“There are two gentlemen in black suits waiting for you downstairs.”
Two gentlemen in black?
We didn’t have phones in our dorm rooms back in the “olden days,” just a “squawk-box” connected to the Willa Cather Hall switchboard on the first floor.
If somebody wanted to call or visit you, they’d call the Willa Cather Hall switchboard. The college student on duty would “buzz” your room, announce your phone call or visitor on that squawk-box, and you’d walk over to the one phone on the floor or take the elevator downstairs.
Yup, there were no cell phones in the late 1960s when I was a University of Nebraska undergraduate.
I didn’t know anybody who’d be wearing a black suit who’d want to see me, I thought, as I elevatored my way from my ninth-floor room to the first floor.
Well, it was the middle of the Vietnam war. I was a student with a deferment. I was the station manager at KRNU, the School of Journalism’s radio station. When students took over the M&N Building to protest the war, Larry Walklin, the head of the school’s broadcast sequence, sent me over there to cover it for Nebraska’s local media.
Was I in trouble? My mind reeled. Really!
Sure enough, two tall gentlemen in black suits and thin black ties – and white shirts – were waiting for me in the lounge.
News traveled fast, even in those days without cell phones or internet. I think most of the dorm walked past that lounge peering in while I was being questioned.
The Men in Black asked, and I told them, “My name is Tom Broad. I’m from Alliance, Nebraska. I’m a journalism major.”
I quickly learned that they didn’t want to know about me.
“Tell us a little about your roommate,” they said.
Looking back, I probably could have pleaded the Fifth, but I spilled out everything they asked. His name. Where he was from. His major. What I knew about his family. Did he belong to any campus or off-campus organizations? Did he date? Did I know his sexual preference? This was the late 1960s. I didn’t know we could “prefer.”
My roomie spoke German and was a Russian language major. His dad had been a soldier in the Russian army in World War II, was captured by the Germans and freed by the Americans. That’s how my roommate and his family ended up in the U.S.
The Men in Black didn’t take long. I didn’t have much to tell. Frankly, I really didn’t know much about my roommate.
While my recollection is spotty, I vividly remember my roommate’s face when I told him who had paid me a visit.
Turns out the roomie had applied for a position with the CIA. I’ll never know why in the world they wanted to talk to me. Whether the roomie got the position, I never knew. CIA-types don’t talk about these things.
Roomie and I have lost track of each other, but I’ll never, ever forget when the Men in Black paid me a visit at Willa Cather Hall!