Phillip White ‘67
Dartmouth College Oral History Program
Dartmouth Vietnam Project
June 3, 2018
Transcribed by Karen Navarro
STERN: Today is Sunday, June 3rd, 2018. This is Sam Stern (’19) and I’m speaking with Phil White, Dartmouth class of 1967, over the phone from the Jones Media Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. And Dr. White is currently at his home in Texas. So, I want to begin again by thanking you for your participation in the Dartmouth Vietnam Project. I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.
WHITE: Well, thank you, yeah. Yeah, glad to participate.
STERN: Thank you. So, I’d love to start, if you could just tell me when and where you were born?
WHITE: Oh, born in Natick, Mass. 4-4-45.
STERN: And can you tell me a bit about your family? So, did you have any siblings, and what was your relationship like with your parents?
WHITE: I have three younger sisters, all born in Indiana actually, and they are still living and they live in different parts of the country, one in Vermont, one in Maryland, and one in Montana. I was brought up mainly, the four of us were mainly brought up in South Bend, Indiana, and we had a pretty typical family life, I guess, at that period, nothing particularly remarkable. And as far as what led to my attending Dartmouth, I remember…
STERN: I’m sorry, could we step back again? I’d love to spend some more time on your childhood, if you don’t mind, and then we’ll get to Dartmouth, I promise.
WHITE: Oh, okay, sure. Yeah. Well, as I say, it was a fairly typical childhood, I guess, of that era and in that place, you know, sort of playing baseball after school…
STERN: So, was it a small town in Indiana that you grew up in?
WHITE: It was then, but we lived actually on the outskirts of town north of the city, and actually there was farm country probably a quarter of a mile from the house, and then if you went much farther into the farm country, you crossed the Michigan state line, so we were at the far north end of the state.
STERN: And what led your parents to Indiana?
WHITE: Oh, my father’s work. He was an engineer. He went to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA], and that’s where he met my mother actually. And he worked for a company that reassigned him from New York State, Buffalo area, where he was working after World War II, to the Mishawaka, Indiana plant, and that’s how we wound up there.
STERN: So, what type of engineering did he work on?
WHITE: He was a mechanical engineer.
STERN: And you said he met your mom at MIT?
WHITE: Yes, he met her at MIT, that’s correct. She was not an MIT student. She was actually an “A” student attending Wellesley College [Wellesley, MA] from the nearby town of Natick, Mass. which is very close to Wellesley. And so, they met at one of these dances that they had back then, and that’s how they met. And then, he went off to war, World War II, and they subsequently kept in touch and were married. And she actually accompanied him to different postings during his training as a pilot stateside before he went overseas, and she was not particularly welcome in that regard by the US Government. They were on their own. He was assigned to different units for training, and they would have to find a place to live. The old saying was, if the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one. And so, he did finish his pilot [training] and got sent overseas, and then returned home and went to work, as I say, in Buffalo, New York, after he finished—he actually had to finish his degree before he went to work. He had been interrupted by the war.
STERN: So was he in the Air Force?
WHITE: He was in the Army Air Corps, yes.
STERN: Okay. And do you know where…
WHITE: Predecessor of the Air Force.
STERN: And do you know where he was stationed abroad?
WHITE: As far as overseas, he was stationed in France. That’s about all I know. The stateside training posts that he was assigned to, the two that I remember him and my mother talking about were Newport, Arkansas, and Moultrie, Georgia. There were probably some others, but if they mentioned them, I don’t remember and my sisters I don’t think do either. But those are the two that we do remember.
STERN: So did he talk a lot about his war experience growing up, or not particularly?
WHITE: No. No, he didn’t really. He always carried with him on his keychain, a piece of flak from a German anti-aircraft gun that had been removed from his plane after it was shot up and he was able to land it. It was kind of a close call. But that’s about all that we knew. He said very little about it until his old age, when he did write his memoirs, and that was all quite interesting to read, and he remembered it, as far as we know, very well. It was very vivid in his mind when he was 75 or 80, however old he was when he wrote them.
STERN: That’s fantastic.
STERN: I said that’s fantastic that you have those now.
WHITE: Yeah, he did set down his experiences as a World War II fighter pilot, he sure did. A B-47 was the aircraft that he flew.
STERN: And what did your mom do? Did she work?
WHITE: Later in life she did. Initially she was a homemaker, but after we kids were grown, she went back. She had a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley, and she was a music major actually, and she went back for her teaching certificate, and taught at the kindergarten and elementary school level beginning in the mid-, I’m going to say mid-1960s until she got sick with cancer in about 1972.
STERN: I’m sorry.
WHITE: She died at 49 in 1973 of lymphoma.
STERN: Oh, I’m so sorry. So, what values did your parents instill in you during your childhood? And were they particularly religious or were they politically involved at all?
WHITE: Well, I think the main thing was, get a good education was the main value. And as far as politics, I would say that they tended to be toward the conservative side. I can remember my father saying, “Beware of joining radical organizations of any stripe, because it might come back to bite you when you go to get a security clearance if you go into the military,” which was in those days not an option because there was a draft. So, all boys, young men my age knew that sooner or later we were either going to go in or we were going to be conscientious objectors, but that was a fairly small group, and so we all knew that we were going to be drafted, and we’d better not go too far out on a political limb. I had an interest at one time in the labor movement. I was a history major at Dartmouth, but getting ahead of myself. But, the labor movement and the IWW [International Workers of the World], the Wobblies, and I did a lot of research on them, but I never joined the group. [laughter] I listened to my father’s advice.
STERN: Was that because of your parents? Okay, you heeded their advice?
WHITE: Yeah, I figured my dad was right, you know. If I joined the Wobblies when I was 17, I might have trouble getting a security clearance to get a decent assignment in the Armed Forces when I was 22 and ready to go in after college.
STERN: So, did they talk politics much at home, or not particularly?
WHITE: Yeah, somewhat. I mean, basically, having been involved, you know, being of the Depression era and World War II and the early Cold War era, they certainly had a lot of concern about extremist groups, everything from Nazis to the Communists, and they were concerned that was all dangerous and to be avoided.
STERN: And like you said, you kind of grew up in this context of the Cold War. Do you have any memories of McCarthyism, of HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), the Rosenberg trial, and kind of the paranoia surrounding Communist subversion?
WHITE: Yeah, I do. I have memories of… McCarthyism, not much other than the fact that he was considered kind of an oddball in the general public eye I would say. And let’s see, the [Ethel and Julius] Rosenberg trial I remember because I was… The trial I don’t remember, but the execution I remember because I was visiting my grandparents and on summer vacation in Massachusetts, and of course it took place in New York, and apparently it was controversial and reported very much in the news media at the time, and my grandparents got the Boston newspapers, and so yeah, I remember a few things about it, how controversial it was at the time.
STERN: And what was their view of the Rosenbergs’ guilt?
WHITE: I don’t really think that my grandparents on my mother’s side had any comment. My parents tended to think that where there’s smoke there’s fire; you know, if they were convicted, hopefully it was beyond a reasonable doubt and there was involvement on their part. Whether or not the punishment fit the crime, I think that’s been one of the big questions at the time and ever since, and I don’t know that they expressed any concern one way or the other about whether the punishment fit the crime. One thing I didn’t know until many years later, kind of researching it out of interest, is that the Rosenbergs had two fairly small children.
STERN: I wasn’t aware of that either.
WHITE: What I would say was the death penalty was unusual under those circumstances, at least it would be today.
STERN: And, so where did you attend primary and middle school? Was that both in Indiana? And were there any subjects that you were particularly intrigued by at that early age?
WHITE: Oh, yeah, there was a school nearby where we lived, built in probably in the ‘20s, long gone now, of course. It was a fire trap. [laughter] It was called Stuckey School [South Bend, IN], and yeah, I went there, grades 1 through 6, and then walked to school, of course. And then, the junior high school was further away, and so we rode the school bus, and then that was through eighth grade. And then at that point my father got reassigned to Providence, Rhode Island, so we moved away from Indiana.
STERN: And so, you moved away after 8th grade, you said?
STERN: You moved away for your high school age?
WHITE: Yeah. When we were, let’s see, well, I was 14 and my sisters were probably like 9, 6, 3, that range, when we moved away. And went to the 9th grade, I did, at Warwick, Rhode Island public schools. And actually, Rhode Island did it a little differently. They had 7th, 8th and 9th was their junior high, and 10th, 11th, 12th was high school. And so, I actually only spent one year in the public school there, and then actually the final three years of high school were at Phillips Exeter Academy [Exeter, NH], which was where my uncle on my mother’s side had attended, and that was on scholarship and so forth, and so that’s how I finished high school.
STERN: So, had you grown up with the understanding that eventually you’d be sent to boarding school? Were you keen on the idea of it?
WHITE: I had mixed feelings about it. What kind of sold me on the idea was when we went for an interview with whatever they called him, the Director of Scholarship Boys, I think they called him at the time. And he was a very persuasive charismatic man, and he did come across very favorably to me and he convinced me that, and he was correct, that I would enjoy the musical activities at Exeter, and indeed I did. There were—I think at the time there were not many public high schools that had as good a music program as Exeter did, and so yeah, that part of it I—he was a man of his word and I did enjoy that very much.
And as a side note, one of the alumni eight years before me was a professional musician who would come home to visit his parents at Christmas break when some of the major jazz bands would take time off certain times of the year, and he managed to get time off to come home and visit his parents. His father was an instructor at Exeter in history. And his name was Phil Wilson [Phillips E. Wilson, Jr.], and he was a remarkable individual. I guess he’s still alive, I don’t know. But, as a student at Exeter he was, of course, an outstanding musician, but he was very frustrated with some of the academic subjects which he had no truck for, and he told us one time that he would get so frustrated in French class, which was the last one before afternoon break, that before he went off to sports, he’d go by his father’s house and chop wood to get rid of his frustration. [laughter]
STERN: [laughter] Got the anger out.
WHITE: Yeah. So he got a lot of wood chopped during this time there. But anyway, but he went on to do a number of things. I think he’s been—I haven’t really followed his career too closely, but he’s been a studio musician, a composer, this and that. But when we knew him when we were students, he was one of the lead trombonists in the Woody Herman band, which was considered one of the outstanding, still remaining big jazz bands of the era. And he would usually drop in on a Sunday afternoon, which was when we rehearsed, and surprise us. We never knew if he was going to be there, but we would be rehearsing a tune and we’d stop to, you know, our leader would say, “Well, let’s take it from the top again, guys,” and before he got a chance to say anymore, there’d be the sound of a trombone outside this rehearsal room door, see, and it was Phil Wilson. But then he’d come in and he just said what a teacher and a coach he was. He was fabulous.
STERN: Did he ever actually teach at Exeter, or just made these impromptu appearances?
WHITE: He never taught there. He may have taught music at some place during his career, I don’t know. Like I say, I haven’t keep too close a…
STERN: Followed him since, right.
WHITE: But you can certainly—it’s Phillips with two “l”s Wilson, Jr. And I looked him up on the internet years ago when we first had Google or whatever it was, some search engine, and yeah, he was still very active playing, recording, composing, studio work, all kinds of things.
STERN: So you clearly have a passion for music. Did that come from your mom, who you said was a music major? And when did you start playing an instrument?
WHITE: Yeah, I think it came from both parents, because my father tried to play the violin as a boy and didn’t have much talent apparently, and it didn’t like him. But he had a remarkable ear and taste for music, and that was part of what he and my mother had in common from the get-go. And so, even though he didn’t play or sing himself, he had a great appreciation of her and her talent. And so they kind of were synergistic in that regard, because she performed and she sang. I remember in South Bend, she and a bunch of women had an a cappella choral singing group, and each rehearsal they would meet at a different woman’s house, and usually about once a year they met at our house. And of course we kids were in bed, supposedly, but we were listening in and they were pretty darned good. And most of her friends, her women friends, from the singing group anyway were faculty wives of faculty members of the University of Notre Dame, which was really right around the corner from us where we lived.
So, we grew up with that, and we grew up around the piano. She would play the piano and we would sing. And so yeah, it was a very musically active household, you might say. A great story about one of my sisters is that none of us were that good at piano lessons, by the way. We found our other instruments to be better. I have one sister who is a flutist– flautist, and she has dual degrees, master’s in psychology and master’s in music therapy. And she always found her music. And she sings very well. Met her husband that way in a choir, as a matter of fact. And then I have another sister who is quite musical and has perfect pitch. But, that sister was practicing the piano in the basement, and she hit a clinker, and she remembers my mother, who was upstairs, not just on the first floor, but all the way up on the second floor, but you could hear her call down both stairwells. When Kay, my sister, hit the clinker, you’d hear my mother call down, “B-flat.” So, Kay knew that she [laughter] she hadn’t hit B-flat. So, yeah, we had a good musical background growing up, that’s for sure.
STERN: So, when did you start playing the piano?
WHITE: Oh, I guess, what… well, let’s see, probably nine, because the last year of piano lessons is when I got glasses, and I remember this very distinctly, because that year I was having—I was never very good at it, but I was not progressing well. And my teacher was very demanding, and she—chain smoker, by the way. [laughter] That was interesting.
STERN: As you played?
WHITE: She was a chain smoker.
STERN: Okay. Would she smoke as you played in the house?
WHITE: Huh? What’s that?
STERN: You said she was a chain smoker?
WHITE: Yes, we took lessons at her house. Yeah, so it was one cigarette after another. But anyway, she was a very demanding teacher and I didn’t really like her to begin with. But, I really got frustrated because that last year she was saying, “Well, you’re not getting any better and you’re messing up this or that.” I mean, that’s not how she put it, but you know, obviously I wasn’t pleasing her. And finally I said, “Well, I’m not sure what it is, but I think I’m having trouble seeing the music.” [laughter] And she said, “Oh, you just haven’t practiced and that’s just an excuse.” Well, it was between that lesson and the following week was when I picked up my glasses, and when I walked in for the next lesson with glasses on, the look on her face…
STERN: Completely different. [laughter] And so, you mentioned it to your mom in between.
STERN: You mentioned it to your mom after leaving that lesson?
WHITE: I’m sure she did. So, it was kind of a, I don’t know what you’d call it exactly, but I guess my mother and I got some satisfaction out of that. Because it wasn’t that I was goofing off. It was just I really couldn’t see the music. And by the way, this woman wore glasses herself that you could burn down the forest with those things, so, you know…
STERN: [laughter] Yeah, I remember the same experience.
WHITE: She should have understood that, but she just figured that I was goofing off.
STERN: Yeah, definitely life changing. I remember not being able to see the blackboard so well, but not putting 2 and 2 together and realizing it was because I needed contacts.
WHITE: Oh yeah, well, that’s right, you don’t know until you get them, and then wow, you know, the trees have leaves. I can’t tell you the number of patients over the years that have told me that that was their first experience.
STERN: So, you said you also played another instrument in addition to the piano that you were better at?
WHITE: Oh, yeah, well, in 6th grade the school system had a band program that was quite good, and they encouraged students to sign up, and my mother and my father encouraged me. And the instrument that was sort of foreordained was the one that my grandfather had played, her father, which was the clarinet. And in those days, if you are familiar with the Broadway musical and movie from many years ago called The Music Man, about a guy that goes into a small town and signs up all the kids to play instruments in a band, so that he can sell instruments. And this was not that far from the truth in those days. They actually had salesmen that went around from school to school and peddling their instruments. And they would meet with the parents and work out a financing plan and so forth. I mean, the instrument that was chosen for me and that I kind of enjoyed really was the clarinet. And I remember that was a big deal. My parents had to pay $100 for a clarinet. [laughter] A lot of money back then.
WHITE: But anyway, so that’s what started it was the clarinet, and that came about, as I say, because it was the instrument with which my mother was most familiar, having been the daughter of a very serious clarinetist who was in an Army band in World War I, was never sent overseas because the war was over. But then after he went to work for the Boston and Albany railroad, I guess. But anyway, he and his, I gather was maybe an old Army buddy who was the principal clarinetist at the Boston Symphony, whose name was John Kees. And Mr. Kees and my grandfather would get together on certain days, certain Sundays when my grandfather was off work and the symphony wasn’t performing that day, and they would play clarinet duets at my grandfather’s house with my mother accompanying them on the piano. So, obviously my grandfather was no slouch if he could keep up with somebody like that.
STERN: Yeah, a musically gifted family.
WHITE: Both of them, you know. [laughter] But that was the story on the clarinet. But to make a long story short, I got very interested in jazz at an early age, and my music teacher was excellent, Mr. Price, very inspirational in 7th and 8th grade, and even wrote a piece for, a couple of pieces, one for me to solo in a Benny Goodman sort of mode and the other one was a piece for the four of us who were the best musicians in the school band at the time for 8th grade graduation that was voiced for two flutes, two clarinets and a trumpet, I believe. Anyway, sounds like a weird voicing, but it worked, because he could do it. And he wrote a piece for that instrumentation that we played and everybody was wowed by it. But anyway, he was the guy who said to my parents, “Look, you gotta buy him a saxophone because if he’s going to go to this band camp,” the summer after 8th grade, “he needs to have a saxophone because that’s what the instrumentation is.” He said, “They don’t have clarinets in these bands.” These were big band voicings.
The clinic or they called it the band camp was at Indiana University down in Bloomington, and it was headed up by the band leader, Stan Kenton, which, of course, he’s long gone, but if you’re familiar with music of that era, he was one of the very famous and innovative leaders, composers, arrangers, all that. And so, he was hosting a clinic for the high school and college age musicians, and I was actually one of the youngest, but my teacher pulled some strings, I guess, to get me registered. Anyhow, make a long story short, Mr. Price found a used saxophone again for $100.
STERN: Another $100 investment.
STERN: I said, and there was another $100 investment.
WHITE: No, this one was a used one, though. You couldn’t get a saxophone for $100, not a new one, but a used one you could. So I woodshedded on the thing from the time school was out until the band camp started a few weeks later, literally 10 hours a day in my room practicing, practicing, practicing, and finally got the transition accomplished, and had a lot of fun. I went to that camp two years, after 8th grade and after 9th grade, and it was wonderful. It was great to be in the company of other people who enjoyed that. And we would have jam sessions well into the night and it was just great fun.
STERN: So, what else did you do for leisure and socially during those summers growing up?
WHITE: Oh, well, I visited the grandparents. My cousin from California, he was a year younger, and let’s see, he was 10 and I was 11, we got into a lot of trouble that summer. [laughter]
STERN: At your grandparents’?
WHITE: Oh, well, we did kind of a boys will be boys thing. They had a circular staircase that we liked to run up and down, and the only trouble was we’d been playing outside and our hands were dirty, and so with the centrifugal force, we would be about to fall over if we didn’t push away from the wall. So, my grandmother got home from her beauty shop appointment or wherever she’d been, and all these boys’ handprints on the wall. She was not happy. But, that kind of stuff.
STERN: This was your mom’s parents in Massachusetts?
WHITE: No, this was my father’s parents in Connecticut. Usually we’d go and visit both sets of grandparents the same summer, you know, in the summers.
STERN: Would your sisters go, as well?
WHITE: Not when they were really young, but later on they did, yeah.
STERN: And, so besides music at Exeter, were there other subjects that really piqued your interest?
WHITE: Well, you know, history was—I think I said I was a history major at Dartmouth, but that was always fascinating to me, and so, yeah, I guess that was the thing that I most remember. And English literature. I remember a classmate who the instructor would go around the table and ask who the favorite author was. And I don’t even remember what I said. Maybe it was Robert Louis Stevenson, I don’t remember. But, my classmate said F. Scott Fitzgerald. And at that point, in 10th grade, believe it or not, I’d never heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald. So I went to the library and started looking up some of his works, and man, [laughter] you know, I can see why my classmate was so enthusiastic about his writing. But, so English and…
And actually, in our senior year there, they had different—you could choose from a menu of courses. Everybody was required to take some sort of English literature course, but you could choose different courses given by different instructors. And I chose English 4-W, which was creative writing, and really had a blast with that. The instructor was old as Methuselah, but what a sharp guy, and able to bring out the best in his students. I mean, that’s– Exeter is well known for the quality of its faculty, of course, and I had some personal experience with that.
STERN: And can you describe your time at Exeter socially?
WHITE: Well, [laughter] it was a monastery. What can I say, you know? A boys’ boarding school, it was at that time. It’s since gone coed, as had Dartmouth, of course. But it was, you know, the big event was… they had dances and stuff. I don’t remember too much really other than the fact that as far as the musical groups, we the dance band played for the dances. But then, prior to the dances that had to do with the musical groups, we would get on a charter bus and go to one of the girls’ schools. And I don’t remember them all. I mean, there was Dana Hall [School, Wellesley, MA] and there was these others. I can’t remember the schools down in mostly in the Boston area.
And so, the deal was you’d put on a concert which was attended mainly by the parents, sometimes our parents if they lived in the area. My mother and sisters occasionally attended one of those. And then, after the concert was the dance, and that was where you had social interaction with young ladies, and there wasn’t much for us because we were in the dance band, of course. [laughter] So, it was kind of interesting. Speaking of Scott Fitzgerald, it was kind of like almost the same kind of thing, I mean, Fitzgerald and the tea dances and the debutante parties and all that.
STERN: That sense of formality.
WHITE: What’s that?
STERN: I said that sense of formality.
WHITE: Well, it was quite formal. The girls were dressed up and we were in tuxedos and so forth and so on. And, so yeah, it was kind of like that.
STERN: And did you play any sports in high school or mainly stuck to music?
WHITE: Oh, not varsity. I wasn’t that good. I hacked around. I was pretty decent at baseball, and that was really the only sport I had much interest in. At Exeter you had to pick a sport each season, and I rowed on the rowing team the fall and spring, but I was not varsity again. Club sports kind of thing. And then at Dartmouth I did actually—they had a rowing team at Dartmouth was split up into freshmen and varsity, and I was on the freshman crew at Dartmouth. But after that, I really kind of lost interest. It was not something that I… I just didn’t have the time to pursue that along with studies and music and all that.
STERN: Of course. So, moving on to your Dartmouth days, what attracted you to the college?
WHITE: Oh, well, going way back to South Bend, we used to get the lake effect snow, and we had a tin roof on the back porch and the icicles would slide off of the tin roof and hang there and look beautiful and the new fresh snow in the back yard, and my mother who had, of course, grown up in Massachusetts and had as a young woman with her college friends went skiing a lot up in Vermont and New Hampshire. So, she would talk about how beautiful Vermont and New Hampshire were in the winter and so forth and so on. And I don’t know, I guess that all those years later kind of was in the back of my mind when I looked at colleges.
And there were some things, I guess about Dartmouth that appealed to me as I checked things out. A good music program, which they had. A rowing team, which they had, which later turned out to be not so important to me, but initially it was one of the selection criteria. And the weather. I’ve always loved cold weather, snow, and my sisters and I used to build a snowman and throw snowballs and all that stuff. And winter’s really in many ways my favorite season. And so, Dartmouth obviously is ideal for that. And that’s kind of—you know, the reasons we pick a college are sometimes not always the most mature, you might say, in terms of choices. My father in his old age, he was a great sailing enthusiast, and he admitted to us in his old age that the real reason he chose to go to MIT was not that it was the best engineering college or engineering school in the world, [laughter] but that he went for a tour of the campus and he saw all those sailboats that belonged to MIT on the Charles River. And he thought, “This is the place for me.” And I guess it turned out it was similar factors for me. They had just built the Hopkins Center [for the Arts], and so the Hop was brand new at that time, and it was a big deal and there was a lot of emphasis on it. I thought, Wow, you know, if they’re that into music and the arts, yeah, this is a good college, and plus the snow and all that. So, that was it.
STERN: So, had you visited before applying?
WHITE: Yeah, we did. My dad and I went up in our ’62 Volkswagen in the summer before I applied, and toured the campus and saw the new Hopkins Center, which was just being finished. I think it was still under construction at the time in 1962. By the time I got there in the fall of ’63, it had opened.
STERN: Just opened, okay. And was there any pressure from your parents to attend a specific college?
WHITE: No, not at all. No, they never put… The only pressure I ever felt about going at any specific place was Exeter, and that was, it turned out all right, although there were certainly some negatives. But that, I think, came a lot from my mother because her brother went there, and her brother, my late uncle, was a great guy and summers when he was home from college and I would visit, we’d go out and play baseball for hours. But I remember my uncle was a very soft spoken, easygoing kind of guy, and I never heard him curse but one time, and that’s when I was a senior at Exeter, or going to be a senior, and we were talking about colleges, and I hadn’t really decided at that point. And my uncle, who was a Harvard graduate, was asking about it and I said, “Well, I’m kind of looking at Yale.” And we were eating, we were around the dinner table. And my uncle choked…
STERN: He said “absolutely not.” [laughter]
WHITE: [laughter] And when he regained his, well, he didn’t really regain his composure, but he made sure he didn’t choke. And then he said, “Yale? Jesus Christ.” That was the first and last time I ever heard him swear.
STERN: So, did you apply early to Dartmouth?
WHITE: Yes, I did.
STERN: Okay. And were admitted then?
WHITE: Yes, I had a really early admission, so I knew fairly early on that it was a done deal, and I never looked back. I never had buyer’s remorse or anything. I know there are kids who get early admission and then back out, and I’ve often thought, you know, Why did they apply for early admission if they weren’t really certain?
STERN: Yeah, you can no longer do that here anyway. And so…
WHITE: It’s really inconsiderate on the part of the…
STERN: Right, taking the spots of other students.
WHITE: And it’s also very difficult on everybody, I mean, on the admissions people and on other students waiting to get in that are sweating it out, you know. I just never could understand that approach.
WHITE: So, if you don’t mind my asking, was that your route? You decided early and were early admission?
STERN: No, I actually couldn’t make up my mind for sure and didn’t want to commit anywhere, so I didn’t apply early decision. I applied regular decision. But I’m very glad that I got into and chose Dartmouth.
WHITE: Well, I would think as active as you are in this project, I would think you’re not the kind of student who just kind of plods along.
STERN: No, trying to take advantage of everything we have to offer, and during my senior year, it’s hard to believe.
WHITE: Now, you’re a senior this year?
STERN: No, so I just finished junior year, so I will be.
WHITE: Yeah, you’re a ‘19, yeah, that’s right. You just finished your junior year, right. Okay.
STERN: So, what motivated you to apply to ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps]? Were you in ROTC before you got to Dartmouth or was that something that you joined once you got here?
WHITE: Well, I joined once I got there. Well, probably the biggest motivating factor there, and my father’s experience was part of it. What happened with him was after Pearl Harbor, he decided that he would go into the service, and he wanted to be in the Navy, which– there were two things that he wanted to do. He wanted to fly. As a teenager he took flying lessons, and he was very much into aviation as he was into the sailing and nautical things. So, for him the dream assignment would be to be a naval aviator.
But, what happened was, after Pearl Harbor there were a number of young men that were besieging the recruiting stations around Boston and Cambridge, and so he went down promptly to the naval recruiter and, to say the least, he was not impressed. The guy was smoking a cigarette out in front of the door of the recruiting office and couldn’t be bothered, you know. And my dad told him he was interested in enlisting and that he was from MIT, and basically the Navy guy said, “Go away, kid, don’t bother me.” [laughter] So my dad walked down the street to the Army. “Come on in, son. Sign you up. You want to be a pilot, eh? Well, we’ll see what we can do.” And they did. True to their word, they sent him to flight training, and of course, that would be expected because he’d had flying lessons earlier, he was an obviously intelligent MIT student and so forth. So, but getting there was another matter, because first you had to go in and do basic training as a recruit, then you had to go to various levels beyond that. And then finally, when you had been through all these, jumped through all these hoops, you became a commissioned officer and you got your wings and got to be assigned to the Army Air Corps.
Well, I didn’t have any interest in flying. I didn’t think I did anyway. But I decided that hearing his stories about what basic training was like and the life of an enlisted man in World War II, I thought, Wow, you know, I don’t want to do that. I want to try to avoid that, and ROTC was how you could sort of shortcut some of that process. Not that we didn’t have basic training. We did. It was euphemistically called ROTC summer camp, but it was basic training. And so, but it was far less rigorous than a lot of the stuff my dad and his many hundreds of thousands of other young men and some women endured during World War II.
So I had decided early on that I would sign up. And Dartmouth at that time had a very active ROTC program. They had all three services. And the Air Force was in a big push to recruit cadets. And initially I signed up for that because I thought, you know, they had some interesting things other than actually flying an airplane, which I didn’t have that much interest, but some of the other Air Force technical stuff appealed to me. I don’t really remember why. But, finally what happened about halfway through my freshman year, I decided that this wasn’t working out too well, and it was a four year commitment after college. And at that point, I was drifting along not sure of what I’d be doing after college, but I didn’t think I wanted to spend four years in the Air Force. So, the Army commitment was only two years, so I transferred to Army ROTC.
STERN: And did you consider Navy?
WHITE: Well, I did. And rewinding a bit, I actually initially wanted to go into the naval ROTC program, and applied as a—once I was accepted to Dartmouth, the summer before your freshman year you could actually apply to the naval program. So I applied and took the physical and all that. Pardon?
STERN: Oh, I just said “okay.”
WHITE: Oh. And the problem was my eyes, not just, I knew I couldn’t be a pilot because of my vision, but any sort of naval officer billet was available to people with the nearsightedness that I had, which really wasn’t all that bad, but they were very picky. And this was 1963, and the Vietnam War had not yet heated up. And so, the Navy was extremely picky. And their theory was, well, you know, if you’re at sea and you lose your glasses, you know, you’re gonna not be able to function. Well, yeah, that’s fine, but that’s why they issued you an extra pair of glasses. The story about Teddy Roosevelt was that he had a dozen pair in his pockets when he was leading the Rough Riders, you know. I mean, it was really more I think of a—because a lot of the senior officers at the Navy at that time were kind of high bound, and they’d come up through the ranks with good eyesight, and so they thought all the young midshipmen should have good eyesight. [laughter] Well, they were dealing, whether they knew it or not, with a diminishing pool of eligible recruits at the time, and a war that was heating up. So, within a year they had changed the standards, but by that time it was too late for me.
STERN: Okay. So you joined Army your freshman year? ROTC?
WHITE: Transferred out of Air Force, yeah.
STERN: And how did you meet your closest friends at Dartmouth? Were many through ROTC or was it through other campus activities?
WHITE: No, it was other activities, mainly musical. That’s where my closest friends were. ROTC, other than the—it so happened that there were several members of a fraternity that I joined who were in Army ROTC, but that wasn’t why I joined that fraternity. It was just a coincidence. And there were some that were in Navy, as well.
STERN: Can you describe the Army ROTC curriculum a little bit?
WHITE: Oh, wow, it’s been a long time. Let me think.
STERN: Or just generally, kind of?
WHITE: Yeah. Military science courses they were called, and they taught you the basics of small unit tactics, leading a squad, leading a platoon, radio communications, oh, let’s see… we had bivouacs, we had weekends where we went out into the woods and carried rifles, and we had to go to the range and target practice with the old M-1 Springfield rifle. That was all that they had to issue to us, because all the good stuff was in the hands of the active duty soldiers who were at that time being geared up for our involvement in Southeast Asia. But, that sort of thing, yeah. I can’t remember much more specifically than that.
There was a bit of a geopolitical focus to it. Probably the best requirement that they had was that one take History 39, which was military history, which was Lou Morton’s course. And [Louis] Lou Morton was an Army Reserve colonel who had fought in World War II. And I don’t know his whole CV, but basically he was probably in his 60s at that time, and he had had a lot of experience in and out of the military and the Reserves, and he was a consultant apparently to the Army and the services on matters of military history and geopolitics. He was a full professor and very knowledgeable guy, very inspirational. His class was fantastic.
STERN: Yeah, I wish we had a class in military or classes in military history now. It’s actually something I’ve talked to the department about. But, not yet.
WHITE: Oh, they don’t have any such thing?
STERN: No. No longer.
WHITE: Now, you may have read this in a recent alumni mag about a guy named [John C.] Adams. Did you read that article about him? He was of that era. His course was on World War II, the rise of Hitler and World War II.
STERN: Yeah, I’ve taken a fantastic World War II course. So, there’s no specific professor in military history, but there are courses that touch on war.
WHITE: Yeah. Well, the Adams course, if you get a chance to find that article, it was in a recent alumni mag, I believe.
STERN: Sure, thank you.
WHITE: And he was of the same cut of cloth as Lou Morton. He knew whereof he spoke and he could literally carry the class along with him and make you feel like you were there.
STERN: Wow. And, so I know that there were some notable features of Dartmouth’s Army ROTC brigade. I think one of them was the Mountain and Winter Warfare program, which considered the best rock climbing outfit in the East. Do you recall that at all?
WHITE: Yeah, it was. I didn’t participate myself. I was never much of a physical specimen type guy. It was available to us on a voluntary basis, and I knew people who did, and were very excited about it and found it to be very challenging and very satisfying for them. But, I didn’t participate myself. It is—it was—no longer is, I guess, but it was indeed one of the premier programs in the world at that time in that sort of activity. Another place nearby that had similar activities was Norwich University in [Northfield] Vermont, and they would, as I recall, Norwich had a similar program and they had competitions with Dartmouth in rappelling and mountain and winter warfare type competitions.
STERN: Neat. And was there any rivalry at Dartmouth between the Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC brigades?
WHITE: The only rivalry was in the recruiters. [laughter] As I say, the Air Force was really, I mean, they were going all out. They had picnics at the professor of earth sciences farm. And he was trying to build the ROTC detachment into a larger unit, and apparently the Air Force had sort of a hierarchical system where if a professor of Ear Sci was able to recruit “x” number of students, then the unit was designated as a, instead of a squadron, it was a flight, or instead of a flight, it was a group. I don’t even remember the Air Force lingo. But, basically it would have been a feather in his cap had he been able to get to that size of unit. I think it came fairly close. It was a pretty large outfit. But there were several people like myself that after a few months of it decided this really wasn’t for them and a four year commitment just wasn’t going to be what we wanted to do, and either dropped out entirely… During freshman year you had the option of dropping out of any ROTC program, as I recall. And I didn’t want to do that, but I decided to transfer into the Army. And I think we had a couple of other Air Force guys that did the same thing.
The Navy was a little different because one of the features that the Navy had, and I guess if there was a rivalry it would be that the Navy had a very good scholarship program for their cadets. They got financial aid big-time. The Army and the Air Force had very little, if any of that. I certainly didn’t benefit from it and I don’t know of anybody who did. But in the Navy I did, because my roommate as a junior and senior at the fraternity house, Dave [David] Larson [‘67] was his name, and he had been in naval ROTC, and he pretty much, as I understood what he was telling me, pretty much had a full scholarship to Dartmouth through the Navy. And he, by the way, he—I met him years later, I hadn’t kept in touch with him, and we met at the 45th reunion. He had had a distinguished career as a submariner, became a full captain, and then after he retired with 30 years of active service, he took over as a—he either works for a civilian company consulting to the Navy or maybe he’s a government employee. I’m not quite sure. But anyway, still in the same area that he spent a lot of time on active duty, namely New London, Connecticut. But, Dave couldn’t have afforded to go to Dartmouth without financial aid, he said that. And so, the naval ROTC program was very much sought after for that reason.
STERN: And was there a sense of collective identity amongst the ROTC cadets?
WHITE: I don’t think that there was particularly, not that I remember. Maybe more so among the Navy. But they had a much more rigorous—I mean, they earned that money. They had a much more rigorous training schedule than we did. They had their classes, but they also had days during the week where they had to get in uniform and drill and all that. Air Force and Army, as I recall, did not do that except on rare occasions. Armed Forces Day, we got into uniform and had a, you know, the big parade and all that. And certain other, maybe Memorial Day. I don’t remember. But, the Navy guys, you would see them marching or tele timing around campus in their uniforms during class week, you know, and so they had a lot more hours of intense preparation for the Navy than either of the other services.
STERN: And do you remember any of the particular professors of military science who were in charge of your training?
WHITE: Oh, let’s see. I remember a Sergeant Bolder, who was sort of the typical sergeant that you want to make sure that you get on his good side and he can do wonders for you if he thinks you’re a good soldier. If he doesn’t, then beware. Sergeant Major [William R.] Brown was even more so. Sergeant Major Brown was a tough, grizzled old soldier, World War II, Korean War vet, and as he used to say, “My job here is to kick ass and take names.”
STERN: And so, were you on their good side?
WHITE: As far as I know. [laughter] I never had them get after me for anything, no. As far as the faculty that were the officers, there was a Captain Baldwin who was a sharp guy. He was artillery, as I recall. There was a captain, later major, he was promoted while he was on duty there, Major Haines. And he was unusual in a way, in that he was African-American. And so, not only was he unusual in being an African-American at a fairly high rank of major at that time, but also being on a campus that was so far north and so, at that time overwhelmingly Caucasian, and but he was a very good officer and a very good teacher of officers’ values, as was Baldwin. And then, there was the professor of military science, Colonel—oh, man, what was the man’s name?
STERN: Was it Donaldson? Is it William Donaldson?
WHITE: Donaldson, I believe that was it, yes. Colonel Donaldson. You have heard of him?
STERN: Yes, I read about him in I think the yearbook.
WHITE: Yeah, Colonel Donaldson. His previous duty station had been Alaska, and he’d spent a fair amount of time there, and so if you could get him to talk about it, it was quite interesting what he had to say about duty in Alaska. But, and he was a tough old bird. He really let one of the cadets have it about… He said, “Son, if you get out of ROTC, you’re gonna be drafted. You know that, don’t you?” And the kid gulps and said, “Yeah, I guess I’ll stay in.” [laughter]
STERN: And so, were these men that you looked up to and respected?
WHITE: I think his grades were, the guy’s grades were not that good, and so maybe he was worried about flunking out of Dartmouth, and if he had, of course, he would be snapped up as a buck private in a New York minute. I’m sorry, I interrupted you. What did you start to say?
STERN: No. I was just saying, were these men that you looked up to and respected at the time?
WHITE: Oh, yes, very much so. Yeah, I figured, you know, they’d been there, they’d done that, they’d seen it, and they knew their stuff. Haines was a little bit cynical in a way. He said, “Now”—he pointed to his crossed rifles on his lapel—he said, “Now, this is infantry. I don’t know how many of you guys are gonna wind up infantry. I know not many of you are gonna volunteer to be infantry,” [laughter] that some people wound up infantry whether they wanted to or not. But, he was looking for volunteers, but he was sort of facetious, because he came from a background where, I don’t know where he was from, but it was down south somewhere, and of course, white or black, there were many more people who went in the Army from the South that chose infantry because it was the sort of activity that they had done all their lives, you know, outdoors, hunting, fishing, shooting for fun, you know, that kind of thing, and so they wound up in the infantry as active duty soldiers.
STERN: And so I understand that Dartmouth’s ROTC cadets attended a six-week training program over the summer after junior year. What do you recall about this exercise?
WHITE: That was the basic training.
STERN: Okay. And so where was that held?
WHITE: It was basic training is what it was. They could put the lipstick on that pig as much as they want to, but it was basic training. It was very rigorous. Well, let me back up a minute. It’s usually between junior and senior year. My case was the exception, and I had to get permission from Colonel Donaldson. I had to go to summer school between my junior and senior year to get enough courses, prerequisite medical school course, because I didn’t switch into pre-med until my junior year. So in order to get the courses I needed to apply to medical school as a senior, I would have to take this summer course in physics to do that. And Donaldson went along with it because he figured that if I did get into medical school, the Army could use doctors as well as other soldiers. So he signed off on it. So I went to summer school. Then I did my—so, unlike my classmates who were all commissioned as seniors at the end of senior year, I had to wait until the end of summer camp.
And so, it started right after senior year for me, and it was in Fort Devens, Mass. and it was– I don’t know how much you know of that part of the state of Massachusetts, but it’s rather—well, there’s a reason that the government snapped it up for a training post in the early 20th century. There’s a not whole lot there. There’s a lot of sand hills and brush, and it’s kind of barren countryside compared to the rest of Massachusetts. But anyway, so it was the typical basic training. You went from dawn till dusk and you got up at the drill sergeant’s waking everybody up and all that stuff, you know. As they say, you could look it up. [laughter] But I’m glad I did it. But there were times when I sweated whether I was going to make it through or not, because it was very physically demanding.
STERN: And would you say that you considered your anticipated service in the military as a crucial part of your identity when you were at Dartmouth? Were you particularly outspoken in defending the military? And was there any sort of stigma surrounding being a member of ROTC?
WHITE: At that time there was really no stigma that I personally was aware of, and maybe I missed some signals here and there. Oh, there were guys going around protesting this and that, and there was a guy that I remember for two things. He was actually not a ’67. I think he was a ’68 or ’69. I don’t know that he ever finished Dartmouth. But anyway, he was recruiting for the Students for [a] Democratic Society, but he later went on to become quite famous as a musician, and professional: composer, arranger, talent manager. If you’ve heard of a group called the Fifth Dimension from the Motown era… You ever heard of any of their stuff?
STERN: I have not, but I also don’t follow music too…
WHITE: You could check it out. This guy, his name was Wayne Wadhams [‘69], and he actually arranged, partly wrote and arranged one of their really big nationwide hits, which was in the, I’m going to say the spring of ’67. I think he’d already dropped out and gone into the music business. But anyway, I remembered him because he was a very unusual individual. He was quite obese. He had very long hair, you know, a scraggly beard, kind of unusual for the era. And when he wasn’t recruiting for Students for a Democratic Society, which he was doing a lot of, he was sort of a hot rat like me and hanging around music. So, it just seemed like an odd juxtaposition, but it was almost like he was leading two lives, but he managed to pull the music side off and become quite well known in his field.
STERN: And were you politically active at all on campus?
WHITE: Not really. No, I mean, we had guys that were, but I… The only thing that I remember about that is, as a freshman taking a sociology course… You know, my views politically have always been fairly conservative, and I always felt that I could express them reasonably well, and that, you know, every argument has at least two sides, and that if you can express your point of view well, and within the context of the question that is asked on the exam, that even if the professor disagrees with you politically, he should evaluate…
STERN: That you would still be rewarded.
WHITE: Yeah. The professor—he, in this case, they were mostly he’s anyway back then—but, the professor should grade you accordingly, not whether you were particularly of the same belief that he was. Well, we had a professor in sociology by the name of H. Wentworth Eldredge [‘31], and some of us called him H. Wadsworth Eldredge, as in Wadsworth [inaudible]. But, he was a very intelligent and very renowned sociologist, and he was considered quite pompous by people who took his courses. [laughter] It was kind of funny. He used to literally strut around the front of the classroom lecturing, and he would get into this Napoleanesque pose with his hand inside his lapel, and I don’t think he was aware he was doing it, or maybe he was doing it for effect, I don’t know. And he had a very distinguished tone of voice and very stentorian, I guess you’d call it, and he would say things like, “Well, back when I lectured before the NATO War College,” blah blah blah, and, [laughter] you know, that was the kind of guy he was. You either loved him or hated him. Most of the class, at least in Sociology 1, didn’t like him, and that was because he was a very hard grader, because if you didn’t hew the line of extreme leftism, he gave you a bad grade, no matter how well you articulated your position. And that happened to a number of us, not just me, but I knew of classmates that it was the same thing. So, the guy was, you know, in my opinion, out of line, but that’s the way it was. I got a “D” in the course and was glad I didn’t flunk it. [laughter] That’s all you can say, you know.
STERN: Was that common amongst professors?
STERN: Was it common amongst professors to penalize students for dissenting views?
WHITE: The only one I ever knew of. I don’t know of any others. No, all the history profs that I studied under would, you know, they’d give you the grade based on how you answered the question, not whether you leaned left or right. But he was the exception. And there was one day that was really, really funny, because this student who was equally disgusted with him as I was and several of us were… In those days when the class was over, there was a bell that went over the PA system in Reed Hall or wherever it was. I don’t know how they do it now, but that’s how they signaled the end of class. And it was always right on time, of course. And so this student had it perfectly timed. He had a loaded question that he asked Professor Eldredge, and of course he got the answer he expected, Eldredge going off into far, far left field, you know, climbing the left field wall kind of thing in his answer. And the student had timed it just right, so that when Eldredge was about to finish, the student said, “Well, Professor, if that’s your opinion, you can…” Riiiiiing, the bell went off. Eldredge was taken aback. He said, “What were you saying?” [laughter] And we all just laughed. It was very funny.
STERN: And why did you decide to meet…
WHITE: Let’s just say that he was the only Dartmouth professor I ever had that I really didn’t—no, I take it back. There was another guy that was a math professor, and the only problem with him was he thought it was beneath him to teach a survey course to freshmen. But, apparently the chairman of the department had said, “Well, Professor [William E.] Slesnick, you’re going to teach this course.” And so, he made no secret of his disdain for his audience in that, first of all, we were taking a relatively easy math course to meet the distributive requirement, and secondly, none of us– or very few of us were ever likely to be distinguished mathematicians, and so he felt he was kind of wasting his time. But, other than him and Eldredge, I really never ran across anybody I didn’t like.
STERN: And why did you decide to major in history? And why pre-med?
WHITE: Oh. Well, history was just always an interest of mine. I was interested in it in 9th grade in Rhode Island. We actually had some very good public school teachers in that school system at that time. Warwick, Rhode Island, is a suburb of Providence. And we had some very good 9th grade teachers. I remember one of them that taught history of Western civilization, a 9th grade course, and it was a very interesting course. And, so I guess that’s what started it, and then went on through Exeter and then into Dartmouth. And, but really, history was an interest, but not something I figured I would spend the rest of my life doing, because I could see even then that it was not exactly a marketable skill unless you wanted to be a researcher and professor, and historians, that’s what they do, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that.
But I really wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do. I knew I was going in the Army, like it or not, because of the draft, but other than that, things were very murky. And I think that was true for a lot of us of that era, because the Vietnam War, by 1963, it was not a big concern, but within the first two years at Dartmouth, we were seeing more and more of it escalating. And so, the anxiety level among the students was rising, and that would reach a fever pitch, of course, as you have learned, in ’68, ’69, ’70, that era, after I had left. But, it really got pretty hairy there for a while with the takeover of Parkhurst Hall and all that. But anyway, to my personal situation. I knew that I was interested in history, but I really didn’t know what I would do with it, and actually starting at freshman year, I really thought that I wanted to be a music critic, write about musical performances and musicians, so forth and so on.
STERN: I said interesting. A niche profession.
WHITE: Yeah, well, I would read Downbeat Magazine cover to cover, and there were columnists in there that, you know, I mean, I knew all the big name musicians and what the columnists wrote about them. And I didn’t read the The Village Voice, but it was into that kind of thing. And then, you know, that sort of… I mean, at Exeter, for example, some of my friends were from New York City and they would talk about their going to the Five Spot [Café] in Harlem and listening to Miles Davis and listening to Count Basie’s band. And actually, a buddy of mine and I, we went down there one time from Dartmouth. Well, it was when we stayed over in New York for the Dartmouth Band for the Princeton [University, Princeton, NJ] game, and it wasn’t the year [President John F.] Kennedy was shot. That year the game was canceled, and we were all wandering around like zombies until we got on the bus to go back to Hanover the next day. But anyway…
STERN: So, his assassination occurred while you were traveling for the band trip?
WHITE: Yeah. We were due to play at the Princeton football game on Saturday, the 23rd of November, ’63. And, of course, he was shot on Friday. So, well, the whole thing, of course, was called off. It was going to be in Princeton, but what they did was, the college paid for us to stay in a hotel in New York Friday night. And I guess it was Saturday night, too. I can’t remember. Or we came back after the game, I don’t remember. But anyway, the deal was we were going to stay in New York, and that was a big deal, you know? It was the same thing when the Harvard [University] game was in Cambridge [MA], they would put us up in a hotel there Friday night before the game. So, but anyway, a subsequent year for the Princeton game we went down and a buddy of mine and I did go out to the Five Spot, where we heard none other than Woody Herman’s band with Phil Wilson on trombone. Hah. And I knew it was him, but of course, you know, I’m out in the audience, and so… [laughter]
STERN: Small world.
WHITE: Yeah, it was a small world. I told my buddy about it. He was from Baltimore, and he said, “Yeah, that’s Phil Wilson.” I told him all about the guy. Anyway, so it was just about the end of intermission, I had to get up and go to the men’s room, and pretty soon this voice from over in the next stall says, “Hey, man, what’s been happening in Exeter?” [laughter] It was Wilson.
STERN: [laughter] He remembered you.
WHITE: Because the band had just gone on break. And so, we had a great time. But you talk about all the racial tension and everything back then. I didn’t really feel much of that because of the music. To me, it didn’t matter. It was just all about the music. And I had no qualms about being one of two white faces in the whole joint, because we loved the music. Well, the band had a few white faces, Phillips E. Wilson, Jr., for one of them. But we loved the music and the people there did and that was that. It just wasn’t a… We were careful, of course. We took a taxi up there and all that. But, you know, it wasn’t something we thought of at all. And as I say, I was telling you about some friends at Exeter were from New York, and I mean, they had firsthand experience with a lot of this stuff. And I always joked in later years with my sisters and my dad about, “Well, you know, I think that Mom and Dad were a little worried I was gonna get in with a bad crowd at Warwick High School with a bunch of musicians, so they sent me off to Exeter, and I get in this crowd with a bunch of musicians who were much more sophisticated than Providence, New York City.” [laughter] We used to have a good laugh over that in the family. But anyway, so that was just such a passion at the time that I really thought I wanted to do that.
And the balloon got pricked early on by my freshman advisor, who said, “You want to do what?” basically, not in so many words. And he pointed out, rightfully so, that for every successful critic who writes for the likes of The Atlantic or the New York Times or the Boston Globe, there’s probably, you know, two thousand wannabees out there who are, if they’re writing at all, they’re writing for the East Podunk Tribune, you know.
STERN: So, you decided junior year to pursue the pre-med track?
WHITE: Yeah, well, what happened, it was very weird. I had a summer job in construction between my sophomore and junior year, and business was slow. And so the contractor was a good guy. He said, “Well, kid, you know, I’ll keep you on. Business is slow, it’s tight, but I can still pay you if you help me paint the window frames at my house,” which were wood and they were badly needing paint. So that’s what I spent part of the summer doing until he got some more gigs with real construction. And I was standing there one day painting this wooden frame of a window screen with the white paint that he assigned me to do, and you know, it’s sort of like you have that epiphany kind of thing that, what do they call it, a “wow” moment or a something moment, I don’t know. I don’t remember the term. But anyway, I thought, That’s it. Of course. The eye is so fascinating, like mine, you know. Why do people need glasses and why do people have things wrong with their eyes? And what an idiot? I’ve wondered this since junior high school and just now I’m figuring it out. And once that moment hit, there was no turning back, there was no doubt about it. In my mind I was absolutely committed to that, and I went home and told my folks and said, “I’m gonna be switching into pre-med,” and that was that.
STERN: And were there any notable courses or professors you remember?
WHITE: Yeah. Professor [Douglas M.] Bowen in the Chemistry Department. I think I mentioned him in my 50th yearbook.
STERN: Yeah, I believe you did.
WHITE: He had a subject like that and making it interesting was amazing. I mean, the guy was just, he was charismatic, he was funny, he could take the most dull material and make it exciting because his enthusiasm was contagious. And he even, oh, what was it? There was one time, it was before the Harvard game, and there were two players on the Harvard team with Italian names, and they were both very good players, and the Dartmouth team apparently was concerned about these guys outplaying them. And so, Professor Bowen wrote something in Italian on the chalkboard before he started the class. And he said, “Now, I’ll give a prize to the first one who guesses what this Italian phrase means.” And so, nobody ever guessed it. And so, it translated to “while looking out for the lion” (like maybe one of the players was named Lioni or something, I don’t know, “looking out for the big animal,” (with an Italian name) “beware of the cat,” because Vic Gatto was the Harvard player who was another good player with an Italian name. And that was the sort of thing he would do. And he really, you know, to take something that boring and that tedious and make it interesting was a remarkable feat in my mind.
STERN: So, did students generally love his class?
WHITE: I think they did, yeah. There were a lot of smiles on faces as you looked around the room, as I remember. And you know, the thing is, most of the people were—let’s see, that was my senior year, that’s right; I took organic my senior year—most of the people in the class were sophomores. There were a few of us who were late bloomers that were taking it as juniors, seniors. And I’m not sure as a sophomore I would have appreciated him quite as much, but at that point I did. And I think, just there were so many pre-meds that this was sort of the Waterloo of being a pre-med, you know. If you didn’t make it in organic, you could forget applying to medical school. So it was a make it or break it time. And for a professor to be able to ease the anxiety, that was quite remarkable.
STERN: So, I know that you had written that some of your most favorite memories from Dartmouth were playing for the Renegades and road trips to the Maroon Saloon. Could you elaborate at all on either of these?
WHITE: Well, the Renegades were a group that you would probably classify it as, it’s not hard rock, it’s sort of medium rock from the early to mid-‘60s; blue-eyed soul is another category. Did you see the movie, Animal House?
STERN: I embarrassingly have not seen it. I’ve, of course, heard about it.
WHITE: I’m sure you have. [laughter] Yeah, I’m sure you have.
STERN: I need to do that. It’s about time. Third year Dartmouth.
WHITE: Yeah. Well, that’s right. Yeah, but… Can you still hear me?
STERN: Yes, I can.
WHITE: Okay, because I’m having to rearrange the phone a bit. Got a little stiff in the neck here.
STERN: No problem. Take your time.
WHITE: But if you can hear me, we’re good.
WHITE: Anyway, if you go see the movie or rent it, whatever, there’s a road house scene where the guys take a road trip and they stop off at this place where there’s a band, and the band members of this, the fictional name of the band is Otis Day and the Knights, and they’re all black, and they play the same kind of music we played. And we were all white, but our lead singer was a guy who grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and when he was a high school student he used to sneak out of the house and go to the black part of the town to the clubs, and sneak in. He had some friends that let him in, even though he was underage. And he would learn how to do soul, you know, sing like James Brown and Wilson Pickett, and that kind of thing. So, that was the sort of thing we did.
STERN: And what was his name?
WHITE: What was the name of the singer that he emulated?
STERN: No, his name? Your fellow musician.
WHITE: Oh, it was Monk Morrison (M-o-r-r-i-s-o-n). I can’t even remember his first name, but he always went by Monk. That was his nickname. And he was actually, he started out as a ’66, but he got suspended from school… [laughter]
STERN: For doing what?
WHITE: He got suspended from Dartmouth for a year, so he wound up graduating with us. But he originally was a ’66.
STERN: And the Maroon Saloon?
WHITE: Stan [“Monk”] Morrison [‘67], yeah. Stan Morrison was his name.
STERN: Okay. And then what were your road trips to the Maroon Saloon?
WHITE: Oh, the road trips in the Maroon Saloon. The Maroon Saloon was a car. Yeah, you know, the British call a certain type of four-door sedan a saloon, and in the UK it has a very specific connotation. In this country, that terminology has never caught on, but I had a fraternity brother from Philadelphia who was a—I’m trying to think what he did that was memorable other than naming my car, but… [laughter] He was a, well, yeah, he was a very much an aficionado of soul music even before it became popular. And in Philly, you know, in the early ‘60s, it was not Motown, it was not Detroit, but there were certainly a lot of stuff going on. So he knew the genre, and he didn’t play an instrument himself, but he had a great appreciation for that kind of music. And so, any time our band would play a gig at the house for a party, a Saturday night party, he was always grooving on it. He really liked our music. But he also named the car. It was a maroon color. It was a ’48 Desoto, and back then the cars had the three windows on the side, the suicide doors, you know, the back door was hinged at the rear and opened toward the front, and gangster cars that they called them. And so, that’s what this one was, and it was maroon, so he came up with this British term, saloon, Maroon Saloon. So that’s what it was called. And road tripping in it was, we went down US 5 to Northampton and Mount Holyoke and places like that and, you know, with mixed results, but anyway… [laughter]
STERN: Was he the same brother who nicknamed you “the Junkman”?
WHITE: No, no. I forget where that came from. But it was appropriate, [laughter] I’m sorry to say.
STERN: Can you recount again the origin of that somewhat unflattering name?
WHITE: Oh, well, at one point I owned three—my senior year I owned three different cars.
STERN: And you had a fascination with automobiles, right, from a younger age, too?
WHITE: Yeah, all my life, all my life. You know, car collecting and driving and all is not a hobby, it’s a disease. But anyway, there were, by the time I was a senior, I had three cars. I had two ’58 Fords because the parts were interchangeable, and one would break down, so I would use the other one, cannibalize the other one for parts, and then the first one would break down, so then I’d get the other one back on the road. And so it went. And that was mostly the spring of my junior year in the summer. And then, just before my senior year my grandmother in Natick, Mass. told me that the old man that rented her garage, because she hadn’t driven a car in years, the old man that rented her garage from her was about to quit driving and he wanted to sell his car, and it was the ’48 Desoto. And so, I bought it and took it up to Hanover. I had left the other two there for the summer while I was at ROTC, or I’d left one of them, I guess. I don’t remember. But anyway, so the bottom line was, by the time I was a senior, I had three automobiles parked in and around the fraternity house, two in the parking lot…
STERN: All three of them?
WHITE: Yeah. Two in the parking lot and one under the tree on the north side, which the branches of the tree fortunately shaded most of it and kept it from public view. But, there were things like spare tires and, you know, the snow tires that you couldn’t use in the spring and fall, studded tires you could only use in the winter. And I put the studded tires on, had to have a place for the other tires, etc. etc. etc. That’s where that came from.
STERN: Okay. And you were a member of Phi Tau, is that correct?
WHITE: That’s correct.
STERN: And what else did your—what did you do with fraternity life and what did that brotherhood kind of mean to you?
WHITE: Well, I haven’t really kept in touch with anybody. I think we all kind of went our separate ways. A lot of—as I said earlier, several were in ROTC, the Army or Navy, and so we had a couple of ‘65s and ‘66s who were in the Navy and went off after they graduated. I don’t really know what became of them, but one of them got married upon graduation and then went to his Navy duty. He married one of the nursing students from what was then Mary Hitchcock Hospital. They had a nursing program at the time. And a couple of our brothers actually married young ladies from that school. It was a three year diploma nursing school. It did not confer a bachelor’s degree, although—and I know a lot about this because my wife’s an RN and my daughter is also an RN. So, things have changed, of course, over the years.
STERN: So, was it an undergraduate program?
WHITE: What’s that?
STERN: Was it an undergraduate nursing program?
WHITE: Yes, it was. They entered out of high school, and it was three years. And then they graduated as RNs, but they didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. And, now my daughter did something similar here in Texas. She went to a community college and got her associate degree, but she went an extra year to another community college that had a more advanced nursing curriculum, and through that college got her RN. Then, she moved to the Seattle area, which is where she’s always wanted to live from the time she was in high school, and found that the jobs were very tight for nurses unless they had a bachelor’s degree. So, she came back and did her bachelor’s degree work at University of Texas Medical Branch here in Galveston, down in Galveston, Texas, got her BSN, and then she quickly got a job and has been there since. But, back then it was a very different climate. Nurses, we saw the same thing in Boston when I was in medical school there. The nurses were part of the hospital. The hospitals had nursing programs that dated back to, you know, maybe the 19th century, I don’t know. But, Mary Hitchcock had such a course, and those girls would graduate after three years, and a couple of them, as I say, married my fraternity brothers after graduation, either the girls or the guys, but anyway… And we, for some reason, [laughter] the joke was, we were the first house on Main Street, or the second one, I guess, as they hiked down towards downtown Hanover, so they kind of were, it seemed like they wanted to hang out at our house.
STERN: They’d stopped in there, yeah. [laughter]
WHITE: It was fine with us. That was fine with us. Yeah.
STERN: [laughter] So, I know… I’m sorry, were you saying something?
WHITE: Yeah. I started to say I dated one of the future nurses from that program. But I interrupted you, I think. What?
STERN: Oh, I was just going to ask a separate question. But, I know that Allen Ginsberg, the counterculture poet philosopher, and then Stokely Carmichael, obviously one of the most popular and controversial African-American leaders of the ‘60’s both visited campus as national issues speakers during your senior year. Do you remember either of their visits? Or did you attend their lectures?
WHITE: No, I didn’t. That’s interesting. You’ve told me something that I didn’t know. I really was pretty politically naïve and inactive, I guess you would say, and I didn’t pay much attention. I was pretty much wrapped up in trying to get into medical school, studying hard, and the other things that I was doing, and never really got into that sort of thing.
STERN: And I know you had talked a little bit about racial tensions when you were talking about jazz and your visits to the club. But, the civil rights movement obviously reached its peak kind of during your late high school and then Dartmouth years, with the March on Washington in ’63, and then the ’64 and ’65 Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. What was the discussion, and was there any action or protests taken on campus with regards to civil rights?
WHITE: You know, again, I probably was just not in the—didn’t move in those circles, but I honestly don’t remember too much controversy. We thought the legislation was a good idea in general, but beyond that, I really… I remember the March on Washington and thinking what an amazing thing it was, and of course, because of the media coverage. But, there is one thing that comes to mind in sort of a related incident that happened when I was at Fort Devens. We were on the way to some training site. And the way you do that, at least the way we did it in basic training was, there would be a whole company of cadets, recruits, whatever, and you’d climb up in the back of one of these big open trailers. They called them cattle trucks, and towed by a heavy duty Army tactical vehicle. And that’s how we got around for the remote sites that were too far to march to, or that they were in too big a hurry to get us there. If they could march us, they would. But, if they were in too big a hurry to get us there, they’d move us by vehicle.
And so, one day we made an unscheduled stop, and we all wondered, you know, “This isn’t the training site. What’s this?” And the driver gets out and opens the rear gate to the cattle truck, and in climb about half a dozen active duty troops in full gear from the 101st Airborne Division. [laughter] And we thought, “Wow, this must be some of our new trainers. They look tough.” And they sure were tough. Boy, these were battle hardened troops that most of them had been to Vietnam and had been reassigned stateside, and in the Detroit riots in 1967, they were deployed to keep order. And so, that gig had finished for them. So then, they sent them, dispersed them to various sites for various duties, one of which was to train cadets at Fort Devens. And these guys were the real deal. I mean, some of the trainers we had were, you know, they’d been to Vietnam and all, but they were not recently removed from something like a riot in a US city. And I believe all but one of these guys was black, by the way. But anyway, and they were nice guys. They got to talking with us and told us about their experience, and our jaws were just dropping. I mean, it was unbelievable to think that something that violent could take place in a city like Detroit and have to have troops with that degree of battle hardness deployed in order to keep it from getting even more out of control. That was just a real stunner for all of us that met those guys.
STERN: And so, ultimately you decided to defer your Army service to attend medical school.
STERN: Did the Army kind of encourage this or pay for graduate education at all?
WHITE: No, there were no such programs at the time. The way they were doing it at the time, in medical school you were pretty much on your own. Once you finished, then you would go on active duty and do a year of internship, and then beyond that, depending on your preference and the Army’s needs, mostly the Army’s needs, of course, you might be assigned a residency program in a specialty, or you might, which was much more likely, be deployed overseas: Vietnam, Germany, whatever.
STERN: And so, where did you attend medical school?
WHITE: Two years at University of Maryland [School of Medicine] in Baltimore. By that time my parents had moved to the state of Maryland, and so I was a resident of that state. And then, finished up at Tufts [University School of Medicine] in Boston.
STERN: And you had mentioned in the write-up that you provided to the Dartmouth Vietnam Project that a lot of people had cut medical school classes to attend the anti-war protests. What was your reaction to this?
WHITE: Well, to be honest, my reaction was, Okay, so, you’re gonna miss part of what you’re supposed to learn. Hopefully you can make it up. Or, maybe that just won’t be part of your knowledge base. And basically my feeling was, We’re here to learn medicine. You want to be a damned fool and not do that, that’s up to you, but I hope you won’t someday be my doctor. I mean, that’s pretty blunt, but that’s the way I felt about it.
STERN: But you weren’t angered by the fact that they were protesting the war?
WHITE: Would I be in their favor because of that? No. I mean, at that point I had my doubts about the war also. But, I felt that it was much more important to learn what we needed to learn to become physicians, and that this other business was a sideshow. You know, you want to do it? Do it on the weekends. But don’t cut class to do it.
STERN: And when did you receive your medical degree?
WHITE: June of 1971.
STERN: And then, can you walk me through a little bit the path from graduation to then reporting for active duty?
WHITE: You mean, graduation from medical school?
WHITE: Oh. Well, I immediately was called to active duty. That was all foreordained. After Fort Devens when I received my commission, the Army has to pigeonhole you somewhere, so they had a certain number of slots for different MOS’s, Military Occupational Specialties. And so, my name went into the hat, and I came out as commissioned in the Corps of Engineers, [laughter] which was an oddity, to say the least. And, of course, as a 2nd lieutenant. And so then, after my third year of medical school, that’s the point at which they decide, “Oh, this guy’s not gonna flunk out of medical school. We’re not gonna call him on active duty to the Corps of Engineers. He’s gonna finish medical school, maybe.”
So, they changed my branch assignment to Medical Service Corps, which is sort of the admin side of medicine, but not doctorate degree. They may have a degree in some other field, but not in medicine. And so, that was that branch assignment. And then, upon graduation from medical school, they assign you to the Medical Corps, and then you start your active duty internship, which started on July 1 of 1971, and a year of internship, and after that, who knows? And what happened to me was, the colonel in charge of… Well, after internship I was assigned to stay there at that post, Fort Lewis, Washington, as a general medical officer in support of the troops. And it was a routine sick call, emergency room duty, that kind of thing. And then…
STERN: What did the year internship, what did the internship consist of? Was it essentially like a residency?
WHITE: Well, in those days the internship was a one-year exposure to different specialties, general medicine. My particular—you could select whether you wanted to rotate an internship, which gave you exposure to surgery as well as medicine as well as OB/GYN, etc. etc. Or, in my case, and mostly because Bernie [Bernard] Schwartz, who was the Chief of Ophthalmology at Tufts, had recommended it when I took his elective my senior year at Tufts. He said, “You really should take an internship in straight medicine, internal medicine, because in ophthalmology, our surgery is so different from general surgery, and general surgery would really do you no good, but a straight medicine does you a lot of good because so many things having to do with ophthalmology are related to systemic disease and internal medicine. So, since he was the chairman and I wanted to get in his program after two years in the Army, that was the plan, [laughter] which of course didn’t work. But anyway, so I took his advice and took a straight medicine internship. But, many of my classmates were rotating interns.
It’s different because now, people really start their residencies right after medical school. They call it something else. They call it PGY-1, and it’s like the old internship, Post-graduate Year 1. But it used to be you took an internship, and then you started residency in a specialty. But at least at UT Southwestern, and I think in other schools now, it’s quite different.
STERN: And so, was the internship at Madigan General Hospital?
STERN: The internship?
STERN: Okay. And then you stayed there afterwards?
WHITE: Yeah, they assigned me, like I say, to troop duty, taking care of soldiers on post as their general physician, it was general medical officer was my MOS. And then about July the colonel called me into his office and said, “We’re gonna send you to flight surgeon school.” I said, “Okay. Sounds interesting. Where is it?” Fort Rucker, Alabama. [laughter] I think he knew I wasn’t real happy about going to Fort Rucker, Alabama, in July. But anyway, that’s where they sent me, and I did a seven week course and then came back and basically did the same thing at Fort Lewis, except that I specifically was assigned to an aviation unit as their doctor. That’s kind of how that works with flight surgeons.
STERN: Okay. And so, I know that many of the patients who were medevaced back to the US from Vietnam were treated at Madigan and Fort Lewis.
STERN: Do you have any particular memories in terms of memorable cases or patients?
WHITE: Well, yeah, there was one guy that… Now, you read about in the 50th yearbook about my experience with the troops coming back on the bus in the middle of the night.
STERN: Yeah, could you talk about that maybe…
WHITE: Do I need to elaborate on that in this interview?
STERN: If you wouldn’t mind, that would great, yeah.
WHITE: Well, what it was, we as interns, we were assigned, one of our duties was that we would be called out in the middle of the night to go down to the emergency room, which is where the buses pulled up that brought the troops back from Vietnam. They came down from SeaTac Airport and they came right onto Fort Lewis and to Madigan emergency room, where we would be responsible for giving them physical exams, making sure they didn’t have any communicable diseases, untreated medical problems that needed immediate attention, acute psychiatric episodes that needed immediate attention, that kind of thing. And that was our job, and that way they were either admitted to the hospital, or if they were okay, they went on to their next processing station. And the reason that it was the middle of the night was that that was the only time that the Army could be certain that it was unlikely that they would encounter protestors calling them “baby killers” and throwing rocks and rotten tomatoes and everything else at the buses and all the kinds of things that people were doing in those days. And, I mean, these guys had had a rough tour of duty in Vietnam, and now they’re coming home and being greeted by a bunch of people calling them every name in the book, and “baby killers” and, you know, all that sort of thing, and being physically attacked in some cases. I mean, there were troops literally beaten up when they came back from Vietnam. And that brings me…
But anyway, to finish the Madigan thing, we didn’t mind for the most part, at least I didn’t, and I would say that most of my intern classmates didn’t object to this at all. We just thanked God that we weren’t in Vietnam ourselves and that we could do something good for these guys who had been through that kind of hell. There were a few people who kind of groused about it, and boy, we shut ‘em up fast. They learned not to open their mouth about “oh, we have to get out of bed at 2:00 a.m.?” Yeah, well, too bad. So, basically most of us were on board that this was something that had to be done and it was a good thing to do.
STERN: And did you speak to the patients about their time in Vietnam?
WHITE: Very little. If they brought it up, of course, we would. But, most of them didn’t, and we didn’t ask, at least I didn’t. I don’t think anybody did. It brings me to one patient that had a strange experience. He had come back from Vietnam and, you know, reasonably good health, had been shipped out from Fort Lewis to Fort Hood, Texas, for his next assignment. And he made the mistake, he and some buddies from Fort Hood made the mistake of going into downtown Waco, Texas, on leave, or a weekend pass or whatever it was. Well, of course, they’re soldiers. They all got short hair. They weren’t in uniform, but you know, they were in civilian clothes. But they’ve all got short hair. You know, it’s obvious…
STERN: It was clear, yeah.
WHITE: They’re soldiers. [laughter] I mean, you know, you can’t hide it. You couldn’t hide it back then. And so, they were all 21 years old or older, and they made the mistake of going into this bar in Waco, and they were beaten to bloody pulps. I don’t know what happened to the other guys, but my patient was medevaced to Madigan because his family lived in the Great Northwest somewhere, and so they would send these guys to the hospital, the medical center capable of treating them that was closest to their home. And I think he was admitted to our service. It wasn't surgical trauma, but he’d had some sort of dysfunction of his liver or something after all of this happened to him. But, I’ll never forget walking in for the first, to do his admitting exam, and he had scars all over him. And I asked him if that was from Vietnam, and he said, “No, those are cigarette burns from what the guys in Waco did to us.”
STERN: Gees. And so, were you generally performing just medical exams or performing surgery?
WHITE: I didn’t perform any surgery as an intern. I was in a straight medicine internship. So, we were the kind of guys, you know, internists are diagnosticians. We do the exam, we come up with a treatment plan. I say “we.” I did back then. I’m no longer that. I didn’t specialize in that, but that’s what, had I stayed in internal medicine, of course, I would have had to do a three year residency to become a fully board certified internist. But, basically as interns we were essentially in the first year of a four year internal medicine residency. This guy had a bunch of medical problems that needed to be diagnostically confirmed and treated before he could go home to his parents and get over his wounds at home. We had to stabilize him first.
STERN: And so, the internship ended in what year?
WHITE: June 30th, ’72.
STERN: And then, I know that on your resume you said you were signed to shipboard deployment on a mission to observe French nuclear testing in the Pacific in Operation Hula Hoop of 1973. Could you talk at all about this experience?
WHITE: Oh, yeah, because it’s no longer classified. It’s all on the internet. And, [laughter] you know, after so many years they declassify this stuff, and then it’s public record. There’s a few things, as I recall when I looked at it, there were some redacted parts. But basically, it’s public knowledge. And all it is, it was not a big deal, but at that time there was a lot of controversy about what the French were doing. The New Zealanders, in particular, were upset, because they were in the pathway of some of the fallout from the French and their nukes. And so, the US, the Defense Nuclear Agency, was the specific US agency involved, and they commissioned an old ship that had been on duty as a helicopter tender off the coast of Vietnam, and then brought back to the States.
I mean, the fact is Vietnam was drawing down as early as 1972, more than people realized. And an example would be my flight surgeons class. July, when we started, half the class was on orders for Vietnam when they would finish and become flight surgeons deployed to Vietnam. By September when we finished the class, only a quarter were still on orders. The rest had had their orders cut for other duty stations. So, it was changing even then.
But anyway, they brought back this old ship, the helicopter tender, USNS Corpus Christi Bay, and they put it in New Orleans, in the port of New Orleans, in mothballs. Well, when DNA, the Defense Nuclear Agency, was assigned this mission, they looked around for the suitable vehicle, and they decided that they would have to have a helicopter equivalent of an aircraft carrier. They didn’t want to use naval ships with naval aircraft, because that would be poking the French in the eye. They just wanted to make it low key. So, they got a bunch of naval aviators and their choppers were stationed on this former Vietnam helicopter tender ship, and sent to the Pacific to watch these explosions. And, you know, it was days and days of boredom, really, because, I mean, the French were no dummies. They weren’t going to let people get too close. And we had a guy on board who was, he was an Army major who was assigned to monitor the fallout, and he said there just was not much at all that we were exposed to. But anyway…
STERN: So, why were you there? Were you essentially just a physician on board?
WHITE: I was a physician on board. We had a physician, a dentist, some enlisted Army medics, and they needed a flight surgeon, but they didn’t have any… I don’t really know why they used an Army medical crew. They used, it was really a polyglot crew. They had naval aviators, they had civilians, merchant marines and civilians running the ship, not Navy, and they had Army in support. They had Army medics. We were the medical crew. They had an Army decontamination nuclear crew, that kind of thing. It was a very odd situation. And basically, my theory is, they scrounged it together at the last minute because some two-star general, who was also out there, but we didn’t know that. [laughter] It was so compartmentalized, as these things are, that when you’re there you don’t know who else is there. We did know that the Russians were there, the Soviets were there, because we saw their ships. They were in plain sight of us, deliberately no doubt. They wanted us to know they were there and we wanted them to know we were there. But, they didn’t do anything, we didn’t do anything, except the aviators, what they did, their mission was to fly up as close as they could get to the French detonation site and record what was going on. That was what they were there for.
STERN: And how long were you deployed?
WHITE: That mission was about a month, as I recall. And again, you could find the specifics in the documents. But, it wasn’t any longer than that, I don’t believe. But anyway, the funny thing was that the French were very annoyed. They were annoyed at us and they were annoyed at the Soviets. And so, they would, every day constantly their jet aircraft would buzz our ships, and we, of course, we knew when they buzzed us, and then we could see—we were close enough to the Soviets to see that they were doing the same thing to them. [laughter] It was really, it was almost comic opera really. I mean, you know, what were they going to do? They weren’t going to bomb our ships. They weren’t going to shoot our aviators out of the sky. They just wanted to make it known that they were not happy. “Well, the New Zealanders weren’t happy either,” French military, and, you know, “if you’re gonna shoot off nukes, you’re gonna have people being unhappy.” [laughter] Pretty basic stuff.
STERN: Yeah, I’d imagine. And so, you got back from that, and then what was your next assignment?
WHITE: Well, let’s see, ’73. The next assignment was, oh, yeah, I’m sorry, I had to think for a minute… Yeah, what happened was, when that—and I actually had to leave the mission early. They put me on an Air Force—maybe it was civilian, I don’t know, a plane out of one of the US possessions, I think it was Guam or Pago Pago [Samoa]. Pago Pago, it was. And they put me back to the States because my mother was terminally ill with cancer, and they didn’t expect her to live more than a few more days. So the Red Cross message through military channels reached us, and they shipped me out to be back in Baltimore where she was. And then, after a few days, I got permanently reassigned to a hospital near there, which was Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. And that’s where I met my wife, who was an Army nurse there. But anyway, that was how that came about. And then, after a few months of duty there, and this was all, this was ’73, ’74 time frame, and so Vietnam was really, really winding down.
STERN: Were you still treating war vets?
WHITE: Yeah. By that time it was pretty much public knowledge, and those of us in the military certainly were well aware of it. And, so I didn’t have to worry about that. That was, like I say, even in ’72 it was not likely that it was going to happen that I would get sent there. But anyway, so then a friend of mine from the flight surgeon course had been the flight surgeon at the Pentagon Dispensary, and he thought that was—he had enjoyed it, but he was getting out of the Army and he called me, he said, “My job’s up for sale. You want it?” [laughter] It sounds kind of silly, but “you know who to call.” I called Medical Corps Assignments, and they said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll move you from Aberdeen to Washington, DC. It’s only a few miles, it won’t cost the Government much. You’re in.” So, I spent several months as Pentagon Dispensary taking care of general medical things, and aviators in particular, doing flight physicals, all that sort of thing. And then after that, deployed to Korea for a year.
[Both talk at the same time.]
STERN: And so, you had a mandatory…
WHITE: … as you know, in mid-1975, with the airlift and all that. And my wife and I were in Korea at the time. She was still on active duty, and we were both in Korea. And one of the jokes was that well, now that all those supplies aren’t going to Vietnam, we’ll finally get some of the things we’ve been running out of for months, medical supplies and so forth that we couldn’t get because they were bound for Vietnam, because it was higher priority. But after that, that was no longer a problem.
STERN: And so, how long were you in Korea for?
WHITE: One year. December ’74 to December ’75.
STERN: And, but your commitment to the Army was only supposed to be two years, is that correct?
WHITE: Well, my initial commitment was two years, but…
STERN: You stayed on after that.
WHITE: I extended. And then, finally, I wanted to take a residency in ophthalmology, and normally that commitment was a year for a year. It was a three year residency. However, they were generous enough to look at my previous service and say, they gave what’s called constructive credit, and since I was in those previous years, they said, “Well, you’ll only owe us a year after your residency. And then you can decide what you want to…” Huh?
STERN: And so, where was your residency?
WHITE: Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
STERN: And then, post-residency, what did you do?
WHITE: Well, the final year of active duty was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which is a, Fort Sill’s a fairly large post with a fairly large population. It’s the center and school for the artillery branch of the Army. It’s a historic post. It was an old post dating back to the Indian wars really, and there’s a lot of history in that area. But anyway, my assignment was to reactivate the ophthalmology service, because everything was in mothballs. They lost—they had two ophthalmologists who were the last of the draftees that got out two years before I got there. Everything was in mothballs and we had to start from square one, get the equipment out and get it running functional, and be able to see patients. And, so about… And, of course, some of the equipment was either getting outdated or nonfunctional, so in typical government fashion, you put the order in and you might see it within a year. And I didn’t see much of it, but my successor later told me when I saw him at a meeting, he said, “Man, all that equipment you ordered here, it came in just after you left. It’s wonderful. Thanks a lot, man.”
STERN: Didn’t help you.
WHITE: It benefitted him, and, you know, I had enough to do the job, but it was a little bit bare bones until some of the new equipment got there.
STERN: And then, you spent 14 years in the Army Reserve service?
WHITE: Yeah. It was, let’s see, it was 14, that’s correct, 9 active and 14 Reserve, yeah.
STERN: So I’d love to talk a little bit about your personal life and then years after getting out of the service. So you said you met your wife, was it in Baltimore or in DC?
WHITE: In the Baltimore area, northeast of Baltimore at Aberdeen Proving Ground at the hospital where we were both assigned.
STERN: And she’s a nurse?
WHITE: She’s a nurse, right, an RN.
STERN: So, It sounds at least from the reunions book like you’re quite the family man, and you said your most important job, your greatest achievement was both parenting and husbanding. Could you tell me a little bit about your wife and daughter?
WHITE: Yeah, I think maybe, I guess that’s how it came across. I did really enjoy that. We had one daughter. We only had one child. We wanted more, but that wasn’t what the Good Lord had in mind. But, anyway, and she, as I say, is now an RN up in the Seattle area. And we’re very, very proud of her. But anyway, yeah, my wife helped me out at the practice as mainly doing the business office side of it. And, you know, it was a mixed bag as far as… The practice, to some extent, as is true with many physicians, impinges on your personal life. I made a deliberate choice to try to not let that happen, in that I was able to make my own schedule, since it was my practice, solo practice, and I tried—my wife and I made a conscious effort to try to carve out time for family activities. And it wasn’t maybe as much in retrospect as we should have done, and my wife occasionally reminds me that’s more her perspective, but it’s mine to some extent. But things turned out okay. I think the biggest thing that I would have to say about the private practice is that I, being of a work ethic, “never give up” mindset, I held onto it longer than I should have. It was pretty apparent by…
STERN: When did you set up the practice?
WHITE: What’s that?
STERN: When did you set up the practice initially?
WHITE: Practice in 1980 when I left Fort Sill, left active duty.
STERN: And it was in Silver Springs, Texas?
STERN: And how did you settle in Texas?
WHITE: Well, when I was doing my residency, it broke in San Antonio. There was a nurse anesthetist that was doing anesthesia on some of the cases I was doing surgery on, and I had been on a hunting trip for practice opportunities. I had taken leave for a week and gone around looking in different areas, and I’d had no luck at all. I mean, every place that I looked at seemed to have an ophthalmologist on every corner. And this CRNA [Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist]… I was telling my mentor, the board certified faculty staff guy that scrubs in with you and helps you do the case and makes sure you get it right, and I was telling him about it. And from down at the end of the table this guy pipes up, he says, “My dad is a private doctor, a general practice doctor in this little town in northeast Texas. He says they really need an ophthalmologist.” And so I looked at it and talked to the hospital administrator and a few of the doctors, and it turns out that that was indeed the case.
STERN: And you wanted to stay in Texas?
WHITE: Well, at the time it was the best option. We liked some things about the state, many things about the state, and it was a bird in the hand. I went up for interviews in the Washington State area, including one interview with a guy that was educated back east, I think he went to Harvard Medical School or some place, but very nice guy that was very interested in recruiting me while I was still on active duty. But, he was telling me about the—first of all, that was a multi-specialty group, but that was a bag of worms, you know, as opposed to an ophthalmology group, but secondly, the competition is so fierce in that part of the world that I thought, you know, I really don’t want to go up there and have to moonlight in an emergency room, because my family will starve.
I mean, in some areas, San Francisco being one, now Seattle being another, physicians have a very tough time making ends meet. Now, the general public doesn’t get it, but that's really the case. The cost of living is so high, reimbursement is so low, because of insurance and other issues, and Medicaid reimbursement is very low. And in Texas, that was one of the bad things about Texas is that they ratcheted down on Medicaid. Rather than increase the funding for it, they decreased the funding, or at least kept it stagnant while demand increased under the Affordable Care Act. So, you’ve got more of your patient population is Medicaid, but you’re getting the same amount or less from the state. So, those are a brief course in Medical Economics 101, but it’s pretty tough for doctors all over the country, but particularly in high demand areas, the East Coast and New England. Boston is tough. New York, they say is tough. I don’t know much about it. San Francisco is horrible. Seattle and Portland are tough. Places you want to live, you know. Even Dallas is pretty tough. You know, I don’t have to worry, because I’m a federal employee now, but the guys that are in private practice coming out of residency, they’re having a tough go.
STERN: So, were you able to balance work and life in private practice?
WHITE: Oh, yeah, as well as I could. You know, in retrospect like I said, it could have been different. But all in all, it turned out pretty well as far as the family side. We’re still married after all these years. Our daughter is a successful nurse, and like I say, we’re very proud of her. She actually, before she got her bachelor’s in nursing, she had another job as a trainer for a radiology software, which she’s not a techie at all, but somehow that job came along and she jumped right in, and she’s just that kind of a quick study person that she… One time, it was funny, thinking about Dartmouth, but we were up there one time visiting my sister who lives in Randolph, Vermont, and we went by and saw the campus, and my daughter, she was in high school, she said, “Well, I probably couldn’t get in.” I said, “What do you mean you couldn’t get in? You’re smarter than I am, and I got in.” And so, you know, she could have, but she didn’t want to. She just went a different route and it’s worked out for her.
STERN: And how old is she now?
WHITE: She’s 29.
STERN: And do you see her fairly frequently?
WHITE: She usually comes down to visit us every two months, and we may go up there maybe once a year. It varies.
STERN: And so now you work as a staff ophthalmologist, and then a physician champion within the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System, is that right?
WHITE: That’s correct. Well, the physician champion is more of a…
STERN: I was going to ask, can you explain what that term means?
WHITE: [laughter] A lot of people wonder that. It’s a fairly new idea. It’s new to this VA, and I think it’s new to the VA and many hospital systems in general. But, [inaudible] and there are almost as many different definitions of what a physician champion does as there are incumbents. In my case, the assignment is on what’s called the external-internal review council, which is chartered to monitor continuous readiness for meeting—so that the hospital meets its accreditation requirements, joint commission, the VA, Office of the Inspector General, and so on. And, so that committee is charged with that responsibility. And they have a nurse champion and a physician champion.
And the idea as originally conceived is something—since I’m the first one ever appointed to that role, and my counterpart in the nursing side is also a first-timer, it’s been interesting. I’ve been researching what other systems do and how they use that person. And I’m coming up with a job description and other documents for training my successors to try to really get my head around what I should be doing. And as I perceive it from what I’ve learned so far, it is to interface between the administration and the regulators with the rank-and-file physicians whose attitude towards some of these requirements sometimes is, shall we say, a bit skeptical. You know, “We have to document this and this and this why?” And so, you have to explain to them that “because if you don’t document it, you’re not going to meet this requirement of the joint commission, and the hospital’s going to lose its accreditation,” which has very serious… In the private sector it would mean the hospital might have to close its doors. In the VA it means that the hospital will be subject to a very draconian process of scrutiny, funding will be cut back until the deficiencies are corrected, because they do, the government, despite the snarky comments about civil servants and so forth, it is a merit-based system, and they do reward performance, both individual and aggregate. And so, if a hospital is poorly performing, they would not get as generous funding the next fiscal year from Congress and the VA Secretary as they have previously.
And there is talk right now in the Administration of closing some of the poorer performing VA hospitals. I mean, it’s that serious. So, it’s something that we all have to take very seriously that we’re being looked at for performance, which is the way it always has been to a degree and always should have been, but it’s much more measurable now. We have big data now to really be able to drill down on this stuff and determine whether or not a specific nursing unit or a specific specialty clinic is meeting the expectations and giving good patient care or not. Evidence-based medicine is more and more a reality, as it should be.
STERN: So you’re essentially a go-between between the physicians and then the general VA administrative staff to make sure that regulations are met and standards are high?
WHITE: What I envision the position being. Now, it has not yet come to pass, because what I am doing at this point, being new and the whole thing is new, even the ERRC, the External-Internal Review Council [External Request Review Council] was only chartered in late 2014. So, and as you know, with an institution of that size, you don’t turn it around on a dime. So, I am trying to get my proposals accepted by the Dallas VA Medical Center leadership so that the physician champion can do that. Now, that has not happened yet. I hope that by the time I step down at the end of the summer, at least the draft will be in and we’ll see what they do with it. But, you know, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to happen. I would like to see it happen. But the problem is, what I’ve been told by my immediate supervisor, the Chief of Ophthalmology is, “Well, that’s fine as long as you do it on your own time. But, you’re expected to be productive in the clinic 40 hours a week, period. Everything else you do is strictly voluntary on your own time.” And that’s all good and well, except a lot of the interfacing with other doctors would have to be done during normal duty hours. So far it hasn’t been able to be implemented, but we’re hoping that…
STERN: So, it’s a volunteer position?
WHITE: But whoever eventually accedes to the position will be granted enough time to do the job properly, but you have to know what the job is first before you can appoint that person and turn them loose to do it.
STERN: And so, is this a volunteer position?
WHITE: It’s voluntary, yes. I volunteered for it. Well, what happened was, and the Chief of Surgery at the time, who since unfortunately had to retire due to health issues, but she sent out an email to all the physicians and surgical services over which she was chief, asking for people who were interested. And I stepped up and they did appoint me, over my supervisor’s objections, but they did appoint me. [laughter] And I told them, I said, “Look, you know, I’m gonna work with you on this, and at most it might be an hour a month out of my patient clinic time.” And so, we finally kind of called a truce on that one.
STERN: And so, I know in this regard you’ve also served in numerous other volunteer positions, notably for the Hopkins Franklin County Medical Society, and then the [Hopkins County] Memorial Hospital [Sulphur Springs, TX]. Can you describe a little bit these organizations and their missions, and what aspects of the work is most rewarding for you?
WHITE: Oh. Well, of course, every hospital of any size has a medical staff which must have—for joint commission accreditation, the medical staff must have proper organization constitution, bylaws, officers, so forth. So, in a small hospital like Hopkins County, it was sort of a joke about “okay, whose turn in the barrel is it this year?” It’s sort of a rotating duty. So, I went through the chairs and became president for one year. That was all that was, pretty much to satisfy accreditation requirements, basically so that they have a go-to person in case the accrediting agency has issues with medical staff. I mean, occasionally you get involved with disciplinary issues with physicians, and that’s all done through the constitution, the bylaws and the medical staff. There’s due process. It all has to pass legal muster and so forth. So, that’s how hospitals around the country, of course, are organized. So it was just pretty much it was my turn in the barrel, so to speak.
What else? Oh, I’m a Mason and a Shriner, not a real active one these days. But, I used to be quite active years ago and did chair the fund drive for my county one year, and we did a good job of fundraising that year, as we usually do. It’s a county that has a lot of folks that are charitable, and you know, they don’t have a lot of money, but they’ll give what they can.
STERN: That’s nice. So I know also you noted in that 25th reunion book I mentioned that you at least at the time were a “Libertarian with a heavy dose of old country doctor common sense.” I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you meant by this?
WHITE: [laughter] That’s a good question. Well, first of all, and my wife and I beg to disagree on this, beg to differ on this, I don’t think Bernie Sanders was totally off target. We’ve got a mess in this country with health care. And if you look at some of the other models, like in France, for example, where the government guarantees a basic level of health care, and everybody is eligible for that, and then if someone wants to have additional coverage, they have that option. And different countries have different ways of doing it, but that’s the sort of model that would seem to be most logical overall. I mean, we can’t have Cadillac coverage for everybody. That’s just common sense. On the other hand, we can’t limp along the way we are with so many people not getting care, or getting care in emergency rooms for routine stuff, which is extremely inefficient and expensive. And so, that’s what our health care system needs to evolve into.
And unfortunately, despite the best efforts of some of our elected leaders over decades, it’s not happening. It’s not happening very well. And part of it is that you’ve got the middle man, you’ve got the insurance companies in the mix. And in my opinion, they syphon off a lot of resources that should be used to fund real health care. In other words, think about… and the pharmaceutical companies are in a similar boat. I cut them a little more slack because they do spend a lot on R&D. Insurance companies, on the other hand, I mean, how much R&D is there in the insurance business? Not much. But there’s a hell of a lot of advertising, and all of this advertising is extremely expensive. And if you eliminated health insurance other than whatever would be needed to make the system function in an equitable manner, such as what they have in France and some other countries, if you could eliminate all that and cut that fat, you would have more money to spend on health care, and overall health care would be less costly. That in a nutshell is what I think about it. And I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
STERN: No, it does, thank you. And so, something else you had written. You said that your favorite quote was a Thomas Jefferson quote, “That governs best which governs least.” And you’d expressed some fear kind of in that 25th reunion book for your daughter’s generation that you were worried was plagued by a seemingly ever growing number of self-serving politicians. I was wondering to what extent, if at all, the Vietnam War kind of contributed to this, I don’t know if disdain of government is the right phrase, but…
WHITE: Well, I think it did, yes. The Vietnam War, as most of us have concluded, was a tragic mistake. But, Lyndon Johnson unfortunately for whatever reason could not back down on that, and to some extent at that time the American people could not back down either. But at the same time, he was developing and spending massive amounts of money on new government programs, some of which had a very noble purpose, but were poorly administered, in some cases, wasteful. You know, it was sort of a prelude back then to what we see now in such widespread criticism of how government functions or doesn’t function.
It was starting, well, it was starting even before that. It was starting in the Depression. The problem is they regulate too much in some areas and not enough in others. There’s a great story about when, after the stock market crash in 1929, and Franklin Roosevelt was newly elected President, and he decided, rightfully, that there needed to be oversight of the securities industry, the stock market. And so, he floated an idea with his advisors, and he said, “Bring me Joe Kennedy.” And there was horrified reaction from his advisors. “Oh, Mr. President, you don’t want to do that. He’s a notorious manipulator of the system. That’s how he made all that money. He’s maybe even an out and out crook.” And Roosevelt said, “I don’t care. We need somebody like that to know what the crooks are up to. So, let’s make him the head of the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission].” And that probably needs to happen more in some areas. You need to have regulatory agencies that are effective that are run by people who know what they’re doing. And sometimes I think unfortunately that’s not the case.
A tragic case just recently that personally impacts us in the VA is removal of Dr. [David J.] Shulkin. He was doing a great job. I mean, everything that we learned, even if it wasn’t propaganda from his office, it was, you know, his interface with the media, everything that he did was right, and his background was perfect. He was a doctor who went into administration and ran a very large health care organization very successfully. That’s who you need for a VA Secretary. And yet, you know, he no longer is serving. That’s sad really.
STERN: So, on the topic of administrations, I know that you had also voiced discontent with certain faculty decisions and administrative decisions at Dartmouth in order to…
WHITE: You’re getting back in the [inaudible] stuff now, and that’s—I don’t know, that’s…
STERN: Okay. That was my question, since I know you had said in your email to me that you felt that some of what you wrote was a little bit naïve or ignorant at the time. So, the question was, you had talked about kind of Dartmouth’s conforming to this politically correct culture and stifling of freedom of expression. And kind of do you still think that’s the case? [inaudible]
WHITE: Well, yeah, I mean, I think that’s the case, not just at Dartmouth, but everywhere unfortunately, you know. And I don’t even remember the 25th. Oh, there was still stuff like the controversy over the mascot and all that. I mean, that ship has long since sailed, and I won’t get into that. But, just the idea that there’s sort of a double standard if one slur gets Roseanne Barr fired from her show, another slur from this other person, Samantha Bee, whatever her name is—I never heard of her until all the controversy—but apparently she’s keeping her job. And you know, they were both vile, inappropriate comments. And should either one of them have been fired? Should neither of them been fired? I’m enough of a libertarian to think that neither of them should have been fired. If Roseanne had apologized, that she should have been kept on, but she was let go. On the other hand, the other woman apologized and she was kept on. So, is it because one slur word is more politically correct or more acceptable than another? I don’t think either one was acceptable. But by the same token, it is a free country and they both had, both of those women had the right to utter that, the consequences, of course, being that if you’re employed, you have to follow the rules of your employer. And I would certainly never do anything in the VA that would be of that—I wouldn’t do it anyway, but I certainly wouldn’t go public with it like people so often do nowadays with their tweets and Twitters and all that stuff. That comes back to haunt them, you know. I mean, I know that my employer expects me to maintain certain standards. That’s a condition of employment.
WHITE: On the other hand, as a US citizen, in solo practice if I had wanted to go out on the street and say, you know, “Ross Perot” (for example) “is a schmuck.” Or “Ross Perot is a” whatever, call him a racial slur of some sort. You couldn’t do it with him, but whatever. You know, there should be no repercussions. It’s my practice. I’m the employer and I can say what I want. It may turn off some of my patients, and that’s the fallout that I have to accept. If you work for somebody else, as these two women did, or any other number of people who have made vile or just stupid comments in public, well, then the consequences are sometimes you lose your job. Should you lose your job? Well, I don’t know. It’s an employer-employee contract issue that has to be dealt with separately from libertarian free speech issue.
The college, however, any university or college, I think, falls into a little different category. Students are not employees. An employee can get in trouble. If you remember a few years ago there was a tenured professor at the University of Colorado named Ward Churchill who, among other things, was famous for calling the victims of 911 “little Hitlers.” And the university finally did something with him. They were able, even with his tenure, to punish him, and as well they should. But, students on the other hand, in my view, students should be free to express themselves, because there’s no employer-employee contract.
STERN: I agree.
WHITE: There is a student code of conduct. There is that. But, you know, I have no idea what the student code of conduct at Dartmouth is these days, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it doesn’t forbid protesting of… It didn’t forbid protesting the Vietnam War, I don’t think, and it wouldn’t forbid similar protests today. So I think students fall into a different category, and should be granted as much free speech as is possible without total chaos and anarchy to the institution. The guy in ’68 with the Parkhurst takeover was in a violent physical confrontation with campus police and Dean Seymour and somebody else, and he was expelled, as rightfully he should have been. But up until the point it got physical, could you say that he was out of line as a student expressing his opposition to the Vietnam War? Well, as long as it was verbal, probably not. When it gets physical, that’s a different matter.
STERN: And have you visited Dartmouth at all?
WHITE: Huh? What’s that?
STERN: Have you visited Dartmouth? Did you come back for your 50th reunion?
WHITE: It’s been a while. But before I answer, does all this make sense to you?
WHITE: So, as a current student I’m interested in your opinion now, obviously, because you deal with this stuff every day. I’m 55 years away from it, or 50-whatever. 51 years away from it. [laughter] Gotta keep it straight here.
STERN: No, reading what you wrote, I completely agree that freedom of speech should be applied equitably to all regardless of race, partisanship, creed, sex, that you should be able to express your opinions and not be punished based on what they are and if they fall out of line with what faculty and the administration believes or not.
WHITE: Yeah. Yeah, and in my view it would have to be pretty extreme, and it would have to be like the Parkhurst fiasco to warrant…
STERN: And that’s taking it to another level, right.
WHITE: Yeah, exactly.
STERN: And so you said you have been back to Dartmouth in recent years?
WHITE: It’s been quite a while. As I say, my daughter was in high school. We were there one summer visiting my sister and we drove over there and looked around. Let’s see, before that, I was there when my sister had her 50th birthday. I went up for her birthday. And that was interesting. Her birthday is the 3rd of January, so I was actually—and she lives in Randolph. So, on my way back to Boston, I went by the campus. I was by myself. My wife and daughter didn’t go. But I was on my way back to Boston to stay in a hotel and get a flight out the next morning. But, it was a big snowstorm. And, so by the time I got to Hanover, it was already pretty deep. But, it didn’t bother me because, you know, I’ve driven in snow many times, and even being away from it all these years, it’s like riding a bicycle, and my rental car and I were fine. But, there were a lot of other people that drove too fast and went off the road, but much to their dismay. But anyway, I went through there, and the snow was falling. It was a Robert Frost moment, you know. The snow was falling, the campus was covered in fresh snow, it was very quiet because it was Christmas break and virtually nobody was there. The students were on vacation and the faculty were probably in Florida or someplace. [laughter] I don’t know where faculty go on Christmas break. But it was wonderful. It was just a real, as I say, a Robert Frost or Currier and Ives sort of scene. You know, the old song that they used to play it every night on when WDCR signed off, “Dartmouth Undying.” I don’t know if they still do that or not.
STERN: No, they don’t do that.
WHITE: They don’t do that. But you know the song, right?
STERN: I know there’s one that goes on, but it’s the alma mater, though, that the clock tower rings. I don’t think I do know “Dartmouth Undying.”
WHITE: Oh, well, I would urge you to look it up. It’s a beautiful song.
WHITE: Yeah. Of course, you really have to hear the music. What WDCR would do, they had a version recorded by the college glee club under Paul [R.] Zeller, who was another interesting, inspirational professor. I actually sang in it, in that organization my freshman year. Did too many things my freshman year, and decided some of them had to go. But, Zeller was a very colorful guy. But anyway, his glee club recorded that many years ago, and WDCR would always sign off with that. And it was a great way for them to go off the air waves at 3:00 in the morning or whenever it was when you were up late studying organic chemistry. [laughter] You must be getting [inaudible] going on and on.
STERN: Just a couple more questions, if that’s okay with you?
WHITE: Yeah, that’s fine. I’m good to go.
STERN: I was just wondering what skills or values you think that Dartmouth, and then ROTC and military service kind of cultivated in you?
WHITE: Persistence, respect for our nation’s history and for our democratic institutions, including, for all its idiosyncrasies, the great colleges and universities like Dartmouth. What else? Obedience to orders as long as they’re lawful orders. That’s the difference between, you know, some military organizations and the US military, that we are trained, at least in ROTC, and I’m sure that’s true even more so at places like West Point, that if an order is questionable and might be unlawful, you should question it. And in medicine that happens, too. My daughter had a case where a nurse where she works, instead of questioning—this resident wrote an order that was incorrect, and instead of questioning the resident, the nurse went ahead and gave the medication, and the patient got in trouble. And they were able to get the patient out of trouble, but it was a very harrowing episode, and it wouldn’t have happened if the nurse had been willing to question the resident or the resident supervisor about “should I really give this medication?” I mean, you’ve got to accept orders, but also be willing to question them when appropriate.
STERN: And do you consider your military service to be central to your identity?
WHITE: Oh, yes, I do. I mean, that’s part of why working for the VA is so satisfying, because for all I know, some of my patients, the next patient in my chair might be one of those guys that I did a physical on when we were in the middle of the night at Madigan all those years ago, who knows? I mean, there’s just a, there’s a comradery and a sense of respect for each other that should be true in society in general, but is definitely true, and is proven every day when I go to work at the VA. Patients are very appreciative, and we staff are very appreciative of them. And that’s a wonderful atmosphere to work in.
STERN: So, is there anything else you’d want to add about your ROTC experience, about your military service, or time thereafter?
WHITE: Let’s see. Well, not about ROTC or military. I think we’ve covered that pretty clearly. You were asking questions earlier about the years at Dartmouth and the road tripping and all that. [laughter] And in my case and other people I knew, there were some interesting times that were unique to that pre-coed environment. And it’s all very different now, I’m sure, and for the better. But back then, you know, the Animal House scenario of road tripping to a girls’ college is very real. And by the way, the scriptwriter for that movie was a Dartmouth alum.
STERN: I know it was based on Dartmouth. I didn’t realize the scriptwriter was actually an alum.
WHITE: Yeah, I believe his name is [John Christian] “Chris” Miller, and I think he’s class of ’61. And I read something about he’s still active teaching creative writing in California. But anyway, he wrote a book several years ago that I read, called [The] Real Animal House [:The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie]. And it talks about his experiences at Dartmouth that were distilled into Hollywood fare. But yeah, going down, road tripping up and down old US 5, because Interstate 91 was not completed yet. So it was a long trip down there to Western Mass and back. But, we all, most of us anyway, did it, and took the good with the bad, but it was a very different time, and I would have to say things have greatly improved. Dartmouth is now coed and Interstate 91 is long since finished.
STERN: [laughter] Indeed. Well, thank you so much for your time and for your service, for treating the heroes and being a hero, and I really appreciate it.
WHITE: Well, thank you. I’m not really a hero in the usual sense, but I like to think that we doctors who take care of those who’ve been in combat are, either active duty, as I did then, or VA now, are contributing to their well-being. And that’s a very—that gives me as much sense of accomplishment as probably anything I’ve done in life. I mean, I’ve enjoyed having a family, I’ve enjoyed a private practice, the patient care aspects of it, not the business end of it, and I now enjoy being back in the service of those who have served. So, it’s been a good life, and I hope to continue it a while longer. And I look back on Dartmouth as being a very important part of my life, and I’m glad I had the opportunity.
STERN: Yep. No, thank you. Noble pursuit. And I hope we’re able to stay in touch, but I’ll definitely send you an email after and I assume that eventually this interview will be put up online. I’ll let you know when it is, and it’ll go in the Rauner Archives.
WHITE: Okay. Well, I don’t think there’s anything that I would want to have redacted or classified. [laughter]
STERN: Nope. Unfortunately, I think with that consent form, that’s not gonna happen anyway. [laughter] But, thank you very much.
WHITE: I don’t think that there’s anything that I wouldn’t say in public I just did, so… And thanks for very persistent and patient efforts, and I appreciate your interviewing me very much. It’s been great.
STERN: Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah, thank you. Have a nice night.
WHITE: Okay, you, too. Bye.
STERN: Bye, bye.
[End of Interview.]