As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century. This week’s message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:
For people of a certain age, any reference to the decade of the 1960s will certainly invoke memories of the nation’s divided reactions to the Viet Nam War and the turbulence that swept over many colleges and universities Opposition to the war and to the draft of young men that provided large numbers of the men who fought in it, was quite strong on the UW-Madison campus. When our Club, in May, 1968, had Lt. General Lewis B. Hershey (left), Director of the Selective Service System, as its program speaker, the anti-war demonstrations reached the entrance to the meeting that day.
Although there had been efforts to keep the identity of the speaker secret prior to his appearance, it was learned beforehand and the Rotarians who attended the meeting were greeted by chanting demonstrators, many throwing eggs, as they approached the door to the Lorraine Hotel that day. Police kept the line of demonstrators moving and outside the hotel proper. “A large turnout” of members attended the meeting and apparently reacted favorably to Hershey’s talk, which, of course, defended the draft and criticized those who opposed the war, especially students.
Future demonstrations and protests escalated during the rest of the decade, reaching watershed marks with the fatal shooting of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University and the subsequent bombing of Sterling Hall on the Madison campus. Eventually the draft ended, the war ended and UW-Madison and other campuses became calmer places. However, none who lived through that period will ever forget it.