• Interviewee: Bird, Richard R.
  • PDF Interview: bird_richard.pdf
  • Date: April 6, 2012
  • Place: Piscataway, NJ
  • Interviewers:
    • Shaun Illingworth
  • Transcript Production Team:
    • Jesse Braddell
    • Shaun Illingworth
    • Monica Licourt Bird
  • Recommended Citation: Bird, Richard R. Oral History Interview, April 6, 2012, by Shaun Illingworth, Page #, Rutgers Oral History Archives. Online: Insert URL (Last Accessed: Insert Date).
  • Permission:

    Permission to quote from this transcript must be obtained from the Rutgers Oral History Archives. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Richard Bird on April 6, 2012, in Piscataway, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth. Mr. Bird, thank you very much for having me here today.

Richard Bird: You're welcome.

SI: To begin, can you tell me where and when you were born?

RB: I was born in 1939 in the base hospital at Fort Jay on Governor's Island in New York Harbor. My father was an enlisted man in the Army and he was stationed there. My mother was an immigrant from Germany who was living in Brooklyn. They got together and I got born. [laughter]

SI: What were their names?

RB: My father's name was James Henry Bird. My mother's maiden name was Mary Frances Ames.

SI: Okay. Your father was originally from Nebraska.

RB: He was born in Arapahoe, Nebraska, grew up in Wyoming and Nebraska, graduated high school, got a scholarship to the state university in Nebraska, but couldn't take it because he had to work to help support his family. He worked on ranches and joined the Army when things, the economic situation, got pretty bad.

SI: He joined the Army a few years before World War II even started in Europe.

RB: He was in the Army before World War II started, not sure about the date, but it was in the '30s, a few years before I was born, I think.

SI: He grew up in Nebraska. Do you have any ideas about how the family came to Nebraska, why they settled there, anything about his family background?

RB: A member of the family wrote a family history a few years ago, and one branch of the family emigrated from Ireland, in, I think, the 1800s, and made their way out there; not sure about the other branch of the family, but there's German and Irish.

SI: Did your father ever tell you any stories about what it was like to grow up in that area, or what it was like to be working as a ranch hand on these ranches?

RB: I remember asking him what was his horse's name [was], because--was it Trigger [Roy Rogers horse] or Tony? Tony was Gene Autry's--no, that was Champion. Tony, maybe, was, anyway, somebody else's horse [Tom Mix]. So, I was kind of shocked that he said, "The horses didn't have names, and we never had the same horse every day." So, that was kind of disappointing.

Actually, he did one tour in Japan when I was very young, about first grade, I guess, and we stayed in Nebraska with his family out there. So, I got a feel for what it was like living in that area, but he lived in a bunk house, I know that.

SI: Did he experience the Dust Bowl?

RB: He didn't mention the Dust Bowl. He had six brothers and a sister. His sister ended up living with us after my parents broke up, sometime in the '50s, I think, when I was about ten years old.

His sister was a maiden aunt, you might say, in the olden vernacular. She was deaf. She was obese. She was living with one of my uncles in California and she had no livelihood except to live with one of her brothers and be a housekeeper. So, when my mother left, my father invited her out to stay with us. So, she was the housekeeper.

SI: What about your mother's family background? She was originally born in Germany.

RB: She was born in Bamberg, Germany. Her father, (Anton?), fought in World War I. The story I got from my grandmother, when they saw the rise of the Nazis, my grandfather said, "There's another war coming. Let's get out of here." In 1929, they came to the United States.

I think my mother was--well, she was about nine years old. She said she taught herself English by doing crossword puzzles. She was always good at word games. I don't know if she finished high school or not. She worked as an au pair when she met my father.

I found out, later on, after they broke up, that she went to work for a union as a business manager, the union that built the New York Thruway. So, she was travelling with the Thruway, up through New York State. I never had any contact with her until forty-one years later. So, this is when this [was discovered], how this information came to me, after we got back together.

SI: She had been living in Brooklyn at the time they met.

RB: Yes. My grandmother was very upset because they weren't married. My parents weren't married. My mother told me that my grandmother came to their apartment in Brooklyn and took me to a church to be baptized, a Catholic church; christened, I guess it's christened. I don't know if that's a true story or not. [laughter]

So, they got married a few months before I was born. When the war broke out, my father, who was a sergeant at the time, was promoted to lieutenant. So, we had pretty nice base housing, officer housing. We lived in Raritan Arsenal, right on the golf course, in a nice, little cottage for a while. At another point, we lived in officer housing in Letterkenny Arsenal, near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It was a mansion, an actual mansion. The government had just conscripted these houses to billet officers.

After the war, he was given the option of being discharged as a lieutenant or staying in the Army as a sergeant. He stayed in.

SI: Do you know where he had been posted prior to the outbreak of the war? He was at Governor's Island when you were born, but do you know where he had served otherwise?

RB: I know he spent some time in Panama, in the Canal Zone. There are lots of photographs I have from that time when he was down there. I know he did training in Fort Gordon, Georgia. He did war games in Fort Gordon. His branch was Ordnance. At Camp Kilmer--we lived in Camp Kilmer for a couple years--he was a sergeant at that time.

SI: Was that after the war?

RB: Yes, that was in the '50s. As I said, he did--I think he did two tours in Japan. Where was he when the war broke out?

I can remember when we were in Raritan Arsenal. I think the war was already underway, because there were prisoners of war kept there and some of them escaped. I was very young, but I remember these things, somehow. I also remember sirens at night, blackouts, searchlights in the sky. See, I think he was in Raritan Arsenal when the war broke out.

SI: Are those your earliest memories, of living at Raritan Arsenal?

RB: I remember that. I remember my mother and my grandmother trying to potty train me, [laughter] which traumatized me at the time. I remember the golf course. That's about what I remember from that period. I was quite young.

SI: You mentioned the POWs escaping. Did you have to stay inside, or did they just tell you about this later?

RB: Either I heard my parents talking about it--that's probably how I knew. I heard them talking about it. I think there was also an occasion when a magazine blew up, probably an accident.

SI: You remember Raritan Arsenal. When you were a little older, you were at Letterkenny in Pennsylvania.

RB: I remember Letterkenny. We lived in a beautiful mansion. There were acres of land that were behind a stone wall. The mansion, it was three stories and there was a soundproof room in the attic. I don't know why that was up there, but that was a great place to play imaginary games. There were flocks of pheasants around on the ground and cherry trees with big, fat cherries, a barn. I remember going to the officers' club with my father and him playing the slot machines. He hit the jackpot. He put his hat under the slot and all these silver dollars came pouring out.

I remember, about being on an Army post, at five o'clock, the reveille would sound. Somewhere on base, they'd be lowering a flag. They'd shoot a cannon and, if you were in your car, you had to stop, get out of the car, face toward wherever the flag was and salute. I remember doing that on several occasions. That was fun.

SI: Tell me a little bit more about daily life growing up on an Army post. Were there a lot of other children your age around, or were you pretty isolated?

RB: What I remember most was Camp Kilmer, because I was in grammar school by then. The kids on base went to Stelton High School--Stelton Grammar School, rather--in Edison, which, at the time, was called Raritan. So, I went a year or two there and I spent third grade at Lincoln Grammar School in New Brunswick. So, there were lots of kids my age on post.

The Helyar Woods was right there behind our barracks, and we played in the Helyar Woods every day. We played soldier. My father pitched for the post baseball team. I remember going to some games. I went to work with him on a couple of occasions. At the time, he was working in a motor pool on base; that didn't have much to do with ordnance. I had to polish his shoes and shine his brass, and I really hated that. [laughter]

There was a swimming pool very close to our place. There was a movie theater very close to our place. I remember, on Armed Forces Day, going to the movie theater and they would show newsreels of the war. The war was over, but it was Armed Forces Day. They would show newsreels of the war, and I remember seeing newsreels of the death camps in Germany and Austria. Until then, we were Nazi fans. I mean, kids kind of took to the disciplinarian, authoritarian air, I guess, of Nazism. We used to have swastikas. Then, after I saw this film, I was just so shocked and mortified. I lost interest in that kind of stuff.

SI: Do you mean, like, when you played games with other kids, you would pretend to be the Germans?

RB: Well, we used to--I'm not sure about whether we played, "I'll be the German and you be the American"--but we liked to collect Nazi memorabilia. Camp Kilmer was a post where soldiers from Europe, after the war, processed through there on their way to being discharged. So, there were thousands--I think, the number fifty thousand sticks in my head--of troops on that post.

[Editor's Note: As a staging area for the New York Port of Embarkation, Camp Kilmer became one of the United States' largest World War II processing centers, with approximately 1.3 million men passing through on their way overseas, then, receiving over a million returning servicemen at the war's conclusion.]

We kids used to go through their barracks. I remember, they were triple bunked. The bunks were very close together and the soldiers were just hanging around. They had nothing to do. We used to go through there and we'd say, "You have any foreign money you don't want? Do you have any insignias you don't want?" Every kid in my neighborhood, in the sergeants' area--sergeants lived in one area, officers another--had a big sack of foreign money, foreign coins, shoulder patches, hat brass, I remember Russian hat brass. Then, we'd go to the PX and we'd beg quarters from the soldiers to buy whatever candy or whatever. It was a strange life. [laughter]

SI: This was in 1946 or so, when they were coming back from World War II.

RB: This would be--I remember, I was there in '48, I think it was '48, when Truman desegregated the military services, and it was overnight. It was an overnight thing. Before that, the black soldiers were stationed in one area. I remember, it was Area Six and it was right next to the post stockade--no coincidence, I'm sure. [Editor's Note: In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the Armed Forces.]

That stockade was used to film the concentration camp scenes in the movie The Pawnbroker [(1964)] with Rod Steiger. If you watch that movie, there's a scene where the Jews have their hands on the barbed wire and the guards are pulling their rings off. When I saw that, I said, "Hey, that's Camp Kilmer." I found out, later on, it really was Camp Kilmer.

The next day, they were dispersed. After he gave the order, there was no more Area Six, but they continued to have the menial assignments. They were the garbage collectors. They were the guys who came around at five in the morning and stoked the furnaces and took the coals, hot coals, ashes out and shoveled in the new coal.

SI: Do you remember if there was a negative or positive reaction to the desegregation order among the troops you knew, your family, other families?

RB: Not that I was aware of.

SI: Did you interact with the children of African-American soldiers?

RB: No.

SI: I know Camp Kilmer was also used as a processing center during the Korean War. Were you there at that time, or was your father reassigned somewhere else?

RB: My father was in Japan during the Korean War, and we lived just outside the gates, in one of the first Levittowns. It was about a mile from the main gate. We lived there during the Korean War and my father, as I said, was stationed in Japan. My mother was afraid he was going to get sent to the war, but he didn't.

SI: Where was this town? Was it in Nebraska?

RB: We lived outside the gates of Camp Kilmer. Stelton, it was called Stelton, but, now, it's Edison.

SI: Earlier, I think you mentioned that you lived with your father's family when he was in Japan. Was that a different tour?

RB: It was a different tour.

SI: All right.

RB: So, we lived in Camp Kilmer twice, once before his first tour in Japan, and then, we went to Nebraska, lived there for about a year. Then, he came back from Japan, went to Camp Kilmer again. We were stationed there until he went on another tour to Japan. Then, we moved off base and lived in Stelton/Edison.

SI: How did the Army treat military families then? I mean, at the time, the Army was kind of shifting from only focusing on the men to now realizing that they have families, but not quite taking the best care of them in all cases. Did you find that to be the case in your experience?

RB: I got the impression that my family was very poor. I think the other families in our neighborhood area were poor. That's the way we thought of ourselves.

There was--see, medical care, I went to the same clinic that the GIs went to if I had a problem. I went to the post dentist. The dentist--I mean, there were probably more than one--got transferred or discharged in the middle of my treatment. So, I had a lot of temporary fillings in my mouth for the next [few years], into high school. It cost me a few of my teeth, because they never got completed.

SI: You went in for one appointment, and then, the next time, he was discharged.

RB: One appointment, he says, "I'm going to put temporary fillings in all these teeth, and then, you come back in next month and I'll fill them." Next month never came. He was gone.

It was fun. It was fun being a kid in a setting like that. I always thought that I myself would have a career in the Army. I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up.

SI: You had two siblings.

RB: I had two sisters, born a couple years after I was, Carol and Cathy.

SI: One reason why I am asking so much about military families is that my wife's family comes from a military background. One thing I got from them is that your position in life is directly tied to the person in the service's rank and position. How did that play out in your experience? Was it very regimented? Did that translate into, "You don't play with these kids?"

RB: Well, that's interesting. We lived in Area One. I still remember the barracks number. We lived in barracks, Barracks 117. Our fathers were all sergeants. Over in Area Two were the officers' quarters, and those kids were snooty and we didn't mix with them. If we went over there, we were just kind of ignored, I guess. I was going to say we got in some fights with them, but we probably got in fights with each other is more likely, games, fighting games.

My father worked for a while in post headquarters, which is where the commanding officer was. Post headquarters is right across the street from the post officers' club, I think it was; yes, the officers' club, right across the street. It's now the Livingston daycare center. The post headquarters is now where Computer Repair is. So, I remember being among ranking officers and didn't really get an impression that my father felt intimidated by anybody.

Yes, I can remember, there was an NCO club, there was an officers' club, and there was an enlisted men's club. One of them burned down, right on the edge of Helyar Woods. That must've been the officers' club; it was in a nice, woodsy setting. That burned down. The foundation of it is still there in the woods. You can see it.

I remember, I went into the enlisted men's club. As a kid, we used to just walk all over the place, go into PXs, go into the clubs. The enlisted men's club had a buccaneer motif to it, for some reason. [laughter]

SI: Did your family get most of their food from the PX, or did you have other sources?

RB: There was no commissary that I can think of. The PX wouldn't have sold things like groceries.

SI: Yes, I meant commissary. Did you have to go out into the local economy?

RB: I'm pretty sure we did, yes.

SI: Growing up in this area, at the time, Rutgers is growing, Camp Kilmer is changing. Did you have much interaction with Rutgers at that time as a kid? Did you ever come down here and go to sports events?

RB: No, I wasn't even aware that it existed.

SI: When your father was sent overseas to Japan on those two tours, do you know what he was doing?

RB: Well, he was messing around with the Japanese women, I know that. [laughter] There were pictures that he brought back of American GIs in the company of Japanese women, at picnics, at parks. What his assignment was, it had to be something to do with ordnance, because that was his branch at the time.

He brought back some souvenirs. He brought a real fine kimono for my mother. He brought a couple of Japanese ceremonial swords. We went out and played--I was living in Edison at the time--we went out and played in the streets with the swords. They ended up being broken or lost.

My mother never saw the kimono, because, while my father was in Japan on this second tour, she'd began an affair with a guy in the neighborhood. My grandmother somehow was aware of it, sent a letter to my father. He got a compassionate transfer back to Camp Kilmer and my mother was aware that he was coming back. She didn't want to face the music. So, she and her boyfriend took off to the New York Thruway. [laughter]

My father came home to three kids and a babysitter--and a lot of anger. He kept us all together, brought my aunt out to take care of us, and then, he got a compassionate discharge. I'm sure he would've stayed in another ten years. As it was, he only had twenty years. He's buried in a military cemetery on Long Island. He had a four-gun salute. I don't know how they determine how many guns you get, but he got four. What was the question? [laughter]

SI: I was asking about what he did in Japan. You were in this new living situation. Were you living in Edison at the time, or is this still Stelton?

RB: Stelton, yes, Stelton/Edison, right on Plainfield Avenue, right across the street, just about, from Camp Kilmer, near the train station there.

SI: You were ten years old then, thereabouts.

RB: Yes.

SI: You may not know this, but were these kind of family situations common among military families, that you were aware of, at that time?

RB: I think it was. I don't have any personal recollection. I think it was. That's all I can say.

SI: At the time, you were in grammar school. Tell me a little bit about your early education, what you thought of the schools and the teachers, that sort of thing.

RB: Well, Stelton School--we lived in Camp Kilmer--I went to first and second grade there. I really enjoyed school, enjoyed learning. In fact, I always liked school better than home. School was where I got attention or I got approval, and I enjoyed learning.

Then, there was a break and we were in Nebraska. I'm not sure what grade I was in in Nebraska, in Lexington, Nebraska. I don't remember much about that school, except that the fire escape was a big tube that you slid down. It used to get blazing hot inside that tube and we tried to run up the tube as far as we could before the heat overwhelmed us. Then, we'd slide back down. [laughter]

Back to Camp Kilmer, Edison, back to Stelton School, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade, doing well in school, enjoying the education. I remember thinking, I always thought that I was special because of my military background, that I was somehow different from the other kids, superior to them.

I remember when we first moved to the place in Stelton. We'd only been in the house a couple of days and I saw some kids playing in the yard of the houses on the next street over. I said, "Look at those queers." In those days, queers didn't mean what it was today, it was just, "They are weird kids." My mother said, "How do you know they're queers? You haven't even met them," but it's because I came from Camp Kilmer and they didn't. So, that's interesting that that came to mind, because I guess, even after I lost sight of where that attitude came from, the attitude didn't go away for a long time.

SI: I was going to ask if many of your fellow classmates were also from military families, but I guess maybe they were not if you felt unique.

RB: I know there were kids that went to the grammar school from Camp Kilmer with me and my sisters, because we went by bus, but, once we got into the school, we were just dispersed. We weren't a clique or anything like that. I don't have much memory of those kids being in school with me. I just remember them running around the base.

SI: Going back to living on the base, it seemed like you did a lot of stuff on your own. Did they have anything for kids, like sports leagues?

RB: Nothing, no, nothing.

SI: Did you get involved in anything like that when you were in school, any athletics or clubs?

RB: I was not a joiner. I didn't develop good social skills, and so, I wasn't a joiner. I considered myself popular, but I wasn't sure. [laughter] I was on the track team in high school and the football team. I joined the bird study club in high school, because I thought it was funny that my name is Bird and I'm in the bird study club, but I lost interest in that in a hurry. I was in stamp collecting club for a while. I never stayed with anything. That was about it for clubs and sports in high school.

SI: What were your favorite subjects? You said you were very into school and enjoyed it, but was there a particular subject, humanities or sciences, that you liked?

RB: No, I pretty much enjoyed it all. I was good at everything. I was able to excel without much effort. I didn't do much reading, I didn't do much homework; I was able to excel just on what I picked up in class. Then, when I got in high school, the math got more difficult and I couldn't pick it up in class. I just didn't have the discipline or the interest, whatever, to study it and work at it. So, my math skills definitely went down. I enjoyed English and history, biology, I liked it all, except trigonometry. [laughter] Geometry, I loved, trigonometry, not so much. I had a real problem when I got to Rutgers with math. If it wasn't for basic statistics, I would not have met the math requirement.

SI: Growing up in this area, with this military background, in the 1950s, the time of the Red Scare and the great fear of Communism, do you remember being indoctrinated about that or that being a discussion in your household, or something you thought about?

RB: I remember the Red Scares, I remember McCarthy. I remember bumper stickers that said, "Rid Rutgers of Reds." My father--by this time, I was living with my father and my aunt--he didn't talk about it much, if at all. He was kind of apolitical; he seemed to be against everything. So, no, aside from what I picked up from radio or newspapers, there was not much going on in my family about that.

SI: Okay. After your father retired, he went to work. I forget if you said he went to work as a civilian at Raritan Arsenal.

RB: After he left the Army, he worked as the manager of a PX in Camp Kilmer. I remember going to the PX with him and wandering around the stockroom. Oh, this takes me back to--I was going to say wandering in the stockroom and filling my pockets with insignia and brass and stuff like that--but I remember, when we were kids on the post, we broke into this building that was a barracks. It was unoccupied.

There were shelves and shelves of brand-new, unopened packages of shoulder insignia from [the Army]. I mean, the guys who made up these insignias for special detachments, what imaginations, what artists they were. They were just beautiful, and we already had our collections of patches that we got from the GIs in the barracks. They were used and worn. Here's some brand-new ones, and ones we had never seen before. So, every kid was just grabbing bunches of these. I kept mine in a suitcase under my bed.

One night, there was a knock on the door and there were some MPs [Military Police] at the door. My father came in my room that I shared with my sisters and said, "Where are they? Where are the shoulder patches?" pulled out the suitcase and he gave them all to the MPs, including the ones that I had legitimately collected on my own that weren't stolen. Then, I got a pretty good whipping.

So, anyway, he worked as the manager at the PX, and then, he left rather abruptly. I don't know if he quit or, because the base was downsizing, he got laid off, or were there improprieties? I don't know. He just, one day, didn't go back to work. Then, he got a job as a clerk in a hardware store in Stelton, and I think that was the last job he held.

So, he lived on his military pension. He got his medical care at the post hospital in Fort Monmouth and he bought his cigarettes at the PX. When he died, his closet had about forty cartons of Camels. We didn't know any better at the time--we donated them to a VA hospital. [laughter] So, I'm lost right now.

SI: Let me ask you a few questions about high school. You went to high school in Highland Park. At that time, was Highland Park a regional school?

RB: Edison, at the time, it was Raritan Township, and then, there was some movement by some people to change the name to Edison, because there were two other Raritan Townships in the state. The post office had a problem delivering mail, according to these people. So, there was a ballot, a referendum on the ballot.

People didn't understand that there were two choices; there were three choices. Staying Raritan wasn't on the ballot, changing the name to Edison or Nixon--Nixon was another option, because there was a portion of the town that was called Nixon--and people didn't know that you had to vote "No" on both for it to stay Raritan. So, it became Edison, but, anyway, a digression there.

So, Edison didn't have a high school at the time, and kids who were leaving eighth grade first went to Clara Barton School in Fords for ninth grade, and then, were farmed out. At this point, there were lots of Levittowns in Edison. So, kids were sent either to Highland Park, New Brunswick or Perth Amboy, depending on what part of Edison they lived in. So, I was sent to Highland Park. By the time my sisters graduated, Edison had its own high school. My one sister was in the first graduating class. So, that's how I got to Highland Park High School.

SI: You said you played sports there, football and track. What positions did you play?

RB: I was a quarter-miler and I was an end, defensive end.

SI: Who were the big rivals then?

RB: Oh, Metuchen, for sure. When I was in high school, we never beat Metuchen. [laughter] I mean, we would be 7-0, and then, lose to Metuchen. I mean, we had a pretty good team. I remember, one year, the Metuchen kids came overnight and painted graffiti all over the high school, how they're going to kick our asses in the football game, and then, they did. That was the big rival.

Sayreville was another one, only because they had this tailback. They were a single-wing school. They had this tailback, Thomas (Red Michaels?), who was going to rip us up, according to the newspapers. We beat them, 47-0, but Frenchtown ruined one of our unbeaten seasons, North Hunterdon ruined another unbeaten season, and Metuchen ruined all three of them.

SI: You said you excelled in school. Were there any teachers in particular that were getting you thinking about going to college? When did the idea about going to college form, just in general, not specifically Rutgers?

RB: That's a very interesting question. When I arrived at Highland Park, they took all the newcomers into an assembly in the auditorium. They said, "Okay, now, this is going to be the most important decision of your life. You have to decide whether you want to be in the college prep program, the general program or the business program, vocational program. So, go home and discuss this with your parents and let us know." So, I went home. I said to my father, "They want to know what program I should choose." He said, "I don't care, pick one." [laughter]

So, I picked--I don't know why--I picked college prep, because I had no thought of going to college. Then, when it came time to graduate high school, I had no idea what to do with life. I had never been given any goals as a kid. I had no ambitions, no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I remember when I was a kid and people would say, "What do you want to be when you grow up, little boy?" I would say, "I don't know." I did think I wanted to be a soldier, but it wasn't a career goal. It was just something that I probably would enjoy, but I really didn't when it happened.

So, I was really at a loss, "What's going to happen next?" and I was scared to death. So, I hadn't applied to any colleges. So, during the spring in my senior year, I quickly applied to a couple of colleges, just to continue high school. I saw it as four more years of high school and I wouldn't have to decide what to do with my life until then. So, I was admitted to William and Mary and I was admitted to Rutgers. My father allowed me to live at home while I went to school at Rutgers, so, that was a big problem solved.

Money was a problem. I was given a state grant, five hundred dollars a year, and, unbelievably, at the time, five hundred dollars, pretty much, if you didn't have to pay for meals and a room, was enough to pay tuition and buy some books.

SI: You entered Rutgers in 1958.

RB: I entered in '58. I was totally unprepared for college. I had no study skills. I was just astounded at the level of focus and concentration and effort that they were expecting out of me, and I could not handle it. I flunked out after the first year, didn't know what to do next. I took a job in the post office as a mail carrier, letter carrier, a temp. I didn't take the Civil Service exam, and that reminds me--well, we didn't get to my Army career, so, that can wait. Okay, I'll just finish this part, and then, you can ask me what you were going to ask me.

So, after a year in the post office, I applied for readmission and I got readmitted to Rutgers. I struggled through the next three years. I went out for track, but I found that I was no longer the athlete that I was in high school. I lasted about two practice sessions and dropped that before they could drop me. Bounced around--I wanted to study archaeology, because I really wanted to study paleontology, because I was always fascinated by dinosaurs. The closest they [offered]--I don't know if they had an archaeology department, probably not--but I thought, somehow, I thought geology was going to be the closest to what I was interested in.

Well, chemistry, you have to know chemistry. [laughter] I couldn't handle chemistry. So, I changed my major to English and, in English, oh, my God, I could only read twenty pages an hour at tops, and they wanted you to read a book a day in the English program. So, I happened to be taking Geography 101 and I aced it. At the time, the grading system was "1" through "5." So, I got a "1," "A." I said, "Well, you can't beat success."

I changed my major to geography and, eventually, got my degree in geography, but not before flunking out again, because, the same story, when it came [to] my senior year and here comes graduation, I'm not ready for it. I don't know what to do next, I'm afraid--same story as in high school, but no place else to go.

So, I basically stopped going to class and just hung out at the Ledge, which was the student center at the time, playing pool, and flunked out again, with the intention that what I would have to look forward to was coming back. I could come back to college. So, after I flunked out, I got a job in construction. I went to the draft board and moved my draft number up, so that I would get drafted, and I did, in July of '63.

SI: I wanted to ask some more questions about Rutgers while we are on that topic.

RB: I could tell you that there were the men's schools and there was Douglass. Rutgers College was all-male. The Agriculture School, I think they called it at the time, was all-male. Engineering was all-male, and I think that was it for the men's schools. Gym, I mean phys. ed., was mandatory. We used to swim without bathing suits, because it's a same-sex gym class, no suit needed, no women around. They were all over at Douglass. If you wanted to meet a woman, you had to take a course at Douglass, and I did. I took "Music Appreciation," just to get over there.

SI: Who taught that? Was it McKinney?

RB: Boy, I can't remember, cannot remember.

SI: Usually, I hear of McKinney or Soup Walter teaching that course.

RB: It definitely wasn't Soup Walter. [Editor's Note: Professors Howard D. McKinney and F. Austin "Soup" Walter were both faculty in the Music-Art Department.]

SI: In that first year you came here, 1958 to 1959, this was a time when freshmen coming in had to wear beanies and there was a lot of "rah-rah" stuff.

RB: Oh, right, yes. I had to wear a stupid beanie and a Rutgers necktie. I remember walking down the street, College Avenue, and I had an arm full of books. This upperclassman says, "Stop right there. Sing the Alma Mater." When I stopped, all my books flew out of my arm on to the ground. He got very embarrassed and helped me pick up my books and forgot that I was supposed to sing the Alma Mater, left me alone. [laughter] That was about the only harassment I really had as a freshman. I stopped wearing the dink and the tie after that.

SI: In that first year, did you get involved in the social aspects of the campus life?

RB: Just playing pickup games at the gym, playing basketball at the gym, shooting pool at the Ledge. Then, there was a lot of talk about pledging fraternities, "Are you going to pledge a fraternity?" It was--I want to say, "It's all Greek to me," an unintended pun--I didn't know what the hell that was about. I wasn't a joiner. I wasn't going to join a fraternity. I never tried to join a fraternity. I went to lots of fraternity parties to pick up on the free booze and the music, but never attempted to join anything when I was at Rutgers.

SI: It is interesting that you mentioned the music. A lot of other people who went to Rutgers during this era talk about bands that would either come to the Ledge or the gym, or even fraternity parties.

RB: Well, I saw the Kingston Trio at the Ledge. I saw Bo Diddley at the gym, College Avenue Gym. I saw Carmen McRae at the College Avenue Gym. The place was half empty. So, the seats were numbered. So, there's a person over there, a person over there, big, empty spaces. She said, "Everybody come down front." "Yay," we all went down front; it was a nice, little nightclub performance in College Avenue Gym.

Lots of good local bands in the fraternities, Gary Criss and the Crystals, what a great group they were, the Knockouts, they were great, yes, lots of good music around in those days. We used to go to a nightclub in Bound Brook called the Hide Away. So, if I wasn't at a fraternity party, I'd be at the Hide Away, and I saw Monti Rock III. I don't know if you know Monti Rock III. He was the DJ in Saturday Night Fever, but he was a great performer in his own right as a rock musician, but he dressed flamboyantly. He got harassed by some people in the audience who thought he was dressed--that he was effeminate, yes.

SI: Did you work part-time at all while you were in school or just during the breaks?

RB: Yes, I worked. Let me see, what kind of part-time jobs? I used to work as a waiter at a restaurant near Somerville. I was a coat checker at the Mili Ball, the Military Ball. I didn't go to the Military Ball. I could have, because, in those days, everybody had to take two years of ROTC. So, I could've gone to the Mili Ball, but it was just another kind of thing that I didn't do, a social thing. Who would I ask anyway? So, I was a coat checker. What else did I do for money? Shoveled snow in New Brunswick. We had some serious snowstorms.

SI: I have heard the railroad would hire Rutgers students to clear the snow off the tracks.

RB: I didn't do that. I cleared the streets. I also worked for the laundry company that did the linens for Rutgers dorms, collected the dirty linen and threw it in the truck.

SI: Rutgers students got their linens done, their sheets.

RB: Yes, they didn't do their own, no. Some company came with a big box truck. We would get these huge bundles of laundry wrapped up in sheets, and we would throw them in the truck. I'm trying to think, what other kind [of jobs]. Oh, I worked at one of the labs at the Agriculture School, cleaning test tubes--whatever odd jobs I could get through the Rutgers Employment Office.

SI: Did you develop any type of relationship or enjoy being in class with any of the professors, or maybe any administrators that you made contact with?

RB: I didn't make a lot of friends. I don't have, today, any friend that I went to college with, a friendship that I made in college. Professors, I didn't really get close to any professors. I was on speaking terms with a few of them, Robert (Hordon?), who's a hydrologist, who was teaching a geography course at the time. He's still around, teaching.

There was a Dean of Students, or a Dean of Men, as we called him then, who kind of took me under his wing, Edwin Curtin, I think was his name. When I was having academic problems, he kind of counseled me and wanted to see my grades. I think he's the one who got me the grant, the five-hundred-dollar state grant.

SI: How did you get in touch with him? Was it just that you were not doing well and they told you to go see a dean, or was it some other way?

RB: I was just trying to remember that. I don't remember. I remember his office was on Union Street. I don't know if the building still exists. There's a big parking lot in that area now. I don't know.

SI: You worked in the post office for a year. What was that like? What did you do there?

RB: Oh, I delivered mail. I sorted mail in the morning into a route, and then, stacked the mail, so that the mail stacks were in the order of the delivery. Then, I would go out and deliver it, and it was a nice job. You got to walk around outdoors all day, nobody breathing down your neck, and it was a nice job. It was easy. I enjoyed it. Also, my house was on my route. I delivered my father's mail and stopped in for a coffee break that usually lasted about an hour.

SI: Did you ever consider just staying in the post office?

RB: No, it was my intention to go back to Rutgers. I just didn't want to leave it unfinished.

SI: In the early 1960s, before you went into the service, there was not quite the student activism that there was later in the decade, but there was at least some awareness or some activism related to Civil Rights. Do you remember anything, or were you involved with anything?

RB: Strange, no, I wasn't involved in anything. I don't recall much of anything going on on campus, but I remember being at the Ledge and there was a concert of folk music going on. Some guy in the audience gets up and yells, "Fair play for Cuba," and everybody starts booing him. That was about the only hint of political activism on campus that came to my attention during that time.

SI: Rutgers, at that time, was still "football, fraternities, fun," that atmosphere.

RB: Yes, absolutely. Vietnam changed that, a lot.

SI: Were there discussions in class about the different things going on overseas, like Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis? Did that get discussed in the classroom much?

RB: Didn't come up as a classroom topic. I remember the Missile Crisis was a big deal, but not as a topic for classroom discussion. Vietnam, there wasn't much going on. In Vietnam, at the time, we had some advisors, military advisors, over there, but they weren't being killed, that we knew of. So, that was not in my consciousness. I don't know. There must've been people that were aware of it, but it wasn't evident to me on campus.

SI: Tell me a little bit about your ROTC experience. You were in it for the mandatory two years, but what did that entail?

RB: The best thing that I learned in ROTC was how to read a map, [laughter] and I mean that seriously. There are a lot of people who can't look at a map and figure out what it's telling them, but I know how to read a map. That was great. We'd studied military tactics. We studied [military theorist Carl von] Clausewitz, and we had to drill once a week. We had to put our uniforms on, get our old M-1 rifles out of the ROTC storeroom, which was in the basement of the College Avenue Gym, and drill, march in formation.

We had to march down. We would form up behind the College Avenue Gym--it was grass at the time--in companies. Then, we would march over to Buccleuch Park and march around, and everybody hated it. If you could, you would get a doctor's excuse to excuse you from drill. I remember going to the doctor in Hurtado, saying, "I can't carry a rifle, because I have a sore back," or whatever, and he said, "Use a broom." [laughter]

Then, there would be Military Field Day once a year in the football stadium, where the companies would march around and somebody, probably some PMS&T, Professor of Military Science and Tactics, would choose the best company, and damned if my company didn't get chosen. I don't know how. [laughter]

I remember, in one of our classes, Captain (Champion?) was the guy's name and he was teaching us something about military history, about World War II. I remember, I had read about Dresden, how it was firebombed--maybe it was from reading the Kurt Vonnegut book, Slaughterhouse Five--and I raised my hand. I asked him, "Why was Dresden burned to the ground?" I really expected him to say, "Well, there were secret ball-bearing factories there. There were underground munitions plants," and what he said was astonishing but true. He said, "Mr. Bird, when we make war on a country, we don't just make war on their military, we make war on the people's will to fight," and, after that, I was on his list. [laughter]

[Editor's Note: Author Kurt Vonnegut witnessed the February 13, 1945 firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war in German hands. The event, which claimed over 135,000 lives, influenced the plot of his 1969 book Slaughterhouse-Five.]

I remember, we were marching down to Buccleuch Park and, right at the end of one of those cross streets that end at Buccleuch Park, there's a kind of a stone balcony where you can stand and look down into the park. We would be marching in from College Avenue, and he's up there on this balcony. There were, I mean, thousands of people walking by him in brown uniforms with rifles, who must all look pretty much the same.

I hear this voice coming from up there, "Mr. Bird, straighten that piece." So, that was my ROTC experience, and I never wanted to go to Advanced ROTC. I had enough of it. They gave me a certificate that says that I was entitled to the rank of PFC [Private First Class] in the Army Reserve, but I didn't join the Army Reserve.

SI: Before we get into your military experience, first, is there anything from your first time at Rutgers, this pre-military period, we should go in to, that we skipped over, anything you want to mention? We can always come back to it, but, before we go into the military, do you want to take a break at all, or do you want to keep going?

RB: I think I can use it.


SI: Are you ready?

RB: Yes.

SI: Okay. Earlier, you mentioned your motivation for going into the service. You said that you went down and got your draft number moved up. Was there a reason why you did that, instead of going for an enlistment?

RB: Well, if you're drafted, it's two years. If you enlist, it's three. So, I didn't want to do three.

SI: Did you ever consider one of the other services, like the Navy or Air Force, or did you just want to go in the Army?

RB: Not really, but, in retrospect, I had a friend who did four years. The Air Force was a four-year tour, so, definitely didn't want that, but that seemed to be easy duty. I had a couple of friends from high school, a couple of my buddies from high school, went into the Coast Guard Reserve, did six months' active duty in the Coast Guard, and then, Reserve meetings. That seemed like a fun thing, but that wouldn't have served my purposes.

My purposes were to have some entity take care of me for two years, but not longer--I guess I thought, "Four squares and a flop," or whatever the expression, "Three squares and a flop." I guess I thought that, after two years, I'd know better about what to do with myself, but I thought, "Well, in case I don't like it, I don't want to be stuck there for three or four."

SI: Tell me about the process of actually getting into the military, the physical, where you would report to first, and so on.

RB: Well, I had a friend who told me--this was my friend who was in the Air Force--he said, "It's going to be easier for you because you're older than all these other kids who are getting drafted." In a way, it was easier, because some of them were really freaked out by the experience. So, I got my notice and I reported to Whitehall Street Induction Center in Newark [New York City] and took some tests, got a physical exam. One of the tests that I took was the AFQT, Armed Forces something Test. I don't know what the "Q" stood for ["Qualifications"].


RB: Armed Forces.

SI: "Qualitative Test," or something?

RB: Something test, I don't know. I thought it was a pretty easy test. The guy, there was an enlisted man who was reading my test results, he said, "Oh, pretty good, you got a ninety-seven on this test," and I couldn't imagine what I had gotten wrong. I thought the test was so easy. Then, he says, "Oh, wait a minute." He picks up the phone and he buzzes another guy. He says, "Sarge, I think I have a (HAP?)," and then, he says, "He got a ninety-seven." Then, he says, "Okay." He hangs up, and he says, "Oh, I thought you were eligible for embassy assignment, but they raised the requirement this month. You need a ninety-eight, but, when you get to basic training, you could tell them you want to take this test again."

So, he said, "Well, you can have any school you want," and I said, "Well, geez, I don't know what kind of school I want." So, I didn't get a school, I just did my basic training. We went to Fort Dix, and I guess it was eight weeks in Fort Dix, I think so, just marching around the woods, shooting the guns, learning how to behave like a soldier. Right away, I didn't like it. There was a lot of competition, or animosity, maybe, between our platoon sergeant and the platoon sergeant in the next barracks.

They didn't fight with each other directly--they fought through us. I remember, the guy who was the [instigator], (Delgado?) was his name, Sergeant (Delgado?), he would call our [sergeant]--what was he? He was a Reservist and he was not the squad leader, because it was the company, but he was the head trainee in this company. This guy would call over on the intercom and say, "I need some dick lickers over here to clean some toilets." This guy would--I was really impressed with him--because he would say, "We don't have any dick lickers over here, Sergeant."

Then, the guy would try it again with a few more different epitaphs, and he would say, "Sorry, we don't have any of them, either," and, finally, he would say, "Just send me a bunch of guys to clean up over here." Then, we'd have to go over there and clean up. He would call up in the middle of the night and say, "Everybody out in formation," and he wasn't our sergeant. He was messing with us--messing with us to get at the guy who was our sergeant. So, we'd go out in the middle of the night in formation, and then, our company leader guy was complaining to our sergeant about what was going on.

So, one night, he comes in drunk. He gets on the intercom and he says, "Everybody," he calls the other barracks, "everybody, get in your Class-As and fall out." So, they all fell out in their Class-As, and then, he says, "Get down and belly crawl." So, you had to crawl on your belly, like you were going under barbed wire, in their Class-A uniforms. So, that pretty much put an end to that back-and-forth between those two guys.

Some interesting people I met in the Army; I remember, I went to the First Sergeant and I said, "I want to take the AFQT again." He says, "Get the hell out of here. You're not taking any AFQT again." I remember there was a guy who was trying to get a psycho discharge. So, he would go on sick call every morning, and he'd say, "I need to see a psychiatrist," and whoever was on duty would say, "Just wait outside."

The guy would go outside and he would march back and forth in front of the First Sergeant's office. He would drag his feet as he was marching and try to dig a trench in the sand. He did this every day. I imagine he had in mind the Laurel and Hardy movie where they're in the Army in France and they're marching back and forth. They don't know the war's over. They're marching back and forth, and they make a trench up to their knees just about.

So, then, the First Sergeant came to me about halfway through basic training and he said, "How would you like to be a helicopter pilot?" He says, "We need helicopter pilots in Laos." They weren't talking about Vietnam when I was in basic training. They were talking about Laos. "We're going to go to fight in Laos." There was one training sergeant who told us that he himself had already been in Laos, on a secret mission. He said, "You'd have to reenlist for four years." I said, "No, no, Sergeant. I don't want to reenlist. I'm not interested." "Don't you want to serve your country?" "Yes, I do, but I'm not interested." So, then, I was on his list for the rest of basic training. [Editor's Note: From 1955 to 1973, the United States provided support to the Royal Lao Government in their civil war against the Communist Pathet Lao.]

That's pretty much it for basic training. We were Kilo Company, K, Company Kilo. When we were doing bayonet practice, we were supposed to scream at the top of our lungs, "Kill, kill, or be killed." I got hoarse from the screaming.

SI: Were most of these guys from New Jersey, or were they from all over the region?

RB: I think they were mostly from New Jersey, or at least from the Northeast.

SI: Did you get a sense of how many were draftees and how many were enlistees?

RB: There were a lot of Reservists who were doing their annual duty, or maybe they were doing their six months; that's probably more like it. There were a lot of young, pretty young, kids. I remember the first night. The first night you're there, you're not with your training company, you're in a holding company. I remember, the first night, kids crying and wailing and, Christ, what a scene.

So, yes, there were probably some draftees, but, if you didn't [move your number up], there was a good likelihood that your number wouldn't get called, that you wouldn't get drafted at all and never have to do military service. I wasn't going to wait around for my number to get called, because I wanted to get in and get it over with. So, that's why I moved my number up.

SI: Did you form any friendships with these folks in your training company?

RB: I think there was more camaraderie than I experienced in college.

SI: Okay.

RB: Yes. I mean, that was on me, I guess, but, yes, I did develop some camaraderie. I never saw them again after basic training.

SI: Where were you assigned next after Fort Dix?

RB: I was sent to Fort Irwin, California, which is the Army's Desert Tank Training Center. It's in Death Valley. There are thousands of acres of desert where they run around in tanks. I was assigned to the post newspaper. I was supposed to be a reporter for the post newspaper. I remember, when I got there, there was a Reservist who was a reporter for The New York Times. He was training us on, well, not just the newspaper, but the post radio station. He was training us on how to write a newspaper story or how to do a news broadcast.

I got sent to do one. I was supposed to write an article about something, and I was sent to interview somebody and it didn't work out. I never really did anything journalistically on that post. I remember, when I got there, you go through a town called Barstow, and then, there's this road that goes straight out in the desert.

About a mile outside of town, there's a big gate. It says, "Welcome to Fort Irwin." There's no fence, just this gate. Then, you drive another fifty miles before you see a building, and somebody told me, "Well, they put the gate out there so that they don't have to give you isolation pay." The gate is a mile from town. I don't even know if there is such a thing as isolation pay. That was the story, anyway.

Interestingly, well, I was very disturbed by the dryness. Lived most of my life in New Jersey, I'm used to seeing trees. I'm used to having my horizon blocked. When, as I was on the bus from LA to Barstow, it just kept getting dryer and dryer and sparser and sparser, I was very depressed by this. Then, when we took the bus into the post, it was just nothing but desert, not even cacti, but, by the time I left, I got to really--I developed an appreciation for that kind of a landscape. I used to go out into the desert and look for rocks and go in old mines.

Coincidentally, the first day I got there, feeling very lost and alienated, the guy in the next bunk was a kid I went to high school with, who was on the football team, Bob (Brunson?). So, it was really great seeing him, but I couldn't hang around with him, because he was black. So, he would go off with his friends and I would just hang around the post.

SI: African-American soldiers would hang out with others and white soldiers would only hang out with white soldiers.

RB: Pretty much, yes, not that there was any animosity--it was just "birds of a feather," I guess. So, my first sergeant knew that I wanted to get back to the East. I don't know how he knew. Maybe I requested a transfer, but you don't just get transfers because you want them.

He called me in and he said, "Bird, you want to go back East?" I said, "Sure." He says, "Well, we've got a unit that is relocating to Fort Knox," the Seventh Signal Corps or something like that. No, it was an Armor unit. So, that's when I went from Signal to Armor, and we all got on a train. I was put in charge of the company records, because I could type, I guess, and so, on the train from Fort Irwin to Fort Knox, I had a little room of my own, with all the company records. That was nice.

When we got to Fort Knox, I was assigned to a unit that supported the Armor School. The Armor School was where they taught armor tactics and armor warfare. There were armor units that provided the personnel and the equipment for this training to the Armor School. In-between, there was this little office that I was assigned to that arranged for these different units to provide the training to the Armor School. So, we would have to know how many tanks were up for repairs and how many tanks were available for training and which companies they were in.

Then, the company sergeants would try to hide their tanks, because they didn't want them getting messed up and have to clean them and fix them, and so on. So, they'd say, "Oh, this tank is redlined." Then, my boss would get on the phone and say, "Come on, give me that damned tank." So, that was interesting, and I did the typing for that unit. It seems like there was a lot of typing. There was a captain, a sergeant and two or three clerks, and the Captain would tell me, "Bird, load your typewriter," like it was a weapon. [laughter]

SI: How long had you been in California before they shipped you out?

RB: Not long, just a few months.

SI: Was that your first time travelling across the country? You had been in Nebraska, I am sorry.

RB: Well, it was my second cross-country train trip. The first one was going to Nebraska. We had a sleeper compartment and I slept in the upper berth with a little window, and that was so much fun. Coming back from Fort Irwin, on the train, I had my own little compartment. I just love train travel. Unfortunately, it's so damn expensive, gets no government subsidies, it's unaffordable.

SI: You come to Fort Knox and you are in this unit as a clerk. You kind of described your daily activities, but what was your typical day like?

RB: Well, I remember when we first got there, we hadn't been assigned duties yet, so, we were just kind of sitting around the barracks, shining our shoes. I remember being in this big bay with a bunch of GIs and listening to music on the radio. There's an announcement, comes on the radio. It says that President Kennedy and Governor O'Conner have been shot in Dallas, Texas, with automatic weapons by multiple assailants, but they're expected to survive." Then, they went back to the music, and nobody paid any attention to it. I said, "Hey, didn't anybody hear what just happened?" and nobody had heard it.

Then, sometime after that--this is not directly to your question--but sometime after that is when I requested assignment to the Counter-Intelligence Corps, because somebody told me it's civilian clothes duty. You don't have to wear a uniform, there's no chickenshit, no saluting, "Yes, sir; no, sir." So, I put in a bid for that. By this time, Oswald had been assassinated, and one of the things that they did to screen us for this assignment was to write an essay about public events, civil affairs, civics, whatever. So, I wrote an essay about the assassination and the murder and how terrible it is that the assassin wouldn't be brought to trial. Then, they did a secret security clearance.

[Editor's Note: On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Texas Governor John Connally, seated directly in front of Kennedy, was also shot, but recovered from his wounds. Suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was fatally shot by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963.]

They went and talked to everybody, it seems like, I knew in high school and college. Eventually, I got this secret clearance, and that'll come up in a later part of my story again. I got the clearance, but it took them eighteen months to do it and, by that time, I was short. I only had six months left to go. They said, "Well, you can have this assignment, but you have to enlist for two more years to get the assignment." I said, "No way. I'm not going to enlist."

I hated the idea that any jerk lieutenant out of ROTC could stop me in my tracks, tell me to straighten my hat, "When's the last time you got a haircut? Your shoes need shining." I did not deal well with authority, with discipline, with just being ordered around. I just didn't like it at all. So, I wasn't about to reenlist.

A typical day, we would get up in the morning, there were group showers. There were group toilets--you didn't get a booth. [laughter] We used to joke it'd be easier to wipe the butt of the guy next to you than your own. [laughter] Then, we would fall out, go outside in formation. They would take who's there and who's not there, and then, they'd have us walking around, picking up cigarette butts and putting them in our pockets. Then, we would go to the mess hall, with dirty hands, go to the mess hall, have breakfast, and then, go to our duty assignment.

My duty assignment was pretty cushy; I was a typist. While I was assigned to this company--not the little office where I did my work, but the company where I was housed and fed--we had a reputation for having the best mess hall on post. Officers would come and sergeants would come from all over the post to eat in our mess hall.

What I noticed was, there's a guy who has a clicker and he counts how many people are coming in for meals, and that's how they get their allotment of food. If you walked in, he'd click ten times. If two people walked in, he'd click thirty times. So, they were claiming to be feeding hundreds of more people than they actually fed. So, they were getting a lot more food than they were serving. It became pretty apparent what was happening to that food--it was being sold.

So, I wrote an anonymous complaint to the post AG, I think, adjutant general, and I tried to mess up the grammar, so [that] I would sound uneducated, to say what was going on here. There was an investigation. They swooped in, and my company commander, who was a lieutenant, suspected me right away. I said, "No, I don't know, I had nothing to do with it." Then, so, I was pulling KP more frequently after that.

On one of my KP assignments, as I said, the best mess on post, there was a big cutting board, like a chopping block, very fancy, with a golden meat cleaver in a slot. On the top of the chopping board were little bronze plaques of which unit got the best mess hall that month. It happened to be in our mess hall while I was on KP. Just for a joke, I took a rusty, old meat cleaver out of a drawer in the kitchen and I put it in where the gold meat cleaver was. I took the gold meat cleaver and hid it in a freezer.

Boy, did that cause trouble, I mean, we had--I guess because it was a weapon, I don't know [laughter]--but all kinds of investigators running around, and I got scared. So, I wanted them to find the meat cleaver. So, I went to this kid who was on KP and I said, "If you go in the freezer and look behind the butter, you'll find the meat cleaver." So, the kid comes out, he says, "I found it. I found it." So, right away, they blame him for stealing it. So, right away, he says, "No, Bird told me it was there."

So, the First Lieutenant calls me into his office and he says, "Bird, I'm giving you an Article 15." An Article 15 is non-judicial punishment. The officer in charge punishes you without a hearing, but you don't have to accept it. I said, "Lieutenant, I won't accept an Article 15," which really pissed him off, which means he's going to have to do a court-martial.

So, I'm getting ahead of myself. He says, "How did you know the cleaver was in the freezer if you didn't put it there?" I said, "Well, I heard these three guys talking about they hid it there," and he says, "Who are they?" I said, "Well, Lieutenant, I don't want to rat them out. It wasn't their fault. It's because they were serving liquor in the mess hall and they got drunk." Well, you're not supposed to serve liquor in the mess hall. So, the Lieutenant knew I had him. So, he says, "Get the hell out of here." He threw me out of his office.

So, the court-martial thing came up later, when there used to be [that] there were GIs living in the barracks and the married GIs lived off post with their families. There was a roster for KP. So, I wasn't on the roster. It was a Saturday and I was planning to go into Louisville. The Mess Sergeant comes in and he says, "Bird, So-and-So lives off post. His car broke, he can't get here. You're going to have to take his KP." I said, "Sergeant, it's not my turn. I'm not going to take KP." He says, "Bird, you'd better get down there," and I didn't get down there.

I stayed in bed for another hour, and then, I started to get nervous. So, I showed up for KP. So, they filed the charges against me, and that's when the Lieutenant said, "I'm going to give you an Article 15," and I said, "No, I'm not going to accept it." He had to do a court-martial, the lowest-level court-martial, whatever that is, and what an affair that was. [laughter] We had some mess sergeant come in as a witness. I didn't ask anybody to testify. I don't know how he got on the witness list, but he came in and he said, "Lieutenant, this man is not on trial here. The Army is on trial." [laughter] I was thinking, "Wow, where'd he come from?"

So, basically, they busted me one rank, from spec 4, specialist 4, back to PFC. People were telling me that I ought to catch that mess sergeant in town and mug him in an alley, the guy who caused this problem for me. I didn't do anything physical, but I happened to notice he was getting transferred somewhere. I was in the place where personnel records are kept, because that's where my work station was. I saw his files, a big, fat file, Sergeant (Nepp?). I took his file and I threw it in a dumpster, and then, they were going nuts looking for his file.

So, he came to me, "Bird, do you know anything about my file?" I said, "No, Sergeant, I don't know anything about your file." He said, "I can't get my transfer without that file. I can't get my pay raise without that file." I said, "Yes." So, at that point, I thought, "Well, I've got to get out of here. I'm having problems here. Things are going to get worse." So, I asked to see a psychiatrist, because I needed to go back to New Jersey; I needed to get out of here.

So, one day, I get a call from the First Sergeant. He says, "Bird, get down here. There's a spec 4 who wants to see you." So, I went down and there was this specialist, fourth class, who was sent by whatever office I had to appeal to, and he was the psychiatrist. I don't know if he was actually a psychiatrist, [laughter] but he was the one who interviewed me.

About the same time that this was going on, I had written a letter to Harrison Williams. I said that I wanted to get back to New Jersey--I'm trying to remember--because my girlfriend was going in the Peace Corps. This is true, my girlfriend was going in the Peace Corps, but I don't know what that had to [do with it]--oh, and her father was dying and I had to get back to New Jersey to be with her, blah, blah, blah.

Well, Harrison Williams had a reputation for greasing palms and doing favors. I think he ended up getting busted for that, eventually, but, at the same time this psychiatry business was going on, a letter came, that I wasn't aware of, from Harrison Williams to the post commander, saying, "Let's see if we can get this guy transferred to Fort Monmouth." So, a few days after I see the spec 4, I get notice I'm going to Fort Monmouth. Everybody thought the spec 4 did it. [laughter] So, I went to Fort Monmouth. I remember--remember I said that the black troops did all the menial chores in Camp Kilmer?

[Editor's Note: Democrat Harrison A. "Pete" Williams, Jr., served as a Representative from New Jersey in the US House of Representatives from 1953 to 1957 and in the US Senate from 1959 to 1982. Williams resigned from the Senate after being convicted for taking bribes during the FBI's Abscam sting operation in the early 1980s.]

SI: Yes.

RB: Stoking the furnaces and collecting the garbage. Well, when I was in Fort Knox, years [later], what?

SI: Ten, fifteen.

RB: Ten, fifteen years later, they were still doing it. Even though the Army was desegregated, they were still the ones doing the menial tasks. I remember, the post being in coal country, they had a policy of burning coal. I remember that, on a winter morning, you'd go out and there would be a pall of black coal smoke just a couple hundred feet over your head. You'd see plume upon plume of coal smoke rising up into this cloud.

I also [recall], another digression, but the office I was assigned to was assigned to assist the people who were making the movie Goldfinger [a 1964 James Bond film]. It was filmed while I was stationed there. There's a scene where all these soldiers are gassed and they fall down. My office was the one that got the soldiers for this scene. Years later, I claimed to be one of the soldiers, but I wasn't. [laughter]

SI: You said African-Americans were still relegated to menial tasks.

RB: But, they were integrated.

SI: Okay. Were there any African-Americans at this Armor School, or any units that you were handling paperwork for?

RB: Yes, they were everywhere, but I didn't see any white guys stoking furnaces.

SI: Okay. You mentioned earlier this bulletin about the Kennedy assassination, very scarce information, most people did not hear it. How did the rest of that day unfold?

RB: Well, eventually, word got around. The prevailing thought was, "We're going to war with Cuba." This is before they even knew who did it, that Cuba had done this and we're going to war with Cuba. Aside from a couple of days of excitement, that was it. It all died down.

SI: What about your reassignment to Fort Monmouth. What did you do once you were there?

RB: In Fort Monmouth, I was assigned to the post library. So, I was, essentially, a library clerk, another cushy assignment. Not that it matters, I dated one of the women who worked in the library, a civilian, and her father was in the mafia, because that area was noted for mafia families. I guess it's good I got out of that entanglement.

SI: How much more time …

RB: Excuse me. Just like the Armor School, [where] there were people coming from all over the world to learn armor tactics, in Fort Monmouth, there were people coming from all over the world to learn communications. I lived in a barracks, in a bay. I never got my spec 4 rank back again.

In-between that, before I left for Monmouth, they asked for volunteers for a chemical warfare experiment, study, research, whatever. So, I volunteered for that, and several of us went to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, which is a chemical warfare research center. They were testing chemical agents on us. [Editor's Note: The Edgewood Arsenal Experiments, which exposed over seven thousand service members to chemicals to test their effect on humans, occurred from 1955 to 1975.]

One of the tests that I did was to lie on--and the duty was cushy, very cushy. I mean, my bed had two mattresses on it and there was no military stuff going on. We didn't have any formations, no, "Yes, sir, no, sir." The food was very fancy. It was kind of an upscale post, a lot of officers, very few enlisted men, and the ones that were there were mostly there for research as volunteers.

So, one of the experiments they did on me was, I had to lie on this bed--it was kind of chilly in that room, for some reason--with my upper body exposed. They put nerve gas on my arms, just a little drop. Then, periodically, they would shine a black light on it, and you could see how the spot was getting bigger and bigger. I never felt any effects from that. Afterwards, we were given atropine, which is the antidote to nerve gas.

I remember, atropine is in some over-the-counter drug, [laughter] and I remember the taste of this drug, saying, "Hey, that tastes like atropine," because when they give you a shot of atropine, you can taste it in your mouth. For a while, we used to wear little hypodermic needles in little plastic cases attached to our uniforms. I don't remember where this was, but I know, if we were gassed, we were supposed to open this little thing and jam it in our thighs.

Another thing we did in Edgewood Arsenal was tear gas. They put us in this big--no, this is basic training, I'm conflating--but one of the things they did to us in basic training was put us in a building, like a small airplane hangar. We had practiced putting on our gas masks. So, they would yell, "Gas," and you had to put on your gas mask real fast.

Then, they took us in this enclosed space and they threw canisters of tear gas around. They were yelling, "Gas," and you had to get your mask on. Well, of course, when there's gas in the air, it's a lot and you're panicked. Guys weren't getting their mask on, they were throwing up, they were running around, banging into walls, running for the doors. It was mayhem. That was fun. [laughter] I got my mask on, watched the other guys throw up.

SI: How long were you at Edgewood Arsenal?

RB: That was just a couple weeks, and I used to hitchhike home from there. It used to be easy to hitchhike in uniform. So, I could hitchhike all the way to--where was I living?--Edison, to my father's house, and then, hang out with my friends that I knew from college, but only one of them actually had gone to Rutgers. The other ones were just people who'd gone to Rutgers' fraternity parties; hang out with them, and then, hitchhike back.

When I got to Fort Monmouth, I bought a cheap-o car, and I used to drive home every weekend. So, it was almost like I wasn't in the Army.

SI: How long were you stationed at Fort Monmouth?

RB: It was the balance of my tour, probably less than a year.

SI: During this time, from mid-1963 to mid-1965--was that approximately when you were discharged? I think that was what you put.

RB: Yes.

SI: Yes, you were discharged in 1965. Could you see attitudes towards the military shifting, both within the military and when you would interact with civilians?

RB: I didn't see any attitude at all about the military. If I was out in uniform, off post in uniform, I expected some kind of reaction to the fact that I was in uniform, but I never really saw any. People just didn't take much notice of military. We were kind of anomalies.

SI: The Gulf of Tonkin Incident happened during your time in the service.

RB: Wasn't that '64?

SI: 1964, yes. [Editor's Note: On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox (DD -731) reported being fired at by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. On August 4, 1964, it was mistakenly reported that the Maddox and its reinforcement, the USS Turner Joy (DD-951), were again attacked. Congress passed the "Tonkin Gulf Resolution," officially the "Asia Resolution," on August 7, 1964, authorizing the President to take retaliatory action against North Vietnam.]

RB: Yes, I was out. No, I wasn't out.

SI: It was about the midpoint of your time of service. Did the fact that there was an increased presence in Vietnam and active combat change people's perceptions of their service and what they wanted to do in the service? Did people start saying, "Why are we there?"

RB: Not in the circles I moved in. I didn't see any of that. I remember thinking, though, it sounded like bullshit. Why would Ho Chi Minh attack an aircraft carrier and a PT boat knowing that, first of all, he couldn't accomplish anything and, second of all, he's going to unleash some nasty response? I just didn't believe it from the beginning.

SI: Does anything else from your time in the service stand out that we skipped over?

RB: I don't think so.

SI: You were looking forward to getting out of the military.

RB: Well, I kept a calendar, and most guys would "X" out the days on their calendar. My calendar was on glossy paper and I was actually able to erase the day completely. Instead of crossing it out, there would be a blank space where the day was. So, this was my statement, that every day in the service was a waste, that it was an empty slot on my calendar. So, yes, I was looking forward to getting out.

In fact, I remember, jumping ahead again, one of the demands that the Vietnam Veterans Against the War made, kind of in jest, was that the government should pay us reparations for time lost in service. So, this was me with my time lost in service, a blank calendar. I was looking forward to erasing that last day, but, again, trepidation about what's going to happen next.

So, at that point, I could not move back in with my father, even if I wanted to, probably. So, some friends, these friends I mentioned before, my drinking buddies, a couple of them had rented a house on River Road in Bound Brook and I moved in with them. I loaded up my car with all the junk I could buy at the post commissary and checked out, drove to this place. That was the end of my military duty. I was assigned to a Reserve training unit, but I was never mustered. So, some years later, a couple years later, I guess, I was discharged.

SI: Did you get in touch with the administration at Rutgers to get back into school, or did you take some time off?

RB: I took a job at the Job Corps in Camp Kilmer. The Job Corps was run by [the] Federal Electric Corporation, which was a unit of IT&T, and they were running this training facility for the government. They were bringing kids [in] from all over the country to teach them skills. They advertised how many people they placed in jobs, what a great job they were doing. Well, most of the people they placed in jobs went to work for FEC, in some other facility they had, like the Distant Early Warning Line. They ran the Distant Early Warning Line, which no longer exists, the string of radar stations across the Arctic.

While I was there, I was a wage-and-salary analyst. I guess I wasn't considered for a job as a counselor. There were a lot of people who had a couple of years of college who were assigned as kind of house/resident counselors, or babysitters, for these kids from all over the country, mostly poor kids, ghetto kids, country kids. They were thrown together in these dorms. There was all kinds of violence and stuff going on in there. It was crazy.

Fortunately, I didn't get one of those jobs, but I was a wage-and-salary analyst, about which I knew nothing. They were creating all kinds of new jobs at this place, jobs that were required to run the facility. So, the jobs had to be evaluated for a pay scale. So, I worked for a guy who did this for a living and got some training from him, and learned how to use their formula for evaluating a job.

While I was working there, I applied to get back into Rutgers and I was accepted. When I graduated, I went to my boss and I said, "Well, now, I have a degree, so, I want more money." He said, "Sorry, but the job pays what it pays, and a degree doesn't make any difference. It's not required for the job." So, I got kind of peeved about that and I went looking for another job. I went to Rutgers, to their personnel office.

They sent me to the Registrar's Office for an interview. I'll never forget this, Wherry Zingg was the Registrar. I think he was only the third or fourth Registrar in the history of the University. His assistant was Harold Hirshman. I went in for the interview, and Wherry Zingg is looking at my résumé. He says, "Oh, you're a Rutgers graduate?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Harold, go get his transcript."

Well, he didn't have permission to look at my transcript, and it wasn't very pretty. [laughter] I could not graduate from Rutgers College, if it still existed, today with the GPA I graduated with. I think it would've been a good interview tactic if I had said, "Don't you need my permission?" but it didn't occur to me until the interview was over. So, he went and got the transcript, and they both looked at it and kind of went, "Hmm, hmm." At some point, they made me an offer, and so, I went to work in the Registrar's Office. It was located over in Records Hall at the time. That's about where my antiwar veterans' movement got started.

SI: How much time did it take to finish up your degree before you graduated?

RB: One semester.

SI: How big was the Registrar's Office when you first joined it? Roughly how many personnel?

RB: Maybe thirty or forty. It was very labor-intensive recordkeeping, a lot of manual stuff. We used a computer, but we used it like a typewriter. I was Assistant Registrar for the Graduate School and the graduate professional schools.

SI: When you first joined the department?

RB: Yes. One of my assignments was to do veteran certifications, VA certifications. This was under the old GI Bill, where they didn't pay the money to Rutgers, they paid it to the student. So, people were signing up for classes just to get the money and not going to class. Eventually, the VA created some classifications called--there was (VCIP?) and (VetRep?). What the hell was a VCIP? There were these students, who were veterans, who were given the assignment--the assignment of certifying enrollment was taken away from the Registrar's Office, given to these students, who were veterans.

They were given a little office in Records Hall. They were basically doing their own enrollment certifications to the VA. They were basically controlling how much money they were getting from the VA. Eventually, the University wanted to see what they were doing. There were some suspicions that there was stuff going on.

So, I remember going with my boss, Harold Hirshman, and somebody from the Provost's Office--that's an office that no longer exists--and going to this little office and knocking on the door and saying, "We want to come in." They wouldn't let us in. They kept the door locked. They wouldn't let us in. We never did get in to see what they were doing, but that was the end of that office. The certifications came back to the Registrar's Office after that.

SI: These were students, part-time workers.

RB: They were students who were veterans, and the VA was paying them hourly to certify veterans' enrollments. Some of the veterans that they were certifying were themselves--so, a simple matter to certify themselves for twelve credits if they were only taking three. Nobody would know. They know now--the new GI Bill, they're on top of every step we take. They've got us tied in knots.

SI: That is just kind of an amazing system. How long did that last?

RB: [laughter] Maybe two semesters.

SI: Okay.

RB: Yes.

SI: Was that later in the Vietnam period? Was it around the first time you joined the department?

RB: That was right around '67, '68.

SI: How many veterans were coming back to Rutgers in that period? Was it a substantial number?

RB: No, it wasn't, because there were still not huge numbers of troops in Vietnam, and Korean War GIs had pretty much used up their benefits and moved on. So, it wasn't a lot, but it was growing, and has grown pretty steadily ever since.

SI: Jumping ahead, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, would you say there was a good amount of veterans? How would you characterize the Vietnam era veterans that took advantage of the GI Bill here?

RB: How would I characterize them? How, in numbers?

SI: Was it a significant population?

RB: I really couldn't give you a number, but we were seeing a lot of them in our office, coming in about issues with their certification, not getting paid, and so on--enough of them that it created a job in our office. There was a job in our office that handled VA certifications and not much else. That wasn't my job.

SI: What other jobs were you given in your first few years here at the Registrar's Office?

RB: Well, shortly after I was hired, when I was hired, the guy I was supposed to be assistant to was gone. So, basically, I was the Registrar for graduate schools. The way we were organized, there was a Registrar for graduate schools, there was a Registrar for the men's colleges, there was a Registrar for Douglass, there was a Registrar for Livingston, and that was because the University structure was so decentralized then. Then, when we centralized, we had all these people basically doing the same jobs for small segments of the student population.

So, I was going to get into this later, but I'll get into it now--when I was hired, we were all--I was--in PERS [Public Employees' Retirement System]. A couple years after I was hired, Governor [William T.] Cahill decided that all state positions had to be reevaluated, and that included Rutgers. I'm off on the timing, but I was given an opportunity to decide whether I wanted to be in PERS or TIAA.

I chose TIAA, because I figured I'm only going to be at Rutgers a couple years, and then, I'll move on to another school, and TIAA is portable. I actually did apply for a job at Clark University, which I didn't get, but, getting back to Governor Cahill, he hired this consulting company called Hay Associates. They came into Rutgers and formed these committees of Rutgers employees and taught them how to evaluate a job. Every job in the University was reevaluated.

I remember, when I was involved in these antiwar demonstrations on campus, I was walking around, somebody said to me, "Aren't you afraid you'll lose your job?" I said, "If I can lose this job for doing this, the job isn't worth having." Well, eventually, the job became worth having, [laughter] because, after the first Hay evaluation, my position was upgraded, and my boss appealed for all the positions in his unit that were upgraded. He said it wasn't high enough. So, they did another evaluation, and they were upgraded again. He appealed again--again, we were upgraded, our positions were upgraded.

So, at that point, for the times, I was doing well. I mean, Rutgers has certainly fallen way behind the private sector now, those people who do have jobs now, but, at that time, I think I was probably doing better than the private sector, and better than some other schools that I might've looked at for jobs. So, I was pretty much wed to Rutgers at that point.

SI: When did you first get involved in the antiwar movement? By the time you returned here, Rutgers had a reputation for some antiwar activity. Was it palpable then?

RB: Yes, demonstrations were breaking out all over the country, and there were demonstrations on campus. I was pretty apolitical. I think my father was pretty conservative. I guess I was more to the right than center.

I remember when they were doing the body count game and the Army would say, "We killed a thousand Vietcong," and the--I forget what the initials are for the Vietcong [VC]--would say, "No, we only lost fifty and, besides which, we killed a thousand GIs." The Army would say, "No, we only lost a couple," or the Air Force would say, "We bombed the hell out of something and we only lost one plane," and North Vietnam would say, "We shot down ten B-52s." I always thought the truth was somewhere in-between.

So, I knew we weren't getting the true story coming out of Vietnam, but I thought that these demonstrators, these college kids, they're only opposed to the war because they don't want to get drafted. They don't really care about war on moral grounds. It's because they have a personal stake. Later on, after my opinions changed, I said, "Yes, why should they not be against the war because they have a personal stake? Who has more of a right to be opposed to it?" That's why we no longer have a draft.

So, beyond that, I didn't take much notice of what was going on. Then, a couple of students came in, the two whose names I gave you, they came in and they were trying to form an organization that they were going to call Central Jersey Vets for Peace. They wanted to get the names of some students who were getting veterans benefits, so [that] they could contact them and see if they wanted to join this group.

I got talking to them while they were in our office and they said, "Hey, we're going on this march, this peace march. Why don't you come along?" I really had no antiwar position at that time, but I did it for kind of a lark, to get out of my house. My marriage was really in bad shape and, a weekend alone, I mean, away from my marriage, sounded like a good idea, plus, get some fresh air and exercise. So, I said, "Yes, sure, I'll join you guys."

This was called--what the hell was it called? We marched, a couple of hundred guys marched, from Jockey Hollow in Morristown, where Washington camped, to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, where he camped another time. I wish I could remember what they called this; it was run by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the time, I was calling myself Central Jersey Vets for Peace, but this experience totally radicalized me, listening to [other vets]. Most of them had been in Vietnam. Very few of us, we were all veterans, but not all of us had been in Vietnam, and listening to them [changed my mind].

I remember, when we got to Valley Forge--it's probably the night before we got to Valley Forge--we camped at Lahaska, Pennsylvania, on a farm. It was kind of like Yasgur's Farm [site of the 1969 Woodstock festival], but this old peacenik guy let us camp there. They wrote a manifesto, and I wasn't involved in the writing of the manifesto, but I remember thinking that this, watching the evolution, the process, the interaction, that this is a great document. Nobody is imposing his will or his ideas. This is coming from the group. This is synergism, and it was a great document. I don't know where it ever ended up, but, as I said, I got totally radicalized.

An interesting thing about this march, we would stop in little towns along the way and there would be people there who were expecting us. They would pretend to be peaceful citizens having a picnic, for example, or something. Then, we would run up. We were all wearing uniforms, carrying plastic rifles. We would run up and grab them and start kicking them around and saying, "Where are the VC? Where are the VC?" The idea was press--the newspapers, would be taking pictures and eating this up.

They didn't know what to make of us. I remember, I was chosen to beat some guy up, and I was pretending to hit him. He kept saying, "Hit me harder, hit me harder." [laughter] I just couldn't do it. I never got picked to do that again. One of the places we stopped to do this, what we called "guerilla theatre," I know we were being followed by cops all the time. There were some guys leaning on the hood of a car taking pictures, guys in suits. One of the guys I recognized as an FBI agent, who used to come into the Registrar's Office and want to look at student records.

I yelled, "Hey, this guy's an FBI agent." He looked at me like, "Oh, my God, my cover's been blown." Everybody else reacted like, "So what? Of course he's an FBI agent--they're all over the place," and I wonder if that experience had any effect on him, because they all thought we were Commies and maybe seeing me there changed his attitude a little bit. Sometime after that, he was in the office, and he talked to me about it and asked me some questions.

SI: What was he asking?

RB: It wasn't like he was looking for inside dope. He was, "What do you think about this stuff?" I said, "Yes, it's no good."

SI: What year was this? Do you know what year, approximately? What time of year was this?

RB: It was summer and it had to be '68.

SI: Okay. Now, you said it was also filmed.

RB: Yes, they made a movie of it while we were doing it. They had a professional film crew that filmed this. So, they would film some activity, and then, they would film an interview with one of the veterans who had been in Vietnam. He would talk about his experiences. The movie was called Different Sons [by Jack Ofield (1971)], a very powerful movie. The last I knew, Lew Pichinson had a copy of it. I don't know if it still exists.

So, when I got back after that, I was pretty active in the antiwar movement. I published a newsletter on campus on behalf of Central Jersey Vets for Peace. I called it "The Grunt," and I tried to get other veterans to give me material for it. I didn't get much out of them [laughter] and I ended up writing most of it myself.

SI: Did you just distribute it around the campus, or was it everywhere?

RB: Distributed it around campus.

SI: Yes.

RB: At about this time, I got involved with an organization called the American Servicemen's Union. There was a radical group of GIs; one of them was Andy Stapp, who wrote a book called Up Against the Brass [(1970)]. He was tried, but they weren't able to convict him of anything. He was trying to start a union for enlisted men, just like they have in Europe. They published a newspaper called Solidarity, which was affiliated with some leftist organizations.

So, I hung around with--there was a guy on campus who was my contact with them, because what I did was, I would buy fifty copies of their newspaper every time they published it, a dollar a copy. I would spread it around campus, leave some at the ROTC Building. Eventually, I was told that the people who were behind this newsletter didn't trust me, and they thought this was counterproductive, not a good idea. They weren't going to sell me anymore newspapers. So, one of my buddies who was in Vietnam Veterans Against the War said, "Why don't you give the fifty bucks to this organization in Fort Dix that is helping soldiers to desert?" I think I did that once, and I don't know why it didn't happen again, but that was that.

I always--I wasn't trusted. I was trying to fit in with these veterans, who were all about ten years younger than I was. A couple of times, I was told, when I was at these demonstrations, "You look like an agent." It was the same reason nobody would sell me cocaine, because I looked like a narc. I was too old. There were some other very memorable demonstrations I was involved in after that, if you want to talk about more of that stuff.

SI: I want to ask you more questions. You said that this march radicalized you. You were impressed with how they came up with a manifesto by consensus, but what were the actual things that you were hearing that changed your mind?

RB: I was impressed with their moral objection to the war. I developed a moral objection to the war. I was impressed with their non-violence, their humanity. I felt that I've never felt so right about anything, never been so right about anything, before or since. I'm most proud of my involvement in that of anything that I might have to be proud of.

SI: You mentioned at some point that someone asked if you were you concerned about losing your job. Did that ever actually become an issue?

RB: It became an issue to me, not to anybody else. I remember one [time], something was going on on-campus. It might've been before the strike, when all the universities in the country, just about, shut down. There were teach-ins on campus around the clock, the semester was truncated, people were just given pass grades.

I remember walking through the College Avenue Gym in my fatigues, and that's another reason that people looked funny, looked at me sideways, because I didn't have jungle fatigues. My fatigues were just olive drab, before jungle fatigues; walking through the College Avenue Gym in my fatigues and there was something going on out in front of the gym. Harold Crosby, who was a Dean of Students, walked past me in the other direction, and he said, "Don't do anything you'll regret." That's the only word of reproach, if that's what it was, that I ever got for my activities, but, if you recall, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War occupied the Statue of Liberty for about a week. The core organizing group was the Central Jersey Vets for Peace members. One of the names I gave you was in the statue.

So, I was involved in the initial planning sessions. As time went on, time was getting closer, I did start to worry about losing my job. I just dropped out of this organizational group without saying anything, and I wonder what they thought of me after that. They thought--I guess if I were an agent, I would've stayed there and turned them in, but I bailed out. It might've been something nice to have on my résumé, that I was one of the guys who occupied the Statue of Liberty. [Editor's Note: On December 26, 1971, fifteen members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War occupied the Statue of Liberty for two days.]

SI: Were you involved in any of the protests that were happening on campus, or was that mostly just student run?

RB: Not so much on campus. I kind of stood around the edges, but I didn't march, I didn't chant. I did all that in the context of [the] Vietnam organization, the veterans' organization.

SI: I wondered if there was interaction between protests groups on campuses and those that were kind of off-campus, either in veterans' communities or general protest groups.

RB: I wasn't really in a position to notice that.

SI: It is very curious now, with all the rights and protections that we are familiar with now, FBI agents just coming in to look at students' records and that sort of thing. Was that ever opposed, or was that par for the course?

RB: There was no law against it. There was no University policy against it. You remember the Media Papers? [Editor's Note: On March 8, 1971, members of a group known as the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the Media, Pennsylvania field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and left with over a thousand documents. The group mailed copies of the files, which revealed the existence of the FBI's COINTELPRO domestic spying operation, to news outlets, who initially refused to publish the information. On March 24th, The Washington Post published the first major story on the files' contents.]

SI: No.

RB: The Media Papers--somebody broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole their files and Xeroxed them and sent them to campus newspapers all over the country. One of the memos said, "Chief [Robert] Bunker at Rutgers is a good source of information about radicals." He was the Chief of the Campus Police. "And this dean is another," and it named a dean. "This dean is," I won't mention his name, he's still here, "This dean is a good source of information." [laughter]

So, yes, there was an attitude of cooperation with law enforcement authorities in the University at that time. So, now, we have FERPA, the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act [of 1974], which makes student records sacrosanct, but it names four government agencies that can look at student records without a subpoena. So, it kind of, in my opinion, just legalized what was going on before.

SI: When the people you had joined the Veterans Against the War group with came in asking for the names, did they have direct access to it?

RB: It wasn't my area of responsibility at the time; I don't know if they got names. They were talking to my colleague. I don't know if he gave them names or not, but I know we had--I think I was a graduate student at the time--six or seven members who were Rutgers students in this group.

SI: Howard Crosby told you to be careful what you do, words to that effect, but you said that was the only word from an official. Was there kind of a divide between folks like yourself, in the antiwar movement, and others who were maybe for the war, or just kind of in the center?

RB: There were …

SI: I am talking about among the staff.

RB: There were people, definitely were people, who supported the war. ROTC was a strong influence on campus and had business contacts with many offices and had good relationships with people on campus. So, I think there was this idea that, "We have to back up ROTC. We have to be with our people here."

I remember people from off campus coming on campus to counter the demonstrations. There weren't what you'd call counter demonstrations--there were a few individuals--but I remember the students had the street blocked in front of the gym over on College Avenue. So, the Campus Police were there, rerouting traffic, and there was a car full of guys who tried to drive through the police lines to go down College Avenue, where students were blocking the street.

He [a police officer] told them, "Street's closed, street's closed." The guy said, "I want to go down that street. It's a public street. I'm a taxpayer. I want to go down that street." He arrested them. So, that is probably the strongest counter opinion that I saw on campus. If you were in favor of the war, you didn't make a big deal about it, because I guess it wasn't the popular mode at that time.

SI: Tell me about some of the other aspects of the movement that you got involved in. You said there were other protests that you got involved in later.

RB: Yes, and I want to jump ahead a little bit, before I forget it, but I talked about the security clearance that I got when I was trying to get assigned to the Counter-Intelligence Corps. After being involved in the antiwar movement for a couple of years, I decided I wanted to see what the government had on me. I thought for sure that there were files on me, due to my activities, and I wanted to see what they said.

So, I wrote to the FBI, the CIA, NSA, the Army, under the Freedom of Information [Act]. I wanted to find out what files they had, because we all thought our phones were being tapped and our mail was being read. Eventually, I got this big, thick envelope, weighed a couple of pounds, of Freedom of Information compliance. I opened it up and I was very disappointed to find that it all related to my security clearance. It was just interviews with my teachers, my ex-girlfriends, absolutely nothing about my big-time antiwar activities. [laughter]

There was a war crimes hearing that was staged in Detroit.

SI: The Winter Soldier.

RB: '69, the Winter Soldier investigations, and that lasted about three days. I went out there. I had nothing to testify about, but I went out there as a reporter for All You Can Eat. I wrote an article about it that they published. Fred Bernath [a faculty member and Associate Dean in the Rutgers School of Engineering] testified there. Several of us went out there, even though he was the only one who testified. That was really an eye-opener about the atrocities that we were committing in Vietnam.

[Editor's Note: The Winter Soldier Investigation, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, was a three-day event (January 31-February 2, 1971) in Detroit in which over one hundred veterans and more than a dozen civilians testified about their experiences in Vietnam from 1963 to 1970. The event was filmed and released as the documentary Winter Soldier in 1972.]

I'll never forget, they wanted people from the public to be in the audience. They didn't want veterans to be taking up seats. So, I had to stand in the doorway, but, after hearing all these horror stories about what we were doing in Vietnam--one guy told about what happened just before they got on the plane in California to go to Vietnam. He said they were all being addressed by an officer, who was giving them encouragement, telling them what they were going to be involved in, "I know you're going to do a good job," and so on.

All the while he was talking to them, he had a rabbit in his arm and he was stroking it. This is the story that this veteran is telling, that he saw this. At the end of his talk, he takes a knife and he guts the rabbit, and he throws the guts all over the GIs. There was a civilian in the audience--he sat calmly through all the discussions of maiming civilians and napalm and torture in Vietnam--he was so outraged about this rabbit, he wanted to know the name of that officer, [laughter] so that he could, whatever, do something about it. Anyway, I thought that was an interesting comment on the attitude, public attitude, towards what was happening over there.

I also took part in Dewey Canyon III. Dewey Canyon III was an operation where we occupied the Mall in Washington. We were there for a week. I met Ted Kennedy. He came and drank cheap-o wine with us. It was a lot of fun. We refused to get permits, so [that] they were going to arrest us all, but they didn't. We stayed there without permits.

It was called Dewey Canyon III because there had recently been an operation in the newspaper that was referred to as Dewey Canyon II. Dewey Canyon II was an incursion into Laos, when we're not at war with Laos. In fact, when VVAW was advertising Dewey Canyon III, the subtitle was, "An Incursion into the Country of Congress." [Editor's Note: Operation Dewey Canyon III took place from April 19 to 23, 1971.]

Why we're there, we're all supposed to be going to visit our Representatives and Senators and tell them how we felt about this. The press never asked, "Why are we starting with Dewey Canyon II?" but the guys in VVAW knew that there was a Dewey Canyon I that was secret, never made it into the papers. There was a previous incursion into Laos.

I guess that was the last big demonstration. Then, when that was over, the guys marched over to Congress and threw their ribbons and their medals on to the steps of Congress, very moving, very touching. I didn't. The only medal I had was a Good Conduct Ribbon. I wasn't about to--I didn't know where it was, but I wasn't about to go over there and throw my Good Conduct Medal at Congress, not that I cherished it, but that it paled beside what were Silver Stars, Bronze Stars.

SI: Were there any counter protests at the national protests you would go to? Do you remember any of those trying to disrupt the protest?

RB: I remember, when we were marching from Valley Forge--I keep getting it backwards, from Morristown to Valley Forge--we'd go through some of these little towns, especially in Pennsylvania, go past a VFW hall, and they'd all be out there. I swear, they had beers, they all had beers in their hands. They'd all be out there cursing at us, and that was really the most resistance that I ever noticed.

We wanted to march in the Veterans Day parade in, I think it was Perth Amboy, and they wouldn't give us a permit. We finally got a permit and they put us at the end of the parade, the very last bunch of people, a bunch of VVAW veterans. In front of us were marching bands, military units, VFW guys with their hats and their medals, marching in step, and so on. We're all in the back with our raggedy fatigues. A lot of the guys had long hair, and we weren't marching, we were dancing, prancing around.

I remember going through this black neighborhood, and they freaked out when they saw us. We had a big sign that said, "Vietnam Veterans Against the War." They all started laughing and clapping, except one guy. He said, "You should be against it. You started it." At the time, most of the soldiers in Vietnam were black, because they were the ones who couldn't get the deferment, the college deferments. Now that there's no longer a draft and the veterans are coming in now, they're mostly white. It's a change, a real noticeable change, in the composition of the military. That was going to lead me to something else, but I lost track of it.

When I was in VVAW, I used to say, "No more draft, end the draft." Not too long after the war, they went to an all-volunteer Army. It wasn't long before it became clear that this was a diabolically cynical move, to make sure that there would never again be veteran antiwar protests. There would not be antiwar protest songs; there would never again be a Country Joe and the Fish, "Fixin' to Die Rag," I mean, great, great music, great literature, movies.

That'll never happen again, because there's no draft. Nobody's watching the store. The people who are going are the people who are volunteering to go. The draft will never come back--I'm sure of it. No politician would dare campaign on, "Let's bring back the draft," but, if there were a draft, we wouldn't be in Afghanistan, we wouldn't be in Iraq. It was a brilliantly sinister move to eliminate the draft.

SI: I want to ask you a couple questions about your work at Rutgers in the 1970s and 1980s, going forward. What were the major changes that you saw in your job there?

RB: Well, first, I saw ROTC got discredited. They tried to get ROTC off campus, but the administration fought it. So, they took credit away from the courses, but, afterwards, the deans would quietly come in and put the credits back on. Then, I saw ROTC get reestablished, get their credit back. I saw the men's colleges get integrated. What other huge changes? huge technological changes, from the way we kept records, the way we registered students.

When I was a student, you had to take a card, a tab card--they don't have tab cards anymore, tabulating card, that sized card--and go to a department and get somebody's signature on a course selection, that you wanted that course. Then, you would take this card with your course selections and the initials and you would go to the Registrar's Office, which, at the time, was in Voorhees Hall, over where the Zimmerli [Art Museum] is now. You would stand in line all day to get to somebody on the Registrar's staff and to get registered for these courses.

Years later, when I was in the Registrar's Office, they had graduated to card sorters. Instead of getting a signature on a card, you would go to a department and get a punched tab card that had that course number and section punched into it already, with the name of the course printed on the top. You'd go to each department, you'd get a card for the course, if they wanted to let you in. Then, you'd take your little bundle of punched cards to the Registrar and the Registrar had a deck of punched cards, one for each student. So, there was a card with your name on it that had your student number punched into it. They would take the little packet of cards you brought and they'd put that behind the card with your name on it.

Then, all those cards were taken to what we called IBM, "Take these cards to IBM." There was a data processing unit over in Miller Hall, behind, what is it? 12 College Avenue. They had IBM employees on site to help run the equipment. That's why we called it "IBM." So, they'd run all these cards through a card punch, a sorter, whatever, and they would come up with rosters, eventually, to come up with paper rosters. That was the system that was in use for many years, until the '80s.

In the '80s, we went from using the full course number to identify a course to using a five-digit index number to identify the course. So, a course, if the course were offered in successive semesters, it would have the same course number, but would have a different index number. So, that shortened processing time quite a bit, just to use that index number instead of the full course number. We were relying a lot on key punchers. Down in data processing, we had a lot of key punchers; I don't think we have any key punchers now. Nothing is done in batch anymore.

The next step was to allow--by the way, when we used to [use cards], we had a period called demand registration, where students would just collect course cards for every course they wanted and we would register students for any course that they got a card for, regardless of class size or stop point. Then, we'd get the rosters as a result and the Registrars would sit down with their deans and go through the rosters. The dean would say, "Oh, we have enough demand for this course. I'll have to hire another instructor. We'll make two sections, make this into two sections," or, "I've got forty people here and ten people here--move ten of them over to this other section." Then, we would make those changes, and then, we'd notify the student, "These are the courses you got."

Well, when the budget crunches started to hit us, the deans didn't have that flexibility, to split sections, to add courses, and so on. So, we did away with that part of registration. In the '80s, we went to user entry. We bought this package--I forget the name of the vendor--but it allowed students to use a touchtone telephone to register for courses. We used that for some years, and just, I guess, within the last fifteen or so years, we've gone to an online, web-based registration system.

We still had the telephone registration system, because there was a feeling in some schools, like Livingston and Social Work, that not all their students could afford to have a computer. So, we had to give them this opportunity to register by phone. Eventually, the company that sold this product and maintained it went out of business, and so, we had to, a couple years ago, give up the phone registration. So, now, we just have an online registration system, which has allowed us to reduce staff and has allowed us to cut our [costs].

It's also an online transcript system. Students can request their transcripts online. It's allowed us to issue a transcript within a day, instead of ten days, when we had to make a Xerox copy of the student's [transcript]. Actually, when we issued a transcript in the past, before we went to the computer, there was a card, a big, I'm going to say seventeen-by-fourteen card, for every student. The courses, originally, were written on by hand, by the University Recorder, who had very nice handwriting. Then, when we went to the key-punch system, we used to print the students' semester courses and grades on a continuous roll of wax paper. Then, we had a machine that you put this record card, transcript card, under the wax paper and a machine would transfer it, by heat, to the record card.

The next step from there was to print labels. Instead of having the students' courses on a continuous sheet of wax paper, they were on individual peel-off labels that were on long sheets of wax paper. A clerk would peel the label off and stick it on that record card. All those record cards were microfilmed. Around 1985, when we went to an online registration and their courses were manually put on the student record database, so, we could start issuing transcripts using the computer to print the transcript, rather than keeping a hard copy piece of paper for every student and manually updating that. That's basically the system we're still using.

We went a bit further in the last couple of years, where instead of picking a course, and then, the computer saying, "Sorry, it's closed," picking another course, students can now build schedules. They can say, "I want these courses," without giving a section number, "I want these courses. I don't want Friday courses, I don't want eight AM courses," and the system will give them ten proposed schedules that will fit their parameters. They can store that and, when registration opens, they can log in and pick one of their programs and they're registered for it. So, yes, that's been a huge change.

I've seen different Presidents come and go.

SI: How does a change in administration affect this department in particular?

RB: Well, they've moved us. [laughter] We've been under several different vice-presidents. It seems that the organizational structure at the higher levels of the University is very fluid and depending on who's the President and what kind of job they want to create for somebody. So, we've been moved from one unit to another, one vice-president to another, over time. We've generally gotten very good support from the University for our unit. I don't think, when the budget crunches come, they don't hit us any harder than they hit anybody else.

SI: What are your impressions of some of the Presidents, from your days as a student to your experiences as an alumni and staff member?

RB: Yes. Mason Gross was kind of the tweedy professor. Interesting, he didn't want the medical school. I know this in retrospect--I didn't know it at the time--but, when the Governor, I think it was Cahill, wanted to create the Rutgers Medical School, he didn't want it. It was kind of imposed on him.

The story I heard was that, a year or so later, Cahill came, with the Chancellor of Higher Ed and some other people, and they wanted to look at the medical school. They went through the buildings that had been constructed, and they only saw a handful of students. They went to Mason Gross and they said, "You have to admit more students into the medical school." He said, "We don't need more students in the medical school." So, it was about a year later, they took the medical school away from us and made it an independent unit. Now, we're struggling to figure out how to reintegrate it into the University.

So, he was the old professor. I remember, when I was a freshman, the school catalog said, "Rutgers--Small enough to know you, but big enough to serve you." That was the way it was then. It was a small place. The fraternity houses had housemothers who lived in the fraternities and were supposed to keep them on the straight-and-narrow, I guess. The story was that the first person you got drunk at a fraternity party was the housemother.

So, then, there was Bloustein, I guess. He was a fundraiser. He was the one who took Rutgers out of the small school era. He was politically active. I don't think Presidents before him were that politically active. I remember, I was involved in an organization, an employee organization, called the Administrative Assembly, which the President's Office created in response to some concerns among administrators that we didn't have any protection. We didn't want to form a union, but we wanted job security. We wanted a fair shot at jobs. We didn't want to see favoritism in compensation.

So, the President's Office created this organization called the Administrative Assembly, and I was president for three years. President Bloustein came and talked to us on a few occasions. On one occasion, I remember him saying, "When I was at Bennington, we always waited until everybody else had set their tuition for the coming year, and then, we would set it higher, because people would say, 'If it's that expensive, it must be good.'" He said, "It worked for Bennington and there's no reason that Rutgers can't be the most expensive state university in the country." That was his attitude. I heard him say that.

Once, he brought Alexander Pond, who was hired to fill a new position called the Executive Vice President, and introduced him to the Administrative Assembly. Pond said to us, "Don't let your concern for your fellow employees color your actions." Then, they both got up and left. [laughter] So, anyway, a few years later, CWA, Communications Workers of America, some other unions, came in, tried to unionize administrators. Eventually, they were successful, and the Administrative Assembly was no more. That was quite a digression. I don't remember how I got there--oh, changes, Presidents.

SI: Your impressions of them.

RB: Oh, yes, and then, there was Fran Lawrence, who was a square peg in a round hole. He just didn't fit in here, came from Tulane. He never seemed comfortable here. He wasn't comfortable with the Administrative Assembly, whenever he came to us. I remember the first commencement he had--he presided over the University commencement at the RAC, the Rutgers Athletic Center--he had a jazz band, a New Orleans jazz band, instead of a more somber unit.

When the procession was coming in, they came from the back, they came from behind the end bleachers up to the front end of the floor, up to the platform. This jazz band is playing When the Saints Go Marching In and he's at the head of the procession with a colored umbrella over his head. He's waving it around over his head and he's kind of dancing down the aisle. The faculty is marching behind him and they don't know what to make of this or what they're supposed to do.

Then, when it was all over, after he had awarded all these doctorate degrees, after it was over, we're at the end of the ceremony, he said, "Is there a doctor in the house?" I guess he expected this rousing response, but people sat there, "Huh? What?" Then, the ceiling opened up and all these colored balloons and confetti came down--and it was the last time he did that. [laughter] This is not "New Orleans of the North," not that that would've been a bad thing, but he wasn't around long enough to change the character of the place.

Although every President who comes in brings people from his former place and the character does change somewhat, but, eventually, Rutgers--I have never seen the Rutgers persona completely obliterated. It changes eventually. The new people who come in, we change a little bit and they change a little bit, and the Rutgers persona continues.

SI: How would you define the "Rutgers persona?" [laughter]

RB: I should've foreseen a question like that. I'm talking about the administration--we are family, we're supposed to take care of each other, look out for our interests, not be hung up on hierarchy and status and privilege, have the students' interests foremost in mind, treat people as equals and worthwhile human beings. That's been my experience since my student days.

SI: During your time being involved in the Administrative Assembly, particularly in your years as the president, what were the major issues that faced the Assembly and faced the administrators in general?

RB: The things we got most involved in were compensation, salary and compensation. The University didn't have a policy, a published policy, on how jobs were classified and paid. We went to them, we sat down with them, we wrote a policy with them. Now, there's a policy on how jobs are classified, how an employee can request a reclassification of a job.

There was no grievance procedure for administrative employees. We sat down with them, we wrote a grievance procedure. The grievance procedure allowed for representation. We provided representatives for the grievance procedure. I must have represented a hundred grievances in my time. That grievance procedure is now administered by the, what is it, ARU, RUA, the Rutgers University Administrators' Union? whatever it is.

We were concerned about job postings. How does somebody get hired for a job that nobody even knew existed? It wasn't posted; nobody had a chance to bid on it. So, now, jobs have to be posted before they can be filled. There's a bidding procedure that didn't exist before.

What it did quite well, that the union doesn't do, in my opinion, was it provided networking for administrators. We got together in Newark, Camden and New Brunswick with our colleagues in many different administrative offices on many different campuses. So, in the process of your job, if it turned out you needed to talk to somebody in student accounting, you knew somebody in student accounting, you knew somebody in housing, you knew somebody in Newark or Camden. It was great, we exchanged information. It was a very useful thing for the University to have.

They didn't treat us well and, as a result, some unionizers got a toehold in the Administrative Assembly and kind of undid it. They got the Assembly to endorse unionization and, at that point, we were dead. It was over. What other kinds of concerns? Layoff procedures, the University didn't have a policy on. If we had to have layoffs, they didn't have a policy on how to do it, who to layoff, what to consider before deciding who should get laid off. Now, we sat with them, we wrote that policy. Now, there's a policy.

SI: What were the major issues that led to a union movement gaining traction? You said you were not treated well--what are some specifics?

RB: They disregarded a lot of our initiatives. I mean, they weren't wholeheartedly enthusiastic about our existence. The thing that led to our creation was, there were two administrators in Newark--I know their names--and they were in the admissions office in Newark. A black student organization accused them of being insensitive to black students, black applicants. The University just summarily reassigned them to other offices.

Several administrators, senior administrators, went to the President and said, "There's something wrong with this. There's no due process here. There are property rights in a job," maybe that's not what they said, but there are property rights in a job, "and there has to be a system in place to resolve things like this, appeal things like this." These administrators organized themselves into something called the RAPAP, Rutgers Administrative Professional Association of Personnel or something [Rutgers Association of Professional and Administrative Personnel]. They're the ones who went to the President and said, "We need a grievance procedure." They're the ones who wrote the first draft of the grievance procedure.

I wasn't involved at that time, so, I don't know the interim step that led from RAPAP to the Administrative Assembly, but I understand that some people in RAPAP wanted to join the AAUA, wanted to found a chapter of AAUA on campus, American Association of University Administrators. They didn't think this was a good thing for the University, because they thought it would be confrontational. They went to the President and said, "Can we do something instead of AAUA?" That's how the Administrative Assembly was born.

SI: I heard about that incident in other interviews, where they just got rid of the, I guess it was the Director of Admissions up there, and they reassigned the others.

RB: Yes.

SI: What years were you president of the Assembly?

RB: It was in the '80s, that's all I know, mid-'80s sometime. There ought to be a huge file of archives in the University Archives from the Administrative Assembly. When I stepped down from the presidency, I turned over about fifty pounds, at least, of files, and the new president said she would put them in the Archives. I don't know if they ever got there, but, at the time, we were one of only three such organizations in the country, as I understood. Then, the other two went under; we were the last one.

SI: You mentioned this meeting where Bloustein and Alec Pond made this statement. Did it seem to spoil the relationship with them?

RB: I think it was basically a symptom of the relationship. It didn't actually spoil the relationship, but we were all kind of stunned and dumbfounded. I was sitting next to him. I should've said, "Hey, wait a minute, explain that," but I was tongue-tied. They just got up and walked out.

Occasionally, I mean, sometimes, they had a representative, the administration had a representative, non-voter, in the Administrative Assembly who would give a report and answer questions and give advice. Sometimes, it was the Director of Personnel, sometimes, the Director of Employee Relations. Sometimes, they would say, "You shouldn't be talking about this." Whatever it was, I don't remember, but, "You shouldn't be talking about this."

SI: Was the Administrative Assembly involved in initiatives to diversify the administration, in terms of gender or race, or was that handled by a different unit?

RB: I don't recall that that came up as an issue. Maybe the job posting procedure was supposed to contribute to that issue, but, no, I don't think so.

SI: Okay. I wanted to ask, since you have these deep feelings towards, I guess, pacifism--is that accurate, or just antiwar activity?--when the War in Iraq started and the War in Afghanistan started, did you get active in any kind of movement then?

RB: Interesting; I don't think I'm a pacifist. When I was in the VVAW, I joined the War Resisters' League--don't remember what I had to do to join, but they had a nice pin. It was two hands holding the broken ends of a rifle, and I wore that a lot. I got their newsletter.

When Vietnam was over, I got a letter from them saying, "We have gotten hundreds of thousands of new members since the Vietnam War started, and we want to know if any of them are actually interested in being active in the War Resisters' League." So, I guess it was, yes, I'm not a pacifist.

I remember Operation JUST CAUSE, or whatever the hell Bush I called his war.

SI: Panama?

RB: Oh, no, Iraq, the First Iraq War.


RB: DESERT STORM, was that the first one or JUST CAUSE? Who had JUST CAUSE?

SI: I think Bush's operation in Panama was called JUST CAUSE. We can check that. [Editor's Note: Operation JUST CAUSE, the American invasion of Panama in December of 1989, removed Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega from power.]

RB: Okay, well, where was I going? When Hussein invaded Kuwait, and then, Bush drummed up support for this invasion to kick them out of Kuwait, my friend Louie from VVAW called up and said, "Well, Rich, it looks like we have to put on the marching boots and start marching and protesting again." I said, "I don't know. I'm not sure I'm opposed to this one, because there was this naked aggression against Kuwait. It shouldn't be allowed. It shouldn't be allowed to stand."

In fact, when he cut it short, after a hundred days, I was not pleased, because nothing had really been solved, except that Kuwait wasn't occupied anymore. Then, the idiot encourages the Kurds and the Shiites to rise up against Hussein, and they do and they're slaughtered. They expected us to come to their rescue and we didn't. That really pissed me off.

[Editor's Note: On August 2, 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded neighboring Kuwait to secure its oil fields and key location on the Persian Gulf. Operation DESERT SHIELD began on August 7, 1990, when the first US forces arrived in Saudi Arabia, at the request of its leader, King Fahd, who feared an invasion by Iraq. Operation DESERT STORM, the US-led, UN-sanctioned coalition force assault on Iraqi-held territory, began on January 17, 1991, and concluded with a cease-fire negotiated on March 1, 1991.]

With Afghanistan, if he had stayed in Tora Bora until the end and caught Bin Laden, and then, got the hell out, okay, I'd support that, but, instead, he abandons the mission. He leaves an occupying army in Afghanistan with no mission, takes off and invades Iraq for these bogus, completely fictional claims. I didn't demonstrate against that war, but I was against it from the beginning. See, he could do that because there was no draft--there I am, back to the draft again. He could do that. Presidents can do what they want militarily, because there's no draft and Congress is supine. So, I was very much opposed to the Second Iraq War and very much opposed to the continuing presence in Afghanistan without a valid mission.

SI: During your activity with Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Central Jersey Peace Veterans, did you ever discuss your activities or your feelings with your father? Did that ever come up?

RB: I didn't have that kind of a relationship with my father, where I could talk to him about anything. After I graduated from Rutgers and started working, occasionally, I would drop by his house and pay him a visit. We would just watch a baseball game and have a beer or something, and then, I'd get up and leave. We wouldn't really talk about anything important.

I know he was opposed to the antiwar protests, and he told my wife at the time, "I hope he ends up in jail." That's as much as I know about his opinion of my activities or of the war.

SI: You also attended graduate school here in the late 1960s.

RB: Yes.

SI: What was your degree in?

RB: I got the ADD, Geography. I didn't really feel a need for a graduate degree in geography, but, since I was getting tuition remission as an employee, I wanted to get the VA benefits, which go to the veteran, not the institution. So, I got admitted to the Graduate School.

I got enough credits to graduate, but I failed the master's exam. The department chair said, "Well, you did okay on parts one and two, but, on the theory part, the theory has changed since you were an undergraduate. You have to take some courses to catch up on that part of it and you'll be okay." Well, I didn't want to take any more courses at that point, so, I let it drop.

SI: Are there any other aspects of your time at Rutgers during your career that you would like to talk about or that I am skipping over? I know I keep asking the same questions at the end of each period, but it is just because you know your life so much better than I do.

RB: I've left out all the drugs and alcohol. [laughter] It's not illuminating, but it's certainly affected my life, the course of my life, in big ways. I'm amazed at how much I've been able to remember, so, if there's anything I've left out, it'll probably occur to me the minute you leave.

SI: All right. Outside of Rutgers, have you been involved in any activities, such as community groups, things like that?

RB: Well, I've been in Alcoholics Anonymous for twenty-two years. That is certainly a community group. It's been the second-most important activity of my life.

SI: All right. It is very interesting, the stories you have been telling about the Registrar's Office. It is an area I really knew nothing about until looking into it for this interview, other than my own experiences using the dial-up system as a student. You said the deans would come in, for example, for ROTC courses and change their credits. Then, you also had these student workers, the Vietnam veterans who were students, who were doing the certifications for the other veterans coming back. Were there other aspects of other outside forces affecting your department, meddling, if you want to use that term?

RB: The kinds of things that I see, one of our responsibilities is to decide who is a New Jersey resident and entitled to a lower rate of tuition. I've been approached multiple times by deans and faculty members on behalf of some student that I've said is not a New Jersey resident, trying to get me to change my decision, influence my judgment. I just do not respond to that. I don't allow it. First of all, it's a state law. There's no leeway--you're a resident or you're not a resident.

It's your intention. It's based on your intention, and I'm the judge of what your intentions are and that's that. There's an appeal process, but, at the end of the appeal process, done deal. So, my feeling on that is, it's going to have to go to the President, and then, the President's going to have to tell my boss to do it. My boss is going to have to decide whether he's going to do it or not.

I've had similar instances where a dean will want me to remove a course from a student's record, either because he got a bad grade or he didn't pay for it and, now, he's being dunned. That's another thing I won't do. I won't alter a student's record at the instigation of a dean if I think it's arbitrary. If I think the dean is exercising valid discretion, I can be convinced. We've built that into our online grading system.

That's another huge change in the Registrar's Office. We used to send out paper rosters to the instructors for grades, and then, we had about two or three days, at the most, to get these rosters back into our office and clean up the rosters. I mean, the instructors are adding names, crossing names off, saying, "He's in the other section," assigning grades that aren't valid. We would be here until midnight cleaning up these rosters, and then, sending them down to keypunch. They'd be keypunching them all night long. Then, we'd be lucky if we got seventy percent of the grades in on time.

So, now, we have online grading. A faculty member can grade his or her course online at his or her leisure. We still only get seventy percent of the grades, but it's a lot easier on everybody. [laughter] The instructor can change a student's grade historically, go on the online grading system and change a grade, and what we've built in is an approval step. The grade change goes to the department chair and/or the dean of that course to approve it by e-mail. An e-mail goes, and then, the approver goes to this same website and says, "Approve." Once it's approved, it goes to the database without anybody else having to touch it, and that is an archive. It's an online archive of all courses taken, all grades received, a history of all changes to grades.

Right now, it only goes back to 2006, but, every year, we're trying to add some more. We've got reams of old paper rosters. We've got old rosters on microfilm. We've got microfilm and computer disks in bank vaults off campus, but the online systems have been a boon for all of us. Right now, we have a legacy system that was designed in-house. It grew in-house. Over the years, there was never a coherent University policy about computer systems. As a result, Housing has their own system, Student Accounting has their own system, Financial Aid has their own system, Registration has their own system.

Our staff in OIT has done wonders getting these systems to talk to each other and integrate and exchange data. Every time some dean comes up and says, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could do this?" they do it. They have modified that system thousands, literally thousands, of times and it does amazing things. It's just an archaic juggernaut, but it does wonders.

Periodically, the University, and we started it a couple years ago again, will put together a task force and say to this task force, "Study how we can buy an integrated package from a vendor and replace our current legacy system." So, the task force will spend time meeting with administrators, faculty, deans, students, come up with some specs. Some vendors will come in and look at the specs, and the vendors will say, "This can't be done unless you change your business rules. You've got too much flexibility in your system. Some schools have minus grades, some schools don't. Some schools have plus grades, some schools don't. Some schools treat a temporary grade this way, some another." So, nothing ever comes of these efforts.

Recently, another effort was made. Courtney McAnuff, Vice President for Enrollment Management Services, brought in some consultants and vendors starting about two years ago and we got up to the point where vendors were looking at the specs and considering bids. They said, "You've got to change your business rules. You can't do anything until you get a new President and it's going to be too expensive." So, right now, it is on hold, nothing's happening, but, every once in a while, somebody, a dean or a department chair, will say, "What do you mean you can't do this? Boy, when the new system comes in, that'll take care of this problem," and we have to say, "Guess what? If a new system comes in, it won't be able to do what this system does."

SI: I think all of my questions have been answered, unless there is something else you would like to add. Thank you for your time; I appreciate it.

RB: You're welcome. I was happier than I thought I would be to participate. [laughter]

SI: Great, thank you very much.

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Reviewed by Jesse Braddell 06/25/2013
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 6/27/2019
Reviewed by Monica Licourt Bird 4/2023