The Dichotomy of My College Jewelry
July 11, 2010:
I entered college in the fall of 1971. This was one of those rare windows of time that bridged a true social, political divide.
On one hand, we Baby Boomers had been raised with the values, traditions, thinking, and education of our parents and teachers; a generation that had fought a world war and survived a Great Depression.
On the other hand, we were entering into time when a majority of us were going to challenge, rebel against and throw out everything we had been raised to believe.
Southeast Missouri State, nestled in a sleepy river town, Cape Girardeau Missouri, was certainly not a hot bed of anarchy, but that the rebellion did reach us was proof that it was a deep vein of discontent and was not going to be ignored
Today, I was doing some cleaning in my closet and decided to look into an old jewelry box that has been tucked into every closet I have had since 1974.
Among the odds and end, I found the jewelry that I wore, with pride, all through my college days. It struck me that this little collection was the perfect example of the two different worlds we were straddling at that time.
Although the country had been deeply emersed in the Viet Nam conflict for years, it was now a war that hit us everyday, where it hurt.
Boys, and it was all boys back then, who were elementary school classmates, who went to our churches and Sunday schools, who we dated and went to the prom with, who were now in college classes with us, were worried about their draft numbers, moving to Canada, contemplating blowing out an eardrum so as to not pass the physical, or they were leaving to join the army, and coming home mangled in body and soul or worse, in flag draped coffins.
We hated the war. We yelled and screamed, marched and protested against it and the evil establishment that kept the country there. This disgust for the war manifested itself into a disgust at the boys who were forced to fight it. But in the early 70’s we were also thinking about and remembering our boys who were missing in action or prisoners of war. That is a mixed message if there ever was one.
I do not know what group started the MIA/POW bracelets. I do not know exactly how I got the one I wore. I did not know Lt. Earl Lewis, Jr. I think his mother was friend’s of a woman I worked with at the campus Kent Library. We wanted to show support and solidarity. So I wore that bracelet everyday, with the date he was last seen, until 1973 when miraculously Earl was released and sent home, having spent six years in prison for pledging to defend the US Constitution.
11 years later I would meet and marry a man whose last name is Lewis and would share that name with my POW.
Online I found this report about Lt Earl Lewis. I love what he said. I certainly remembered Lt Lewis with faith and loyalty. I was never able to hate or disrespect anyone who fought in that war. To this day, I can not get close to the Vietnam Memorial in DC, as it reduces me to a weeping puddle of sadness.
EARL G. LEWIS
Lieutenant Commander – United States Navy
Shot Down: October 24, 1967
Released: March 14, 1973
On October 24, 1967, the F4 flown by Earl Lewis and Robert Frishmann was shot down. Frishmann believed Lewis was dead, but after 4 hours, located him. Both were captured by the Vietnamese. Lewis and Frishmann were held in various locations in and around Hanoi as prisoners.
Lt. Frishmann was released in August 1969 with the blessings of the POW community. His message to the world would reveal the torture endured by Americans held in Vietnam and cause a public outcry which would eventually help stop the torture and result in better treatment for the prisoners.
Lewis was released from Hanoi March 14, 1973 in the general prisoner release nearing the end of American involvement in the war in Viet Nam.
Lewis and his wife, Suzanne, are both originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Their son, Earl Gardner Lewis, III, (nicknamed Tres) is five years old and was born after Lcdr. Lewis was shot down.
“While I was a prisoner of war I felt certain that the American people would remember us with faith and loyalty, but it was deeply reassuring to witness the depth of this concern upon my return to the United States. It has been overwhelming.”
“I certainly appreciate all the outpouring of enthusiasm over our return, but there are many thousands of men who also deserve this and these are the men who served their time in Vietnam and returned to be shunned and sometimes ignored by many of us and to be criticized by their contemporaries. Last but not least are the many thousands who were wounded and the 46,000 men who gave the supreme sacrifice; they too deserve recognition.
Remember them. Remember our MlA’s. “I hope that our return will in some way help to pull the country together after such a long and controversial war.”
Earl Lewis Jr. retired from the United States Navy as a Commander.
The other movement that got my young heart and ignorant mind roiling was the Feminist Movement. I remember receiving, with much anticipation, my first Ms. Magazine in January 1972. The cover had Wonder Woman on it.
But the cover I remember best was art depicting a woman with many arms. In each hand, this “Wonder Woman”, had items she was juggling representing all the things that woman, in the new era of womanhood, could accomplish, and apparently all at the same time. Cooking, cleaning, car, home, babies, money, and the office.
I remember looking at that for some time wondering how in the hell I was suppose to do all that. We still have not figured that out as evidenced by a similar Ms Magazine cover from July 2009. Now, we have added a new activity of master, technology!
All of this feminism manifested itself at the time, in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, ERA.
The Equal Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. So the seven years fight for ratification in the states was on. Of course, it eventually failed to be ratified but that happened long after my ardor for the effort had waned.
I do not know exactly how I came in possession of my ERA bracelet. I wore it and frankly did not have a real understanding of what the amendment said but I knew that as a woman, I needed to show support and solidarity.
I eventually grew out of this silliness. It took way too long, but I finally was able to release myself from the cult of feminism.
In the midst of a never ending war and the social upheaval of feminism, I pledged a sorority; the epitome of old fashion womanhood. Sororities were exclusive women’s only clubs that marshaled us toward good manners, and volunteer work. It was the time proven method of introducing nice woman to nice men, in fraternities, at organized dances and parties, in hopes of good marriages.
Could I be an raving anti war, ERA supporting, Ms Magazine reading feminist AND a sorority girl? Apparently I could. And wore all the jewelry at the same time to prove it.
The mood of the times influenced the mood of the sorority girls. We still maintained a main goal – the meeting, dating, kissing and partying with boys! As far as I remember, “liberation” primarily allowed girls to drink as much alcohol as any boy could. Not very charming as I recall.
My jewelry, saved but forgotten for 36 years, is a token of a time of confusion, passion, stupidity, growth, experimentation and rebellion. Not unlike college experiences before and since.
A passage of time we all maneuver through in one way or the other before we finally grow up and get some sense.
NOTE: Unlike BL and AP, Blondie will not be responding to each Reader Comment; but Reader Comments ARE ENCOURAGED and appreciated.