Q&A with Captain Angus Deming ’44

After graduating Andover, Captain Angus Deming ’44 found himself in the midst of the Korean War, serving as Rifle Platoon Commander of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. On June 2, 1951, Deming was ordered to “take hill 800,” an assault in which Deming led his platoon up a well-defended enemy slope. The day was won at the cost of much fighting and 52 Marines dead or injured. For his actions on this day, Deming was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the third highest personal decoration in the U.S. military for valor.

This Thursday, Deming visited Andover campus for the 8th Annual Veterans Program and Dinner. As part of Andover’s annual observance of Veterans Day, Deming spoke as this year’s keynote speaker.

How did you first come to Andover?

One reason I came was because I have Andover heritage here. My grandfather attended Andover during the Civil War. My father, uncle, and older brother all attended Andover before, so it’s in the family. My father was, I believe, a friend of the headmaster, as it was called, so there was already a family background.

I came as an Upper and graduated in 1944. This is during World War II, and at that time they had an accelerated program. You could begin a term in the summer and instead of graduating in June, you could graduate in January or February. The reason for that was that there was a draft, and as soon as you reached 18, you became immediately subject to the draft. You could be drafted before you graduated high school.

So, they accelerated the program so that if you turn 18, as I did, before the normal graduation, you would have your diploma… At one point, I was in that program, but then I changed and graduated in June.

What did you do after graduating Andover?

My class graduated two days after D-Day when the allies landed in France. So, I went on active duty almost immediately after graduation. I served in the navy training program along with several other Andover graduate… Sometime after World War II ended… we either stayed in the navy reserve or the army reserve. When the Korean War broke out, then-President Harry Truman activated the entire Marine Corp Reserve and we had to go on active duty. I went on active duty as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corp along with my college roommates. All of us, we all trained together in brief training and then were sent immediately to Korea.

It’s much different now these days if you’re in the Marine Corp. A lieutenant will train for almost a four year before being sent abroad, but in our case, we just trained for 10 weeks. So we were sent immediately to Korea and immediately into combat and began taking casualties immediately.

What do you remember about your time at Andover?

It was a good time. I was happy here. I had made friends easily and really enjoyed my time here. At that time, they had fraternities here… They were sort of like secret societies. They weren’t Greek fraternities, such as you still find in many colleges. They were specific to [and] unique to Andover. I think [there were] six of them. One of them, now called Graham Hall, I think was originally one of the fraternities.

My closest friend was captain of the lacrosse team. We served in the Marine Corp together. [I] made very good friends. That’s one thing I particularly remember about Andover. It’s the friendships I made here that lasted the rest of my life.

When I came back here… I was always kind of overwhelmed when I came back here. It’s so big. I need a map. One time I came back. I got in my car and I was driving around the campus, and it was so big. It was kind of an overwhelming experience coming back in a long time, and there are so many changes that have been made and new buildings and kind of remembering, ‘Oh yes, I remember that building.’ I was trying to remember things from the past. But it was kind of a dawning experience. Socially, it’s a very different place. What I mean by that is when I was there, it was all boys. We had to wear a jacket and tie, everywhere. The dress code was much stricter. It was basically sports jackets, gray flannel trousers, a button down shirt and a necktie. That was kind of standard. But you had some choices as to what you wanted to wear, but it was very formal in that sense.

What is it like seeing all the change that Andover has gone through?

Sometimes, when you’ve been away, things look smaller. But here, things seem to look bigger. A very common thing among Andover graduates, and I hear this same comment from time to time, even recently, is that college is a bit of a let-down after Andover. I found that so. Courses in college were not as rigorous. I had expected something a little more. I remember somebody commented recently, who had gone to Andover and then Yale. And he said that based on the rigor of the courses and so on, he should have gone to Yale first and then Andover. When I look at Andover now and see the beauty of it and all that is here to be offered in every conceivable way, the courses, athletics, [and] everything, I wonder, ‘Why bother with college?’ I mean, what do you do after this? And I don’t know. Anybody to come here these days is very fortunate to be here. I’m sure it’s very selective… [and it’s] become a magnet for the world.

In my case, at that time, there were two students in my class from England and one from China. And it was a wartime class and they were here basically because of the war. The Chinese student had… to get away from the war because China had been at war with Japan… I don’t know how all of this happened but obviously, various things along the way, he was adopted by a family somewhere in the midwest and he became their son. He had grown up in a very traditional, Chinese family of that era. His father had several wives. He was known at home as ‘number 14 son.’ Not by his name, [but] number 14. So, he arrived in this country knowing very little English, but he was very determined, he was smart, and he managed to be admitted at Andover. And then he learned English and graduated and went from Andover to Harvard, and he had played on the soccer team here and played on the soccer team at Harvard and became quite successful. So that was an unusual story.

Anyway, it was a good class, a very good class. And some of the friends and classmates became quite prominent in one way or another. We were well trained here at Andover. I think that when I come back here, at first it takes me awhile to get used to being here because the appearance of students is so different. Nobody wears a necktie now.

I showed my wife [the Mural room]. We went on a quick… walkthrough of the library. I wanted her to see that wonderful mural in the reading room. When I was here, that was a very quiet room and there were a couple of sofas or something. But it was really almost museum-like. And now, people are sitting at tables and studying and of course, the library itself at that time was much smaller. It was the original Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.

Here’s another thing that has radically changed. If you were an Upper, at the end of study hour, you could go down and sit in the housemaster’s living room and you could either sit and talk, or you could smoke. And if you were a Senior, you were allowed to, in front of Bancroft or Foxcroft, there was a little area right in front which was closed to everybody except Seniors. It was a Senior walk and it was in front of the dormitory. And Seniors were allowed to sit there and smoke during the day. Now that’s something that certainly doesn’t exist anymore.

Is there anything you would like to say to current Andover students?

One of the previous times I was here, I visited the Gelb science building… It was very impressive. It even has an observatory on the roof. That wasn’t open, so I never did get to see that. I passed by one of the classrooms. There was a class going on. I don’t remember whether it was physics or biology. I just peeked in, and I saw one student kind of almost asleep. And I wanted to go in and say, ‘Wake up! Your parents pay a lot of money to send you here. This is a privilege to be here. Wake up!’ And I remembered that it sort of amused me, but I also thought, ‘I don’t want to see any other student asleep here.’ What you get here at Andover is so valuable, so important, and you’re so privileged to be here. Whether you come from a privileged family or not is not the point. It’s a privilege to be here. This is one of the great schools in this country or even in the world, and there is so much richness here for you to get educated. You can’t allow yourself to go to sleep in class. I really wanted to go in there and wake that man up. I have this family heritage, so I feel loyalty to Andover.

Everytime I come back here, it’s not as though as I am kind of a stranger walking around. I get this welcome because I’m usually here for some kind of reunion. It’s just very welcoming. One time I came back and [saw] the entrance to Sam Phillips, [where] are all those names on the wall… My older brother’s name is there on the wall. I came back and I was looking around at all these names, trying to find his name, and suddenly, a faculty person came up alongside me and said, ‘Are you looking for your name?’ And I said, ‘Not mine. It’s my brothers.’ And he said, ‘Let’s see if we can find it.’ And then we got in a conversation.