Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with James D. Phillips
PHILLIPS: I did that until the end of my service. This was a critical time in my education. We got a lot of publicity when we arrived in Philadelphia and a wealthy widow read about us and decided to donate her husband's library to our unit. The collection consisted of most of the great works of literature. The unit commander asked me to take on the role of “non-commissioned officer for education and training.” This meant that, among other duties, I helped the guys who did not have a high school education get one through correspondence courses. I also had to set up a catalog system for the books. Without a lot of incoming enemy aircraft to occupy us we had free time and I started reading voraciously through the great books. By the time I left the Army in 1955 I had learned a lot. I had matured and I was ready to give college another try.
Q: Sort of an interesting Bible of the military service and what it did. Again, during any of this period had the Foreign Service shown up on your radar at all?
PHILLIPS: Not at all.
Q: Where did you go in 1955?
PHILLIPS: Initially I went back to the University of Wichita, but my father believed that all of his children needed a year abroad. My sisters, both of whom were older than I, had attended the University of Vienna in Austria while I was in the army. This was just after Vienna lost its four-power occupation status and was again the capital of an independent state. The University of Vienna offered a program that allowed students to begin taking classes in English and then gradually move into German. This is what my sisters did and my father suggested I do the same. Wichita University agreed that credits I earned in Vienna would apply to my requirements for graduation. I also found out I could benefit from the GI bill. So I went to Europe in the fall of 1956.
Q: When did you actually get there?
PHILLIPS: The school year started in mid-October. But no sooner had I arrived in Vienna than the Hungarian revolution broke out. The University basically shut down because of the crisis. An unprecedented number of refugees streamed into Austria, especially into Vienna. So students got involved in what we saw as a great adventure. We would go out to the border and stand in the fields waving flashlights until a group of Hungarian refugees saw us and came across. The border was wide open and the Hungarian government did not try to stop them. We would put the refugees onto a hay rack pulled by a tractor which would take them to a farm house where they would be given tea and food. After we had helped two or three groups we would call it a night and go back to Vienna.