Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vietnam--Volume II

Rand Terrace Speak-Out

Throughout the years we were at Vanderbilt, from time to time there were Speak-Outs held on Rand Terrace. Many times the topic of intense discussion was the War in Vietnam, with strong opinions being expressed by both those who opposed the war and those who supported President Nixon and his policies.

These forums were a matter of ongoing interest both on and off campus, as you can see from the signs and the crowd of students present in the photo above, as well as the local media coverage represented by the TV news film camera and the WMAK Radio tape recorder you can see in the picture.

The War took a major turn in early May of 1970 when President Nixon announced an invasion of Cambodia as a way to eliminate sanctuary areas where Viet Cong and North Vietnam fighters had bases located, and where they could flee to safety after attacking American forces inside South Vietnam.

The Cambodian "incursion" as it was called by the Nixon administration outraged those who opposed the war and no doubt concerned many on campus about the possibility of the conflict permanently widening and the military draft (which had just been changed to a lottery system) being extended and enlarged again.

Protests sprung up all over the country. Unfortunately,some led to violence and tragedy with students shot and killed by National Guard troops at both Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State University in Mississippi.

The unrest also led President Nixon to ask Vanderbilt Chancellor Alexander Heard to get involved and become his special assistant for campus affairs for a two month period. Below is a photo from the assembly held in Neely Auditorium on May 8, 1970, announcing his appointment, with the Chancellor addressing both members of the faculty and students that day...

Chancellor Heard speaks in Neely Auditorium

Working at WRVU, which was located upstairs in Neely Auditorium, Steve Womack and I (along with our fellow WRVU News Council members, Jack Walton and Don Powell, Class of 1972), took advantage of the opportunity to tape the Chancellor's remarks, then sell them to ABC Radio News in New York. It was a real big deal for us at the time, although as I recall, I don't think we got paid more than $25 or $50 for what we did.

Meantime, courtesy of the Vanderbilt TV News Archives, here's how the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and White House correspondent Dan Rather reported the news about Heard's appointment and the ongoing student protests, which after Kent State and Jackson State had spread to Washington....

The national student strike that Dan Rather mentions in his report, did not got very far at Vanderbilt, although the faculty at Peabody voted to close that school for several days in protest of the Cambodian invasion and the students being shot.

Back at Vanderbilt, there was an anti- war protest organized to coincide with the annual Naval ROTC spring review on Alumni (then called Neely) Lawn. But with some brawny football players standing by and recruited to keep the two sides apart, not much happened.

Not surprisingly, on a national level, the anger over what happened especially at Kent State, made its way onto the airwaves with songs like OHIO by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young....

If you have any thoughts or memories of this turbulent time, please feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link below.

Coming Next: William Kunstler, Jerry Rubin and the Nashville March Against Repression.


Steve said...


You've got to get a life man. You're living in 1970 and 2008 at once.

Your Vietnam postings prompted the memory of the 10-15-1969 moratorium and the Kent State Shootings.

I posted way back when about the fact that all of us in Chemistry 101 had our midterm on October 15, 1969. Needless to say even yours truly, later to be the King of the Skip, was there in the Science Center with my trusty Blue Book.

After the test I came up and watched fascinated as the UPI machine (affectionally nicknamed Fred) spewed out reams of news from around the world. Every hour it came out with a "World News Update" a perfectly concise view of the world's news that made for a flawless "rip and read" newscast.

Naturally when your shift ended and my shift began, instead of the "World News Update" Fred disgorged "The World New Roundup". The difference was the "World News Roundup" was designed for stations that had a thirty minute evening news block, and by the time it was time to give my first newscast of the late afternoon shift (3:20), only one story (on the moratorium) had "cleared the wire."

For anybody listening that day at 3:20, that one story WAS the news, the ONLY news!

The date of the Kent State shootings, I remember coming up the stairs to find you looking positively ashen! Your sandwich from home and 10 cent 10 ounce Coke practically untouched. (That told me something was terribly wrong,) I remember you just pointing at the UPI machine and not saying a word.

At 2:20 when the news stinger went off, you pulled on your headset, turned on the mic, and told the campus what had happened just a few minutes before in Ohio. After the newscast, you spoke for the first time, telling me to tape and monitor ABC at the bottom of the hour to see with they had any actualities (real people telling the story first hand). Then and only then did you utter something about "that could have happened anywhere, even here!"

Then we turned back to our work, we were Freshmen, but we were newsmen, and we had less than 15 minutes to pull off the next 20-20 newscast. We did it for the rest of the afternoon and then turned it over to God. By the time I dropped you off at your house the news was over, but we felt there might be a special on TV that night.

Things were different back in 1970.

Steve Womack

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