The facts of life: USF during the Cold War

Like their peers across the country, the Cold War became a simple fact of life for USF students. The conflict simmered for about 50 years, and people did their best to get on with their lives despite threats of war, revolution and nuclear annihilation.

In 1963, the administration announced the creation of giant fallout shelters beneath the chemistry building, the university center, the library, Alpha Hall, and the teaching auditorium. The shelters were meant to serve students, staff, and faculty in the event of a nuclear attack. Preparations were already under way when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred the previous October, but rising tensions sped the process along. Administrators stocked the shelters with food, medical supplies and a hand-operated well. The civil defense group supplied half of the food, while USF stocked the rest with food from Morrison’s Cafeteria, the company that ran food services on campus. Together, the five shelters could hold 4,000 people.

The Cold War had seeped into popular culture by the 1960s. A student columnist complained of loud music in the university center during breakfast in 1965. Besides the Beatles, the jukebox blared the theme to Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove, which featured the sounds of nuclear explosions. Reminders of a possible nuclear holocaust were not conducive to the columnist’s digestion, especially at 7:30 a.m.

That same week, “ultra right-wing Baptist preacher” David Noebel told Newsweek that he had uncovered a “Communist Master Music Plan,” an alleged plot by the USSR to get American folk singers to perform Marxist songs with a rhythm using the “same pulse rate of our college students and making them mentally ill.” To Noebel, rock wasn’t just bad music, it would undermine the foundations of American society. Such wild allegations against young people and pop culture became a Cold War fact of life, too.

International students were nothing new to USF, and the Cold War helped many of them find their way here. In 1964, USF was home to 101 foreign students, half of whom were Cuban refugees who fled Fidel Castro’s Communist rule. Cuban math major Ignacio Bello attended USF while using scholarships from the university to pay his expenses. He planned to join the U.S. armed forces to pay back Uncle Sam for his education. Bello’s biggest complaint about Tampa: avoiding neighborhood dogs while biking to and from campus.

Other foreign students had to contend with greater obstacles than aggressive dogs. Language was a significant barrier. Dr. Marlin E. Scheib taught English to the newcomers in a special course. In 1963, Saiyed Habiballah Ghoth, a student from Iran, was said to be a direct descendent of Mohammed, signified by the name Saiyed. He learned English after just five months in the country, and was justifiably proud of the “A” he earned in English class. Ruled by the hated Shah, Iran was one of America’s most loyal Cold War Allies until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Korean War combat had been over for 12 years in 1965, but many residents there faced new ordeals. Some sought education and opportunities in the states. Yoon-Ja Susanna Chung traveled to Florida from Seoul, and her brother, Dr. Chung of the Physics department, served as her interpreter during her USF application interview in 1965. Just one year later, Chung was a math major fluent in English and hoped to teach in Korea after graduate work at USF.

When asked about the differences between the two countries, Chung said, “When Korean boys and girls go to the university, they are no longer children — they are adults. Korean students are very serious and they discuss political and economic problems and they seem to have more responsibilities than American students (who) are so casual and care-free. American students have a longer childhood and I think this is good. They can study and still jump around and have fun.”

Some U.S. citizens felt like strangers in their own country. Returning soldiers from Vietnam did not always get the hero’s welcome veterans are accustomed to today. The rising, but often misdirected, culture of protest placed blame for the war on soldiers as well as commanders and politicians. Robert Goldstein of the history department felt that students had much to learn from their brave combat veterans, and invited one of his former students to enlighten three classes with his observations.

Lt. Douglas C. MacCaskill, class of ’64 returned to USF after a 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam to speak about his experiences as a platoon leader. After 106 combat patrols under the Third Marine Recon Battalion, MacCaskill met with several close calls and earned a Bronze Star for valor. For MacCaskill, Chung, and Bello, the Cold War had a direct influence upon their lives. All tried to make the best of it, including USF. Though the university reaped grants and hosted exciting programs associated with the Cold War, it also maintained fallout shelters in the event of catastrophe. And while institutional costs associated with the superpower standoff were high, the human cost can never be measured. Some found death in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia. Others found a new life here at USF.