Eighteen years old. Charles Shain ’50 was drafted in World War II before he had a real chance to think about college, let alone the rest of his life.
The year was 1945 when he packed his bags for basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, and after a short stint of advanced infantry training at Fort Rutger, he was boarding the Marine Tiger, the ship that would take him to the South Pacific.
“We went on to the Philippines,” Shain remembers. “In 1945, war was ending, and I was in Manilla. The people who had been overseas the longest period were able to return to the United States. My turn came, and I came back.”
On the return journey, Shain says he had a duffel bag full of summer uniforms. “Each time one got dirty, I’d throw it overboard.”
When Shain returned to the United States, to his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, he started taking night courses at Upsala College and worked for his father and uncle, who owned a textile plant in Paterson, during the day. His desire to advance his career coupled with the financial aid of the GI Bill prompted him to transfer his community college credits and apply to about six other schools for textile manufacturing, including Clemson College.
Clemson answered first. “I threw my gear into my car, and off I went to Clemson.”
The first thing Shain did when he settled into his room in the temporary barracks was tear out his course pages from his student handbook and tape them to the wall. As he completed each course, he crossed them off. “I just watched it and worked on it,” he says.
Shain and a few of his friends who shared the Jewish faith managed to turn their small group into a social club that they dubbed Nu Epsilon, which stood for New England, the area they were all from. “The professor who helped us was Lehotsky, I believe. It was a Jewish group, but he was not Jewish,” Shain laughs. “That made it a little interesting, too.”
In those days, Frank Howard was the head football coach, and Shain says that football was “the game that everyone went to.” Something else Shain remembers is the food. Being from New Jersey, he found a few Southern dishes in the mess hall that he’d never had before, though not all of them stuck.
“Grits and gravy. I still remember it. I won’t say that I ordered it at a restaurant,” he laughs. “But like anything else, when you first come upon it, you kind of hold your nose and dive in. After a while, you get used to it.”
According to Shain, the place to escape the mess hall was a steakhouse down the road in Walhalla. There was also the “hamburger place” on the corner near the post office. Every month, Shain and other veterans would linger on the post office steps, waiting for their checks to come in from the government. Shain put his checks to good use: a car.
“It was a blue Pontiac convertible. I always had a car full of guys.”
But what Shain remembers most about Clemson were his friends: Jerry, who would play poker nonstop from Friday afternoon to Monday morning; Al, who tutored Shain in engineering; Fred, a lab partner and fullback on the football team; and Sid, who married a girl from Anderson, South Carolina.
“There ain’t too many left,” Shain says softly. “I think I have the command to turn the lights out when it’s all over.”
After college, Shain returned to New Jersey and worked for several years at the family business. He eventually settled in Teaneck, where he still works — at 94 years old — selling insurance. Though he hasn’t returned to Clemson in many years, the small college town in the hills of the South Carolina Upstate is never far from his mind.
“I have Clemson hats for all seasons,” he says. “I wear them religiously. People stop me and ask me to talk about Clemson. That’s a thrill in and of itself. My time at school and the people that I met were very, very pleasant.