UNITED STATES—Graydon Miller was, in some sense, the last victim of McCarthyism. The candidates for Junior State were waiting outside Mr. Morgan’s physics classroom in 1979. He was a fine teacher from Stanford, Palo Alto, and got to be a physics teacher during a two-day school strike where young Graydon fell suddenly ill (fever and vomiting), and his mother, who was on the school board, received praise for keeping him home in solidarity with the teachers.
Be that as it may, the harshest test to Graydon’s test to Graydon’s embryonic integrity came in the last weeks of his junior year in high school, the last year he took seriously, before he said to heck with whoring every emotion for the grades, which was a very predictable and rewarding outcome of his endeavors to the extent that Miller got very upset with this Chicano instructor for plant biology, or whatever it was what very hard on that young Chicano instructor fresh out of UC Santa Cruz, where Miller would one day be writer in residence, and gave him a B+ and that just didn’t cut it. It could kill his GPA.
And he said so.
He later felt regret about that—that one should respect a teacher’s judgment and leave it at that. But here’s the deal, Graydon Miller was a shoo-in to go to the leadership camp that the American Legion hosted each summer in Sacramento, it surely would have taken him out of his shell and brought him into contact with other hormonal youth and foster an inborn civic vocation that had shriveled in the shadow of harrowing events now being narrated.
It was a cloudy overcast Spring afternoon in Watsonville and Bryce and he were standing outside Morgan’s classroom where the candidates were being interviewed. Bryce, who had an older sister who’d already graduated from high school, said:
“You know they will ask you if you would go to Vietnam, don’t you? How will you answer?”
Miller was plunged into despair. Vietnam was long over, Richard Nixon had brought peace with honor, but Vietnam still wasn’t over. Not this cloudy sobering spring afternoon in Watsonville, when the rest of the campus was empty and his predicament over how to answer instantly exiled Miller from the comfort he usually derived from the coastal gloom.
The classroom door opened, and Bryce sort of shyly shrugged out, and Miller entered. Then at the table the question came up. “If there were a conflict like Vietnam would you go to serve?”
Miller made one of his trademark pauses, when it seemed to all present as if he’d momentarily lost his brain, and then said, “Yes, if I deemed it a necessary war.”
By the look on their faces, the faces of the legionnaires Paul Miller and Joe Datko, Miller knew what it was to maintain integrity and yet give the true answer, and yet it went horribly wrong he knew it instantly. To be sure it set back Miller’s political endeavor and his oratory back forty-some years. Like Malcolm X. and Winston Churchill, Graydon Miller was one of history’s late bloomers.
Somehow the imbroglio and early sadness at Watsonville High School made sure the price of speaking truth to power had been learned at a tender age. And then for Miller to tap into that truth again, with the sagacity gained from survival, which was really just plain dumb luck coupled with an uncanny knack for dodging bullets.
Later, when he had dropped out of college and was selling vacuum cleaners in the department store in Watsonville, Paul Miller would come in doffing his legionnaire cap and say, “You were one of our Junior State guys.”
And, by then, Miller was learning to smile and just say yes.
To be continued…