Breaking news: 1944. Harry W. Colmery, a former National commander of the American Legion and former Republican National Chairman, was credited with drawing up the first draft of the GI Bill that was signed by FDR.

I write this today in honor of that famous bill that gave me, and a million others, a ticket to tomorrow.

In 1951, I enlisted in the Air Force and after boot camp, got sent to a Southern college to learn how to type classified documents and meet Southern girls, after which I was graded A in both.

In 1954, the Korean war had ended abruptly with no clean decision except the shooting had stopped.

At the time, I was stationed in MacArthur’s office on the Ginza, where I was never in any kind of danger.

Then in 1955, the Air Force was loaded with clerk typists and ancient Underwood typewriters, so they sent hundreds of us back to the streets we came from. (The typewriters are now collectors items.)


I arrived home from the Far East with $400, a pack of curious documents, and a blank future.

I was warmly greeted home by family and friends with hug and kisses, good food and the same question.

“Whatcha gonna do now, kid?”

Of course, I had no idea.

One of those curious documents explained that I was eligible for the “GI Bill,” which I thought was a bill I owed for laundry.

Happily, it was about this bill that said I could go back to school and learn to do something impressive with my high typewriter speed.


One day while waiting to get a haircut, I picked up a magazine called “Theatre Arts.”

J.P. Devine is seen in a 1955-era photo. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

“The prestigious Cleveland Playhouse Academy of the Theater Arts in Cleveland, Ohio, and Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, New York, is accepting students.” And the best part: “tuition free for GI Bill-approved students.” Yessir!

Before my haircut dried, I was on a train for Cleveland.

I arrived in Cleveland in a rainstorm and was accepted the minute I stepped in the door dripping wet, because Director K. Elmo Lowe, one of the founders, had a desperate need of a “young, handsome soldier” for that season’s opening production of “Girl On The Via Flaminia.”

I was hustled on stage, where the leading lady took one look at handsome me, and said, “OK, we’ve got our guy. Let’s get started.”

And a star was born — sort of.


Then with my $300-discharge pay down to $60, the GI Bill checks were delayed.

For months, I slept on the stages on the sets of “Stalag 17,” and in “Juliet’s” coffin. Seriously.

Luckily, the owner of a friendly corner Italian restaurant on Euclid Street, who was a veteran, fed me lasagna until the government got my checks fixed.

A sweet classmate, Mary Jane Nottage, bless her memory, gave me her deceased father’s overcoat that served as my blanket on the sets. I wore that coat for three years.

Then, one day during a blizzard, I hobbled into the big front doors to find the office staff behind the counter, the entire cast of three plays, classmate Dom Deluise and stage hands standing in the lobby, curiously smiling.

Sheila Smith, who would go on to be a Broadway star years later, smiled and gestured to the big open mail boxes in the hall.


I walked through the silent, smiling crowd to find my slot full of government checks, over eight of them, $300 in an envelope.

I stood there shaking in a dead man’s overcoat one week from Christmas as the entire group applauded and sang “Jingle Bells.”

Thank you, Harry W. Colmery, for the big payoff and the Cleveland playhouse gang of ’55, especially the girl who shouted, “OK, we got our guy. Let’s get started.”

And the rest is history.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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