INTERVIEW WITH JEAN ASAM
INTERVIEWER: OK, this is extension of 148, 10148. Extension roll 10149, interview with Jean Asam. Jean, can you tell me...
JEAN ASAM: Yes...
INT: (overlap).. first of all, what do you remember about growing up in the Fifties?
JA: OK, well there are a lot of mixed memories, some really wonderful things. I grew up in a little town in New Jersey which was right on the banks of the Delaware River across from Philadelphia, exactly.. sort of right across from the Philadelphia navy yard and it was a lovely community, sort of bedroom community to Philadelphia with, you know, the very comfortable suburbian (sic) environment of lovely homes and tree-covered streets and children can go out and play all day and everyone knew who they were and, you know, it just felt very comfortable doing that. It was absolutely lovely. , nice little elementary school tucked in a few blocks away and you walked there and walked home to lunch and all of that and, you know, everyone had dogs and everyone played after school and was friends and it was absolutely lovely that way. Very nice education and mother stayed home, father went to work and came home with a hat on, you know, and the newspaper under the arm -- the whole Fifties image of the Ozzie and Harriet (laugh) kind of scenario! It was kind of fun that way.
INT: But was underlying feeling of an 'enemy out there'?
JA: Yeah well, on this subject, I mean there was sort of thinking back to what this element that we now call the Cold War .and sort of understand what it was, but back at that time, I do certainly remember being small enough that you could actually fit under your desk and there were these drills, these training kinds of things, when a buzzer or a bell or something went off in the school that you would stand up beside your desk and everyone was trained -- it was taken very seriously -- and we all did it on cue. We'd get up and we stood on the right side of our desk and then at some point went under our little wooden desks and felt totally protected. I mean, this was protecting us from this enemy that was somewhere in the sky or could come into our neighborhood at some point, but we were protected by doing this.
INT: What did you think the enemy were going to do?
JA: Probably I guess we thought the enemy would come in and take us away from our homes, from our parents, somehow. I mean, it was a dangerous feeling that somehow they would harm us or at least separate us from our family. It wouldn't be quite the same. They would come into our neighborhoods and certainly take over.
INT: And who were they?
JA: They were the Russians! (laugh)
INT: (overlap) Who were the Russians?
JA: This enemy! (laugh) This enemy was Russian soldiers. It was sort of the Americans versus the Russians back then and they were sort of the.. sort of the enemy, the bad people that would come in and take over our lifestyle.
INT: Let me ask you..
INT: ...that one more time. Same question, but more... if you could incorporate into your answer more that.. tell me in your answer that the enemy were the Russians and what the drills that you used to go through to protect yourself...
INT: ....and if you could... and also to help me understand the duck and cover...
INT: ....was against atomic bombs dropping...
JA: That's very true...
INT: ..so if you.. could explain that we were frightened that...
JA: Right... right...
INT: ...the Russians were (unintelligible) and this ...(unintelligible)...
INT: Let me ask one more time. What sort of things did you do in the school and why?
JA: Alright. OK. Well, there was this education of us as very young people that there was a danger of the enemy, the Russians, that they somehow were able to send these bombs over to us, the atomic bombs that would destroy us. Or they would come here into our neighborhoods, but the way to protect us from all of this was that we would sort of duck and cover ourselves in the schools and we would get under our desks and stay there until we were told to come out or, in some cases, in some of the classrooms we had coat-rooms off to the side of each classroom and we'd walk through and we'd get our coat and we'd go out into the hallways and we would literally put the coats over our heads and duck down facing against the wall and we would stay that way for the time period that we were told to do, and in that way we thought we were protecting ourselves from the bombs and from any damage that would be done to us. We felt totally secure and protected. And then another signal would come where the teacher would say 'it's all over' and we'd hang up our coats and go back to the classroom, feeling that we were totally protected from everything. (laugh)
INT: But how seriously was this taken?
JA: Very seriously. As youngsters, we felt this was a very serious thing to do, not only because our teachers told us to do it but it was sort of we were doing it for our country. You know, our country was telling us to do this exercise and we were playing our role, we were doing what our government, our country, was telling us to protect ourselves and if they said to do that's what we were going to do. So it was taken very seriously.
INT: When did it start to occur to you that a coat over your head might not be protection against an atom bomb?
JA: (laughing through question) , well, I'm not quite sure exactly when but I think there was a point that that sort of stopped as I recall probably. I mean, you would get a little bit bigger and you certainly can't fit under your desk or into the hallways and maybe there was a time period in history where it wasn't quite so serious, maybe I'm thinking back and in '56 maybe as far as that element of the atomic bomb dropping, but then other things started to come into play. You know, more the Sputnik which became very very important in the school system and there was a lot of talk, a lot of energy put back into the sciences .and math in school and I can certainly remember this thing of going back to the basics of education and talking about Sputnik and how they sort of 'did it first' kind of thing and we really have to get together and again we were doing it for our country kind of thing, and a lot of talks about how 'now we need to focus on our education so that we can get into this, the space race' kind of thing (sirens in background) and that that was very very important. Sputnik was really, I mean, that was very very clearly something that they did first and we did second -- or didn't do! (laugh) Which was not.. not good! (laugh)
INT: Why was Sputnik so important, do you think?
JA: Well looking back on at least...
(Break in tape)