Notes on My Life at Virginia Tech

by Col. Harvey E. Sheppard

Class of 1932

I had devoured the Bulletin of VPI for the 1928-29 session, including such gems as registration fee is $10, $5 of which will be refunded if all fees are paid by Thursday, September 20, 1928; all students will live in dormitories (barracks) and eat in the Cadet dining room (mess hall) and have their laundry done in cadet laundry! We were told to report by Tuesday, September 18, 1928 and register at the War Memorial Hall. At this time rooms were to be assigned. No mention was made of the need for a mattress which were available from some enterprising cadets for $1.00 (straw) or five dollars--better.

I duly left home in Front Royal on Tuesday morning and took the train to Blacksburg. Buying a ticket to Blacksburg insured that my trunk would go to Blacksburg, but my friend Winifred Herr ('30) assured me that none ever went from Cambria to Blacksburg by train since it took an hour if one was lucky. Everyone was by custom, supposed to detrain at Cambria and take a bus--taxi to Blacksburg at the cost of 0.50. I happened to be in the same taxi with Ed Jones from Washington, A, whom I had known. He was to end up in A company. I was only 16 and not very tall so--signing up for the infantry--I was assigned to B company by the First Sergeant, Andy Anderson from Winchester. The long line at registration was followed by another long line for uniforms and finally reached a room to find that I had two roommates, J. H. Lillard from Madison and Perkins from Cartersville, Virginia. I took the single bed while they had the twin double decker. The room was very sparse, but we finally acquired three chairs and an extra table. Our clothes were hung on a rod suspended from the ceiling by the wires in the corner of the room. The beds and a wash basin completed the furnishings. Lillard had been to summer school the preceding summer and was able to make some suggestions as to how we could improve our living quarters, We scrounged a book case and later bought some material to make a crude curtain to hang around our clothes and uniforms. Lillard possessed that rare luxury a desk lamp that we arranged with a cord to the single light outlet in the center of the ceiling.

Our room was the front corner room on the fourth floor of Barracks No.__, adjoining A Company. The floors in the hall ways were wooden, and the stairwells were backed by a solid board wall extending all the way down to the basement. In the basement were the toilets, shower room, and in those days the barber shop of John the Barber, the only one in the quadrangle.

The general arrangement of rooms were Freshmen and Sophomores on the first and fourth floors, Juniors on the third and Seniors on the second floor. There were some exceptions but this was the general pattern. We were issued keys to our rooms and I hold a receipt for the $.50 deposit I paid. They were never used and were eventually discarded or turned in. The doors remained open since one had to leave in a hurry when "called," and using a key was too much trouble.

A Class Ticket was issued on registration showing the classes for which I was responsible. Later we each had to post on the door "hi" cards listing each class and hour of the day with space to 'sign out' one's absence if necessary when the square was not otherwise taken up by a listed class. My registration for the first quarter was $133 with an additional $110 for uniform. The upper right corner of the "hi" card had a space for the "Yes" if one was on room orderly. While in this position any deficiency in the room in any way was charged to the Room Orderly and he was "stuck" the suitable number of demerits for the infraction.

The annual Thanksgiving football game with VMI occurred in Roanoke November 29, 1928. My parents were coming down to visit the Wayland's in Roanoke that weekend, and I had obtained leave to be with them. I received a telegram from father that they had car trouble in Lexington. Since I had already obtained leave I hitched a ride to Roanoke, not knowing where the Waylands lived. Fortunately they were the only ones in the telephone directory, and I called them. My sister answered the phone so all was safe! I had contracted a bad cold but went on to the game. I became so sick during the game that I remember little of it except that we lost and the VMI cadets destroyed the goal posts. At the Waylands they put me to bed and the next day took be to Blacksburg and the Cadet hospital. Where I had a mild case of the flu. They released me the next morning, and I had Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday with Corps. This dinner was always something special. The following Tuesday I went on guard duty with Perkins pulling the 6-8 shift. The guard was on two and off four for the 24 hour tour. This was the last time Perkins ever stood guard he did not return after Christmas of that year.

The following Friday I went on sick list with a bad ear ache and infection, but it did not last long. Because of the flu epidemic that swept the Corps until all the hospital beds were full and more than 300 in the Corps were down with it they decided to release us for Christmas a week early and to postpone examinations until our return in January. Each of us had a form for approval and signature of the Health Office (Dr. Woolwine) before we were permitted to leave. I was much better and was glad to leave for home.

The second quarter started with my $110 dollars in fees. This quarter had the usual schedule and hi card and the usual "rat" system harassment. It was featured by a new thing--the upperclassmen decided we were not sufficiently identified and decreed that we should each wear a white belt with out names stenciled on it so that we could be identified from the back. I suppose it helped--anyway it stuck for rat classes for years to come. Of course, we had to pay for this adornment! I still have my belt, and it has been given to the VPI historical collection along with my scrap book.

When February 26th dawned there was a full 7 inches of snow on the ground. Since the year before had not enough snow for the traditional snow battle, the sophomores were to be pitted against us in this battle of battles! Well organized by the two upper classes it turned out to be quite a battle, and I remember little of it except that I got trounced as I was rubbing another sophomore's face in the snow.

I forgot to mention that after defeating University of North Carolina in football the previousfFall we Rats had to scrub a vast array of numerals and '32's painted all over the barracks and side walks of the quadrangle. We used bricks from a large pile that was used for construction of a new power plant. The brick I used all that Sunday afternoon was worn smooth and polished by the constant scrubbing with sand. I kept that brick for many years and finally left it behind when I sold my home on Cheyenne Trail in Maitland, FL in 1989. In the meanwhile it traveled all over with my many moves in the Army.

As a freshman I began to work on the circulation staffs of the Virginia Tech and the VPI Skipper. I also went out for the "Tech Scandal" show of the Dramatic Club and made the "girls" chorus.

There were the usual banquets of the Company--the Shenandoah Valley Club and the Tech Staff. There was also a birthday party at the home of Doris Price, Lillard's girlfriend. There were also church socials, and we had chances to meet the local Blacksburg girls. One of them, Alice Pedigo was a favorite of mine, and we used to do a lot of singing at her home. Both of the Pedigo girls could play. Alice eventually married a classmate of mine. Then came Commencement and the recognition of the Rats by the Corps. In those days one had to submit an application for readmission, and my application was duly approved and signed by Dean Williams.

Back again for my second year in the Corps--Lillard and I getting our old room on the fourth floor front corner. Perkins, as I have said, did not return. So many did not--it was depression times, and many simply had no money. Our classes lost about a hundred men between those two years. During the summer the barracks had been redone with concrete hallways and stairs, a major improvement! Both Lillard and I were privates, but we liked our old room. We had both purchased two comfortable old beat up lounge or "Morris" chairs from two seniors of the past year, and we were really quite comfortable. We both had busy jobs on the publications and returned early so we could size up the most likable Rats and obtain from them high quality room service! One fine man, Rat Elam was to get us in trouble later, but that is another story.

On November 1st there was a fine Halloween Party at the home of Professor Stahl. He taught biology and lived in a house just back of E Company. Mrs. Stahl had been an old friend of my mother's, and my parents usually stayed there when they visited me. They had a daughter, Julia, whom I came to know well. It was a fine party I well remember. There was a son, Bill, in the class ahead of me.

In the Tech Scandal show I was lead dancer in the chorus, and we had a good year with shows in Pulaski, Alta Vista, Radford and Harrisonburg. We also helped in local plays; one sponsored by the local Lions Club in which I played Gloria Swanson!

Thanksgiving Day went as usual with Dad and Mother coming down. I was circulation manager of the Skipper, and also on the Virginia Tech Staff. I designed the cover for the Christmas Dance Program of the Shenandoah Valley Club, at Winchester. I think I took Mary Dunn and this time drove the car myself! This year my old friend Andy was Captain of the Company, and it was a good year with B Company almost capturing the drill prize. The Shakespeare Players came to the School to present Macbeth and Julius Caesar. The Dramatic Club furnished people for the mob scenes and background players.

This year it was decided that I was too tall for the Girl's chorus in the Scandals, so I was assigned to the Men's Chorus. At least there was not the big mess of costume changes which at times has been as many as 9.

One's junior year is always important because of more privileges and a feeling of increased responsibility. The academic work this year was the most difficult I had ever experienced. My time for studying was limited and--let's face it--I was involved in too many other things--dating at Radford and endless writing to a host of girls. The Tech Scandals of 1931 was a good show, and we played all over again. I also fitted in a YMCA convention at William and Mary, February 6-8, 1931.

In March we ordered our White Platt Uniform for our Senior year ($18.90 complete). We also ordered our sabers, class ring, and other Senior paraphernalia. My best sophomore assistant on the Tech died tragically this year, J. Mills. The Corps had a special memorial formation for him. At the end of the year I was named Business Manager of the Tech for my Senior Year. I had invited Mary Dunn down to the Final Ball but she could not come. I believe I took Mary White from Radford instead.

I received orders for ROTC Camp for the Chemical Corps at Edgewood Arsenal Maryland. Previously Figg and I had bought an old Model T Ford to go to camp in, but I sold my interest and went with Eddie Garrigan on the purchase of a Chevrolet later to be painted orange and maroon.

There were six of us from VPI, and we had a big time. One night a large group of us bought out a row at the Gayety Theater in Baltimore. What a night that was--the girls put on a special show for us. Dated Kay Osborne from Aberdeen and went to a lot of dances. Passed my Red Cross Examiners Test and in later years I taught a number of classes in Red Cross Life Saving. The records of my ROTC Camp I filed with the Chemical Corps Museum in Ft. McClellan, Alabama.

My busy senior year came with a change of Companies. I had been commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Company D, and roomed on the second floor front corner room of D Company with Bill Ford and Charlie Kabrick. It was a busy year with many jobs on the Skipper Staff, President of the Dramatic Club, in the Pi Delta Epsilon and other things. I had my own office in the Academic Building. The Virginia Intercollegiate Press Association met at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg that year. Ann Hargrave was the Treasurer and really made that convention a terrific time. We had a large contingent from VPI. There were trips to Roanoke on Tech business. Games at Roanoke and Richmond. We spent the weekend at Bill Ford's home at Appomattox Court House on the way to the Richmond game. The Scandal show did little that year. An English Prof. tried to stage a Gilbert and Sullivan but that fizzled as everyone was too busy. I was a leader of the figure at the Christmas Ball of the Shenandoah Valley Club. I went to a fancy ball at Southern Seminary. Was invited with seven others to the Fancy Dress Ball at Washington & Lee University which I attended. I was also one of the VPI Cadets invited to escort the Queen at the Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom Festival at Winchester. It was a crowded busy yea,r and I took up pipe smoking for the first time in my life. It helped to quiet the tension we worked under constantly.

An important event of my senior year in D Company was the squirrel "Tech." Bill Grinus had rescued a lone surviving baby squirrel from some boys and brought it to the barracks. Ford, Charlie and I decided to adopt it and obtained the help of the freshmen to keep it provided with food from the mess hall and milk which we fed by eye dropper. It grew into a magnificent animal and made itself quite at home in our room. During the holidays Bill took it to a friend of his in Buena Vista, who raised squirrels. This was to be the final destination for Tech when we graduated. It became a fine part of our lives and gave us many memories we cherished for years. I can't tell all the stories about him in this space, but there were many. He would love to sprawl out on my hand and arm when I was writing and loved chewing on my fingers. What a pet!

Financially the Tech had a very hard time, and I had to borrow some money to pay our bills at the last weeks. But I handled it somehow--it was a struggle. In February I did get Mary Dunn and her sister down to a set of dances. Her sister later married her date.

I am writing this in 1990 and it is hard to recall many things after all these years. I had Kay Osborne down for the final dance and graduation. Kay was a good pal, and there was nothing intimate between us. In later years she went to Philadelphia and married a guy that I hope was good to her.

My father had a nervous breakdown this year, and I had to take emergency leave to go home. In Staunton I was picked up by Senator Harry Byrd and his wife returning from Lexington where his son was a student at VMI. They took me over to Riverton near Front Royal out of their way to do me a favor. They were great people.

I graduated although I was too young to take the oath for a Reserve Commission. I was the youngest in my class and was only twenty. I had to come back the next year for that, and I did--to take a year of graduate work. There were no jobs anywhere, and I could live cheaper at School with no tuition to pay. Mother was down for my graduation and took me home in the old '29 Hupmobile.

It was a great life with no regrets. If I had it all to do over there is nothing I would have changed. Perhaps studied harder but that is all. I was not a smart student, but I was an honest one and lived my young years to the fullest. I was wonderfully blessed and for that I am eternally grateful.

--Harvey E. Sheppard '32
Col. USA Retired

{ Return to Reminiscence }