Memories No. 5: I Joined the Vermont Militia

In the spring of 1950 I was looking for a teaching job in electrical engineering while I completed my MSEE thesis for scheduled UK graduation in summer 1951. One day a professor in the EE Department gave me an ad for an assistant professorship at Norwich University starting in September. I went to the library and read what I could find about Norwich. It is a military school in Vermont, near the capitol, Montpelier, and was founded in 1819. It’s enrollment averaged around 2000. There were only two colleges: Collegeof Arts and Sciences and the Engineering College which had: Electrical, Civil and Mechanical Engineering Departments. Only West Point is an older military school. All faculty had to be members of the Vermont Militia and wear officer uniforms on campus and at University functions off campus. The accepted uniforms were the usual US Army ones except the buttons were Vermont Militia ones. Assistant Professors were 2nd or 1st Lieutenants, Associate Professors were Captains and Majors, and full Professors were Lt. Colonels and full Colonels.

All this seemed like the makings of an interesting experience so I applied, and in late spring I received notice that I was under consideration and that I should plan to interview the new university president ASAP. It turned out that the new president  was  at Fort Knox  and  he  was Major General  Harmon the WWII commander of the 2nd Armored (“Hell on Wheels”) Division. He was to retire from the army and take  over  as the  new president of Norwich University starting in September. I contacted the main office at Fort Knox and they arranged for me to meet with General Harmon for an interview.

I drove over to Fort Knox from Lexington the morning of my scheduled interview and reported in to the headquarters building right after lunch as agreed. The receptionist immediately went into the Executive Officer’s office to let him know I was there. He followed her out of the office and introduced himself. He was a “Full-Bird” Colonel. I have forgotten his name. He told me that General Harmon was expecting me and that he would walk me over to his house. I had already noticed how well I was being treated.  I knew that the treatment you received as a civilian was commensurate with the stature  of the officer you were meeting. And I knew the custom that the lower rank is to march on the left side of the higher rank. Since I was seeing General Harmon, as far as the Colonel was concerned, I outranked him and he must walk on my left. So we go out of the building, the Colonel opening the door for me and then walking around me to get on my left side as we walked, and he changed his paces to be in time with mine.  Across the street we go to a nice house, one of a few, side by side, that were the same size, which was the General’s. As usual in Stateside  camps  and  forts  the  lawns  were  immaculate  and  a  very  nice  sign,  MG  Harmon,  was  beside  the sidewalk leading to the front door.

The Colonel rang the bell and an orderly opened it for us to enter. The General was just walking into the living room where the orderly was taking us. The Colonel introduced us and then left. The General motioned me to a chair and I waited for him to sit first but he didn’t right away. Instead, he said something like, “You take that chair. If you don’t mind, I’ll walk around. I’m not much for sitting.”  It didn’t cross my mind to say, “Yes, I mind, please sit down!” I doubt that anyone else had said such to him. The orderly had brought in coffee and poured for us. The General began to ask me about myself, my early years, my army service, and some about Lexington. He was very interested in horses. I learned later that when he graduated from West Point in 1917 he  had  gone into the  cavalry. In his questions about my European service he asked if I had had any contacts with the Constabulary. I told him of seeing them on the borders and patrolling the  autobahns looking  sharp in their uniforms  and on their striped and color-coordinated motorcycles.  (The Constabulary were the only real police in the whole of the American Zone of Occupied Germany for well over a year after their surrender.) He talked about it for a bit, and serving with it, but then passed on to other subjects.  I didn’t know that he had established it and was its first commander until later in the year at Norwich.

He  seemed  genuinely  friendly  and  interested in me and  my  background. Not at all like the general described in the many writings I read later about his war exploits. He did have a gravely voice and a direct manner, and he was built a bit like a fire plug, or a fat bullet. His hair was closely cut and his neck was short as was his height. When  he  seemed  to  run  out  of  any  questions  to  ask he said something  like, “Well  the  people  in  the Engineering Department tell me that your papers are very good as are your references. I don’t know a damn thing about engineering so I’ll take their word for that. And from what I see, I think you would fit in well atNorwich, so I’ll call and tell them to send you an offer letter right away. Thanks, for coming over and I hope to see you at Norwich.” That, of course, was my cue to say my goodbyes and head back toUK. I saw him a few times that school year at Norwich, usually at faculty social events, and he was always friendly. He would sometimes introduce me to others by saying that he and I were two of the “new boys on the block” that year. He turned out to be an outstanding president for the school and served it for fifteen years.

Not long after I returned to school I received a letter from Norwich offering me the job at the “princely sum” of $333 per month, or $3,000 for the whole school year. I accepted and then began a number of letters with them on details; classes, info on living accommodations, uniforms, etc. I had joined the Signal Corps, Army Reserve two years earlier and had my 2nd Lieutenant uniforms which would do. I asked about the Vermont Militia buttons I would need to sew on and was informed that Reserve and National Guard members were permitted to wear the US Army uniform buttons. However, I was required to sign up with the Vermont Militia when I checked in at Norwich, which I did.

And so I became a true Militiaman or a “Green Mountain Man” for nine months. It was a wonderful experience with wonderful people, even if the weather was a bit nippy at times.

(For those interested in more on General Harmon and his WWII service you can read the downloadable .pdf file, “A Year in Rheims”, in the Catch-all section of this blog.)

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