Alumnus Charles ‘Jerry’ Langham recalls (in his own words) how his time at Potomac State set him on an unexpected career path
I attended Potomac State from 1959 to 1961 and had some excellent professors, including Mr. Rodgers for history, Kenneth Haines for English, Dr. Murphy for earth sciences, and Mr. Hartman for psychology. In my sophomore year, I rented a room from Dr. Murphy, in the building known as the "Shack," which was behind his house on Fort Avenue.
I transferred to WVU, received my Bachelor of Science degree there in 1963, and then stayed on for graduate school, working for the university as a graduate assistant. During that time, I met the young woman who would become my wife (almost 50 years now), also a WVU student. In 1964, I accepted a job with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington.
Chuck Langham after entering the Army in 1965.
In the late fall of 1965, the draft boards started to induct childless married men as the Vietnam War expanded. When I received my letter from the draft board, I obtained a Pentagon telephone directory and started to make calls to see what opportunities might be available in the military. After a number of calls, I was referred to a recruiting officer for the Army Medical Department. This man, a Captain Harry Clark, told me about a program that offered direct commissions to men who would serve as administrative officers in Army hospitals. He warned me that this was a highly selective program with many applicants but agreed to talk with me if I would come to his office at Walter Reed Hospital.
I set up an appointment and, at the last minute, decided to take along my college transcript. Captain Clark was friendly, but I could see that he was busy and probably would not have much time to spend with me. He asked me a few basic questions, and I presented my college transcript. He took a quick look at it, and them to my surprise, said, "West Virginia University? That's where I went to college. Had a good experience there. But I spent my first two years at a junior college that not many people have heard of, Potomac State College in Keyser."
What a surprise! With over a million people in the Army in 1965 and the enrollment at Potomac State only about 700, what were the odds that we would encounter each other this way? He was from Pennsylvania and had attended Potomac State several years before I was there, but we had many of the same professors and classes. We had a friendly chat, and he described the Medical Service Corps officers program--no boot camp, no officers' candidate school, a direct commission as a lieutenant, an orientation course in Texas, and I could take my wife along and rent a place for us near the Army post. Captain Clark said he would need to send my application to be reviewed by a board of officers, but he was very encouraged that I would be accepted.
I mentioned that I already had a letter from my draft board, and, continuing to be helpful, he said he would write to them, informing them that I was in line to be commissioned as an officer. We shook hands, he wished me well, I thanked him, and we had a last reminiscence about Potomac State.
I did receive the commission and did take my wife with me to San Antonio, Texas, where she enjoyed riding horses at the officers' wives riding club. I spent a year assigned to an Army hospital in Alabama, and then, based on my prior experience with the government in Washington and some slight expertise with Army paperwork, I was sent back to Washington. By another coincidence, my office at Walter Reed was in the same building where Captain Clark had worked, but he had already been transferred, and I never saw him again.
A recent photo of PSC Alumnus Chuck Langham.
I finished my tour of duty there and was discharged as a captain, gaining valuable experience and recommendations that helped me in my civilian career, while so many other less fortunate young men lost their lives in Vietnam, I have often wondered if my situation would have gone as well if it had been some other officer, not a Potomac State grad, interviewing me that day.
In closing I would like to say that I have always considered myself fortunate to have had safe assignments in the Army, while others did not. Two good friends were killed there, including a Potomac State and WVU friend, Captain Curtis Rhodes, who was killed in action in 1968.