- Historic Sites
America looked good to a high school senior then, and that year looks wonderfully safe to us now, but it was a time of tumult for all that, and there were plenty of shadows along with the sunshine
December 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 8
That year we sent 105 U.S. Air Force technicians to South Vietnam to service World War II-surplus B-26 bombers.
So when the French were defeated on May 7 by a Vietnamese army at a place called Dien Bien Phu and withdrew from North Vietnam after a Geneva conference that separated Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel, the United States took over the job of stopping the Reds in Southeast Asia, installing Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the Republic or South Vietnam. We sent 105 U.S. Air Force technicians there to service World War II-surplus B-26 bombers. At home that same month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that the government had the right to deport former members of the Communist party.
Two of the forces moving 1954, television and Joe McCarthy, converged toward the end of the year. Only a couple of months after the Senate had almost unanimously voted to finance McCarthy’s investigations of Communists in government in February, Edward R. Murrow, the most respected of the new television newsmen, devoted three unfriendly hours of his CBS documentary series See It Now to the senator and his tactics. There was little comment from Murrow, but the exposure showed a sorry string of contradictions and lies from a zealot without scruples. Then, from April 22 to June 17, McCarthy’s investigations subcommittee conducted the Army hearings—187 hours, most of them on television. The senator thought that exposure would take him to new levels of fame and power, but it destroyed him. There was no place to hide from the hot lights, and he was revealed—a liar, a nasty, dirty man. With public opinion turned around, on December 2, 1954, the same senators who had funded him ten months earlier voted 67 to 22 to “condemn” Joseph McCarthy.
At the end of that month, the seniors at Lincoln High got their yearbooks. The theme of The Quill was “Veni, Vidi, Vici.” The class will by Jeannette Allen—"Quo Vadis”—showed that most of us expected to be teachers, nurses, or housewives, soldiers, clerks, or mechanics. We said that the quarterback of the football team, Jimmy McMahon, would go far, but it was his son of the same name who got to the Super Bowl in 1986 with the Chicago Bears. The class essay was written by Frank Finnerty, the son of a policeman, my best friend at Lincoln. His voice was pure:
“In the past few decades our storehouse of technical knowledge has increased by leaps and bounds and shows every sign of its continuance on an ever-increasing scale. . . . Our country is known as the stronghold of democracy, free enterprise and equal opportunity for all; however, on the debit side of the ledger, corruption and graft in politics disgust the conscientious citizen.” (We were from Jersey City, after all.) “Dark-age discrimination against certain religious and racial factions persists because of an unreasoning, blind hatred passed down from father to son. This dislike is continued on a bigger scale in the form of international jealousies which, along with fears stemming from old wounds still smartins from orevious world conflicts, cause dissension in the ranks of the world community and impede progress toward the ultimate elusive goal of total global peace. . . .
“As mankind’s mass mind matures with the passage of time, the petty prejudices of the preceding generations will vanish, and thus unshackled from the shortcomings of ‘human’ nature, man’s inventive genius will forge a better world for posterity. If this statement is not true, men have an excellent chance of vaporizing themselves in a cloud of radioactive dust.”
So it seemed in 1954 when we began. Frank Finnerty went on to Princeton, graduated as an engineer, and then designed warplanes for Grumman Aircraft on Long Island.