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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

THE Walking Wounded

Returning servicemen attending Reed on the G.I. Bill resembled their fellow veterans in many respects, in that they rarely spoke of their experiences and wanted, like the rest of the country, to get on with their lives and realize the promise of a peacetime society. But some Reedite veterans bore deep scars from the war, both physical and emotional, and in an environment where keeping pace with the academic regimen was difficult for even the best-adjusted young mind, it could be especially tough for returning soldiers.

On one occasion, though, the response of the Reed community to war’s trauma made national headlines. “Shelley by Moonlight,” as the episode was called, was a quirky, compassionate show of support for a young man damaged by war.

In 1947, Reed student Thomas Kelly ’48, a tennis ace and veteran of the bitter sideshow fight with Japanese forces in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in 1943, haunted the campus as one of those psychiatric casualties. In his peripatetic wanderings he was rarely without a book in hand, and one night he was rousted by Portland police.

George Joseph ’51 recalled the scene in an oral history interview: “This young man, under stress, would get extremely nervous, almost to the point of fainting. Well, he was standing there, under the lamp, reading. The police car stopped, and a policeman yelled to him to come to the car. He just went into spaz. The police threw him into the back of the car and took him down to the police station. Put him in jail. God. For reading Shelley by moonlight—street lamp, actually.”

It hardly seemed fair, recalled June Anderson ’49. “The police stopped him because they thought he was drunk. So they took him into the city and put him in the drunk tank overnight. And he hadn’t had anything to drink. So a bunch of students, in a night or two, decided to stage a protest, and a lot of people went out and started reading Shelley by moonlight as a group.”

Mort Rosenblum ’49 snapped a photo, and the story made the pages of Time magazine.

But offbeat solidarity didn’t disguise the very real toll of war on some Reed students. Alice Moss ’52 recalled an active dating life at Reed, sometimes with older students. “They didn’t talk about their war experiences, really,” she said. “I guess I just considered it normal.”

Fred Rosenbaum ’50 recalled several severely wounded veterans, and others for whom the brisk pace of school was sometimes too much. “A lot of faculty members did not have that time,” he said. “But we all had to cope with it. Some [students] had bad experiences. Some had horrible experiences. Some of them were just happy to be back at school and let it go.”

Rosenbaum, who did not see combat, recalled that political science professor Frank Munk, a pre-war refugee from Czechoslovakia, was among the most compassionate. Munk “had an appreciation for the men and women who came back from the war,” said Rosenbaum. “Munk would have all the time in the world to listen to what the problem was.”

Most of Rosenbaum’s fellow vets made it through Reed in spite of their traumas and demons, he said. “They had a difficult time, but they crossed the bridge and they went on with it: get the hell out of here and get on to work, or med school, or law school, or whatever they wanted to do.”

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007