The GI Bill

I graduated from Susan Moore High School in May of 1944 at the age of 16.  This is a somewhat awkward time to finish.  You are not really mature enough to be a man, but your basic schooling is over.

I read of an army specialized program, which would have been somewhat like college with army training.  I qualified on the written test and rode the bus to Birmingham for the physical.  Much to my surprise, the army doctor said I did not pass.  World War II was in progress and jobs were there for the asking.  I couldn't wait to get away from the farm, so I went to Birmingham and secured employment.  I worked at the airport doing modification work on the B29 airplane.

The war ended in August of 1945 when I was still only seventeen, still too young for the draft.  In October of 1945, I reached age 18 and became draft able.  Soon thereafter I received my draft greetings and was carried by bus to Fort McClellan for the physical.  As you might expect there was no problem with my physical condition, so I became a soldier.

At the time I had no inkling of what a significant event becoming a member of the military was.  The importance was not physical since I entered weighing 147 pounds, and some eighteen months later at discharge I weighed 149 pounds.  The importance was not mental since I had no courses or training that would help in a civilian career.  But the big item was I had the GI Bill, which made me eligible for some 30 months of college.

To my knowledge, at that time there had never been a relative on either side of my family, going back to great uncles and aunts, who had any college education whatsoever.  So in the fall quarter of 1947 I broke new ground for the Weems, Smith, Robertson,and Hill families.

I wish I could say I was a great student with intense motivation, but I was not.  But I never failed a class and followed the required courses to the letter.  Some thirty-three months later I graduated with a BS in education with a major in math and received the Class B Professional Teaching Certificate.  Thus, for the first time in history, a Weems was a college graduate.

Perhaps some discussion of the benefits of the GI Bill might be in order.  So long as the student did satisfactory work, the government bought all the books, paid all tuition and fees, and paid the student $70 per month if single, $105 per month if married.  This made very easy to go to college.  Without this aid there is no way I could or would have gone.  I had already been out of school more than three years, had little money, and my parents had a family to care for and could not help.

In June of 1950 when I received my diploma I still did not realize what a magic wand a college degree was.  I immediately obtained a job teaching school and taught for some four years.  After four years of teaching I wanted greater opportunity and used my GI Bill obtained diploma to open yet another door of opportunity, which offered the chance to earn a significant income and enjoy challenging work.  Without the diploma I would not have qualified since a college graduate degree was required.

For the remainder of my working years I worked in the insurance field, earning in excess of $2,400,000 in salaries and paying to date more than $1,500,000 in federal income taxes.

How important was the GI Bill? Without it I would have been a factory worker or maybe a farmer with limited opportunity.  Not only was the GI Bill good for me, it was also good for the government as their investments was returned many times.

Just a thought- perhaps it would be wise to offer every qualified student the opportunity for a college degree.

While I may have been the first family college graduate, I was not the last.  As my family became more affluent and educationally aware, there have been some eight more graduates.  Now it is hoped each child will consider college.

NEXT: Friday's Crossing