Ronald Tammen’s moment of crisis

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I imagine that very few crises happen out of the blue. Most have a build-up period in which everything seems fine on the surface as trouble churns below. Still, there are usually small signs—cracks that appear in an otherwise smooth façade. Even a tsunami produces an eerie ebb tide as its forewarning. Earthquakes are harder to predict, yet they do seem to give some sort of rumbling, quivering clue to animals of the land, sea, air, and (if they’re of the cat or dog variety) living room.

So it was with the crisis that was about to befall Ronald Tammen. This wasn’t something that had happened overnight. It had been festering for a while, his new normal. And even though he appeared to people around him to be the usual Ron, the one of unrivaled responsibility and ambitious optimism, he was showing signs that he knew something big and potentially life altering was about to occur. A few had begun to take note of those signs as well. Someone had told Dean Knox that, after spring break, Ron had been reading the Bible “5 or 6 times” (which wasn’t like him) and had spoken of being “tired lately.” Mrs. Todhunter, Fisher Hall’s manager, had mentioned how exhausted he looked when he picked up the new sheets the night he disappeared.

I’d always suspected that Ron was going through some type of personal crisis at the time of his disappearance, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Thankfully, it was one day over the past week or two when a lightbulb clicked on.

For a long while, I’ve known about Ron’s grades. I knew that he’d withdrawn from enough courses during his sophomore year that he would have no longer been considered full-time. But I hadn’t given much thought to what the repercussions might have been, because nothing seemed to change for him. He was still living in Fisher Hall and counseling freshman men. He was still active in his fraternity. He was still playing his bass with the Campus Owls. University officials seemed OK with his predicament—in fact, judging by their comments after he disappeared, they didn’t seem to think he was in a predicament at all. I focused instead on why such a smart, studious guy would be having difficulty in the first place, particularly in subjects in which he seemed capable of sailing through with little effort. Why, for example, would a guy with such an abiding appreciation for money have trouble with an introductory economics course?

Recently, while addressing a reader’s question about Ron’s draft status, I began mulling over his situation again. In previous interviews, I’d asked Ron’s friends and family if Ron had been concerned about the draft, and everyone had told me no. This had always made sense to me, since I knew that Ron had a college deferment and I figured that he could have continued renewing it until he graduated.

And that’s when it hit me. The federal government wouldn’t be nearly as nurturing as Miami seemed to be if a male student had slipped from full-time to part-time status and wasn’t keeping pace with his degree program. This became even more evident after I later read that the pool of men available to be called to fight in the war in Korea had reached “a new low.” Was Ronald Tammen about to be drafted because of his academic record?

Before we proceed further, let’s become better acquainted with some dates in Ron’s Selective Service records. (His information is in the fifth row from the bottom of this document, and his registration is here.)

  • July 26, 1951—Three days after his 18th birthday, Ron registers with the Selective Service System through local draft board 32, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
  • December 10, 1951—Ron, a freshman at Miami University, is sent a questionnaire from the Selective Service. On January 23, 1952, he would be 18 1/2 years old, and therefore, of “liable age” for training and service.
  • March 25, 1952—Ron (or Ron’s parents) is sent a notice saying that Ron has been classified 1-A (available for military service), just like most of the other young men born around his birthday who fell under draft board 32’s purview. This isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, since draft boards considered each registrant 1-A until it had been demonstrated that he qualified for deferment or exemption. There were additional hoops to be jumped through too—it wasn’t as if he could have been immediately called to serve.
  • July 15, 1952—Roughly a week before Ron’s 19th birthday, in the summer before Ron’s sophomore year at Miami, another notice is mailed to the Tammens, this time saying that Ron had been reclassified as 2-S (registrant deferred because of activity in study). He’d obviously taken the Selective Service College Qualification Test and had received an acceptable score.
  • June 24, 1953—The Selective Service mails a third classification notice to the Tammens, saying that Ron was back to being 1-A. Of course, this had happened after he’d gone missing and didn’t renew his deferment.
  • July 27, 1953—Ron failed to report for his physical on this date, which, coincidentally, also happened to be the day that the Korean War ended. He was marked DEL, delinquent, with an induction date of August 25, 1953. In the remarks section, someone had written: “Failed to Report for Physical. Complete File To Hqts 9/8/53. Ordered for Immediate Induction as a delinquent.”

So Ron had been granted his student deferment immediately before his sophomore year, which, as we’ve already established, was when things started to implode for him academically. Because I wanted to see the full picture, I contacted Jacky Johnson, Miami University’s archivist, who emailed me the courses and credit hours required for a business degree at that time.

Here’s what was required of him for his freshman and sophomore years:

Business degree requirements
Excerpt from Miami University’s 1952-53 course catalog. Click on image for closer view.

If you compare Ron’s transcript during his freshman year with the freshman course requirements for a business degree, you see that everything matches up. During his first semester, all required courses were accounted for: Business 101, English 101, Laboratory Science (he chose Geology), Social Science (he went with American Social and Economic History), and Physical Education. His non-professional elective was Unified Math, a subject in which he performed solidly, and which provided 5 hours instead of the required 3. The second semester was pretty much the same. He was keeping up well. By the time he headed home for the summer, he had earned a 3.205 grade point average (GPA) and 34 credit hours, the upper amount required of him.

transcripts-freshman year
Ron’s freshman year courses and grades. Click on image for closer view.

At the start of Ron’s sophomore year, he was brimming with good intentions and a full course load. With a schedule totaling 17 credit hours, he was carrying more than what was required of him. But his withdrawal from two required courses quickly landed him on a treadmill that made it nearly impossible to catch up. By the end of the academic year, Ron should have passed both General Psychology (Psych 261) and Business Psychology (Psych 262), yet he still hadn’t made it all the way through the first psychology course. The same is true for Principles of Economics. By the end of his sophomore year, he should have completed two of his economics requirements, but he was still taking EC 201 at the time of his disappearance. According to the 1952-53 course catalog, after the sophomore year, a business major should have accrued between 62 and 66 hours in required courses. Even if Ron hadn’t disappeared, he would have only racked up 57, with his sophomore year supplying only 23 of those hours. Put another way, Ron would have only completed about three-fourths of the lowest number of required credit hours for that year.

transcripts-sophomore year
Ron’s sophomore year courses and grades. Click on image for closer view.

I contacted the Selective Service and asked a public affairs officer what the criteria were for a college deferment during the Korean War. I specifically wanted to know if a student had to be enrolled in a certain number of hours of college coursework each semester to be eligible.

Her response was lengthy, so I’ll paraphrase here: There were two types of student deferments at that time. The first type, 1-S, was a one-time-only deferment and only extended until the end of that academic year or until the student’s performance was no longer satisfactory, whichever came first. The second type, 2-S, had no such time limitations and was provided at the discretion of the draft board. They applied to both undergraduate and graduate students and could be renewed. As we already know, Ron was 2-S.

Her last sentence held the key: “The college student had to be a full-time student making satisfactory progress.”

The draft board would have surely noticed that Ron’s hours had taken a nose-dive and, for that reason alone, they would have likely changed Ron’s classification. But what I find most puzzling is, if he were concerned about the draft, why would he drop his psychology class for a second time when we know from this post that Ron was carrying a C? A grade of C generally means fair or average, which in my mind is satisfactory progress. If he’d stuck it out for the whole semester, he would have ended up with 15 credit hours, which was back to being full-time. Draft boards were instructed to treat each case individually. That might have been enough to convince them to allow him to hold on to his deferment.

I checked with the Selective Service again to see if they could tell me what “satisfactory” meant back then, and they responded that it was up to the local draft boards to define that term. Because it’s likely that everyone on the board has passed away, I contacted another man who had received a college deferment from draft board 32. As he recalled—and he reminded me that it was a long time ago—you could have at least a C average and still maintain your deferment.

It turns out that Ron had another worry though. As I’ve noted in prior posts, the Tammens didn’t have much money, and Ron was putting himself through school. Thanks to his years of caddying for the Hawthorne Valley Country Club, he was nominated for, and subsequently received, a scholarship from the Cleveland District Golf Association (CDGA). The CDGA caddie scholarship was a prestigious award that was given annually to caddies who had demonstrated academic ability and leadership potential and who were in financial need. Begun in 1940, it was modeled after the national Evans Scholars scholarship program. In fact, the CDGA scholarship’s founder, Martin Morrison, used to caddie for pro golfer Chick Evans as a youth. The caddie scholarship wasn’t based on how well a person played golf. The applicant had to have the grades, the financial need, and the ability to state his case in a high-stakes interview with the board of trustees. The numbers of recipients varied, as did the amount of the scholarship, which depended on the family’s finances.

There is no CDGA anymore. It’s now the Northern Ohio Golf Association (NOGA). The scholarship arm used to be called the NOGA Charities & Foundation, but today, the foundation is called The Turn, and its mission is “improving the health and wellness of people with physical disabilities.” They’ve graciously offered to peruse old records to see if they might have something on Tammen’s scholarship, though my contact said it could take a while. I’ll keep you posted. But, there’s more than one way to schlep a golf bag. Using old news articles as a starting point, I reached out to other men who had received the caddie scholarship at around the same time that Ron did. I managed to track down two.

Jack had used his CDGA scholarship to attend John Carroll University, and he told me matter-of-factly that the scholarship had changed his life. He described himself as a “welfare kid” who would have never had the opportunity to attend college if it weren’t for that scholarship money. He’d started out with a two-year grant, but because his grades were so good, the organization funded him for two more years.

When I asked him if he had to maintain a certain grade point average to keep the scholarship, he said he didn’t know, because it was never a concern. “I only got A’s,” he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in educational administration and he later became the assistant superintendent of the Cleveland Public Schools.

Philip had experienced his share of economic hardship as well. His parents were born to first-generation immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and for a long time, his father raised his family with only an eighth-grade education (though he did eventually earn a high school degree). When Philip was nearing his graduation from high school, he recalls announcing to his parents that he might become a plumber or some other type of tradesman. His father stood up, pounded his fist on the table, and said that Philip would be going to college, throwing in a few expletives for effect.

Thanks to his CDGA caddie scholarship, Philip studied premed at Kent State, and then went on to Ohio State for his medical degree. He became an anesthesiologist and instructor at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus. His specialty was administering anesthesia to infants in preparation for open-heart surgery.

When I asked Philip if he needed to maintain a certain grade point average to keep his scholarship, he couldn’t recall, and said he carried a 3.4 at Kent. Like Jack, he’d only been given a two-year scholarship at first, but he was doing so well, they extended it to four. I was just about to give up on finding an answer to my question, when I asked: Wasn’t there any time that you were on the verge of getting a C and were worried about retaining your scholarship?

Thankfully, a long-ago memory tumbled loose.

“You had to have a B average,” he told me with zero uncertainty in his voice. He remembered this because, one semester, he’d earned all B’s, except for a C in physical education, which caused his GPA to dip to 2.85.

“They were going to take my scholarship away,” he told me. He then recalled marching down to the dean’s office, and letting them know that he was in danger of losing his scholarship, and how unfair it would be for him to lose it “just because I can’t play badminton.”

Philip got to keep his scholarship, and he remembers never allowing himself to get into the precarious position again of carrying all B’s in his major subjects. I’m guessing that Ron needed to maintain a B average too, which is why he was taking the proactive steps he was, however detrimental those steps may have been in the grand scheme of things.

In January 1953, near the end of the first semester of Ron’s sophomore year, the CDGA had requested a copy of his transcripts. Because his grade point average was still fine, 3.178 by my calculations, CDGA representatives may have taken note of the fact that he’d dropped below full-time status. Or perhaps it was just a routine inquiry, though there didn’t seem to be a request during his freshman year. News articles indicate that Morrison was diligent in keeping track of how the scholarship recipients were doing academically.

I don’t know why Ron prioritized keeping his GPA above 3.0 over carrying a full course load, despite the implications. He may have reasoned that if he were to lose his scholarship, he’d have no way to continue his studies at Miami. Perhaps he figured that, whether he had a lower GPA with a full course load or a higher GPA with a lower course load, he was destined for the military either way. He might as well go out with more impressive marks.

If Ron were going to be drafted, would that have constituted a crisis for him? If he wanted to get his degree and start making money ASAP, it would have been a setback. But his deferment was just that—a postponement, a delay. The man I spoke with who also had a college deferment said that, as soon as he graduated, he received notices asking him if he was enlisting in the armed forces or waiting to be drafted. (Enlistment was viewed more favorably because you could choose which branch of the military you signed on with and what your role might be.) Either way, he was expected to serve. And it wasn’t as if Ron was opposed to serving in the military. He’d applied for the Naval ROTC at one point, but was turned down because he’d failed the physical.

Maybe there was something else that was causing Ron so much angst—something that might better explain his sudden impulse to consult the Bible, which doesn’t seem to be the typical response to being drafted. Perhaps it had something to do with why he was having trouble keeping up with his classes to begin with.

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Good Man readers/followers: Thank you so much for your interest in and support of this blog. I plan to take the next two or three months off to research some key issues in earnest and will be turning off comments during this period. Enjoy your spring/summer, and please stay tuned.

P.S. To our T-shirt winners: I shipped your T-shirts on Saturday! Thanks for taking the quiz!