Note to Reader: Dad has written a memoir he has shared with the family. This document is around 500 pages and covers most of the significant events of his life. He wrote about his college swimming experience and we will be sharing these as blog posts (Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years) over the next couple of weeks. While Dad had a great memory, he was not perfect. If you have any additional information or pictures to share, please comment. - Scot Hunsaker
Following my NCAA Championship at the University of Michigan my junior year, several of the Illinois swimmers went on with me to the National AAU Championships at Yale University one week later. Understandably, I was quite excited, but was definitely in an anti-climax mind set. As a result, I was quite loose and casual about the National AAUs, but on the other hand, felt that I had arrived and was a nationally-recognized athlete in swimming.
The National AAU Championships were somewhat unusual for me in that there was no 200-yard individual medley. The only individual medley event was a 400-yard event, which I had swum rarely, but with my long workouts in all four strokes with Doc it presented no real concern. I just hoped that I could qualify for the finals in that event. The main event I was shooting for was the 200-yard breaststroke and then the 100-yard breaststroke. For some reason, I did not qualify in the 100, which was no great surprise because my breaststroke event was definitely the longer 200. I apparently qualified in the 200, but don’t remember how I finished. The surprise of the meet was the fact that I qualified third in the 400-yard individual medley. My arch rival, Tony Tashnic, was at the meet swimming the butterfly events, but did not enter the 400 IM. When I was on the starting block at the start of the final event, Dick Whittaker was sitting next to Tashnic and asked him why he wasn’t in this event. Tony said that he was not a 400-yard IM man. Dick commented that neither is that guy in lane 4 (me). The race went rather well and was strung out as most distance events are. I took second place and won a silver medal. The fellow that beat me was George Harrison, who was a freshman at Stanford and, thus, ineligible in the collegiate championships that year. A year later I swam against him again at the NCAA Championships in the 200 individual medley.
After returning to Illinois I quit swimming along with everyone else and started to really enjoy the college experience. This was understandable because we had trained quite hard all winter and felt entitled to some college fun.
I don’t recall what my grades were that spring semester, but they were satisfactory. They were impacted somewhat by my time away from campus because of my swimming, as well as the distraction of the two national championship meets. One of the exciting things that happened after those competitions was that I was interviewed several times by the local media and received letters from around the country of congratulations and even some requesting my autograph.
Another event that occurred that year was my induction into Sachem, which was a men’s honorary for activities. I was chosen because of having won the NCAA. It was a little mystical and secret. One morning I was shaken as I was sleeping. Several upper classmen, in suits and ties, told me to put on a suit and report to the large oak tree in the quadrangle in front of the Student Union. Once assembled, the new initiates were informed of the selection. There was some sort of initiation rite, but I can’t remember it.
In the 1950s, the government has a program of universal obligation for military service. All males over the age of 17 had to go into the military in some form and the choices were rather limited. The great majority were drafted into the Army. Others enlisted in the other branches of the service or, in some cases, into the National Guard to fulfill their obligation over a long period of time on weekends, but with no active duty. For those men in college, there usually was an opportunity to join the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) although a lot of universities and colleges did not have the program on campus. The University of Illinois was and still is a “land grant” university. This is a classification set up during the Civil War under Abraham Lincoln whereby universities that received government funding and benefits at that time were required to have a ROTC program on the campus and as part of the regular curriculum. Under this program all freshmen and sophomore men had to participate in basic ROTC. At the start of the junior year, they could apply for advanced ROTC, which would result in a commission to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant upon graduation.
In any case, I decided at that point in time to go for a commission. Part of this decision was that the fall of 1956 was a time when there was a great deal of concern over the possibility of war with the Soviet Union.
From 1950 to 1953 the United States had been in a war in Korea with the Chinese communists and the North Korean communists. Since then, the Soviet Union had developed the atomic and hydrogen bombs, which created a standoff in relatively equal potential for terror. There was little doubt in everyone’s mind that a strong military force was necessary.
The United States had discharged most of its soldiers at the end of the Second World War thinking that peace was going to last forever because of the horrible consequences of that conflagration. In a few short years, it became obvious that the United States and the Soviet Union were on opposite sides of global issues. The Berlin airlift came about when the Russians sealed off East Germany and, thereby, isolated Berlin, which was administered by the four allied war powers, i.e., the United States, France, Britain and the Soviet Union. In less than five years after the Second World War a confrontation developed in Germany between the United States and the Russians and this was followed by the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950. The United States had been involved in hostilities eight years out of the past eighteen years. For this reason it was accepted and understood that all men must have military training and be on call in a reserve capacity in view of the state of the world at that time.
As a member of the advanced ROTC program I was required to attend a six-week summer camp between my junior and senior years. This was something that had to be done and there was no way around it if I was to obtain my commission. In view of the alternative, i.e., serving in the military as a Private, the choice was clear. As I recall I had to report to Fort Gordon, Georgia (which is near Augusta) sometime during the last week of June.