung a large banner which said: "Join Us. Abolish ROTC and military recruiting."


      Needless to say, the incident immediately drew a large crowd of onlookers and eventually television camera crews and print reporters. However the crowds were orderly and no students tried to join those who were already inside. By midnight, the temperature had dropped to -20 degrees, which was normal at that time of year. In the absence of activity, the crowd and media eventually disbursed and went home to bed. At 4 AM while the campus was completely quiet, a contingent of New Hampshire state troopers arrived and surrounded the building. Using a megaphone, the officer in charge told the students inside Parkhurst that they had five minutes to vacate the building.  When the time had expired, about three or four strapping troopers broke through the locked doors and all the students were quickly rounded up and placed under arrest. By 9 AM that morning each student had received a fresh haircut and found themselves standing in front of a magistrate somewhere in the state of New Hampshire. The common punishment for all the offenders was 30 days in the local county jail. Thus the total time it took for the New Hampshire police to restore order on the Dartmouth campus was probably less than thirty minutes. Moreover, the vast majority of student body and faculty were completely unaware that law enforcement officers from outside had even come and gone.


      Years later when I was the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington DC, I happened to mention to Senator Rudman of New Hampshire that I had been the last Marine Officer assigned to Dartmouth College. He asked: "Do you remember when the students took over the administration building? " I told him I remembered it vividly. He then went on to tell me that as the Attorney General of New Hampshire he had written that contingency plan at the request of the Dartmouth leadership following the 1968 takeover of the administration building at Columbia University. He was clearly pleased that his plan had been executed flawlessly and without criticism from the media, or with anyone being injured.


      For John Sloan Dickey however, the incident must have been personally saddening. Prior and during World War II he had a varied and illustrious career as a foreign service officer with the US State Department. In September 1969 he was scheduled and did step down as Dartmouth's twelfth President on the year of the College's Bicentennial Celebration.  For 25 years he had served Dartmouth with distinction and a calming steady hand and was generally regarded by students and faculty alike as one of the most effective and beloved Presidents in the 200-year history of the institution.


      JE comments:  Pres. Dickey lived his final years at the Dartmouth infirmary, Dick's House, after suffering a severe stroke in 1982.  I saw him a couple of times when visiting ill friends.  At the time (1980s), Dickey was in his mid 70s, but seemed much older and frailer.  He died in 1991.


      I'm proud to honor Orlo Steele for his recent contribution to the WAIS Development Fund.  Thank you, General!  Here's the info so you too can be included in the Honor Roll.  Remember:  WAIS donations are tax-deductible in the US.


      1.  via check payable to WAIS:  c/o John Eipper, Goldsmith Hall, Adrian College, Adrian Michigan 49221 USA


      2.  via PayPal:  donate@waisworld.org

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