In the shadow of Virginia Tech, RPCV Sandra Lee Anderson remembers those killed by a gunman at the University of Texas
August 1, 1966–Our Peace Corps training class of 35 was ending its first Turkish class of the day. It was noon, and we anticipated the long walk across the 95-degree University of Texas campus to lunch.
We were a standard set of recent liberal arts graduates, a profile of what the Peace Corps wanted for a Muslim nation. We had a few sets of married couples, and some of us seemed square. I might have fit that description, but I had taken the role of smart aleck, out of character if you know me today. We had a group comedian, Bob Zahn, a tall, blonde, happy-go-lucky math major who didn’t seem to know where he was going. If anyone seemed to hear a different drummer, one with an upbeat cadence, it was Bob. A few of our guys joined to avoid the draft and being shot at in the Vietnam War. Strange irony.
We were Turkey-13, the 13th group. We studied Turkish language morning and afternoon. Grateful for lunch break, we gathered up our books and disregarded the pop, pop in the distance. It had started a little before class ended.
I didn’t glance at the tower of the University of Texas as I walked down the wide set of cement stairs of the old classroom building. I edged over to the right to hold the cement banister. Slowly, one at a time is how I had to take those stairs, always leading with my left leg.
Playing soccer, the national sport in Turkey, earlier that month, I had torn the cartilage of my left knee. I remember waking up lying on the grass. I stood, with help, then locked my left leg and walked, peg-leg fashion, back to the motel, explaining to everyone that I was fine and knew how to handle this. Halfway back, I gritted at the pain and wondered why I was so foolish to not accept help. But I knew: Nothing was going to keep me from going to Turkey with the Peace Corps.
Peg-legging down those stairs, I wondered what was going on.
The lawn was green, the trees full. Hot is usual for Austin, but not unpleasant. The tower, a 307-foot looming building, commanded the university landscape. Below the surmounting clock was the 28th Floor Observation Deck extending around all sides so visitors could see the far reaches of the University and the city of Austin. Encasing the platform was a thick wall with six-inch slits above the drain spouts. Perfect for a sniper.
I was headed for the tower. Intervening was Garrison Hall, and my view of the observation deck slowly slipped behind that building. About a block north over to my right, something was going on.
“A .30 caliber,” noted Gary Medlin, a trainee from Kentucky, his head cocked. “A magnum projectile carries farther.”
That’s the first I realized we were listening to gunshots from high-caliber rifles and handguns. I decided to stick with Gary: He knew what he was doing. Read more.
RPCVs remember Thomas Ashton
Training to serve in: Iran
Died in: USA
Cause of Death: hemorrhage, cardia ar: gunshot to heart
Cause of death category: homicide
Notes: Trainee was killed instantly by sniper fire while crossing U/Tex campus traing site. # dead unk. At least 33 wounded. Sniper killed by police. Read more.
Read more about Peace Corps Turkey.
Read more about Peace Corps Iran.
Read more about the Peace Corps Fallen.