National Endowment for the Humanities chair speaks at Gonzaga

Monday, November 14, 2016

By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – William D. Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, told a packed crowd in Cataldo Hall on Monday night how the study of the humanities helped him make sense of his experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War and how it can help other veterans.

In the lecture sponsored by Gonzaga University’s new Center for Public Humanities, Adams relayed his own experience to underscore the “profoundly connected” ways that an individual story and a nation’s collective narrative converge for veterans and how the humanities can help them make sense of their experiences.

Adams said he enlisted in the Army in the summer following his freshman year at Colorado College.

“That was the beginning of a three-year experience that was more complicated, more intense, more interesting and more varied than anything I had ever experienced in my life,” said Adams, who graduated from officer candidate school before being sent in 1968 to a remote part of the Mekong Delta.

After what he described as an “enormously difficult, complicated but extraordinarily interesting year,” Adams survived and returned to the United States in late spring of 1969. The day after being discharged from the Army, Adams went to the University of California at Berkeley campus and experienced one of the most cataclysmic moments in the anti-war movement with a demonstration at People’s Park. With police and National Guard troops on the ground and helicopters overhead, “we decided it was better to not be there,” said Adams who returned to San Francisco with friends. Later, they learned that student James Rector had been shot to death.

“I was pretty much at a total loss to understand what was happening in my country. That experience of seeing the country coming unglued right in front of me added to a level of confusion and struggle,” he said. Read more.