Syracuse University Magazine


Thank You, Uncle Sam

By George Marotta

With $900 in my savings account, I started college at Syracuse University in September 1944 during World War II. I selected Syracuse because I had a free railroad pass (my father worked on the New York Central Railroad) and I could travel frequently by train between my hometown of Albany, New York, and Syracuse. Because I had been student president of Schuyler High School in Albany, and with the help of my campaign manager George Archer ’49, I ran for freshman president at SU. However, I lost to Duane Truex ’47, a returning wounded veteran. In December, I completed one semester and had $300 left. Then, in January 1945, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and served two years as an infantryman in the Philippines and Japan.

When I returned to Syracuse in January 1947, I had the advantage of the GI Bill, which paid for one month of college for each of the 24 months of my military service.  With that benefit, I was able to get a degree in political science, and it also paid for half of my master’s degree in public administration at the Maxwell School. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known informally as the GI Bill, gave 2.2 million veterans the benefit of a college education. This huge educational benefit was a shot in the arm for the U.S. economy, which after a short downturn, advanced and greatly increased the standard of living of many Americans.

When I returned from military service, it was difficult to purchase a car because none were made during the war and cars were scarce. However, I found a 1929 Dodge Brothers’ car that was in excellent shape. A widow in Albany had it up on blocks in her garage. There was a crack in the glass of the rear taillight. When I asked her if the light worked, she replied she did not know as they drove it only on Sunday afternoons!
My large four-door Dodge Brothers’ car was very attention-getting. It had white wooden-spoke wheels, tasseled shades on the rear windows, and large shiny chromed headlights. However, there were problems. It had split rims that made it difficult to change tubes and tires. Also, the old tires had dried out and they no longer made tires of that size. So I made frequent visits to car junkyards. In the cold winters of Syracuse, getting the motor going required using the push-button starter and a crank.

To help meet expenses in college, I waited on tables in a coed dorm (Sims). Bettina  Lestoque ’49, one of my coworkers, invited me to a dance at her residence where I met and later married June Mortlock, a sophisticated coed from the New York City area, after she graduated in 1948.  

There were three or four times as many students at Syracuse University after the war than before, and housing was very scarce. June and I rented a trailer from the University for the huge sum of $25 a month! The Tecumseh Trailer Park was in a former apple orchard out on Nottingham Road adjacent to the beautiful Drumlins Country Club, and was very pleasant during the summer time. It was difficult in the winter, however, because the trailer was heated by kerosene and the bathroom was across the street.

All of the residents of the trailer park were students and we were a very cooperative community. I was in charge of the summer outdoor movies. We saved old newspapers and sold them to a recycling company. With the proceeds, we rented films to show at our weekly motion picture socials.

If we didn’t have the GI Bill, I would have gone back to college anyway, but it was much easier with it. After graduating, I easily passed the federal government oral and written entrance exams because of the training I had received at the Maxwell School. I served for 25 years as a career civil servant in the U.S. government. Thank you, again, Uncle Sam!

George Marotta ’50, G’51 lives in Palo Alto, California. In addition to his distinguished career in government service, he is a longtime research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, specializing in international finance.