LETTER TO THE EDITOR: University should apologize to Vietnam veterans for treatment

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CST; updated 6:10 a.m. CST, Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Editor's note: This letter was addressed to Tracey Mershon, president, and Dudley McCarter, president-elect, Mizzou Alumni Association.

You sent me an email today with a big, resounding graphic "Thank You" for my service as a military veteran.

 Let's get it straight. I don't want your bulk-rate-mail gratitude.

Instead, the university owes Vietnam veterans an apology. You won’t recall, but I asked for it last year and got no response at all.

 I completed my Associate of Arts Degree at East Los Angeles College in 1968. I was the first in my family to complete college. My dad was a janitor. That spring, before graduation, I came to Missouri to enroll in 
the Journalism School. I spent time with Cliff Edom who invited me to his home.

The J-school reviewed my transcript and decided I should take a third year of Spanish and wanted me to take classes to substitute for my ELAC journalism credits. I could live with that. I wanted the to be a graduate of the best journalism school in the world. 

I was then sent to the university selective service office on campus where an Army officer took open pleasure in telling me I had not made sufficient progress. I would not be given junior status and it would be recommended I be denied a II-S draft deferment.

Mizzou is why I am a Vietnam Veteran.

I was drafted immediately, but avoided the Army by joining the Navy. I served aboard the USS Ticonderoga, CVA-14 in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1969. I also served with Commander Naval Forces Marianas and the Nixon White House.

When I returned to Mizzou as a student in 1972, I was greeted by Edom and his wife, Vi, again, who remembered me. Angus McDougall hired me as a teaching assistant.

But the J-School is not the university. We veterans had to fight the university to get our paperwork processed. The Veterans Administration skipped checks. We had vets going hungry — yes, skipping meals.

When we called the St. Louis VA about our missing checks, we were told, “You guys serve two or three days and you think we owe you something.” Then the World War II vet (not to be confused with the greatest generation) added, “We won our war.”

The university even tried to charge my Missouri wife, who was already enrolled, out-of-state tuition because she'd married a veteran from California.

Let’s get it straight, 40 years later I am proud to be a J-School graduate. I spent 20 years as an independent photojournalist traveling the world. Today I am a professor because of Edom and McDougall. I rely on the j-school professional connections. I recruit for the university.

But, then I get these culturally-generic Veterans Day greetings from you, all in the hope I'll like you and give you money (I get the same emails from some Republican Congressman in Ohio). Such calculated insincerity. So I send my checks to the University of Oklahoma, instead.

Show us you are grateful for our service. Prove it. Do a piece in the alumni magazine examining the pure meanness the university directed toward draftees and returning veterans during the Vietnam period. Even though most of these old men are retired or dead, their administrations should not be allowed to rest in peace.

Robert R. Mercer is chair of the journalism department at Cypress College in Cypress, Calif.

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