SI Vault
John Tibby
December 23, 1957
It was a time of change at home and abroad, of diplomas in hand and work ahead, just 9,000 days and nights ago
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 23, 1957

From Then To Now

It was a time of change at home and abroad, of diplomas in hand and work ahead, just 9,000 days and nights ago

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

A dedicated little group of visionaries calling themselves the American Interplanetary Society announced plans to launch a seven-foot skyrocket. "We don't expect a great deal from this first experiment," said one of them. "If it climbs a mile we shall be very satisfied."...The eminent Dr. Karl Compton of MIT looked into the future and crisply prophesied: "The field of atomic science is so little explored that we should not be surprised if the next generation should uncover the most exciting and far-reaching developments in the whole of history."...The American people went to the polls and chose Franklin D. Roosevelt to succeed Herbert Hoover.... Despite the Depression the Rockefellers poured their money into the building of Rockefeller Center, largest and most imaginative act of urban restoration since the San Francisco fire.... The Russians were building, too—one big preoccupation was the glittering Moscow subway. An obscure tough guy named Nikita Khrushchev, aged 38, got a new job watch-dogging the construction engineers....

That was the year of our Lord 1932 and of the American republic the 156th. It was the start of a rousing chapter of modern times, the end of college and the beginning of careers for men named this week to the Silver Anniversary All-America. The 25 men honored here (see box) as outstanding representatives of their generation have two experiences in common: achievement as football players and achievement since football days. Beyond that, their careers have been as various as the men themselves. When MIT's Professor Compton gazed into the atomic future a halfback named Ken Fields was playing for West Point; today Brigadier General Kenneth Fields is general manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Back in the days when Khrushchev was working on his subway, Brown University had a back named Bill Gilbane. Last week Bill Gilbane, executive vice-president of a Providence construction firm, was working on $85 million worth of industrial expansion business. Princeton's football captain, Josh Billings, settled in Nashville after a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford and became a doctor. Utah's Frank Christensen has a worldwide business in diamond drills. Georgia Tech's Albert Syd Williams is Coca-Cola's boss distributor in Britain. Quarterback Jim Aston of Texas A&M is president of the biggest bank in the Southwest. Haverford's Harry Hansen is a professor at the Harvard Business School—and so it goes.

But that is to get ahead of the story by some 9,000 days and nights.

The Depression cut college enrollments in the fall of 1932—about one student in every 15 dropped out for money reasons or was unable to matriculate—and the survivors began to think of themselves as a rather more "serious" generation than their predecessors. "Lit." majors switched to economics, and bull sessions became concerned with national as well as campus politics. It was a time of "working your way," and all but five of the 25 Silver Anniversary award men worked either at part-time jobs or summer jobs, or both, to help pay their way. For the award men as a group, tuition, board and room that year averaged $700 over-all; nine of the men pieced this out with athletic-scholarship help, seven with academic scholarships. Three were good enough to wind up Phi Beta Kappa. Eleven graduated with honors.

But if it was a serious year on campus it was not a somber one. Collegians read The Cautious Amorist and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back as well as A Guide Through World Chaos, and they took their dates to see Garbo in Grand Hotel and Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in Red Dust. The surefire songs were Night and Day and I've Told Every Little Star. In dormitories and fraternity houses they rehashed the summer's performances in the world of sport. Gene Sarazen won both the American and the British Open championships, bombing his way ahead of men like Bobby Cruickshank and Walter Hagen to win the U.S. title at Fresh Meadow and whipping Mac Smith to win the British title at Sandwich; he was by all odds golfer of the year. In the Games of the Xth Olympiad, held at Los Angeles, the U.S. ran away with 39 gold medals to nine for the nearest rival—Italy; it would be 20 years more before the Russians would send a team to the Olympics. The New York Yankees crushed the Chicago Cubs in four straight games to win the World Series, and Babe Ruth hit perhaps the most famous home run of his life—on a two-strike pitch, after waggling a finger at the heckling Chicago bench in a gesture widely interpreted as meaning "next one goes out of the park." Which it did, of course.

The football season opened particularly auspiciously for three of the Silver Anniversary men. Cornell Fullback Bart Viviano personally scored three touchdowns as his team beat Buffalo 72-0. Gilbane scored two of Brown's three against Rhode Island and Fields both of Army's against Furman. As the season progressed, the University of Michigan, led by Harry Newman and with Ivy Williamson starring at right end, proved itself clearly the best of the Big Ten; when the season ended the Wolverines were named National Champions by the Associated Press. Yale won the game it wanted most; it beat Harvard 19-0 in the mud and rain while 50,000 people dressed in slickers, rubber boots and sheepskin coats cheered and moaned, according to their colors, in the Yale Bowl. When it was over, Captain Carl Hageman of beaten Harvard generously praised the Yale captain across the line from him: " John Wilbur played a great game and showed himself to be an outstanding tackle." Neither was aware that 25 years later both would be named to the same squad. Carl Hageman of Harvard, now a vice-president of Union Carbide and Carbon Corp., and John Wilbur of Yale, vice-president of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co., were elected to this year's Silver All-America.

The Army-Navy game jammed 79,000 into Philadelphia's Franklin Field. Army won 20-0, and one of the strong men for Army that day was Halfback Fields. At right tackle for Navy was Bill Kane, a mild-mannered young giant of 6 foot 3, one of Navy's best all-round athletes (football, baseball, track and wrestling), who was to suffer embarrassment all his life from the nickname "Killer." Ahead for Midshipman Kane lay a distinguished career of duty well done—as fighter pilot, fighter group leader and Pacific war ace, as postwar skipper of the carrier Saipan—until the day, last February, when the electrical system of his TV-2 jet failed and he crashed to his death. By the nomination of the U.S. Naval Academy and the votes of the judges, the late Captain William R. Kane, USN, is honored in this year's Silver All-America.

Fourteen of the award men wore their country's uniform in World War II and most of the others found themselves occupied in war-directed civilian work. Nowadays they are sending their own children through college. Admission is more difficult, tuition has trebled, academic demands are almost universally stiffer. Even so, the award men would enroll for football again if they were entering college today. No matter what their careers, they are inclined to agree with the words lettered on the gymnasium at West Point; words of Douglas MacArthur a generation ago: UPON THE FIELDS OF FRIENDLY STRIFE ARE SOWN THE SEEDS THAT, UPON OTHER FIELDS, ON OTHER DAYS, WILL BEAR THE FRUITS OF VICTORY.


Capping the job, construction workers raise the final stone and American flag into place atop the 70-story RCA building in Rockefeller Center.

Continue Story
1 2