By Joe Rector
The young people of today are suffering mightily right now. They face the realization each day of school that some crazed individual with an assault rifle might enter the building and begin shooting. For years now, students have practiced hiding in corners of classrooms or closets during drills. Those exercises have become as routine as monthly fire drills. It’s a sorry state of affairs when such things become a part of the school routine. The truth is that folks my age participated in drills that were every bit as frightening.
The tensions between the U.S. and Russia in the 1960s struck fear into the hearts of all people. When the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, most folks wonder when, not if, a nuclear war would begin. Families invested chunks of money in fallout shelters in their back yards and stocked them with enough supplies to survive. Cities and towns designated subways and other basements as shelters for people.
Schools also prepared for attacks. Many of us remember the bell that set students into a frenzy. A whirlwind of action began as students dropped to the floor, scooted under their desks, and covered their heads with textbooks. These steps were to protect children from the blast of a nuclear device.
Once a year, all schools in the area had a different kind of nuclear drill. When directed, teachers dismissed classes, and children gathered into groups according to the communities in which they lived (Ball Camp, Solway, Hardin Valley, and Lovell Road). After assembling, assigned teachers led students to roads. From young children in elementary schools to seniors in high schools, students began the walk home. Some lived several miles from the school, but that made no difference.
The supposed logic behind this drill was that if a nuclear war began, transportation home would not be available. The only means by which children could reach their homes and families was by walking. The entire afternoon passed as children dropped out of long lines at their driveways. At some point, all students arrived safely home, even though parents were still at work.
In addition to walking home, students wore dog tags just like the ones worn by soldiers. On them were stamped the child’s name, address and the letter “C” or “P.” Authorities told us that the tags would help children if they became lost during a crisis. What we later found out was the tags contained information that would identify our bodies and designate our religious affiliations for burial purposes.
In hindsight, we can see just how ridiculous the hiding under desks, walking home, and dog tags actually were. As close to Oak Ridge as Knoxville is located, it is widely accepted that nuclear strikes would hit there and that the entire area would be vaporized. If anyone were unfortunate enough to survive the blasts, the impending sickness and death from radiation exposure would lead to a horrific end.
I worry about our young people who live with the possibility of experiencing a school shooting. No child should have to live with such fears. At the same time, ideas such as arming teachers and/or volunteers to “protect” schools is every bit as absurd as the desk hiding, student walking, and dog tag wearing ideas were in the ‘60s. We can only hope that or leaders come up with more sensible, workable solutions for today’s children.