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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 6, 1999)
This old house
Conversion of fraternity to office brings back powerful memories
A..L.FORKNER is a junior
news-editorial major and a
Daily Nebraskan columnist.
“Broke into the old apartment. This
!s where we used to live. Why did you
dean thefloors? Why did you paint the
walls? Why did you plaster over the
hole Ipunched in the door? ”
There once was a kid from Rapid
This kid attended the University of
Nebraska from 1994 to 1995. He was a
news-editorial major and transferred in
as a freshman. He didn’t know a soul in
this state. All his friends and family
were in South Dakota. This kid from
Rapid knew UNL was one of the best
places to be for journalism. So, he left
everything and everyone behind.
The kid from Rapid had lived in the
residence halls at Black Hills State. He
didn’t really care for the experience.
So, he filial out a rush card as another
option. A few weeks before he moved
to Lincoln to take summer classes, the
kid got a call from the president of one
of the fraternities on campus. Nice
sounding kid named Andy Huff. Huff,
coincidentally a broadcasting major,
was also from Rapid City. He came and
talked to the kid, took him out to lunch
and they watched the NBA finals.
After deciding Huff was OK, the
kid signed the rush card. After saying
goodbye to his friends and his girl
friend, the kid from Rapid packed and
moved to Lincoln. When he got here,
he found the house and met his new
Drotners. brnce it was summer, mere
were very few guys there, but they
were friendly enough, and the kid felt
he had found a new home.
This is the story of that home.
420 University Terrace. Then it was
known as the TeKJE house. It wasn’t big
or fancy. Heck, it was actually a bit of a
dump. But it was the kid’s. It was his
just as much as it was Thor’s or Krohn’s
or Coon’s or Animal’s.
It’s not there anymore.
Sure, the structure is still there, but
the house is gone as sure as if it had
been razed by all the bulldozers in the
state. See, the problem with TKE was
most of the guys hated the greek sys
tem. They never fit in with the other
“ffat-rats.” So when rush time came,
the guys that signed up didn’t like the
TeKEs’ approach to the greek system.
Those who liked their indepen
dence didn’t rush. Soon, too many guys
dropped out or graduated, and the
house was no more. Of course, by that
time, the kid was long gone. Oh, and he
didn’t go by “the kid” then.
He was F*©kner. These are his
The door to his room opened into
the stairwell. His was the only room
like that, so he took to calling it the
, F*©kner Memorial Wing. It was funny
then. His was a single room, chosen out
of fear of another bad roommate expe
rience. But it was rarely empty.
F*©kner made friends in the house
quickly. F*©kner went to baseball
games with the guys. He helped paint,
put down new carpet and fix the win
dows in the house. Life was looking
Then, F*©kner learned his ex-girl
friend was coming to school here.
But hey, F*©kner had matured.
Now he was a fraternity guy. He was
proud of the house. Sure, it was still a
bit of a dump. But it was his house by
then. So when she moved down,
F*©kner invited her over to a party to
meet everyone. Strictly platonic, right?
Over the next few weeks (days?),
the ex and F*©kner found it hard to
just be friends.
It wasn’t long after that
the former ex-girlfriend
moved in to F*©kner’s
house. Granted, she
didn’t really move in.
That would be against
UNL policy. She just
slept there six nights
out of the week. She
showered at her dorm,
but she lived with
And all was good.
For a few months.
began changing. He was
getting dark and moody.
He wasn’t sure who he
The kid from Rapid never
had a girl who wanted to spend the
rest of the day with him, let alone
the rest of her life. The kid from Rapid
never woke up to watch a pretty girl’s v
hair shine in die moonlight coming in
from the window. The kid from Rapid
didn’t know what to do.
So he started staying up late, while
the former ex-girlfriend slept.
Wondering what was happening. What
to do. Of course, all the late nights of
thinking led toJate mornings sleeping.
Then late afternoons. Finally, early
evenings. The former ex-girlfriend was
concerned. She began questioning
F*©kner’s moods all the time. Which,
of course, just made matters worse.
All his friends in the house tried to
help him. Tried to get him to study. To
Eventually, F*©kner dumped the
It was too late to change that partic
ular ship’s course. F*©kner was in a
downward spiral of F’s. So he left.
While he was gone getting his head
right, he heard from his old roommates
the house was in lots of trouble.
Then he heard the house was clos
By the time the kid from Rapid
returned as “A.L.”, his house was gone.
The brothers he missed all the years he
was gone were scattered to the winds.
Some were still here. The Captain
offered to let A.L. move in with him.
Crack was engaged and graduating.
Reuter and Meduna were still the same
guys. But A.L. always felt he had let all
those guys down. Like somehow, if
he’d stayed, he could’ve saved the
house. Others weren’t there. Some
graduated and were off at jobs. Others,
like him, had deserted and ran. One had
died a month after his 21 st birthday.
He felt he had abandoned those
guys the most. He was a bit ashamed
whenever he saw them.
Now, A.L.’s nearing the end. He’s
made new friends and strengthened
some of the old relationships.
More of the guys are married now
aren’t. A.L. still never sees many of his
old brothers anymore, but now it’s
because he’s too busy working at the
TTte last link to his past is almost
gone. The house... THE house with all
the memories, good and bad, is almost
gone. The university bought his house
and is converting it into an office build
Every night, going home from
work at die Journal Star, A.L. drives by
the old house. He has a mental catalog
of each wall, beam and joist that has
been ripped out.
Soon, there will be nothing but a
distantly familiar shape at 420
University Terrace. That’s it
It won’t be a home. Not to A.L. Not
“Only memories. Faded memories.
Blending in to dull tableau. I want them
back. This is where we used to live.”
Prisoners of war
Messages of Vietnam should still resound in hearts, minds of our generation
ERIN GIBSON is a senior
news-editorial major and
Daily Nebraskan editor.
Our generation saw one short
war, and almost every soldier came
Our generation didn’t learn that
Americans die in American offen
Our generation can’t fathom
what it means for U.S. soldiers to be
held prisoners of war. We can’t
imagine what awaits the first 2,000
U.S. ground troops to go overseas in
a conflict that lacks strong support at
Thirty years ago, our parents
knew exactly what a troop deploy
ment meant. It meant your brothers,
husbands, sons and neighbors didn’t
come back alive.
It started with a draft notice in
the mailbox, then a physical exam.
October 1966, Austin, Texas:
My father, 20-year-old Jerry Don
Gibson, stood in line with dozens of
young men who had been called up
in the Vietnam draft.
They had finished all but the last
phase of their physical exams, had
walked up a flight of stairs and now
eked through an aging room, still
standing in their underwear. A man
sat at a worn, wooden school desk at
the far end of the room.
The man was a gatekeeper. Any
guy with a physical reason not to
serve in Vietnam would present his
excuse to the man. The man would
listen, then mark their examinations
“Pass” or “Fail.”
Most guys who got a Pass mark
would find themselves at basic train
ing in no time. One stamo at a time,
my father got closer to the man
whose Pass stamp could have very
well read “Go die in Vietnam.”
My dad wasn’t supposed to be
there. The University of Texas hadn’t
sent the notice saying he was in the
top third of his class and exempt
from service. A half million guys his
age were getting shot at overseas.
When one died, the United States
recruited another. Thus the line. It
was getting shorter.
One guy wore silk boxers and
claimed he was gay. “Pass!” The guy
in front of my dad showed long scars
from knee surgery, but said he had
walked up those stairs to the room.
“Pass!” My dad had no excuse.
This story - now in my words -
came alive with my father’s voice
this spring break.
I had gone home to think about
picking a law school in California
and planning a wedding. I didn’t
expect talking about my post-gradua
tion options would have such a pro
found effect on my parents.
My future reminded my parents
of their past, and my dad recalled
how his post-graduate options were
determined by the war overseas.
He first stayed out of die jungle
by scoring high on tests and acing
his college courses.
In 1966, when he stood in the
physical exam line, college gradu
ates were assigned as platoon leaders
and led other men through the jun
gle. Many came home in black bags
courtesy of the “friendly fire” of
their own men - men who were
damn tired of losing a hated war
fought in a foreign jungle.
As my father’s story unfurled, I
saw that 30 years ago, a college
degree was not a ticket to greater
things for many men. It was not a
ticket to a new life, new school, new
job or new car.
Degrees were death certificates.
Of course, many men went to
Vietnam and made it back alive -
men like Nebraska Sen. Chuck
Hagel, for whom I have great
And many Vietnam survivors
seem outwardly fine, like my child
hood neighbor, Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis
would take a hard swing at anyone
who woke him up at night. He had
slept too many nights in the jungle,
his wife said. It was a reflex.
This year, a good friend’s father -
a Vietnam veteran - has spent each
day on his couch. He lost his job and
just talks about being a veteran, mis
treats the aging dog and builds his
gun collection. The war could kill
Other survivors, like one staff
member’s uncle, came back crazy,
then drank themselves to death.
My father’s story is different.
Though he took two physical exami
nations for the draft, he didn’t go to
Instead, he and my mother moved
to Fort Worth so he could make him
self viable to the war effort by devel
oping better radar at General
Dynamics. He started work the
Monday after he graduated. He did
n’t walk the stage.
When the draft board goofed and
didn’t mail a deferment question
naire to General Dynamics in 1970,
my father again took the physical
and passed. He went before an
appeals board that voted 2-1 to keep
him out ofVietnam. He didn’t expect
that vote. He thought he’d be in com
Considering my father never
walked in the Vietnam jungle, you
could say he had a pretty lucky go of
the era. Considering the evening
news featured pictures of American
body bags for a decade, you could
say he ought to be gratefiil for his
life. Well, yes. He is both fortunate
But he hasn’t forgotten. Because
30 years ago, an entire generation
went to war in Vietnam, and though
they left that war in 1973, it never
“This is our lives,” my mom said.
“I just didn’t believe that war was
just. I couldn’t justify one life being
spent, and here we were in the mid
dle of it”
Now, we members of Generation
X will watch American soldiers go to
Kosovo. I don’t believe that battle is
“another Vietnam” because of politi
cal differences between the two con
I do believe American soldiers
will die fighting Milosevic’s army.
I also believe, unless our genera
tioij learns about Vietnam and appre
ciates the gravity of our parents’ sac
rifices, we will romp through gradu
ation and the choices available to us
as graduates and not notice history
repeating itself before it’s too late.
We who grew up among Vietnam
survivors must educate ourselves.
We must learn what started the
Vietnam war and why the United
States got entrenched in a war that
wasn’t its own.
Then we must promise our par
ents, ourselves and our children that,
as we make our picks from grad
schools, jobs and life partners, we
also will choose never to allow our
nation to “Vietnam” a generation
When the first American soldiers
die in Kosovo, our generation will
learn the hard way that American
offensives kill Americans, too.
Maybe our collective memory will
sharpen, and we’ll think of those
guys in hne for physicals for the
Vietnam draft - those guys who
knew, standing in their underwear,
the “Pass” stamp could be their death
Maybe we’ll visit the graves of
friends and relatives that died in
Vietnam. Maybe we’ll speak to pris
oners of war who came home and
realized we left many P.O.W.s
Or maybe we’ll think of how we
don’t want our spouses and children
standing in lines in then underwear
before leading platoons through for
eign jungles and decorating the T.V
news with their body bags.
Maybe one choice for us as grad
uates will be peace.
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