I found employment close to home at the Michigan Alarm Company. I checked in on Friday evening and stayed in the office until I was relieved on Sunday morning. My job was to alert the police and dispatch a serviceman whenever one of the burglar alarms went off.
On Monday morning I picked up my check for $13.25 and hurried to the Bursar’s office at the University. I gave him $10 and kept the rest for bus fare and everything else.
1947 was a banner year for higher education in America. Nearly eight million returning servicemen clogged the classrooms of colleges, Universities, trade schools and high schools. They had in hand the benefits of the GI Bill, more properly known as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
It was a privilege for a fuzzy cheeked eighteen year old to sit beside 23 and 27 year old veterans of World War II. They had not yet been christened “The Greatest Generation,” but they were special young men who had experienced much, learned a lot, and matured incredibly. They studied hard, played hard and lived the life of college men to the hilt. Over the next thirty years, they triggered the most historic and enviable national prosperity ever known on Planet Earth.
In the Army, the Navy and the Marines they had learned to rise and shine, to make their beds, to follow orders, to be a team, to suffer in silence, to overcome failure, to tolerate pain, and to give one hundred percent of their heart and soul and their physical, mental and emotional selves to finish the job; to win the war.
They were good students. And they set a high bar of competition for kids like me.
My son, Tom Jr., since retiring as a District Judge in Ingham County, has taken on the task of teaching Criminal Justice at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College.
He tells me that he always has three or four veterans in his classes. They are, he assures me, the very best students. They are always in class, always on time, always prepared. They complete their assignments. On time. On target.
I got to thinking about all of this the other evening while watching the television. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the President of the United States, was addressing a group of Indiana voters, and a young man stood and was recognized to ask a question of the candidate.
He is, he said, a high school senior, and while he had not yet made up his mind about the Primary Election, he was drawn to Bernie Sanders, whose promise to provide free college education certainly had a lot of appeal to someone in his position.
Cruz, the true and consistent conservative, proceeded to assure the young man that, if elected President, he would trigger a cornucopia of good paying jobs enabling college graduates to repay their monstrous student loans in short order.
Then a few days later, Donald Trump was addressing a crowd on Greta Van Susteren’s show and he was asked the same question by another high school senior.
He gave the lad the same unconvincing answer Ted Cruz offered. Somebody should tell the Republicans that Adam Smith’s free enterprise scenario doesn’t wash with Generation Z – the Centennials. That’s why they are ‘feeling the Bern.‘
The true Republican answer to the young folks ought to be very simple: “Join the Army.” The GI Bill was renewed after 9/11. Republicans should make sure it is well funded and better known. The free college education promised by Socialist Sanders would condemn the next generation to an extended adolescence. But the GI Bill will do for them what it did for their grandfathers; reward them for their service to the nation and recognize their maturity as veterans.
They should, in the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what their country can do for them, but ask what they can do for their country.”