I was up at Cal Poly Pomona this week having a cup of coffee and was struck with a strong whiff of déjà vu. The feeling wasn’t caused by the strong odor of over roasted Starbuckian coffee beans, a southern malodorous breeze coming from the swine unit, or fresh lawn clippings from the lawn in front of the library.
I tried to identify what it instantly forced me to remember Cal Poly – and other California colleges-- in the early Seventies—and what triggered my memories of another period in my life. But looking out at the sea of students sipping coffee and reading text books, or talking with friends, the feeling washed over me.
The early to mid-twenty-something male students I saw were reflections of me going to college in an earlier era.
We share the experience of going to school and getting our degrees on the GI Bill.
I am huge proponent of the GI Bill. It’s hard to argue that any other program has done more to provide long term good for our society than the GI Bill. In our post WWII through the end of Vietnam world, the Gil Bill helped educate and train new generations of teachers, attorneys, engineers, trades professionals, actors and artists. The GI Bill wasn’t just about college education for our veterans, it also kick started the housing boom, and helped to transform our society.
Prior to the end of WWII, individual home worship wasn’t nearly as common as it is now. Because of GI Bill Home loans veterans became home owners, families moved into subdivisions that had once been barren land and scores of thousands of new schools were built in states such as California, Washington and Virginia and we baby boomers began the long slog to adulthood.
But it wasn’t just about getting a degree and becoming a first-time home owner. The GI Bill produced legions of engineers many of whom helped pioneer technologies leading to today’s technology rich society. Looking back through the fog of time at my childhood in Azusa, CA, I can’t remember a single male teacher who didn’t get their undergraduate or graduate degree on the GI Bill or one female teacher who wasn’t married to vet whose post military life hadn’t been shaped by the GI Bill.
In years past colleges didn’t pay much attention to the vet students. Some of my generation may have needed a little extra help. Especially if our monthly checks inexplicably didn’t arrive in the mail. My best hope the two times this happened was to contact the offices of my US Senator, the late Alan Cranston (D.CA).All it would take was one point of contact and voila! The checks began arriving regularly again.
Credit needs to be given to many of today’s universities who have anticipated the flood of veterans now on campus. Many schools now have veteran’s coordinators and are quick to pair GI Bill students with faculty advisors. Moreover, today’s Veterans Administration is a much different organization than it was scores of years ago. The VA today is quick to provide detailed, courteous help and is dedicated to aiding veterans with most issues they are likely to face.
My quick trip to Cal Poly Pomona opened a flood gate of memories and helped me realize that we still have programs that can help young men and women get started in life. It wasn’t the coffee at the Bronco Café, or the bright green Cal Poly hoody I bought at the book store, it was the image of obvious veterans, some with red scars from combat inflicted wounds sipping drinks on benches and reading chapters of texts in preparation for classes later in the day. It was Déjà vu. All over. Again.
As an now retired boomer who went to college on the GI Bill, I can’t wait to see where today’s college educated veterans steer our world. To the young men and women taking advantage of the GI Bill to go to college; Have fun, don’t forget to play the occasional card game and “Thanks for your service and Welcome home.”—Jim Forbes a USMC vet and Cal Poly class of 1973 graduate. March 29, 2012.