The Veteran Experience
GIs returning from WWII found a home — warts and all— at Georgia State
I went into service immediately after high school when the war was just getting started, in August of 1942. I was discharged in 1946 and in 1948 entered the University of Georgia in Athens, where I lived on a government subsidy augmented by my poker winnings from the Marines. When those ran out, I moved my credits to what was at the time known as the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia, located in the old parking building behind the Hurt building, so I could work and go to school at the same time. I got a job at a company called the Tennessee Corporation, which was in the Grant Building, about three or four blocks from the school.
The student body at the time was real heavy with veterans because all of a sudden we just flooded the schools, you know? And some of us were older than the professors. All I’ll say about that is that some of those guys teaching, in fact a good many of them, felt like a lot of us didn’t belong in college. In fact, I had one who had the audacity to announce to us one day that most of us didn’t belong in college, that we were sons of the soil — implying that we should go back to the farm and plant potatoes, leaving higher education to people like him.
One of the men stood up and said, “I may be a son of the soil, but you’re a son of a bitch!” and just walked out of class.
And I remember one who gave me an F for spelling the word ax a-x-e. He wrote me a note that said, “It’s a good composition, but university students ought to know how to spell.”
But, then again, one of the professors commented to me that there was a difference because we were more serious and we were there eager to learn. She had been teaching for a long time, and she was pleased at the opportunity to teach veterans because after serving three or four years we seemed to be a little more mature than what she was used to.
I was in the Delta Sigma Pi fraternity, and we were great competitors with Alpha Kappa Psi. We had bought some property out around Tucker and built a lodge out there — and we lorded it over the AK Psi boys because we had that lodge — so the big thing on Saturday night was having an invitation to Delta Sig lodge. It had a great big room with a fireplace on both ends. The pledges always had to cook for the brothers and their dates, and then we’d have music and card games and dancing — always a big crowd on a Saturday night.
The school wanted for us evening students and veterans to be part of the student body, and that’s where the fraternities and some of the social activities fit in. We didn’t feel separated from the other group at all. In fact, a lot of the evening students had been full-time students earlier and now they had an opportunity to switch to three nights a week and still work. There was great emphasis put on the fact that they didn’t cut us any slack. We had to measure up. They weren’t easing up on us just because we’d been to work or because we were veterans.
I met fellow student Betty Turner at the fraternity lodge one night in 1950, and after that she was the only one in the world for me. We married in 1953 and both interrupted our studies when our son, John, was born. I worried about not finishing my degree. It really pulled my heartstrings to leave them at home, but I did go back and finish. Betty made the decision to stay at home and be a homemaker. By that time the school had become Georgia State College of Business Administration. Since I believe most of the graduating class had spent most of their time as the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia, we were given the choice to graduate as University of Georgia or the new Georgia State College. I believe most of the class chose to go Georgia State, as did I. I’ve never regretted that at all.
John C. Pope (B.B.A. ’57) has owned and operated John C. Pope Enterprises as a general contractor, building single-family homes for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Betty, live in Destin, Fla.