Everywhere else colleges call the alumni back for their twenty-fifth anniversary when they are ripe and ready for gift-giving. At Harvard they do the same, but they do it richly, in discreet decency, with ceremony and conviviality; they do it like one rich man borrowing money from another. They do it right because Harvard is doing it, and everywhere else is imitation and approximation.
So Mo Gray stood on the Quincy Street sidewalk in front of the Harvard Union drinking beer and being jolly affable to the arriving people. He had on a funny hat like the ones the Australians wore in World War II, with part of the brim pinned to the side of the crown. A button on the hat read, "Meet the Old Campaigner, E.D.P. Kilroy III, a.b. '43."
Mo, the Old Campaigner, was greeting everybody who drove up, and there were lots of people. They came in taxicabs with luggage so expensive the hackies got out and put it respectfully on the curb; they came in cars and station wagons packed with plainer suitcases and children. Mo knew a surprising number of the men by name. He had been working on the reunion for the past year. "It's good business for the bank," he said, referring to his employers, the State Street Bank and Trust Company of Boston.
The men shook hands; the wives watched each other, checking out clothes and states of physical preservation. Some of the women studied their husbands with concern, as if coming back to Harvard twenty-five years later risked a melancholy self-discovery.
The men of '43 had had no proper Commencement. Their Harvard baccalaureates had been conferred by mail at Marine boot camps and infantry training schools. Some of them had accelerated and gotten their degrees ahead of time, so they could volunteer; others didn't graduate until after the war. They thought they had no future. They had not planned what they were going to do with their lives, they had only hoped for life. "I didn't think more than a quarter of us would come back," one of them said. "We thought it would be like World War I ... you know, 90 percent casualties."
Thirty-three of them died, while the rest scratched the words "Kilroy was here" on the flat surfaces of the world and came back ultimately to shake hands with the Old Campaigner, the reunion chairman.
"Congratulations, ya made it!"
"Yeah, boy, I survived, and so did you, fella."
If that was the hope of their youth, it was fulfilled. They had been spared to be businessmen, professionals, teachers, scholars—spared not to be great men but the best of the ordinary people, begetting families, believing in fair play and the right of dissent at Harvard and their obligation to support it; spared to be the stable people who don't stampede easily and are able to put aside politics and market for golf and art appreciation and mark down on their questionnaires that one of their most serious interests was travel: "Jean and I visited the Outer Hebrides last summer and discovered a world we never knew before."
Nearly 900 of them were saved from death in war, and approximately half that number, plus wives and children, had accepted Harvard's invitation to come back for four days of superlavish special treatment. Everything that could be done for "the classmates" was done. The Cambridge police even let them put their cars in the no parking zones.
For $110 per family, Harvard gave the classmates, plus about 1500 wives and children, food, booze, board, baby-sitters, music, golf, swimming, souvenirs, miscellaneous divertissements, and the run of the university. It cost Harvard a lot of money. This year's budget was over $100,000, but the classmates gave it back and then some. After four days of gentlemanly strong-arm pressure, the class of '43 ponied up $850,000 for their school. The bite was applied softly and silently, but sometimes a classmate or his wife would cry ouch. "My God, they had my husband down for $20,000!" the wife of a psychiatrist exclaimed in loud respect for Ivy League chutzpah. "So much a year for so many years. We don't have money like that, but I don't think they really expect that much. They've got everybody categorized: psychiatrists $20,000, vice presidents $35,000, bankers $50,000."
With the rich, rich classmates things are crasser. The night they went to the Boston Pops Albert Merck (of the chemical company that bears the family name) offered $25,000 if Arthur Fiedler would let him conduct "Fair Harvard."
From time to time you could overhear members of the gift committee murmuring advice to each other: "George, I think you should take Henry aside before he leaves. Experience has shown they are much less generous afterward than they are now back here at the Yard choked with sentiment and gratitude."
Some of the rich classmates were keeping their pelf to themselves. There was, for example, Sidney Stuyvesant Fish, or Stuyvie as the other well-born and well-to-do called him. "Oh, Stuyvie, he's too awful, but he is nice," people would say as he appeared frolicking in the evening at the Hasty Pudding Club, dancing, dropping to one knee to kiss a lady's hand, and enjoying himself in the manner of one who has had a lifetime of practice. Stuyvie, it was generally felt, not only lacked a Harvard man's sense of social responsibility, he even lacked the pretense. "I sell a few hides to pay the taxes," he poor-mouthed, suggesting an improbable picture of himself in a dinner jacket leading a tallowy cow down a dusty arroyo to keep the sheriff from foreclosing on his splendid Palo Corona Ranch at Carmel, California.
"I gave them some money, but not what they asked for," he said to prove he was a good fellow. "I'm fond of Harvard, but my feelings aren't gut-ripping, you know, and there are some people who are wondering if they should support the school if revolution is what they're learning here."
"Stuyvie is a reactionary," said one of the classmates. But he is an amiable one, not given to angry kvetching, a twinkly-eyed bachelor who'd rather talk about pot-smoking escapades in Mexico, his efforts at preserving the California backland from suburban tractation, and the wild European boars he raises on his ranch and sells for a dollar fifty a pound. ("I have about two hundred of them, and they help to pay the taxes, too.") He ranked second in animal husbandry, however, because there is another classmate in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, who is raising zebras, llamas, pygmy goats, addaxes, and wallabies.
Most of the men the Old Campaigner, Mo Gray, was welcoming on the Sunday of reunion week were not wallaby ranchers. They are people who obey rules and follow directions, so, after shaking hands with those classmates they happened to remember, they lined up for their reunion trappings.
All were given an E.D.P. (Electronic Data Processing) Aussie hat like the Old Campaigner's, red plastic rain jackets, cardboard wastepaper baskets with the Harvard motto, "Veritas," on them, crimson ties with white silhouettes of John Harvard, cosmetics, and woolen handbags. They and their loot were then transported by undergraduates in white jackets to their rooms in the dorms. The undergraduates are paid by the university, but apparently not enough, because they posted signs in the Union saying, "Tipping is not prohibited."
The classmates stood around and talked about themselves. "What do you want to write about this class for? It's a very undistinguished class," they said. "The only famous member is Norman Mailer, and I'll bet he won't come." They spoke as if coming back were something in lieu of accomplishment, something for idle, unoccupied people. A self-deprecating lot, though many have been successful, at least by the standards of 1943.
There was Dr. William Baker, assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School and a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews, Scotland. He was bouncing around making himself useful and remembering Harvard in his freshman year: "We had peace protests then. They picketed the Boston Navy Yard, and in the spring of 1940 we had trench warfare in Harvard Square spoofing war. We threw flour bags at each other and flew all different kinds of flags from the trenches, Nazi flags and Confederate flags.... Yes, a surprising number of the classmates are dead—war and alcoholism."
Baker talked a lot about alcoholism through the reunion. He wasn't the only one. "My husband's an alcoholic," said the wife of a senior stockbroker. "He doesn't know it because he doesn't do the insane things alcoholics are supposed to do, you know, like cause big scenes or disappear for two or three days, but he gets drunk every night. He drinks all the time. He's very nice. He doesn't beat me, but every night he goes to bed in a drunken stupor and I can't talk to him about it."
All the classmates—and that includes everybody who matriculated, whether they took their degrees or not—are invited back for "my 25th," as they like to say, and are asked to write their autobiographies, which are published in a fat book called the Anniversary Report. If you open it you get a whiff of alcohol:
Went into life insurance with Mother Prudential—a pile of bleached bones of fallen agents under her tender care would rise higher than the Rock of Gibraltar.... Meanwhile research in the area of alcoholism which had been desultory, erratic and sporadic intensified. Culminated during the black Thanksgiving of 1963. Have not found it necessary to do research in that area since.
Another classmate writes:
There is only one truly important fact in my life. All of my history has been colored by the facts of my alcoholism.... By 1952 I was assistant to the executive vice-president of a large and successful textile machinery company. The year 1959 found me confined in Bellevue Hospital, desperate, unemployable and almost hopeless.
Joe Phelan, a classmate who is an AA member, made arrangements for his organization to stand by in case any of the Old Campaigners found the reunion impossible to take without a drink. The first chance they had for serious, 100-proof boozing was that evening at Harkness Commons, where a long bar had been set up under tents. The weather turned cold and rainy, but the classmates and their wives, cramped as they were, went at it glass and elbow.
"This is a fine class, a great class," declared a Washington lawyer. "It's got Al Casey, the president of the Los Angeles Times, in it, and an Olympic swimming coach, and Bart Harvey, who won the Navy Cross, but we don't have a Medal of Honor winner."
"Yeah," said somebody else. "It's a great class. We got two guys who were shot to death—by women. One of them shot by his wife when she caught him coming in at 2 A.M. Told the jury she thought he was an intruder. They let her off. The other one was shot by his sixteen-year-old mistress in the swamps."
"Not by his mistress," he was corrected; "by his mistress's father."
"Well, however it was, they don't give you a Congressional Medal for it."
When they talked about more pressing matters, the men of '43 clothed their remarks in the presumption that men of goodwill could be brought together to talk reason. On the lawn having drinks with the classmates at Harkness Commons, it made sense; it was, after all, the kind of thing Harvard has stood for, wasn't it? But reason and goodwill are at a discount. Only power can help. There is a lot of it in the class of '43. Many of them are vice presidents now, and will make the final step up to "chief executive officer," as corporations style their bosses, in the next couple of years, but what then? They are a higgledy-piggledy jumble of diverse attitudes, too disparate to be a power structure. Can Stuyvie Fish lie down with Ben Bradlee, managing editor of the liberal Washington Post? What use can Joe Phelan, with his interest in improving race relations in Atlanta and Memphis, make of Albert Merck, who writes in the class report, "You want to talk about the Negro problem? Okay, but not while we are drinking beer. Does anybody in the Class play the piano? How about some of those old songs: 'Talk of the Town,' 'I Surrender, Dear'?"
As a group they cohere through memory, through loyalty to the school, but they're incapable of publishing a manifesto about the war like the graduating classes of so many colleges in 1968. They can't even reject the demands of the infuriated young that Harvard or Columbia or Stanford come out against the war. Universities don't have foreign policies. They're just there, and you attend them; you are consecrated with a baccalaureate by them, and if they invest their endowment in Mississippi Power & Light or South African mining stocks, the decision is done with regard to dividends and without regard to race.
As originally planned, the first night of the reunion was to have the Harvard Band and Glee Club perform for the classmates, while at Eliot House a more modish group called the Walk on Water would do the same electronically for their college-age children. Later that evening, the State Street Ramblers would blow Dixieland for the classmates at the Hasty Pudding Club, but the President had declared a national day of mourning for a murdered alumnus, Robert Kennedy. To the disgruntlement of many of the classmates, all the music and dancing had to be abolished, except the State Street Ramblers, who were allowed to proceed on the grounds that public mourning needn't cancel private merrymaking.
"I'll tell you something that I hadn't even realized myself till just now," a Jewish classmate said against the brassy note of the State Street Ramblers. "Tonight, twenty-five years later, is the first time I have ever been in the Hasty Pudding Club. I didn't know where it was. I had to ask somebody. That's how far out of it we were. But it's funny. I suppose I must have known about the Hasty Pudding, but I don't have any memory of resenting not being asked to join."
Another Jewish classmate, Sidney Koretsky, who is now a doctor thanks to his scholarship to Harvard, remembers, "I was a commuter student. I felt I didn't belong. In those days the Jewish students didn't talk about it or it was repressed because they didn't want people to know. Nowadays people are proud to talk about their backgrounds. You should read Myron Kaufmann's autobiography in the Report."
Kaufmann, a novelist (Remember Me to God), wrote,
The existence of a vigorous orthodox Jewish community on the Harvard campus was inconceivable in our time. About two years ago I walked in on a group of Harvard students on an ordinary sabbath eve. As soon as ten were present, a service began. There followed a kosher dinner until someone began the grace-after-meals. After that psalms were sung in the original tongue.... For the past few years Kosher TV dinners have been available in the House dining halls upon a surcharge of fifty cents ... how impossible it was twenty-five years ago for all this to exist—how impossible it was to believe it ever could exist. We had not the skill, we had not the knowledge. We had not the will.
Andy Whiteside remembers Harvard very differently, but he was a clubman. "One didn't wear one's club tie when one sensed there might be non-club men present. One wore one's threadbare prep school blazer—that is, some people did. The people from the Midwest were known as greencoats because they wore great, green patterned tweeds, but it was said that by the time they left they'd learned to wear narrow lapels," Andy reminisced. He was a rare type among the classmates, a mixture of Waspish cynicism and a snobbish arrogance that he seemed to display less out of any conviction than to needle the people he kept referring to as "you liberals." He had spent a long time at Harvard, enough to pick up an M.A., a Ph.D., and the knack of sustaining a witty, self-centered, on-going yatter:
"Oh, yes, we had our little Communist group then. One of my classmates once defined our brand of Stalinism as Jewish fascism. It's good for you liberals to hear things like that. But it has changed here. We had biddies to clean our rooms and janitors—we still called them janitors. In my day you apologized for good grades. We didn't have this awful earnestness of modern youth, and I don't think we were as ambitious. I'm sure every Princeton man spent his last ten minutes before going to sleep counting up his social advancement credits. At Harvard nobody had much ambition to distinguish himself. It was the war. I dropped everything at the end of 1941. You could get a letter any day calling you up. I did finish my honors thesis. It was crappy work, but they accepted it because I was going to get my head shot off ... very different from now. I teach at Queens College [of the City University of New York] where they don't even protest. Oh, we've had our ritual sixteen demands. It didn't amount to anything."
Andy was a conservative with a sense of humor. Whenever the rest of the reunion crowd got too tiresome, you might be lucky and find Andy, who would entertain you with his unreasonable prejudices and his blithe way of dismissing and belittling the dangerous piling up of the centrifugal forces of change. "Hold the line and pay it no heed," he seemed to be saying, while many of the other classmates often used the word revolution in their conversation. The idea cropped up so much and so matter-of-factly that it was a while before you realized how strange it was for members of a master class, for millionaires and corporate officers, to speak of a revolution against themselves with so little emotion and so few signs of any determination to suppress it.
They seemed reconciled to complaining about the revolution, but not opposing it. Perhaps because of the shyness and hesitation that mark reunions after such long intervals as twenty or twenty-five years, they were imprecise and inarticulate about it. You had to divine their feelings. They rarely said enough to quote. Maybe their lack of pugnacity arose out of an intuition it would be their own children leading the revolution, or maybe they saw the shape of the counterrevolutionaries—Johnson, Humphrey, Nixon leading the blue-collar establishment in a tasteless, illiberal, blanchiste defense of the classmates' property rights—and they had no heart for it.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.