William Yaggy ‘67
Dartmouth College Oral History Program
Dartmouth Vietnam Project
February 15, 2018
Transcribed by Karen Navarro
KESLER: Okay, so we’re recording now. Just to introduce myself, I’m Rachel Kesler (’19). I’m going to be interviewing Bill Yaggy. I am in Rauner [Special Collections] Library and Mr. Yaggy lives in the Bronx in New York City, is that correct?
KESLER: Okay. And we’re going to be speaking, today is February 15th 2018. So, just to get started, could you tell me a little bit about where and when you were born?
YAGGY: I was born in Missoula, Montana, on January 6th of 1946.
KESLER: And can you give me the name of your parents?
YAGGY: My father was also William Yaggy, but he was William Bramwell Yaggy. I’m William Jarrett Yaggy. And my mother was Margaret Jarrett Yaggy.
KESLER: And what did they do for a living?
YAGGY: My father was a pilot. He flew for a small, but kind of pioneering flying service in Missoula called the Johnson’s Flying Service, that was really kind of a pioneer in aviation in Montana and Idaho. And near the end of the war… So he spent most of the… The flying service did a lot of work for the Forest Service, and so, a number of the pilots, including my Uncle Orman, went into the service when the war started, but Bob Johnson, who was the owner and founder of the company, needed pilots to continue to do some of this also essential work for the Forest Service. And also they were training pilots for the military. So, my father spent most of the war at Johnson doing Forest Service work and training pilots for the military. He actually enlisted late in the war, I guess just because he thought it was important, but the war was kind of winding down, and so he was actually mustered out again to come back to do Forest Service work.
And she was sort of a secretary. Today she’d probably be more of a, you know, maybe middle management or something. So, she was the administrative secretary for the flying service, but she told me that during the war she actually had five other secretaries working for her, because they were so busy with all this pilot training and all that stuff. So that’s where they met. And then she really spent the rest… So, my dad died when I was a baby. But, she later went to work for Western Airlines, which was later taken over by Delta, and spent the rest of her career at Western doing various kinds of administrative jobs. She was a crew scheduler and a timekeeper and secretary to the chief pilot, stuff like that.
KESLER: I see. If you don’t mind me asking, how did your father pass away?
YAGGY: He was killed in a crash. They were dropping seeds over a burned out forest area in Idaho and got caught in a storm.
KESLER: And did your mother ever remarry?
KESLER: Okay, I see. Do you mind telling me, did you have any siblings?
YAGGY: No. I have lots of first cousins. [laughter] It was funny. My father also was an only child, but my mother was from a big family. She had five sisters and two brothers, and so I had, I think I had 25 first cousins on that side of the family, some of whom are my parents’ age really. And I spent a lot of time with them when I was growing up, so, you know, they’re kind of like my siblings, or at least the ones who were close to my age.
KESLER: So, did your extended family all live in Missoula or that area, as well?
YAGGY: A lot of them were in Montana. Her family were and still are, the cousins in my generation, cattle and sheep ranchers in Big Timber, Montana, in Sweet Grass County, of which the seat is Big Timber. And so, when I was growing up there were still a lot of kids on the ranches, and I used to spend my summers with them. Certain, like her oldest sister had moved to California, so there was kind of a group of cousins down there that I never really knew very well. And others were, two of her sisters lived in Helena. Yeah, so a lot of the family was still in Montana. One, my youngest aunt, had settled in Colorado, so I had cousins there, too. But I guess the biggest [laughter] batch of the family was still in Montana at that time anyway.
KESLER: Yeah, and it’s always nice to kind of like have even that extended family around, and even if they’re sprinkled a little bit more it sounds like it was nice to have those cousins, at least a good chunk of them, relatively close.
KESLER: Could you, let’s talk a little bit more about what life was like when you were growing up. Could you tell me about, you know, like your childhood, where you went to school? Let’s start talking about that a little bit more.
YAGGY: Well, I guess, we lived in Missoula until I was five, and so my Aunt Betty, who was my mother’s—my mother was the second to youngest and Betty was the youngest of their family. And Betty was a Navy nurse, and then was nursing in Missoula after the war, and so she took care of me a lot when my mother was at work, and we were very close our whole lives. And she married another pilot from Johnson’s Flying Service, and so I spent a lot of time with them and my cousins. Their oldest daughter, then, is like two years younger than I am, and so I’m close to most of those kids.
And then, she really, she needed a change, you know. I think she said at one point to me that her life in Missoula was done, [laughter] and she just needed to do something different. And she had worked for various government agencies, and I think at one point she actually even was in Washington [DC] for a year or two before she came back to Montana. I’m not certain about that. But, I know she’d worked for the Forest Service, and so that was something she was conversant with. And she found a job with the US Immigration Service in Vancouver, BC. They had an office up there at the time.
So when I was five, we moved to Vancouver, and that’s where I started school. And I went to a school that was very traditional kind of a British [laughter] model, or the Canadian variant of it, an Anglican school. It was called St. George’s [School]. It was pretty new then, I think. And now, you know, so I don’t think—I mean, I think it had a good reputation, but now I understand that sometime in the last 20 or 30 years they had a very wealthy alum who gave them a lot of money, and now they’re like a very big deal. [laughter] But, so that was a kind of interesting experience.
And then we moved. They closed the office, the Immigration Service closed their office, and if she had wanted to stay with them, her options were Boise, Idaho, or Guam. And at age eight or nine, whatever I was then, I also had, so I had friends at school who were from Seattle, two brothers, and their parents were restaurateurs and had a restaurant in Seattle and one in Honolulu. So, they were always going to Hawaii. So I thought the idea of Guam was very… [laughter] And, but for my mother that was a little too far away from her family and her mother and all that. She worried about if something happened to her mother, she wouldn’t be able to get back and all that.
So, near the end of third grade for me, she moved back to Missoula and went back to work for the Forest Service. And there was only about six weeks left of school, and, you know, it wasn’t common, still is not common I don’t think in American schools to have boarders that young. But up there it was fairly common. And, so like I had these friends from Seattle. There was a little batch of boarding students from Seattle, and there were boarding students from more rural areas of BC [British Columbia], even in second and third grade. So, I boarded for like six weeks or something.
KESLER: Do you have a lot of like, stark memories from that time? Was it strange at all? Was it like a big upset?
YAGGY: Well, no, not really. I think it would have been more of an upset to change and go to a whole new school and everything with only six weeks left in the school year. And, you know, it was very strict and it was all boys, and most of the faculty were men. But, at the same time, I never felt—I always felt cared for there. It’s interesting, some of the images you see of, you know, like British boarding schools being very kind of harsh and all that. But, it wasn’t. My memories of it are all quite positive. So then we moved back to Missoula and I was there in Missoula public schools for part of the fourth grade. So by that time my Uncle Orman, who was also a pilot at Johnson’s, had gone to work for Western Airlines, and they had moved to Salt Lake [City]. And a job opened up there as the crew scheduler and the secretary to the chief pilot. And that was very similar to the kind of work she’d done at Johnson’s. So he had recommended her for this job, and I guess about halfway through the school year sometime she went down for an interview and she was hired. So we moved to Salt Lake.
KESLER: This was around third grade for you?
YAGGY: This was fourth grade.
KESLER: Okay, I see.
YAGGY: So I’d finished third grade. So I was in first, second and third in Canada, and then was back in Missoula for the first part of fourth grade, then we moved to Salt Lake and I finished fourth grade in Salt Lake. But, I was very unhappy actually because at that time it was sort of just pre-Sputnik, and our schools were—my impression is that this was general, that it wasn’t just me, but that the American schools were really kind of behind the Canadian schools at that point. And in fact, when the Russians launched Sputnik, it really got people’s attention, and they said, “Oh, we really need to be boosting up our math and science instruction.” You know, it’s not dissimilar [laughter] to what’s been going on recently. But, this was more like at the elementary school level. So anyway, I remember very specifically, at the end of the third grade we had gotten to decimals in math, and at the end of the fourth grade in Salt Lake we got to decimals. So, I just felt like I’d spent the year like kind of spinning my wheels. And so, somewhat at my own request, I went back to St. George’s in Vancouver and boarded for the fifth grade.
KESLER: And your mother stayed in Salt Lake then?
YAGGY: Yeah. But that was pretty hard on her, and I guess to some extent on me. And, so then I only did that for the one year, and I went to a public middle school in Salt Lake for sixth grade, and then that year actually the Episcopal church and some people in the community started a boys’ school, or this school had had a history. St. Mark’s School had existed in the 19th century, but had closed up sometime in the early 20th century. But, so they reestablished it. And, so I started there in 7th grade.
KESLER: Okay, I see. And did you stay there all throughout high school, then?
YAGGY: Mostly. Western at one point decided they were going to close their—so they had bases in, the main headquarters was in Los Angeles, and that was the biggest base. But then they had a base in Denver and one in Salt Lake. So they flew throughout the intermountain area and to Hawaii and to Mexico City. And they said they were going to close the Salt Lake base. And so, we moved to Denver. And then I went to public high school in Denver for that one year, my sophomore year, and then they decided they were not going to close the base, [laughter] so we moved back. So, I was at St. Mark’s for five of the six years, you know, seven, eight, nine, 11 and 12. And actually I had enjoyed—I had a very good school experience that year in Denver, and I kind of didn’t really want to go back to St. Mark’s. I thought I’d rather go to a public high school. But, again, at St. Mark’s they had a very strong language program, and you could take, we had, I don’t know, I think French, German, Russian, Latin, and you could take like up to six years in most of those. And so I had already had, I think I had had four years of French and two years of Latin, and none of the public schools had anything beyond the fourth year. So, that was one of the factors. Anyway, I just ended up going back to St. Mark’s for my last two years.
KESLER: Tell me a bit about, let’s talk a bit about more what was it like to move around so much while you were so young? It seems like you’re kind of every couple of years heading somewhere new. Tell me about that.
YAGGY: You know, it was a little bit like military families or something. I don’t remember it being disruptive really. Again, I think, I feel like I had a very rich childhood, right? My mother’s family was very, you know, close knit and supportive, and I spent a lot of time with them. So even though we were moving around, I would spend most of my summers in Montana with my relatives on the ranches. And then later when my Aunt Betty moved to Colorado, I spent a couple of summers with her, and then of course then that year that we were in Denver—they lived in Lyons, which is about 50 miles north of the city, but, you know, we would spend a lot of time with them and everything. So, yeah, I think I had that anchor in a very solid family. And my mother was a pretty amazing person, I think, for somebody who’d been widowed with a tiny baby, you know? [laughter]But also, I mean, part of the way that she got through that was having a very strong family who stepped in and helped take care of me. And even Bob Johnson, who had started the flying service, his wife was called “Bubbles,” [laughter] and she took care of me while Mom was at work for a while. So, you know, I think she just had a lot of…
And then, my father’s mother—so my dad came from Kansas, but he was interested in forestry, and the University of Montana [Missoula] had, and I think still has one of the leading forestry schools in the country. So, he went there for college, and he didn’t finish. He got more interested in flying, and so I think he finished about three years, and Mom said he always kind of intended to go back and finish up, but then never had the chance. So, at one point she had moved to Montana also. I don’t know if that was while he was still living. I think she did. So my grandmother was there, so she also took care of me a lot. And, yeah, so we had a good support system both in Missoula itself, but in Big Timber and elsewhere in Montana with family members, so.
KESLER: And what was your relationship with your mother like?
YAGGY: Well, we were very close. Very positive. Very seldom had arguments or anything like that. I really don’t know what else to say about it, except that yeah, I always, you know, just always felt very close to her and loved her, she loved me, and she was just a very strong and supportive person.
KESLER: Moving to kind of like a wider lens, can you tell me a little bit about some of your memories about growing up during the Cold War? Is there specific event that really stands out to you or any sharp memory that you can recall?
YAGGY: [pause] Well, Sputnik, [laughter] that was a very big deal, and the kind of beginning of space exploration, which, I mean, that was sort of interesting and exciting all by itself. It wasn’t so much, at least my—so, I was, you know, because my father and my uncle were pilots, I had an interest in flight and space and all of that. And I remember building a model of a satellite, along with a lot of model airplanes. And so, that was more interesting to me just sort of by itself, I mean, even though it really was kind of part of the Cold War. But I can’t say that it occupied a great deal of concern for me or if it did for the adults in my family, I don’t really remember them sharing it. [pause] Yeah. You know, I don’t even really remember those “duck and cover” drills that you hear about, you know, where little kids hide under their desks. [laughter] I’m not sure what good that would have done, you know. If an A-Bomb dropped on your school, it wouldn’t matter if you were under the desk. But I don’t even remember those. So, you know, I think even though there was this nuclear arms race and the Russians were the bad guys, but, you know, there wasn’t really a sense of an immediate threat, so…
I remember very early on, I guess this was in a way part of the Cold War, the first time I ever really remember being conscious of some like big news event in the world, I think I was six or seven, and seeing—and at that point I didn’t really read the paper, but we got the paper in our apartment in Vancouver, and I read the headline and it said that the Armistice had been signed in Korea, or the ceasefire, I guess it was. And when my mother came home, I said, “The war is over in Korea.” But I had no notion that there was a war going on in Korea, you know? [laughter] It was like the ending of it was the first thing about it that I was really aware of.
KESLER: I’m also curious about life at school, specifically once you started getting into high school and those older years a little bit. Could you tell me a little bit about like subjects that you enjoyed or extracurriculars? What was that school life like for you?
YAGGY: Well, St. Mark’s was very small. We had about 20 kids in each of the six grades. So there was a girls’ school on the same block that also dated from the 19th century, but it had survived right through, and part of the reason was it had a boarding department. And so, there were girls from surrounding states: Nevada and Idaho and Wyoming. And, so when they restarted the boys’ school, it was in two old houses, Victorian houses on the same block as the girls’ school. And eventually, actually the year after I graduated they merged, and now they don’t even… So it was called Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s for a long time, and now they just call it Rowland Hall.
It was, you know, so it was very small, which in some ways is limiting, because, you know, there’s not as much going on in terms of course work or activities mainly. You know, we didn’t have a lot of teams and… But, because it was so small, you could be involved in just about anything that you wanted to be, you know. It wasn’t like there was a huge competition to get on things. So, I was pretty active in sports. I wasn’t a great athlete, but I liked it. So, I swam and I skied and I played basketball. We had a basketball team my senior year. We had not had one before. I played soccer. You know, and then like a big public high school like the one I went to in Denver, I mean, unless you were a real superstar you wouldn’t be involved in that many sports. And then, I was editor of the yearbook, I was, I guess I was involved to some degree in student government. I was in plays. [laughter] So, in that way it was great, because there might not have been as many things going on as there were in a big school, but because there weren’t too many kids, then you could be involved in just about anything that you wanted to be. So, that was good. And we did have, we had very…
Also, because it was so small, we had the opportunity to get really close to some of our teachers. And there were two in particular that remained lifelong friends for me and mentors. My English teacher was a guy named [Emmet] Tony Larimer, and he was also a theater person and an actor and director, and he directed our plays, but he also acted in things at the university, and then later was one of the founders of what I think started as kind of a semi-professional, and now I think is a fairly fully professional theater company in Salt Lake called the Salt Lake Acting Company. And because of all that—so, there were a number of kids, at least my age, and probably from much younger years, too, who remain very close to him. But, I remember commenting when he died about, trying to think, maybe six or seven years ago now, and there were a number of kids from my age group that were still very close friends with him and his wife. And also, because of all of this theater stuff he had done in the community, he had an obituary on the first page of the Salt Lake Tribune. I mean, how often does that… I mean, it was just amazing.
And then the other one was our chaplain, whose name was [Francis] Pete Winder, and he was also the director of the Episcopal church camp in Brighton, and I worked there for two summers after my senior year and after my freshman year at Dartmouth. So, I also remained very close to him and his wife, really until she died. But then, he became very reclusive. And, so in the last few years I would drop him an occasional note or try to call him, but he was unresponsive. And we actually had a reunion of our class, our 50-year reunion in 2013, and we tried to get him to come, but he wouldn’t.
KESLER: Tell me a little bit more about religious life growing up. That was something that you kind of mentioned a little bit in your biography for the [Dartmouth] Vietnam Project. But, what was that like, when did that start for you, how did it characterize life growing up?
YAGGY: Yeah, my mother’s family was not religious. She used to say that her father was a Mason and he always said that was enough religion for him. [laughter] So, although some of my family were, you know, because they had married into it. So, and that—Sweet Grass County has a large, or I guess in the 19th century and early 20th century there were a lot of Norwegians settled there, so a lot of my cousins by marriage are Norwegian, and some of them were pretty active and devout Lutherans. And my grandmother, my father’s mother, was a devout Christian, and so I think she was a big influence. But the thing is St. George’s was an Anglican school, and we had chapel every morning when I was a day student, and then also in the afternoon before dinnertime when I was a boarding student. And, so I think that had a big influence on me, just by I kind of grew up in this ritual of Anglican prayer and worship and stuff.
So, then when we moved to Salt Lake, we started going to church. My mother would go, too, although she hadn’t been raised with that background. And actually, I guess she had never been baptized, but I think by the time I was about a senior in high school, she decided that she wanted to be baptized. So, from fifth or sixth grade on through high school, I was quite involved in church. And then also, in my school we also had chapel every morning. But it wasn’t something that I ever felt like really forced into, you know. It was something that appealed to me somehow. I had a, I guess a kind of a religious sensibility of some sort. And we had—so, in addition to Pete Winder at school, for most of those high school years the rector of my church was a guy named [Robert] Bob Cochrane, who later became a bishop in Washington in the Diocese of Olympia. And he was very dynamic.
Oh, also, so just thinking about what led me to become a conscientious objector, so we didn’t have—I don’t remember in our youth group or Sunday school or camp where we had classes and stuff, anybody talking about a pacifist tradition within the Anglican communion, although there is one. [laughter] But, you know, it’s just not something… You know, we weren’t at war during all those years, except for little skirmishes here and there, but that was pre-Vietnam and after Korea, and so it wasn’t like a really pressing issue. But, there were a few things… When the schools were integrated in Little Rock [AR] and there was this huge resistance to that, and [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the integration, Father Bob preached a really powerful sermon about that. So, I did have some guidance and instruction and whatever in how Christianity should apply to social issues of various kinds. So that was one of the first ones.
And then there was a young priest in Provo, Utah, who was also a lawyer. And there was a young guy on death row at the state prison there, well, it is near Provo, and I think he was only 18 or 19 at the time, and he’d been convicted of a murder when he was about 15. And I don’t think the issue was that he hadn’t done it. [laughter] It was pretty clear that he had done it. But, you know, he was like 15 and he was mentally challenged. I think he had an IQ of about 80. And Father Roger had gotten very involved in a group that was trying to save his life basically and prevent him from being executed. And so, you know, that again was an issue I was exposed to, capital punishment, and all of that.
So, I think later on in the Vietnam War, you know, I don’t think I was particularly aware of, and certainly didn’t have any very strong kind of partisan views about politics, but as the war heated up and… You know, so I was not involved in the demonstrations on The Green or in front of the Hop [Hopkins Center], you know, which were by, I think my junior year were already kind of a regular thing. But I did start thinking, you know… So I didn’t really understand the war or the political background that led to it very well, but I did start thinking about, you know, should I be involved in this? If I’m a Christian, you know, how does that jive? So at least I had had this experience of being forced to look at issues like capital punishment and racism through Christian teaching. So, I did start doing that, and I started reading some pacifist authors and things like that.
So it was really, you know, I think a lot of the—well, no, I think it was both, you know, opposition to the war was, a lot of it was political, and people just didn’t understand, you know, didn’t accept the rationale that had been given, especially as things just kept building up and building up and building up, and nothing seemed to be getting resolved. [laughter] But, it was also religious. I mean, a lot of the anti-war—the leaders of the anti-war movement were religious people. So, but I think I came to it more from the religious side than the political side, at least until later, and then I started to learn a little bit more about the history behind the war and stuff like that. So I was even in college then when a lot of people go away from home, [laughter] get away from their own churches, and they don’t bother with that anymore. I was very involved at St. Thomas [Episcopal Church, Hanover, NH] and at Edgerton House [Episcopal Campus Ministry]. And that was kind of my spiritual home, I guess you’d say.
KESLER: And let’s talk a little bit, that’s kind of a good segue into that transition from high school into Dartmouth. How did you settle on Dartmouth as a place where you wanted to be? Were you just that kind of student or how did you get there? Tell me about that.
YAGGY: So, at my school, our history teacher, who later became the headmaster for a number of years, his name was Bill Purdy, and he was the college counselor. And, you know, it was pretty basic, because in those days it’s not like it is today. I mean, people didn’t apply to [laughter] dozens of places and it wasn’t such a huge deal to try to get to a big name or Ivy League college or something. But, you know, I mean, I was at a prep school. They expected you to go to college. And, but also, in Utah it wasn’t, you know, partly because of the Mormon influence and a lot of Mormon students wanted to go to BYU [Brigham Young University], but even in my school, which was largely non-Mormon, there wasn’t a big drive to go to the Ivy League, say, or anything. A lot of my friends, if they didn’t go to the University of Utah, then they applied to like the University of Arizona or University of Colorado in Boulder or Colorado College, you know, the other Intermountain colleges and universities. And a few people would go to Stanford [University], and a few people in each class maybe would go to Yale [University] or Brown [University] or some place like that.
I was a very avid skier and just kind of liked the outdoor things in general. And I also just had this sense that I didn’t want to be in a big university or in a big city. I just didn’t think, I didn’t see myself feeling very comfortable, say, at a place like Columbia [University, New York, NY]. And in my junior year, the NCAA ski championship was at Solitude [UT] outside of Salt Lake. And so, you know, Dartmouth was one of the top ski schools, and so then I think I could go, Wow, that sounds interesting. This is a place for skiers. And, so also, I mean, we didn’t—who knew, you know? I had never, I don’t ever remember visiting a college. I would be on the university campus because it’s right in Salt Lake and we lived near it, but not really thinking about it as a place to go to school or anything.
And we had, they had like a shelf full of catalogs in the library from different schools. Well, most of them were just like course catalogs and they were really dry, you know. [laughter] It’d say, here’s Philosophy 103 and it covers whatever it covered. Well, Dartmouth had a course catalog, too, but it also had a little thinner book that had a lot of pictures in it and talked about the history and the nature of the place. So you got more of a feeling of what it would actually be like to be there than I did for just about any other college. It seemed like the information that I had, it was just basically a list of courses, you know? So, I got really interested in Dartmouth. It was a small town, small college, skiing, hiking, and the Hopkins Center, because I was very interested in theater by that point. So, all of those seemed to add up to a good place. And the other places that I was intending to apply… So I ended up applying on early admission, early decision, whatever they called it.
YAGGY: And the other two places that I had decided to apply, but ended up not, were Trinity [College] in Hartford [CT], because a couple of the older students that I knew through church had gone to Trinity, and Brown [University, Providence, RI] because one of my best friends in high school had decided to apply there, and they had a very young and very dynamic admissions officer who came to our school. So, I thought, Well, why not? [laughter] I didn’t know anything about Brown. Very little about Trinity except I had two older friends there. And I didn’t know much about Dartmouth either. And [Edward T.] Eddie Chamberlain [Jr.], who was the Dean of Admissions then, did come to my school, and but he was not terribly encouraging, I didn’t think. So, I was a little disappointed, but I applied anyway.
And then, so right near the end, [laughter] we’re getting very near to the Christmas break and I hadn’t heard, and I was getting nervous and I knew I was going to have to spend my whole Christmas vacation doing these other applications if I didn’t get into Dartmouth. [laughter] So, I talked to Bill Purdy and I said, “Man, I haven’t heard anything and I’m getting a little nervous.” He said, “I’ll call them.” So, he called, and later that afternoon he found me and he said, “They said ‘tell him not to worry.’” [laughter] So, I didn’t worry. And I got into Dartmouth, I didn’t apply anywhere else. And that’s where I ended up.
And now, I mean, like when my kids—so I have two boys, and when they were ready for college, we went to visit a number of places. But, you know, I didn’t do that. So, the first time I ever saw the campus was when I arrived as a freshman.
KESLER: Wow. Tell me about, so you graduated high school in 1963, is that right? Okay. So tell me about your first impressions of campus, what that was like to get here, all of that.
YAGGY: I thought it was great. I remember, so because my mother worked for the airlines, we had passes. And there are two kinds of passes, or at least there were in those days. I think you got six a year you could use on Western at any time, and then they have what they called vacation passes, which were inter-airline agreements where you could get passes on other airlines for a more extended thing. So, she would get me these vacation passes to travel back and forth at Christmastime, and I guess it was mainly at Christmas we used those because it was a pretty long drive to do for a short vacation.
And she flew with me to Minneapolis, which was as far east as Western came, and then I think I flew on, what, TWA maybe to New York, and I landed in JFK [Airport], and then I had to get to La Guardia to get a flight on whatever it was, Mohawk or—I can’t remember what it was—to come up to West Leb [Lebanon, NH]. And, so I get on the bus with my two suitcases and there’s a guy sitting opposite to me with two suitcases and they have a Dartmouth sticker. [laughter] So, it turned out we were both freshmen, and went up to West Leb on the same flight. And then, I think he had a mother and an aunt who were vacationing in New England, so they met us at the airport and took us to the campus. And we drove into town and I thought, Oh, this is great. This is just what I wanted, you know, this little cute main street, and I don’t know, it just appealed to me right from the beginning.
And another thing that was, I was a little nervous, I think, about the idea of living with somebody that I didn’t know at all, and my friend, Pete Billings, who was the one who had gone to, had applied to Brown, had a friend from the neighborhood that he’d grown up in named Buff Arnold [‘67]. His name was Bob, but his nickname was Buff. And so I’d gotten to know him a little bit. We weren’t close friends. He was at the East High School, which was one of the big public schools in Salt Lake. But I would see him at parties or whatever. And so, I called him up, because I had found out…
Oh, I guess, I think some of the alums in Salt Lake had organized a, I think it was over Christmas vacation, yes, because they had invited accepted students to I think a breakfast in a local club, and invited some of the current students from Salt Lake, you know, upperclassmen to come and answer questions and whatever. And so, I think Buff was there, so I knew he had been accepted. And so, at some point in the spring I called him up and I said, “What would you think about rooming together?” So, that worked out really well, because we liked each other. We didn’t really know each other that well, but, so we roomed together for three of the four years. That one year he lived in Alpha Theta. But, so that was good. Oh, that made me think of one other thing. What were we talking about? [pause] I can’t remember now.
KESLER: Yeah. Let me know if it comes back to you and we can always kind of sidetrack a little bit. I also was curious, just in terms of what that first freshman fall was like, especially because, and correct me if I’m wrong, the JFK [John F. Kennedy] assassination was during your freshman fall, is that right?
YAGGY: Yes, it was. Wow, I’m trying to think. I did something that was weird. I had never played football, but I decided that I should try out for the football team. I was very naïve. [laughter] I had played soccer and basketball and skied, and I thought, Oh, I’ll try football. I had no idea how complicated the game was and I had no idea what a big deal it was at Dartmouth and at the Ivy League. So, I only lasted about three days. But I ended up being like, what did they call them, a heeler in those days? It was a freshman manager for the football team. So I did that, and traveled around to some games with the freshman team, and worked on the home games. And, so I did that.
And I think I did not really get involved in theater until a little later, maybe by spring term or something. And then, once I did, I mean, that was kind of it. [laughter] I just wanted to spend all my time in the theater. And so, I think freshman year, it was a lot of work. I didn’t feel completely overwhelmed or completely intimidated, but it was, it’s kind of a different level of effort than high school, you know? And the other thing is that, you know, I was in a small school and we had some pretty smart kids and I was never at the very top of my class, but I was in the top three or four maybe. And so it’s that like kind of big fish in a small pond, and then you get to a place like Dartmouth and you find that everybody’s at least as smart as you are and some of them are a lot smarter. [laughter] So, it was a little intimidating and a little bit stressful, you know, just to have to feel like you spent that much time kind of trying to get through all the material and memorize it or whatever. But, it wasn’t overwhelming. It’s not like I got depressed or, you know, didn’t do anything else, or didn’t go to movies or concerts or parties or whatever.
And then, oh, so, but then I had gone out for the ski team, too, again, something I was very outclassed at. But, at least it was something that I had a little experience with. And, so during the fall, we had like a hike on the weekends and gym workouts, lifting weights and sprints, and I would play soccer or a variety of workouts in the fall. And I remember going to the gym that day for a workout, and everything was empty, because it was like, I guess, we got started like around 3:00 when most classes were over, and there was nobody there, except there was one other guy from the team, and so we kind of did our routine and our isometrics and our weights and whatever we were supposed to do, and but kind of puzzled, like where is everybody else? And nobody else showed up from the ski team. And so, we finally left. And I was living in Little Hall in the Choate Road dorms, and they were—are they still there?
KESLER: They are. I get that question all the time from alumni. They still are and freshmen are still living in them. [laughter]
YAGGY: So you know how they’re organized. There’s a dorm here and a dorm here, and then there’s a kind of a central thing with walkways on the second story to like a lounge. We came walking down to the hall and I looked up and the lounge is full, which was never really the case, you know, unless there was some kind of a reception or something. Like what’s everybody doing up there? And I went up to my room, and there was—so the Choate Road dorms are in suites, and there was one other guy in my suite there and I said, “What’s going on?” He said, “The President’s been shot.” And I was just stunned. And I think I went over to the lounge to watch it on TV for a while.
And then I remember feeling like I just had to get out somewhere, and I hitchhiked down to Smith [College, Northampton, MA] and Amherst [College, Amherst, MA]. There was a guy a year or two ahead of me from my school in Denver that was at Amherst, and I could stay with him. And there was a girl I knew also from Denver at Smith, so I kind of found her. But, it was just this sense that, I don’t know, I just needed to get away. And yeah, that was really, just stunning. It was kind of like unbelievable. And yeah, I don’t know what else to say except I just remember, you know, kind of because of this quirky thing that I just didn’t know about it. Everybody else knew about it for like an hour or more, you know.
KESLER: What were the following few weeks like? Did classes still continue as normal? Or what happened immediately after?
YAGGY: Yeah. You know, it happened, I don’t know if it was a Thursday or a Friday. I think it was a Thursday, and then so the next day, Friday, I hitchhiked down. They might have cancelled classes that day. Well, then we still had Saturday classes in those days, too. So, if it was a—I think classes might have been cancelled for a day or two. And I’m sure there was a memorial service or something, but I had gone down to Smith, and so I wasn’t around on the weekend. And I think it just, I don’t remember anything very specific after that. It was getting very close to Thanksgiving, so there was a break. And you know, I think it certainly just subdued everybody. The whole atmosphere on campus and in town was very bleak. But I don’t remember, you know, major kind of memorial services or other observations of that kind. Hm.
My freshman Thanksgiving there was another priest from Utah who had gone to General [Theological] Seminary here in New York to work on a doctorate, and so, a couple of us came down and we stayed at the seminary, which was fun, [laughter] and then spent a few days wandering around New York and getting lost on the subways. [laughter] Well, I’m trying to remember even how I got back and forth. I don’t know if it was a bus or what. That was my first, other than going from JFK to La Guardia on my way to Hanover, that was the first time I’d actually been in the city. [laughter] So, that was overwhelming.
KESLER: So that was your freshman Thanksgiving, you said?
KESLER: Okay. What were your impressions of the city at that time? Was it, yeah, like you said like overwhelming, but what else?
YAGGY: I had, I guess my friend, Buff, was down here, and we met Peter Billings. He had come from Brown. They had been here or they had been in other big cities that I never had really. Salt Lake was like the biggest city I knew. So they were less intimidated, I think. [laughter] But I just remember being on, I guess, 6th Avenue or something where all these enormous skyscrapers, and looking up like we were in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. They’re actually, if you do that—you know, people very seldom do that—but even today if you do that, it’s pretty amazing. You look up and it’s, you know, it’s an urban canyon, it’s so tall and there are so many of them. So.
KESLER: And did you end up going home for that winter break?
YAGGY: Yeah. Yeah. I remember I think getting a bus down to Boston, and then flying from Logan. I think I had to fly through LA, or maybe my mother routed me that way because there were more flights. Yeah, when you fly on a pass, you can be bumped. So, there were more flights from LA to Salt Lake than from Denver to Salt Lake, so I took like [inaudible] or whatever it was to LA, and then got a flight from LA to Salt Lake. And, but most of the time after that, we usually drove.
I think, so that spring vacation, there was a senior from Salt Lake whose name escapes me at the moment. His first name was Bruce. And he had a little station wagon, like a Plymouth Comet or something, like a compact station wagon, was big enough to put a mattress in the back, you know, fold down the second seat. And so, he took, there were four freshmen from Salt Lake, and three of us went back with him, [laughter] and we had two people in the front seat driving and two people in the back sleeping the whole… So it made a very, you know, it’s like a—I think it took us about, I can’t remember. Driving straight through, I think it’s about a 25 hour drive or something. We had this mattress and we could lie down and go to sleep. It really wasn’t exhausting. So, I guess most trips, and except for Christmas, I would find a ride, drive back and forth with somebody.
KESLER: Moving into like your overall Dartmouth experience a bit more, can you tell me a little bit more about what you majored in, your involvements on campus, and how you kind of grew into both of those, your major, and then also just the things that you did around school?
YAGGY: Yeah. Well, at some point, I can’t remember what the first thing I did was in the theater, but you know, at some point during freshman year I started to get involved, and then that really just became my major focus, both academically and extracurricularly. And, you know, and so that was like kind of the center of my social life, too. But, in addition, I spent quite a bit of time at Edgerton House. You know, they had—I don’t know if you know Edgerton House—well, actually, I haven’t been there in a long, long time, so… But we had a little study room. It was big enough for maybe 10 people, and so that was a good place to study and do homework and stuff. And so, I had a group of friends there. My roommate, Buff, had pledged Alpha Theta. And I didn’t pledge a fraternity, but I ended up having quite a few friends there, so I would like kind of hang out there sometimes.
And so, and then, well, freshman year, I went out for the ski team. Oh, that was another thing that happened. So we went home for Christmas, and we snowshoed and skied into the church camp that I had worked in. I had been there as a camper, too. And I didn’t have cross-country skis. I was like skiing on my downhill skis and I got a bad blister on my heel, and then came back to school, and then we just went right into on snow workouts at the Skiway, and this blister got infected and I got osteomyelitis. So I was in Dick’s House for a week, and then the doctor said, “You can’t do anything like running or climbing or skiing for several months.” [laughter] So that kind of ended my skiing career.
And so, you know, after that, sometime like about spring of my senior year, my focus really got into theater, and that kind of remained my main interest and my main activity for the rest of my years there, I think. But I did have these other sort of places around campus that where I had friends and activities and stuff.
KESLER: And tell me a little bit about campus climate, as well, because the Vietnam War, the Americanization of the war started about your junior year, is that correct?
YAGGY: There was the big increase in troops was the summer between my sophomore and junior year. I was working in the—at that time they had what they called the convocation of the arts, and they would have a—they had a music series, a theater series, I guess those were the main things, probably some visiting visual artists also. And they would have like really big name like conductors. Like that summer there was Zoltan Kodaly and Aaron Copland both came to campus and conducted the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, you know, and works of their own and stuff. And similarly, they had a theater company, the core of which, you know, maybe six or seven or eight equity actors, and then the rest sort of students, and they would do three plays in repertoire. And so that summer between my sophomore and junior years, that’s what I did. I stayed on campus and worked in the theater company as part of the stage crew.
KESLER: And that’s summer of ’65, is that right?
YAGGY: Oh, summer of ’65. And I remember being in the shop at the Hop and listening to [President Lyndon B.] Johnson saying that they were—he said, “We will stand in Vietnam.” And they were going to increase—that’s when the troop levels increased to like, 250,000. And they eventually reached about a half a million. But that was the first, you know, at that point, I don’t remember what they were, but it was much less. I mean, that increased to a quarter was a big, big increase. And, you know, so we all kind of said, “Well, this is ominous.” But, at the time, you know, it’s kind of this curious thing, you know. Looking back you’d think, oh, God, maybe that that would have a big impact and you’d start thinking right away, Well, what am I gonna do about this? Am I gonna enlist? Am I gonna go to Canada? Am I gonna be a conscientious objector or whatever? There wasn’t so much of that, I guess because, you know, there were still college deferments. I mean, as long as you were in college, nothing was going to happen.
And so, you know, the whole situation became certainly more heated. Demonstrations became more frequent and larger, and the whole thing became more and more controversial. But, I think it still didn’t really, for me anyway, have a huge… You know, it wasn’t something that—well, I was very busy, [laughter] you know, with the theater and classes and whatever, and it just, it wasn’t like a major concern or preoccupation. Until about senior year. Then, as I said, I really started thinking more seriously about what I was going to do and also what my religious convictions and teachings, what were they telling me about this? Whatever I was going to do, you know, could I square them with my understanding of what Christianity was teaching me. So…
KESLER: Yeah. Leading up to that point, how did you feel about the war even before you really got to senior year, during like junior year, and maybe even senior fall? Did you have strong feelings about it before you got to even senior spring?
YAGGY: I don’t think so. I think like when I was a sophomore and junior, more and more people I knew were becoming vocally opposed to it and were getting involved in demonstrations and stuff like that. And I think, you know, I came out of a family and out of a time, I guess, where… You know, my uncle had served in the Air Transport Command and my father was in briefly, and then a lot of the Johnson’s Flying Service pilots who had gone into the service came home. And so, growing up I knew a lot of people who had served in World War II. It would just seem that was what you did if you were an adult in those years, you know? And my Aunt Betty was a Navy nurse. So, it was hard for me to make that switch. It kind of—my mindset was, Well, you know, if your country needs you to serve in the military, you serve in the military. That’s what you do. And so, I think it was just, it was hard for me to make that transition and start thinking, Well, yeah, but I have to make up my own mind about this. I shouldn’t just do it because that’s what my sense of what people did was, you know, growing up.
And, then after senior year, there was, some people had organized what they called the Vietnam Summer, and one of my classmates, [Richard] Dick Clapp [’67], was involved in that. And they were basically just, they were studying about the war and the history of it, what was going on and everything, and then they were going around and just meeting people and calling on people in their homes and stuff, and trying to educate them. So I was aware of more and more stuff like that happening, but it was, I was very slow to… I think partly because I was just busy and focused on other things, and I really loved the theater and I was immersed in it all the time. And there was this sense, you know, that this was something—I mean, I wasn’t raised to be a pacifist, or even to really to kind of think about pacifism as a strain of Christianity. And so, that was—you know, it just took me a long time to sort of make that transition and start thinking, Well, I have to learn about this and I have to think about what all this means.
And I didn’t have confidants who were going through the same thing. I knew people. [pause] I don’t know. I knew people who were against the war certainly. I knew people who were doing things like the Vietnam Summer, or were involved in the demonstrations. But, I didn’t really have, you know, like meaningful conversations. And even at church and at Edgerton House we didn’t really talk about it that much from a religious point of view, which I thought was kind of, you know, looking back on it, it was kind of interesting.
There was a guy who was a senior when I was a freshman. His name was [Robert S.] Bob MacArthur [III] [‘64]. And he went to seminary when he graduated, and so, three years later he was ordained, and he actually came back to St. Thomas as an assistant. And he preached against the war. And that was one of the first, you know, very definite messages from the pulpit that I got that was saying, you know, this is morally problematic.
And, you know, Utah was a very conservative place. It still is. My friend, Alan [C.] Tull, who was the guy who was the chaplain at Trinity… Oh, so, he was the guy I was telling you who was a graduate student, a doctoral student at General [Theological] Seminary. Well, then, he, when he finished his doctorate, he went to Trinity, and he taught in the Religion Department and he was the chaplain there for like 25 years. And so, in addition to these two older friends I had as students, I would go down to Trinity and see them, and I would see Alan. Well, he was back in—he was from Utah, and his family was there, so he would still come back for the summers. And he preached against the war at the Cathedral [St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral] in Salt Lake, and oh my goodness, this was a [laughter], you know, just about caused a riot, I think. So, I started to, you know, get some of this. But I don’t remember really having in depth discussions like you’d kind of expect that might happen about it. So it was mostly, for me it was like through reading and through some sermons and things like that.
KESLER: When did you begin to consider your place in the war or your possible place in the war?
YAGGY: Senior year. And then I went to graduate school at Smith, and, you know, I’d been doing more reading and more thinking and I was getting pretty close to the decision that I would apply to be a conscientious objector. And of course, so this was the fall of ’67 and going into ’68, and, you know, things were really getting heated up, and ’68 was the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] takeover at Columbia, you know, the number of soldiers dying was just going up and up and up. And, so I was at Smith and the first day—well, actually I’d gone down a couple days early and moved into my apartment, and then two other friends who were in the same program came up from New Jersey and Connecticut, and they wanted to find a phone and let their parents know they had arrived all right. So we walked up onto the campus. We lived in a little apartment building about a block and a half down the hill from the campus. We walked up there to look for a phone, and there were three girls walking by and we said, “Where is there a phone we could…” and they said, “Oh, come into our house.” So, this was, the name of the house was Washburn House, and they just kind of adopted us. So we were sort of part of that house for the two years we were at Smith. And, so they called from there.
And later on that fall, there were two freshman girls, I don’t even remember their names now, but they had somehow gotten involved in draft counseling, and they actually set me up to meet with a Quaker lady in Northampton who was very involved in anti-war work and in draft counseling. And I think she was the one who finally kind of put me over the decision point. And I remember very specifically she said, yeah, near the end of our conversation she said, “Well,” she said, “do you think you could go over there and kill other people?” [laughter] I don’t think anybody had ever put it to me so bluntly. And I said, “No, I don’t think I could.” You know, and you wouldn’t necessarily—you know, for every combat soldier there are 10 people doing other things in support roles. But, you know, also in a support role, you’re supporting that. So, I think that really was kind of something that sort of pushed me over the edge, and at that point I really had decided that that’s what I should do.
KESLER: And so, it sounds like, and you kind of mentioned this in your little biography as well, you were clearly relatively conflicted about this. Could you talk to me a little bit more about the different stages that you went through or the different maybe like mindsets that you were in during that time? And maybe what made this decision a difficult one to come to?
YAGGY: Well, I think I’ve already talked about the main things, you know. I think my background, coming from Montana and Utah, which, you know, fairly conservative places anyway, and growing up at a time where we weren’t at war and it wasn’t something you had to kind of face. But when I did start having to face it, because the war was getting bigger and bigger and it was pretty clear that by the time we graduated we were going to be at risk in one way or another, and then as I said, I started thinking about these other issues that I had been exposed to in the context of Christianity, you know, the death penalty and racism and integration, and, you know, and started thinking, Well, if I have a Christian obligation to look at those issues, then I have the same obligation to look at the war in the same way. So, I think it was just as I said, and having a father and an uncle and an aunt who had all been in service, it just made it hard to… You know, and it’s like thinking out of the box a little bit. You know, you’re in this box: well, this is what people do. This is what my family did anyway. And to kind of decide to do something different was hard. So it took me longer than I think that it did a lot of my contemporaries.
KESLER: And when did you finally start applying for conscientious objector status?
YAGGY: Well, you know, as a graduate student, again, we were very busy. We were rehearsing or in class a lot. And so, I would say probably by the end of my first semester there I had decided that that’s what I was going to do, but I didn’t actually get around to doing it until… So then, at some point in the second semester they announced that they were no longer going to defer grad students. And then, so in the spring of ’68 there were a lot of demonstrations on college campuses and elsewhere all around the country, and Smith was no exception. And there were strikes. And so, Smith sort of went on strike. It was a little desultory, you know. Some people were really gung ho to do it. They wanted to leave for like the last three weeks of school and go to Washington and lobby Congress and whatever. Some people stuck around. But it all just was kind of, it sort of fell apart. I mean, it’s not like classes stopped, but probably half the people had gone on to do something else.
And so I, at that point I stopped going to class, and it kind of pissed off my teacher. But, I said, “I gotta do this,” you know. “I gotta sit down and write this application and get it in.” And so, the last… You know, it wasn’t so hard, because I’d been thinking about it for a long time. But then there were several very specific questions that you had to address, and so it took a while to think that through and write it up and all of that. And so, at the end of that academic year, that June, I submitted it. By that time my mother was working out of the San Francisco airport and living in San Mateo. And the next step after you submit your application was to have an interview with the draft board. So I went out to California and just lived with her while I was waiting to hear when I would have this interview. And then, I guess I got the interview sometime in August, before school started again anyway, went to Salt Lake…
KESLER: Is this August of ’68, is that correct?
YAGGY: ’68. So, went to Salt Lake, had the interview, and then basically headed back to Smith, and in fairly short order—I can’t remember how long it took, but basically they turned me down. And this was the pattern back then. Local draft boards by and large didn’t want to grant CO status. And, but I had a pretty good case. I mean, the only thing that they kind of could hold against me was that I had applied pretty late in the game. And, you know, it’d be one thing if you were brought up as a Quaker or some other thing that it was well known as a pacifist tradition.
So, then you can appeal to the state board. And on the advice—my friend, Peter’s father, was a prominent lawyer, and when I got to Salt Lake I was staying with them and he said, “Well, I want you to go talk to my friend, Ken” somebody. It was a younger lawyer in his firm who I think had been involved in maybe some draft cases and stuff like that. And he said—they arranged for a court reporter to come and do a transcript of the interview, which I never would have thought of, you know. And I don’t think there was anything particularly notable that would have either said that the draft board was being capricious or unfair or that I was doing something I shouldn’t have. But I think it just was another thing that helped bolster my case at the state level, and so, I was granted the status from the state board. And I heard about that I think about in November. So… Then I started thinking about what am I gonna do for my alternate service? [laughter]
KESLER: And what did you end up doing, then?
YAGGY: So, that was kind of interesting, especially as it kind of related to my later life. I somehow had gotten hold of a list. New York State had put together a list, I guess the New York State draft board—well, maybe somebody else, I don’t know—but had put together a list of agencies that had already been approved as places where you could do alternate service. And, you know, some were churches and some were social service agencies and some were hospitals and whatever. Well, one of the places on this list was the Order of the Holy Cross in West Park, New York, which is an Episcopal monastic order. And I had been there a couple of times on retreats from Hanover. Father MacBurney, Father Edward MacBurney was the rector at St. Thomas then, and he knew this order pretty well and he liked them. So, two different times during college I’d gone down there for like a weekend. So, they were on the list. I thought, Well, that’s interesting.
So they did a lot of work in inner city Newark and some in New York, but they also, for like 50 years or more they’d had a mission in Liberia where they had a school and a hospital and a leper colony, and I knew about that. And so, I guess I wrote them a letter, and they called me or wrote back and said, “Well, why don’t you come down. We’ll talk to you.” So, I had a car then that second year, and I drove down, and it turns out they were looking for a teacher in the school, like I think a fourth grade teacher or something. And essentially they offered me the job. So, and I drove down to New York and left my car with my friend, Brad Stein’s family. And flew home, sort of thinking, Well, I’m gonna come back to Northampton and pack up my apartment and go to Liberia. And, but then, so my girlfriend had come back to campus a couple days early, and so she was staying in my apartment. And when I get back, she said, “Oh, a monk called for you.” [laughter] And she said, “They’re very sorry, but they don’t have a job.” So, the way they kept in touch with the mission in Africa was they had a ham radio set up, and the radio in Africa was on the blink, it wasn’t working. So, there was a week or so where they weren’t in communication, and it turned out that during that time, they had hired somebody in Africa who had worked for them before. So, I thought, Well, I guess I’m not going to Liberia. [laughter] And so, then I thought, Well, I’m here. I only have one semester to go to finish my degree.
So, Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton [MA] said, “You can work there as a conscientious objector.” So, I got a job there, which worked very well in terms of being able to finish my degree, because I worked in the stockroom. And there were three of us. There was a young guy who kind of ran it, and then there were two of us who, the way it worked was each department or floor in the hospital submitted a requisition once a week for forms and IVs and whatever they needed, and we had a rotation. So every day we’d fill the orders for three or four different departments. That kept us pretty busy in the mornings. And then in the afternoons we basically just unloaded and stored supplies that came in on trucks. And, you know, maybe once a week that was a busy afternoon, but most days it was pretty quiet. You know, you’d have one or two trucks to unload and put away. I wrote my master’s thesis [laughter] at work in the stockroom at the hospital. And, you know, and it was like an 8 to 4 or something. So we’d get out in time to rehearse and do what show we were working on in the evening.
So that was like the first—I don’t know, I probably started there in February. And I worked through the summer. But I started thinking, well, I had two things. It was pretty boring. And once I was done with my degree, I didn’t need to have that kind of slack time. [laughter] And the other thing was that the guy who was my real co-worker was an older, he was probably in his 40s or close to 50, kind of a drunk, and I thought, You know, for a guy like Murph, this is a good job. And I said, but for me… So, I’m like here in this job that for somebody else would be a really good job, and for me is just like kind of spinning my wheels.
So, I started thinking about something else. And my scholarship—I had a scholarship at Dartmouth from the Edwin Gould Foundation here in New York, which is a foundation that—well, I don’t know, I guess they still do the same thing—they do, I think, adoptions and foster care. They also run a couple of schools, you know, schools for kids from broken homes and things like that. So there was one in Rockland County in Spring Valley. So I wrote to them and I said I was looking for something, and they wrote back and somehow hooked me up with this school, which is called Lakeside School. And I ended up going there for like the last 18 months or so of my two years of service, and working as a house parent. So, I had like usually 13 kids in my unit, like from 7th grade through high school. And that was to me a more interesting and rewarding experience and I felt like I was doing something positive for humanity, I guess, [laughter] trying to take care of these kids. So, that’s the… And then, that also, because it’s fairly close to New York, kind of eased the transition into getting an apartment in the city and starting to study acting and directing and stuff in the city. So, that’s what I did.
KESLER: And up through this point, did you know anybody that was serving in the war? Did you know any other Dartmouth students who had gone over, who had come back?
YAGGY: Well, yeah, my roommate, Buff, was in ROTC, and so he was commissioned the day after or the day before commencement, and served in Greece in a Nike missile battery. So, we didn’t really talk a lot. You know, again, like I said, I didn’t have confidants that I talked to a lot about this stuff, and I guess probably it was because we just respected each other’s paths, you know, or decisions. It was pretty clear he was going to be going into the Army from the get-go. So, I guess he was my closest friend that was in ROTC. I certainly knew other people. I don’t remember having other close friends who were. And yeah. So, certainly where we had, you know, in those days we had I think Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs. So there were a fair amount. I think Navy and Air Force were smaller than the Army one, but I bet there were at least a hundred people in my class who were commissioned as officers upon graduation. [pause] So I never had any disrespect for them or, and man, I just, my 50th reunion was so amazing, because they had, you know, there was this book which—are you aware of that? I asked you about it before, but they put together this group of interviews and essays from this Vietnam…
KESLER: I wasn’t aware of that, but I have it written down, so I’ll have to go back in and see if I can look it up.
YAGGY: It’s just, it’s amazing, I mean, to me, because these are my contemporaries and my friends. And some of them I’ve gotten to know later even if I didn’t know them in college. Jeff Zimmerman [‘67] I got to know a little bit better because we were both on our class executive committee together for a long time, and he was a Marine. And actually, he was a career Marine. He was in for 20 years and was a colonel when he retired. But, you know, so he was a lieutenant in Vietnam. And then, and so then to hear these guys talk about their experiences. But we also, we had conscientious objectors. And this guy, Andy Barrie [‘67], was a theater major with me, and he went to Canada. And it was all, it was just so powerful, you know, to have people relive these experiences. And anyway, so you’d find that book interesting. What got me off on that tangent, though? We weren’t talking about it. [laughter]
KESLER: I’d asked about different people that you knew who had gone to Vietnam or things like that.
YAGGY: So, John Pendleton [‘67] was another one. I think there were four of us who were actual theater majors. There weren’t many others who were very involved in theater, but who majored in something else. So John Pendleton and Jerry Zaks were my two friends from theater who went into the Smith program with me. And John was drafted after the first year when deferments cut out, and so he served in Vietnam. I think he was in what they call Special Services, which was like kind of entertainment and organizing the USO shows and things like that. So he wasn’t in combat. And then he didn’t come back to Smith. He ended up going, I’m not sure why, but to University of Texas at Austin to finish his MFA [masters of fine arts]. Sorry, I just got a message popped up from my wife. [inaudible] [laughter] So yeah, so he served. But then, because he didn’t—well, I guess I was finished at Smith then by the time he got out, and I was never in touch with him again.
In the summer of 1971, three of my friends, Jerry Zaks and Don Marquez and Charlie Kartchner, talked the Hopkins Center into letting us use the what’s now the Warner Bentley Theater, the studio theater, and we organized a company of young theater professionals, and we did a season of three plays in repertory in the studio theater. And our tech director was John [C.] Nutt, who was a ’68, and he had been in the service and in Vietnam, also not in combat. I can’t remember what he did. But again, it’s like once people were done with it, they didn’t really want to deal with it, and we were up to our necks in this theater company all summer and working 15 hours a day. [laughter] So, we didn’t really, again, like talk about it much.
So, yeah, I knew people, but not people who generally like really shared a lot about what their experience had been like. Really it was at my reunion that I got more of that than I ever had. And that was quite amazing. And another thing that struck me, I think, is that the guys who went, and some of the most prominent ones were ROTC people who were commissioned on graduation and were 2nd lieutenants in the Army or the Marine Corps, and their reasons, though, weren’t any more sophisticated or particularly informed or thought through than those of us who made other decisions. You know, we were all just kind of like… You know, some of them just felt it was an important thing that they should be part of. Some of them just felt it was their patriotic duty. But very few of them I think really had thought about it carefully in terms of foreign policy or, you know, is this really gonna accomplish anything? Or things like that. It was more of a gut thing or a thing, again, just how we had all been brought up, you know. This is sort of what you did. And so, yeah.
KESLER: Yeah, yeah. I was also curious to ask you about—you had mentioned this, as well, in your biography—the mass for peace at the Pentagon, that that was something that you wanted to chat a bit about. Could you tell me about that and how you got involved there, how you ended up there?
YAGGY: So, when I went to Lakeside School, not right away, but they decided after a couple months that they would structure it so that there were either two house parents or teams of house parents in each unit. So, I worked with an older couple, and we each worked half the week and overlapped on Sundays and Wednesdays, all right, so I would come in on Sunday afternoon, and they’d stay—you know, I’d come I guess by lunchtime, say, and then they would stay through dinner so that we could compare notes and see who was having problems or whatever, and then they’d go away and I’d work until Wednesday afternoon and then they’d come in and the same thing, we’d overlap for a few hours. And so, I really had like three-and-a-half days off each week, or three days.
And I don’t really know how I had learned about the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, but somehow I did, and I found out that they had an office at—it’s a big church down on 28th Street that has a huge soup kitchen. I can’t remember the name of it right now. And had a little office up in the top of the parish house. And they were doing draft counseling up there. And, so I don’t know, I got in touch with them to see if they needed a volunteer for anything, and I think the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which is a kind of an umbrella group for peace fellowships of the different denominations and stuff, was sponsoring a training for draft counselors. And so, they sent me to this and it was like six or eight weeks one night a week, and then so I started doing draft counseling for them on my one day a week. And then…
KESLER: Let me jump in real quick and just ask, I’m just curious as to what that was like to kind of see the other side of that after having been on the opposite end?
YAGGY: It was good. You know, again, we had a lot of people who, they were at various stages of, you know, just like I had gone through these various stages of thinking about it and getting more serious about it and whatever. So sometimes you’d have people who had sort of just begun to think about it. Sometimes you’d have people who were farther along and knew they wanted to apply and just needed to have some more information about how to go about it. We had this one young guy who had enlisted in the Marine Corps, and when he got to Parris Island, he was just shocked at how abusive it was, and he went AWOL. So, I’m just not… So, we had to kind of help him. I can’t remember what we did exactly, but so he was in kind of a very ticklish situation.
But it was interesting to talk to people, and people came from different religious traditions. Some of them had been studying Buddhism or—you know, they had a lot of different pathways in which they had come to this decision that they either wanted to apply for conscientious objection status or that they wanted to think about it and talk to somebody about it. Yeah, so that was a pretty good experience. And they taught us in this class, “So, you know, you really only have like six things you can do.” And that made it kind of easier to help people. You know, you can kind of boil it down. You’d say, “Well, you can enlist. You can allow yourself to be drafted. You can apply for conscientious objection. You can try to get some other deferment, like a medical deferment. You can leave the country. You could go to jail. Right? Like refuse to be drafted and let yourself be prosecuted.” So, that was it. That was really the range, you know, and that kind of helps people sort it out into, oh, it’s a little simpler than I thought, you know, in a way. Not simple in the sense of being easy, but there really were six things you could do. You had to choose among them. Or if you didn’t choose, you’d be drafted.
So, and anyway, so there were some really interesting people involved at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and at one point—I can’t remember if this was before or after the mass in the Pentagon, but they had organized a big weekend conference, again at Holy Cross monastery in West Park, and had all these kinds of interesting activists of one kind or another. And there were some young priests. There was a guy named Tom Pike who was a very active anti-war and social justice priest here in New York who was very active. Anyway, so at one point they had organized this mass for peace, and I think we had two busloads of people who went down from New York. And, so they had that.
So there’s—if you’ve ever been in the Pentagon, there’s a kind of a public part of it that’s got a lot of shops and what-not, and I think it has a name. I can’t remember what they call it. Maybe it’s just called the Mall or something like that. And off of this area was a kind of a space, and we knew that there had been religious services there, but they were all like kind of pro-military types. So they applied for a permit, and it was turned down. And, so we went anyway. And so, at that point one of my high school classmates was in the Army and was in the Pentagon. Whatever his job was at that point, he was in the Pentagon. And somehow I knew this, and so I had alerted him that I was going to be there. And he came down and watched us. So, you know, they knew we were coming, or, I don’t know, anyway…
So, we kind of had everything arranged and just kind of marched into this space and started saying a mass, and within like probably a minute, you know, we were under arrest, and shooed back outside to—it wasn’t our buses, though. So they had buses to take us to the court, [laughter] I think. I can’t remember. I don’t know. Well, this is interesting. Now I’m not remembering. Anyway, I think we all went down in buses. But, so then we’re in the magistrate’s court in Virginia, and I remember, and so we’re in this cell, a couple of cells, and we started singing hymns and stuff. But the judge had some proceeding going on. So, he came in and told us we had to shut up. One of the priests said, “We’re praising the Lord.” [laughter] “Well, you have to do it quietly because you’re disturbing my courtroom.”
So, anyway, so we had a brief hearing, and again they had to arrange for a lawyer, and he said, “I recognize that one aspect of this is you’re asserting your First Amendment rights,” and whatever, and then we were released on, I guess on our own recognizance or something. I don’t think we had to post bail. I think we did have to… So I think in the first round of that we were found guilty of whatever we were guilty of, just trespassing I think is what it was. So we had to pay $25 fines. And, but we appealed and we won on appeal. It was actually a very strongly worded decision where the judge said, “The government is simply trying to suppress a viewpoint with which it doesn’t agree.” [laughter] Because this was public property. It’s a government property with an area that was open to the public, and they had let other groups do the same thing, but not ours. So, that was an interesting experience, and it was kind of great to see this wording in a decision. Hey, all right!
KESLER: [laughter] How many of you were there?
YAGGY: I think there were 30 or 40.
KESLER: Did you know everybody? Were you close to everyone or not as much?
YAGGY: I wasn’t close—I was close with the tight little group at EPF [Episcopal Peace Fellowship], the draft counselor and there were two co-directors at that time. And so, and then I knew a few of the others through this meeting at West Park or somehow. But no, most of them I didn’t know. And so, that was interesting. [laughter] There were a couple other big ones, big marches on Washington that I went to, one with the theater company that I got involved in here. I think that was in, that was a little later. I’m trying to think, there was one… anyway, when was that, ’70 or ’71 maybe, when a group of us from this ensemble studio theatre went down and marched. But, yeah, the mass was sort of the most interesting experience.
KESLER: Do you feel like you were heavily involved in the anti-war movement? Or was it something that you began to talk about more and more? Or was it those main couple of events mainly?
YAGGY: I guess. I didn’t do a whole lot of marching and pamphleting and that kind of thing. But, you know, I was being a draft counselor one day a week. That was a pretty significant time commitment. And, you know, went to some of these other protest marches and things like that. So, I think I was pretty seriously involved in the anti-war movement.
KESLER: And so you graduated from Smith, then, in ’69, is that right? Okay, tell me about your time right after that. Were you still finishing up your alternate service? Or did you just go right on into something else?
YAGGY: Well, I had to finish alternate service. So then it was two years, so I started in about February of ’69, and then, well, maybe it was a little later. Anyway, so I finished up at the school in the spring of ’71, I guess. And we had, at Smith the guy who was the head of the department who had auditioned us and recruited us and who we’d gone there to study with essentially had left under somewhat of a cloud after the first year. “Cloud” is the wrong word. But, I think he just—he was kind of a cantankerous personality, and I think he just had gotten too many people on the wrong side, and so he left. And Helen Chinoy, who was really one of the leading theater historians in the country at that time, a really noted scholar, kind of took over as chairperson, and she had a lot of connections in the professional world. So, she brought people up as kind of guest teachers and directors and stuff.
And they built a new theater and dance building while we were there, which I guess the first productions were during our second year. And, so to kind of open the first big production in the main stage was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. And she got a young director named Curt Dempster to come up, and a couple really top-notch young designers to do the costumes and sets, and then there was a woman named Peggy Clark Kelley, who was a Smithie from, she was class of ’52. But she was also one of the major lighting designers on Broadway at that time. And so, it was quite a deal.
So anyway, this guy Curt then had started teaching in New York by the time I was finished. So, and then my friends were organizing this theater company that we would use the small theater in the Hop for that summer. So that gave me a few months in which I came into Curt’s class, and then was able to kind of help with the organization for the summer, and then we came up that, I guess in June, and were there June, July and August doing these three shows. Boy, that was an amazing experience, too. It was so intense. You know, it was one of those things like you just get into it, you have no idea how much work is involved. But it was great. It was a great experience. We did good shows. And, you know, it was really like kind of testing your wings, because it wasn’t just like, you got a job in somebody else’s theater company. So, we were doing everything. We were producing and directing and building the sets and designing the costumes. You know, it’s just that we had a whole operation. And everybody was like 23 years old. [laughter] So, anyway, that wasn’t what you wanted to talk about, was it? You were asking about…
KESLER: I just asked about your time immediately following Smith, and then also right after your alternate service.
YAGGY: Right. So, I did the alternate service, and then so that actually started a few months before I finished at Smith, and then I was still in Northampton for most of that summer, and then got the job at Lakeside School, and started, I don’t know, probably in August or September, something like that. And then, I guess I just lived at the school then at first, and then my friend, Don Marquez, had gone to England for a while, and he came home at Christmastime and he said, “Why don’t we get an apartment together?” So, we got an apartment in the East Village. So then, on my days off I would come into the city, rather than staying at the school, and then started studying with Curt, and then did this new theater ensemble during the summer. So I made a pretty quick transition back into show business [laughter] once I had finished my alternate service.
And then, you know, then life in the theater is a struggle. I did my last show in 1980. So, I did it for like 10 years, managed to make a living, but I didn’t really want—I thought I wanted to be a director. But I found that I could make a living as a stage manager, and so at first—I also had pretty good technical skills, you know, from just working in the Hop all those years, so I was pretty good at building scenery and lighting, and I did a lot of work on the costumes. I didn’t do that after I got to New York, but… And there was a lot of off-Broadway then, and it was not unionized, so they were always looking for cheap labor from people who had technical skills. And so, the first couple of years after I finished my alternate service, I really made my living building sets and doing put-ins and strikes and stuff on off-Broadway shows.
And then I started to get all these calls from people who wanted a technical director, and nah, I didn’t want to do that. (A) I didn’t really feel like I had that level of skill, but I also, it wasn’t my interest, you know. [laughter] And I kind of realized, well—and by that time I was starting to get work as a stage manager, and I said, Ah, you know, I said, if I want to get established as a stage manager, I have to stop turning down this tech work, because I’m getting a reputation and, you know, people call me for tech work and they’re not thinking of me for other things.
And so, I made that transition. And then, I worked as a stage manager for quite a while, and then I really didn’t want to do that anymore, and I realized that I would have to kind of go through that same thing and just stop stage managing, and scramble somehow to get directing work. And by that time I’m like, what, 34 or something, and I just, it didn’t mean that much to me anymore, and I wasn’t willing to kind of go through the whole starving artist routine again. So, it was just kind of time to move on to other things. But it was fun. I had some really good experiences in show business, and worked with some really interesting people, so I certainly have no regrets about it. But it was a little hard, again, to make that transition away from it when it’s something that, you know, you studied in college and wanted to do and were very enamored of, and had some success at, but, you know, to kind of realize it was just time to move on. So…
Also, at that time in the—sometime in the mid-‘70s there was a bad recession, and there was, you know, if you look at the theater section in the Times [New York Times] today, there are probably like 30 or 40 shows on Broadway. At that time there were like, I think it had gotten down to about 12. And off-Broadway, there were only like 12 shows. I mean, it was just the pits. Now, a lot of people were out of work. And I remember my friend, Chuck, met this—he had auditioned for a show, and he met the stage manager, and the guy had told him that he’d been out of work for two years, and used up all his savings and all that kind of stuff. And I said, “Jeez,” I said, “I don’t want to be in that situation when I’m 40 years old or something.”
So, we, both my wife and I kind of moved on to other things, mainly fundraising. Although not right away. I first went to work for this small firm that was started and run by a former stage manager, and they designed audiovisual facilities and the rooms that they went into. And a lot of this was in new corporate headquarters. A lot of companies were building new headquarters around that time. And somehow my boss, Gene, had built a relationship with Kevin Roche, who was a major architect then and was designing a lot of those buildings. So, whenever he built a new building or renovated one, he would hire us to do the AV systems and the conference rooms and stuff. So I did that for like five years, and it was kind of interesting work. Gene used to always say, “I’m doing the same thing I always did in the theater, you know, worried about sight lines and lighting and…”
And one thing I became very conscious of, when I’m in a hotel—you know, you go to a conference and the hotels have these breakout rooms and little conference rooms. They’re terrible. You know, the lighting and the sound and everything is just awful. And I became so conscious of that because we were designing these rooms specifically so that it wouldn’t be. Anyway, so that was kind of interesting, but I didn’t want—you know, it’s nice that the General Foods’s of the world have nice conference rooms, but that’s not how I want to spend my life. So then I started thinking about whether there was some nonprofit agencies doing work that I believed in that I might be able to go to work for. And so, then I ended up working in nonprofits in fundraising for the next like 25 years until I retired.
KESLER: What kind of fundraising did you do? What kind of nonprofits were you working with?
YAGGY: I worked for three. I worked for the national office of Planned Parenthood. I worked for the International Rescue Committee, which was refugee assistance. And my final job was with what’s now called AMREF South Africa [African Medical and Research Foundation], which is a Nairobi based African health development organization. So, they were all really terrific organizations and very kind of satisfying to work for. And I did grants. I specialized in that. I was involved in minor ways in like working with individual donors and stuff, but mainly I did foundation and corporation and government grants.
KESLER: Ok I see. So, sort of sidestepping a little… [both talk at the same time] Oh, sorry.
YAGGY: Once or twice a year I get asked if I can do a proposal for a similar kind of organization, so I still do a little of that. But, I’m mostly really retired. [laughter]
KESLER: Sidestepping just a little bit, I am curious to get into a little bit more personal life. Where did you meet your wife?
YAGGY: I hired her. [laughter]
KESLER: Oh, really?
YAGGY: I was hired to be the head stage manager at Center Stage in Baltimore in the fall of ’76. And so, I had two assistant positions to fill, and the director handed me this stack of resumes about this tall and said, “Here are all these people that have written in.” [laughter] So I went through all of these, and I picked… Well, I hired—so, the first position, my position, was a union actors’ equity position. So was the second. And then we had a third one that was what was called a CETA position. In the Carter [President Jimmy Carter] years, they started this program, it was called Comprehensive Education [Employment] and Training Act. And basically it was a way to help agencies, I don’t know if they had to be nonprofit or government. I think they did. I don’t think it applied to like, corporations. But, the idea was to give young people an entrée into the workforce. And so, agencies who qualified could hire somebody and the salary would actually be paid by the government, or would be reimbursed to the agency by the government. So, this third stage manager position was under that.
And I actually hired somebody that I had worked with in New York for the second position, and then I culled three resumes out of this big stack of people that I interviewed for the third position, and ended up hiring this young girl who had worked for the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, and then after a few months that turned into a romance. [laughter] It was a work place romance, but it worked out for us. And then, after a few months the guy I had hired for the second position left, and so we moved Amy up into that position and hired a new person for the third one. And yeah, so that’s how that started.
KESLER: And you mentioned earlier that you have two sons, is that right?
KESLER: When did you guys start having, or when did you have your children, I suppose?
YAGGY: Okay, so we married in ’83. The older one, Sam, was born in January of ’87, so he’s 31 now, I think—yep. And he’s a lawyer. He works for the New York State Court System. And they just had a baby, he and his wife, so we have our first grandchild.
KESLER: Oh, congratulations.
YAGGY: Nine months old now. I’ll send you a picture. Do I have your email? Yeah, I have your email.
KESLER: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
YAGGY: [laughter] He’s very adorable. And they live like two blocks from us. It’s really amazing. They used to live—they’ve always been close. We’re just up at the top of the hill about a half a mile away. But they moved to an apartment that had a separate room for him, and it’s just, it’s like one block that way, half a block that way, and half a block the other way. It’s a five minute walk.
KESLER: That’s so fun, especially with a new little grandbaby. That’s so nice.
YAGGY: And his mother is a preschool teacher, and she teaches four-year-olds, but their school has a nursery program. So, she takes the baby with her to work and he stays in the nursery program while she teaches the older kids. So, that worked out really well for them, for now anyway. And my younger son, Matthew, lives in Brooklyn and works for a firm that sells and rents high end video equipment to, you know, like TV shows and movies and stuff like that. He went to Middlebury [College, Middlebury, VT] and majored in film. But it’s been very tough for him to find work that’s really what he wants to do. And then, he got a job in a nonprofit organization that works in Haiti, and that was a disaster. So, then he found this job, and he’s happy there. It’s not like super challenging, and I don’t know—you know, he’s still kind of trying to think about what the next step should be. I don’t think he wants to have a whole career in renting video equipment. But for now it’s like good for him. It’s stable and he enjoys living in Brooklyn, so…
KESLER: Good. Good to hear. And how have you liked living in the city, especially growing up somewhere so far west and now settling down very much on the East Coast.
YAGGY: The early years it was sometimes a little difficult, and I’d get kind of fed up with the hassles of the city and stuff. And at one point I actually, I moved, I went back to Vermont, and I worked for Vermont Bicycle Touring for two seasons. They’re based in Bristol, Vermont, near Middlebury. And so, you know, we would take people all around Vermont and into New Hampshire even, and I really enjoyed that. And then, even for about five years after those two seasons that I worked the whole season, I’d take a week off in October, because a lot of their leaders were grad students or teachers, and he’d lose them for the fall season. So I would come up for a week and lead a trip in October, and that was fun. And we’ve maintained contact with some of our friends there. So, when Matt went to Middlebury, we kind of reconnected with several of the friends that we knew originally from the bicycle touring business, so that was fun.
And I really enjoyed being back in New England. But, there was like no future, you know. I mean, it’s like bicycle touring business had 20 or 30 employees for five months, and then like two people ran it all winter, and I just couldn’t figure out what I would do to make a living up there. And then, oh, and then actually Amy got a call about a stage managing job in Long Island, because it was somebody who kind of knew who she was, and they were looking for two people. All the actors were from the city, but the theater was out in Huntington, Long Island, which is about an hour’s drive out from the city. And so they would rehearse in the city, and then do the show out there, so they really needed two stage managers, one to be with the show rehearsing in the city and one to be out in the theater. And we finally talked to each other and we said, “You know, if we apply for these job, we’re gonna get them, because they won’t find anybody with the same kind of experience that we have, and two people,” because at that point we were pretty well experienced, especially in regional theater, because we’d done two seasons at Center Stage in Baltimore. And so we did. We applied for these jobs and got them and moved back into the city. And basically have been here ever since.
And every once in a while I’d say, “Ahhhh, I can’t stand the noise and the traffic” and the whatever. But then, also at one point I said, “You know, New York has more of the advantages of a big city than any other city, and it has no more of the disadvantages.” And then, once we bought our house, you know, we live in a nice neighborhood that it’s pretty convenient to get in and out of the city and, you know, it’s been pleasant. And we’ve been here for more than 30 years now, so all our friends and our church and our synagogue, and we have roots here, you know. So, I think we’re here for the foreseeable future. [laughter]
KESLER: Uh-huh, there for the long haul it sounds like. Kind of beginning to like wrap up a little bit more just because I want to be conscious of your time and not take up too much more of your Thursday…
YAGGY: What time is it?
KESLER: It’s about 12:30 right now. So it’s been a good chunk of time. But I’m curious how you view how the Vietnam War maybe shaped your life, or didn’t if it didn’t?
YAGGY: I think that it has in certain ways. But it certainly made me… You know, I’m pretty liberal. I believe that government has a role in providing for the general welfare as the Constitution says. And, so in that sense, I have a certain amount of confidence in what government can and should be doing in the social sphere, but I’m also much more skeptical than I was, say, as a teenager or as a college student. You know, you kind of always wonder, especially now, you know, who’s telling the truth, if anybody, and what are the kind of other motivations behind whatever’s going on in government, and you kind of realize sometimes somebody’s just pushing something in order to seem like they’re doing something significant when it’s really a kind of a band-aid that wouldn’t do much. And especially, I think, skeptical of military involvement. You know, you kind of always wonder. You know, I do think we’re, even when it might be justified, we’re awfully quick to kind of resort to that.
And since Vietnam, I mean, there haven’t been too many successes when we have gotten involved militarily, and whatever the justifications for Iraq and Afghanistan might be, I mean, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 16 years now, and the Taliban is still a big force. And so you kind of wonder, well, you know, was that a very wise decision in the first place? It certainly hasn’t seemed to resolve anything in the very long term. So, yeah, I think I both have a kind of a faith that government could be doing better and a lot of skepticism about what it is actually doing. And oh my God, I mean, especially now, there’s so much… You know, the divisions back then were, you don’t think about it from this perspective, I mean, it’s like 50 years ago, but, you know, we had this demonstration down on Wall Street in ’68, and all the construction workers down there were beating kids up with their tools and stuff. You know, I mean, it was… I mean, we’re in some ways kind of getting back to that point with things like Charlottesville and, you know, it’s really nasty. But it may have been even worse back then, at least for a while.
You know, after the Tet Offensive in, what was that, January of ’68, I think, that was a sea change, you know. A lot of people who kind of bought the whatever the argument had been for the war, and at least were willing to accept all the assertions that, you know, the war was going better and we were winning and the dah dah dah. And then Tet came, and it was clear that the North could attack at will throughout the country almost. And a lot of people at that point said, “Whoa. Obviously we’ve been told a lot of things that are clearly not true.” And then you had things like the Pentagon Papers that came out and made people realize that they’d been lying to us for decades about the involvement in Vietnam. And then you start thinking, Well, what else are they lying to us about?
So, I think, you know, I still have some faith in government, but not much right now under the current administration. But, you know, on a local level and on a state level sometimes we can still manage to do sensible things. [laughter] But boy… And, but I do worry. You know, I think we eventually got past the Vietnam divisions. It took a long time. But now, I really worry about the stark divisions in the country, because it’s not just that we disagree on this or that policy, it’s like we see the entire world through different lenses, you know?
KESLER: Yeah, yeah.
YAGGY: I mean, for me, you know, I could never imagine voting for somebody like Donald Trump. To me, I mean, it was ridiculous that he was running for President. I think he’s a thief and a crook and a fraud and a corrupt… You know, he owed $30 million to the state of New Jersey from his failed casinos, and when Chris Christie was elected, they knocked that down to $5. I mean, isn’t that the very definition of corruption? And then there are all these people who talk about how corrupt and crooked Hilary was, but they’re willing to vote for him. I mean, it’s just unbelievable to me. And then, yeah. So, in all of these ways, it’s just not that we think there’s a different way to tackle a problem. We don’t even agree what the problems are, or some of us think this is a problem and other people don’t even think it’s a problem, you know?
I go insane about guns, you know, and so I’m reminded about this again today because of Florida. You know, I grew up in a ranching family. Everybody had guns. But, nobody ever—you know, they were tools. Nobody [inaudible] them. And, you know, other than the sheriff, I never saw anybody wear a pistol on their hip. And this is in rural Montana where you would think, if it was gonna happen anywhere, it would. Nobody ever thought it was necessary to carry a gun into a store to assert their rights. You know, it’s just like… To me it’s just a national insanity.
KESLER: Especially, yeah, again, like reminded so starkly after yesterday, which is just incredible and awful.
YAGGY: Just won’t do a damned thing, you know. And so, sacrifice 100,000 people a year, or close to it. Well, you know, it’s like about 34,000 deaths now, but there’s like another 60,000 injuries, some very serious. You know, people get paralyzed for life or whatever. So, you know, that’s to me like just really disgusting that they’re so under the thumb of the gun manufacturers and the gun lobby that, you know, “yeah, it’s another 17 kids. Too bad. What are you gonna do?” It’s just awful. And you know, there’s no other developed country in the world that does this. We have like from 4 to 20 times the rate of gun deaths of any of our contemporary comparable countries. It’s just so…
So there’s a lot that is very disturbing about how things are in our country now. And I think some of that probably still stems from Vietnam and that skepticism about government. But, some of it, the stuff about guns, it’s just so blatant. And then, the resurgence of racism in the last couple of years is really disturbing. I worked in a—I had a couple jobs where I worked in black theater companies, and I did a—so I went back to school after I retired. I don’t know if I said that.
KESLER: No, you didn’t mention that.
YAGGY: So, I got a master’s degree in public health two years ago, and I did my capstone project on a model of gun violence prevention called “Cure Violence,” and got to know some of the people who work in those programs, and they’re just amazing. You know, they work in these inner city neighborhoods where there are a lot of guns, and they just basically put their lives on the line every day trying to talk people down from solving their beefs with guns. And, you know, but the government doesn’t. It’s like Chicago, you know, they’ve had this huge increase in gun deaths recently. And the President kind of blames that on Chicago in some way, but these terrible gun laws that allow… And Chicago has strict gun laws, but Indiana does not, so they just bring a lot of guns in from Indiana into these poor neighborhoods. And the same thing happens here. They come up from Virginia and Pennsylvania and stuff like that. New York has very strict gun laws. So, we have fewer gun deaths and gun injuries than most states. And that’s true. The pattern is, you know, whether you’re comparing countries or you’re comparing states, if there are stricter gun laws and fewer gun owners, you have fewer deaths. It’s like…
KESLER: It just logically makes sense, of course. Yeah, it seems like a one-two step, but…
YAGGY: But, you know, getting our government to do anything at all, you know, is just, it seems impossible. So, that’s frustrating.
KESLER: I agree. I agree. And like we said, it’s always really interesting the timing of interviews. The last one that I had was the day after the women’s march or the one year inauguration of President Trump’s election, and I was talking to one of the first female professors at Dartmouth, and so that was an interesting little timing there. And it’s interesting to have today’s come after yesterday with Florida and things like that. And I think it’s just always interesting to see those historical periods. Sorry, what was that?
YAGGY: Who was the professor that you talked to?
KESLER: Do you know Brenda Silver?
YAGGY: I heard the name. I think she came after my time. We had very few women faculty members in my time. There were a couple of married couples, where both were on the faculty. Boy, I’m trying to remember if I had a woman professor at all.
KESLER: I think, so she came in ’72, the same year that the college went co-ed, and I think before her, like you said, there were only maybe a couple of people. Like we’ve done interviews with Marysa Navarro, as well, and I think she came in ’69.
YAGGY: Yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting.
KESLER: It was a very, very interesting interview, but a really, really good one.
YAGGY: Even when I got to Smith, I mean, there were certainly more women professors, but not so many, you know, as you might have expected at a women’s college. Many more now, I think, just because in those days women weren’t encouraged to go into academia or to go for advanced degrees and stuff like that. In fact, that was—one of our panels at our reunion was on Vietnam, but the other one was on sort of like civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, how all those movements had affected us or how we’d been engaged in them in one way or another. And one of the classmates, his wife was on the panel, and she was a [Mount] Holyoke [College, South Hadley, MA] graduate from ’67, our year, and she said, you know, a large expectation at Mount Holyoke was you were there to get your MRS degree, and so a lot of people, they were kind of like expecting that they’d be engaged sometime in their senior year and they’d be married. And even at a place like Mount Holyoke, very few kids were really encouraged to think about further study or kind of professional careers and stuff, so… She had gone on to get a social work degree. So, but certainly… And then, I’m trying to think, Title IX came in right around then. I can’t remember, ’68 or ’69?
KESLER: I don’t know the year, but that sounds right, yeah.
YAGGY: And that started making a huge difference, you know, because it kind of forced academic institutions to start providing the same kinds of opportunities to women as they were to men. And, so I knew, I had one friend at Smith who went to law school at NYU [New York University], and she was kind of a pioneer in those days. Well, now, like half or more of the people in my son’s law school class at [Benjamin N. Cardozo [School of Law, New York, NY] were women. More than half of medical students today are women. That was pretty rare back then, you know. There were very few women doctors. I remember, when I was in Dick’s House with osteomyelitis, I had a woman doctor, who was like a resident at Mary Hitchcock [Memorial Hospital, Lebanon, NH] then. And I just thought, Oh, that’s interesting. I never had a woman doctor before. [laughter] So, yeah, that made a huge difference over my adult lifetime.
KESLER: Yeah. Well, like I said, kind of like beginning to wrap up, I just am curious if you have like anything else that you would like to add, or anything that we didn’t necessarily like touch on that you’re like, Oh, no, like I definitely want to get to this before I send you on your way?
YAGGY: Yeah, not really, I don’t think. We’ve had quite a long conversation. [laughter]
KESLER: I know, and it’s funny looking at the clock, because I have—the recorder has like a little timer across my computer, and every now and then I glance over at it and I’m like I didn’t even realize that that much time has gone past, you know?
YAGGY: Well, I thought it was a much more kind of exhaustive discussion than I expected. I thought you would really want to focus more narrowly on the Vietnam years and things like that. But, it was fun. I’m happy to gab about myself once in a while.
KESLER: Right. Yeah, it is kind of fun just to have a good couple of hours every now and then where it’s just all on you. And the whole idea is that, too, we don’t necessarily know what research purposes these interviews might be used for in the future, and so we come into this focusing a little bit on the Vietnam War, but also just trying to think that like maybe 30 years down the line somebody is doing a project that focuses on your mom and her life and has something in there or something. So, it’s funny to kind of try to think about, or even more recent political events, that’s always something that’s really interesting that, you know, we give that current political context just in case somebody is doing a project that focuses on that, you know, again like 30 years down the line.
YAGGY: Yeah, I can’t think of anything else.
KESLER: Well, I do want to…
YAGGY: So, it’s been very nice talking to you, and thanks for the opportunity.
KESLER: It’s been very nice talking to you, as well. Yeah, thank you so much, and thank you on behalf of Rauner and on behalf of the Dartmouth Vietnam Project.
[End of Interview.]