Letters to the Editor Print
Healing Wounds

My name is Fred and I am a veteran.

I played a very small part in the Vietnam War. I was a dentist. I arrived at the beach at Chu Lai in 1965. This was very early in the war. It was long before the Tet Offensive. Vietnam was reasonably safe. I was with a mobile construction battalion attached to the 3rd Marine Division. I fixed teeth. I served on a couple of medical evacuation flights of wounded Marines. My dental training did not necessarily prepare me for treating the wounded in a helicopter; but you did what you could and quickly learned.

I would take my dental corpsman and go on people-to-people missions to small villages. We would join up with a Marine rifle squad and hike three to five miles outside our lines to a village. There I helped alleviate pain and infection. I probably saved some lives in these villages because many had severe facial infections. There were no dentists or physicians for many miles. I did this with few of the normal tools a dentist has: no X-ray, no medical history, no patient charts, no ability to communicate—I did not speak Vietnamese—no suction, no air supply, no water. But we did what we could.
I came home in one piece and got on with my life. There were no parades, or crowds; in fact, I was told I probably should not reveal to my patients that I had been in Vietnam. The war had become very unpopular. Anyone who had been there was guilty. It was the way it was. We were the invisible veterans. We did get some veteran benefits. I used these and went on to graduate training in anesthesiology.
Was I alone? It turns out, I was not. I have had a number of patients who came in for a dental appointment; but it was clear they were in trouble. They were having nightmares, they were having hallucinating, and they were having all sorts of mental problems. When I found one of these, we would use his appointment to talk. I did not have the psychological skills to help beyond just listening and assuring them that what was happening to them was very predictable from the combat situations they had survived. They were not crazy; they simply were reacting to the horrors of war and their personal experiences. I would be more concerned if they were not feeling the stress of what they had been through. Years later, several of them had told me this helped more than I would ever know. They had found someone who understood. I felt quite fortunate because I had not faced such trauma and had come home with little extra baggage. And, I did come home. I had been more than a little lucky.
I was at a Husky football game in 2006. It was Veterans Day weekend. They announced at the end of the first quarter that they wanted all military, ex-military and veterans to come down to the open end of the field. They formed us up into Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard. I had a little trouble deciding if I was Navy or Marine. I was in the Navy but I had spent almost all of my time attached to the Marines. In the end, I was not really a Marine so I walked with the Navy.
We walked around the track that circles the football field. Those in the stands, even students, gave us a standing ovation. It was the first public recognition I had received for my little small contribution, when compared to my patients who were in jungles and rice paddies facing the enemy on a daily basis. The athletic department repeated this tribute during the 2007 season.
I have tried twice to call and thank those in the University who were responsible for this recognition. Each time, I had to break off the call due to upwelling emotions, so I wrote this instead. Clearly I brought home a little more baggage than I realized.

Fred Quarnstrom, ’64

Editor’s note: For a look at a veteran returning from Iraq, see “Saving Corporal Miller.”

Perfect Timing?

So this past week Athletic Director Todd Turner resigns and in my mailbox is the December 2007 Columns; one of the stories reads “Take This Job and Love It? Why Some Employees Walk Away While Others Never Leave.” Columns couldn’t have predicted the irony of the timing, but it is interesting to note. Oh, and the 2008 Tyee football renewals arrived in my mailbox the same day!

Kevin Ginnever, ’80

Tied-Up Readers

Having read Columns for years, I feel I am past due in commending you and your staff for an excellent publication. I receive alumni magazines from two other universities and consider yours to be the best of the three.

In my opinion, what makes Columns stand out is the in-depth coverage of the programs at the University of Washington and the faculty that makes them go. I enjoy the “bragging” that Columns does about the various departments, their achievements and their contributions to the general welfare of society. What better way to instill pride (and a desire to contribute) in the alumni?

I particularly enjoyed the article, “Take This Job and Love It?” [December 2007]. I thought it was interesting that the researchers, Professors Terence Mitchell and Thomas Lee, determined that people don’t stay in a job because they are satisfied or leave because they are not. The article attributed five models developed by Mitchell and Lee to explain why people left or remained. As they freely admitted, their conclusions seem to be common sense but they were not common sense to the many “authorities” who have written books over the years on instilling and maintaining employees’ job satisfaction.

We left a job, fine neighbors and a region we loved (Seattle) in 1964 for a reason that I did not see specifically mentioned; the need to be closer to our immediate families in Alabama. We still have fond memories of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest although we have only managed to get back there a couple of times. Columns provides us with a tie to the region and the UW. Keep up your excellent work.

Charles M. Pyron,Jr., ’64
Springville, Ala.

Powerful Book

Last year, I was so impressed that my university chose to pass out copies of Mountains Beyond Mountains to all incoming freshmen [“Spreading the Word, Sept. 2006]. Maybe that could become a tradition. Playing on the theme that one man/woman can make a difference, I suggest that this year you continue this gesture by distributing to all freshmen, or even to the entire student body, a copy of Three Cups of Tea. It has a Northwest flavor and proves the power of education. With so many students feeling they must major in “mergers and acquisitions” this book shows that the psychic income received by Greg Mortenson is more rewarding than any financial success. This book could be a jumpstart, a mind-changing force for students, today.

Wally Kalina, ’49

Editor’s note: The UW is continuing with the common book program for freshmen. This year it was Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth  Kolbert.

A Target that Changed History

Freshly released from the U.S. Coast Guard, I registered for the pre-major CMU 150 course taught by Professor Merrill Samuelson, spring 1974. I soon learned to look forward to his compelling daily lectures while I re-acclimated to university life after four-and-a-half years of service life.

Samuelson’s presentations in this mass communications course were as understated as they were packed with insight and wisdom. Particularly endearing were both his commentaries upon our frequent written coursework and his open office hours for counseling on a remarkably personal level. He proved to be a gifted educator and mentor as I wended my way through the radio/TV communications program, completed in 1977.

His final lecture of that term stands out among all my college memories. Who would have guessed that it was U.S. Army Air Corps Operations Officer Merrill Samuelson who plotted “ground zero”—literally put his finger on the drop point, he said, for the Hiroshima atom bomb. His did this from his bombing assessment and photo interpretation shop on Guam in July 1945. His thoughts, as I recall them in that last lecture, addressed taking responsibilities for your actions, particularly the frequently unintended ones that could change the world. His Air Corps unit, major players in achieving Japan’s ultimate “unconditional surrender,” found themselves confined to “house arrest” until after the two B-29 atom-bomb missions.

Regret didn’t seem to be Professor Samuelson’s motivation for that final lecture. Rather, it was a reminder that each of us has the potential to change the world even if we don’t intend to. I can’t count how many times I remembered that June 1974 lecture over the next 26-years I donned my uniform. But I know that my Pentagon duty during the Dessert Shield build-up to the first Iraq war in 1990—as editor of the “Navy News Service”—owed much to a University of Washington professor who did his duty at war and in his classroom.

Dennis D. Case ’77, ’82