Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
The Review welcomes letters from readers and will print
as many of them as space permits. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.
Unsigned letters cannot be used, but names of the writers may be withheld
Stimulated by Ed Savlov's ('46, '48M) letter in the last issue, I would like to describe my experience in being accepted as a student at Rochester's school of medicine.
At the time in 1943 when many of us were called to Army service from New England college campuses, I had completed three years of pre-med in two calendar years at Brown University and had taken my MEDCAT exams.
About a hundred of us arrived at the University of New Hampshire in Durham after induction and were placed in the Army Specialized Training Program. There was some confusion about our ultimate fate, although we were all hoping to go to medical school. In the meantime we did close-order drill and took long hikes by day, packed backpacks repeatedly at night.
Finally, we were informed that the Army had greater need for engineers than it did for doctors. We would therefore either attend engineering schools or be sent to the infantry. The next morning, we unanimously chose the infantry. This nonplused those in power. Several days went by with no activity. Suddenly, the deans of three New England medical schools showed up, interviewed us all, and pronounced that we were all fit to enter the study of medicine.
Our officers then made the astonishing decision that those of us who could arrange admission to a medical school within three days could do so. The remainder would become engineers or infantrymen. Obviously, they expected us all to fail.
Even now, from a distance of 53 years, I am astonished at the élan with which we accepted the challenge. I arranged by phone for several interviews -- leaving many deans disbelieving, all amazed.
Clutching my credentials and barracks bag, I set off by train on a three-day-pass. Travel in wartime meant standing for long hours, often without food or water. My first experience was at Harvard, where I was met with cool disdain and led to believe that my maneuver was unthinkable. The assistant dean at Boston University was more understanding but not willing to grant an acceptance.
An interview with a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale was slightly more promising, but marred by his obvious disappointment at my lack of knowledge concerning ancient Greek poets. Hurtling on, I managed to meet with the professor of medicine at NYU. He was amazed at my plight, and my pulses quickened as we discovered a shared love for choral music. But . . . . no dice! Somewhat dashed, I climbed aboard an overcrowded New York Central passenger car for the 12-hour overnight trip to Rochester and my last hope.
A lovely autumn morning found me trudging across dewy grass surrounding the medical school. At 7:30 a.m., I peered into the office of the assistant dean, Dr. George Packer Berry. He looked me over quickly, noting that I was covered with soot, dragging a disreputable-looking barracks bag, and swaying a little.
Bless his name forever!! He tactfully maneuvered me into a place where I could shower and change uniform. We enjoyed breakfast together in the cafeteria, where he subtly interviewed me while I devoured my food. At meal's end, he led me back to his office, sat me down, retired to his desk, and stared at the wall for several minutes. I struggled to stay awake.
Finally, turning to face me, he smiled and said, "Mr. Monroe, yours is a remarkable story. But," and my heart raced, "I want you to know that you have found a home at the University of Rochester School of Medicine." We shook hands warmly, and after much more talk, I found myself on the Rutland Railroad headed back to my ASTP unit in Durham.
Of course, the train was stopped for four hours by the season's first snowstorm, so my three-day pass had expired and I was AWOL. This meant several hours of night guard duty as punishment (guarding the freshman girls' dorm). But nothing could harm me. I was on my way!
Ralph C. Monroe '48M (MD)
Reader Monroe did better than the Review did in spelling Edwin
Savlov's name correctly. We got it wrong in the Letters column in the last
issue, for which we apologize--Editor.
The most profound influence from my college years was Professor Brian O'Brien, director of the Institute of Optics at the University starting in 1938. Some of my younger colleagues may have trouble understanding how optical science could be so exciting in those days, when there were no lasers, no holograms, no space telescopes. But it was. I guess you had to be there.
Behind his back, his students all called him "Butch," and I'm sure he knew it. Imagine a tall, thin, very dignified incarnation of Dr. Who -- the man of action who knows everything. Now add an Irish twinkle. That was O'Brien. After a storybook career in academia and industry, and even a brush with Hollywood as the inventor of the Todd-AO wide-screen process, he died peacefully in 1992 at the age of 94.
Trained as a physicist, Professor O'Brien taught physiological optics with the skill of a virtuoso. He made me believe that the days of Leonardo and Helmholtz were not dead -- that a man could still master anything worth knowing, if he would but put his mind to it.
Partly in recognition of his work for the government during World War II, O'Brien won the Optical Society's highest award in 1951, then became its president. His inventions ranged from irradiated milk to military instruments. He pioneered the development of fiber optics, and studied waveguide effects in polystyrene models of retinal cone cells, scaled up 80,000 times to match the wavelength of the then available K-band klystron. He was also an accomplished airline pilot.
During my undergraduate years, Professor O'Brien was often away from Rochester, in Washington or at some military test site. World War II had already started in Europe, and like most of his scientific peers, he was determined to make the maximum possible contribution to winning it. There was an apocryphal story about his career as a military consultant, which everyone had heard, but as with most apocryphal stories, an eyewitness could not be found. I repeat it only because, even if it's not true, it illustrates so well the kind of awe in which he was held.
Out in the Atlantic, a battleship and its flotilla are testing some new instrumentation (we didn't call it a "weapons system" in those days). Down the deck strides Professor O'Brien, deep in conversation with the admiral on his right and the general on his left. They are approaching The Black Box, which is strategically placed on the deck with its various appurtenances. In charge of this mysterious device is a baffled young sailor, scratching his head as he looks at the two connectors on top. Then he sees The Great Man approaching, his face brightens, and he holds up two wires: "Which one, doctor?"
Now of course O'Brien has no more idea "which one" than any of the other actors in this little drama, but he thinks faster. He quickly calculates the probability of being wrong and multiplies it by the small amount of damage that would entail. He compares it to the much greater harm that would result from confessing his ignorance in front of the High Brass. Without breaking his stride, he points: "That one!" and the group moves on, with all expectations intact. (Did he guess right? The story never includes that information. After all, that's not the point.)
In his campaign to apply the resources of the institute to the war effort, Professor O'Brien fully included the undergraduates. Being short-handed, he improvised. Every optics major had a job, some on government projects, some as T.A.'s. I was Bob Hopkins's lab assistant in geometrical optics. Far from impairing our education, this wartime training gave us more motivation and resourcefulness than peacetime had ever provided.
The fruit of those three and a half years at Rochester, and the influence of minds like O'Brien's, has probably shaped me in ways I don't even realize. Among the results I do recognize are these: I firmly believe that knowledge is power, experimental science is the only way to understand and control the forces of nature; and the proper study of mankind is man. I believe that scientific discovery is the most exciting and beautiful of all human experiences. What could be more awe-inspiring to contemplate than a star so dense it tears a black hole in the fabric of space, or a molecule that maps all human heredity, or the miracle we call human vision? If these beliefs leave me in a small minority of my species, I have long been at home there.
Donald H. Kelly '44
Los Altos Hills, California
During the early 1940s I was a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Biology. Among the students in the Navy V-12 program on the River Campus was a contingent of Marines. Two of those students were huge muscular specimens of humanity I will call Smith and Jones because I would be fearful of their reactions to this story should I use their real names (which I do remember).
The assignment was to observe a paramecium under the microscope and to make a drawing of it. The Smith and Jones drawings were quite similar, and I brought that situation to their attention. Smith made the lame (and foolish) explanation that they had both drawn the same paramecium. I placed one drawing on top of the other and held them against the window demonstrating they were identical renditions.
There was a brief moment of hesitation, and then Jones yelled, "You stupid bastard, Smith, don't you know that when you copy something you're supposed to turn it the other way so it doesn't look the same!"
Arnold Grobman '43 (PhD)
Vero Beach, Florida
Denise Bolger Kovnat's article "We Were the Lucky Ones" in the Winter 1995-96 Rochester Review was outstanding. In addition to setting the mood,of those years, she hit the nail on the head with her remark that "class identities were blurred during those years."
As a freshman in September 1941, I was one of 196 men who started in the Class of 1945. On December 7 that year Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the fallout was to scatter the graduation of our class over 11 years. With the magnificent help of Nancy S. Griffith of the University staff, the data on what happened to our class has now been determined:
Although many of them left to enter service, 141 of the 196 original members of the class eventually graduated. (Fifty-five others "withdrew" and did not graduate.) The year of graduation -- and (in parentheses), the number receiving their degrees that year -- is as follows: 1944 (32), 1945 (22), 1946 (3), 1947 (32), 1948 (32), 1949 (14), 1950 (2), 1951 (1), 1952 (1), 1953 (1), and 1969(1).
As you can tell from the above, 22 graduated "on time" (in 1945), while 119 graduated in 10 other years. Of the 119 graduating in other years, 56 eventually affiliated with '45; 2 with '44; 1 with '48; and 60 stayed with their actual year of graduation.
Of the 55 who withdrew and never graduated, 10 have since affiliated with '45 and one with '44.
Warren S. Richardson '45
('47 B.A., '50 B.S.)
Washington Grove, Maryland
In the summer of 1943, fresh out of high school, I chose the University of Rochester (as it chose me) without benefit of a personal interview, as wartime travel made such a luxury impossible. My selection was made right out of the catalogue, and I was heading toward unknown territory.
It has been noted in these pages that the military programs had taken over dormitories, fraternity houses, and any other available sleeping quarters on the River Campus. The University offered a boarding- house registry and would assign freshmen a place, if requested. I had been placed with a Mrs. Brostedt at 55 Weldon Street, a short residential street coming off Plymouth near Genesee Park Boulevard.
It took only a few minutes after the door was opened by "Ma" Brostedt for my first question to be answered: I would not be homesick. In fact, I had acquired another mother. In addition to her natural maternal instincts, Mrs. B. had a son about my age who had just been drafted, and it helped her anxiety, I guess, to take me on as a substitute son.
I don't remember how it all worked. I suppose I gave my food ration cards to Mrs. Brostedt. Lord knows, there was no shortage of food. I thought my own mother was a good cook, but I had never heard of Yorkshire pudding until Sunday dinners at the Brostedt board.
Although the military and the civvies didn't mix much on campus, I formed a symbiotic relationship with one sailor as I steered him through German while he slide-ruled me through labs; I couldn't operate one myself.
Two terms were completed by February, just in time for my turn to be drafted in March 1944. I obviously survived the war, with thanks to Dr. Hanhardt, who taught me enough German to make it as a low-level interpreter. Sure, I returned to the University, now on the G.I. Bill rather than a Genesee Scholarship, lived in the Sig house instead of a boarding house, and went on to medical school. But we were now mature veterans, anxious to get on with our lives, and college was not quite the same.
Jerome T. Nolan '49, '52M (MD)
Wilmington, North Carolina
One of the most incomprehensible forms of insanity I have ever had to face in my life was the 06:00 jogging around the dorms we V-12ers did nearly every morning, or so it seemed, even in snow and ice. I remember muttering to myself, as I jogged with my peacoat over my pajamas (for quick reentry into the sack after the jog), "What in hell am I doing here when I have an 8 o'clock calculus exam?" I still don't understand the rationale for this form of torture.
Somehow in the middle of all of the absurd military protocol baggage, the artistic imperative in many of the young men made itself visible. In my friend, "The Ace" Ferrer, now an accomplished French architect, it took the form of drawing the marvelously comic satirical cartoons in the campus paper (edited by my roommate, Dr. A. H. Dube); in my violinist friend Julie Scheier (where are you, Julie?), it took the form of accelerating the tempo on the Bach toccata in order not to be late for the roll call. And the farce did not end with love. I remember one evening walking hand in hand with my girlfriend in Genesee Valley Park being confronted by the Marine commandant," ever vigilant for wayward "swabbies" (how can we forget him?), demanding to see my pass. Fortunately, I did have one. Others were not so lucky and found themselves instantly torn from their books and dispatched to Sampson Naval Training Station. Students to seamen overnight.
Two final comments: Our country has come a long way in this past half century. Look carefully at the photo of E Company in the last issue of the Review (inside front cover). Not a black face. In the entire V-12 program, at least at Rochester, there were no minority group members. That could not happen today. The V-12 program, and its derivative the G.I. Bill of Rights, gave thousands of us the opportunity for a quality university education that would have remained only a dream otherwise. Surely these can be counted as eminently successful national, federal, programs, for which we can thank the wisdom and generosity of our parents' generation.
Norman Eagle '46
The farewell cheers described by Jack Keil (Rochester Review, Winter 1995-96) were for Dick Baroody, Jim Beall, Bill Carnahan, Carlos Chapman, Jack Gair, and Keil, all '44, and Bob Billet and George Hart '45.
Others preceded us and more were to follow -- not only from the University but nationwide. This selection and training program used the hotels and facilities of Atlantic City (and Miami Beach) for basic training. We learned close order drill on the Boardwalk. The monstrous Convention Hall (Miss America Pageant) was for lectures. We were sometimes entertained in the hotel dining rooms by small combos auditioning for the great Glenn Miller Air Force band then being formed.
This departure from civilian and military reality was followed by two months at Syracuse University. We were housed in the "cottages" which resembled the Rochester coop dorms of the time. The "Wild Blue Yonder" was provided by dual instruction in a fleet of Taylor Cubs (Maytag Messerschmitts).
Classification tests at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center resulted in the first of what would be a succession of reassignments of the Loyal Sons and their dispersal to pilot, navigator, and bombardier schools. And this was only the first of our war years.
George Hart '45
Springwater, New York
Copyright 1996, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA