The Diaspora Potrezebe - Newsletter of the Alumni Association of the American Community School at Beirut, Lebanon.

What is a Reunion?

by Tom Coburn (Fac)

Just last weekend I attended my 30th reunion at a large East Coast university. This weekend reunion activities are flourishing at the small liberal arts college where I teach in upstate New York. Over the past decade ACS has developed a reputation for having splendid reunions on a periodic basis. But no reunion can ever quite match the one that came at the end of my year of teaching [1967] in Beirut.

That year came to an abrupt close with the outbreak of June's Six Day War. On the first day of the war, as rumors circulated wildly, while our ears were cocked for the sound of bombs and martial music played on Radio Beirut, an all-school assembly was called. The headmaster, Jack Harrison, was a voice of calm, urging us to go about our business as usual, as best we could, and promising to keep us safe and informed. By day's end it was clear there could be no more business as usual. Jack called me to his beautiful rooftop apartment that evening and asked if I would take a group of fifteen students to Athens in the morning. Cynthia Mueller '61, my fiancee, a first-grade teacher whom I had met at ACS, would accompany us. My assignment was to see that the students, whose homes were scattered throughout the Middle East and East Africa, were reunited with their families. The only condition was that I submit my final grades by next morning. For many there was no sleep that night.

My images of the evacuation itself are of individuals -- Pat Cross '67 carrying his guitar, Mary Jane Onnen '69 her overstuffed bear -- and of a smoothly orchestrated exit by the Pan Am flight crew recruited for the task. Settling into a hotel just off Constitution Square in Athens was followed by hours, then days, of cabling families and making travel arrangements for the students who had accompanied me. Within a week all but two of those students had departed for points east and south. Two students remained, John Shuck '70 and Connie Shuck '71, who had just completed the eighth and ninth grades at ACS. Their father had been the Air Force attaché at the U. S. Embassy in Damascus. Given Syrian involvement in the war, we had no idea what had happened to him. There was a sense in the State Department that Americans in Damascus had left the country overland, driving north into Turkey. But our cables to Ankara failed to produce any trace of him. We feared the worst, but hoped for the best.

One evening, about two weeks after we had left Beirut, Cindy and I took John and Connie to dinner at one of those wonderful rooftop tavernas in the Plaka district of Athens. It was early summer and the air was clear and warm and lovely. To appreciate the softness of the evening further, we decided to have dessert at one of the cafes on Constitution Square. We sat there for quite a while, watching the crowds stroll by, savoring our baklava and coffee. All of a sudden, young John shot out of his chair with a yelp, "Dad! ! !, " ran up to one of the passersby and flung his arms around him. It was Colonel Shuck. How he got there we never did learn. He had known his children were in Athens, but not where. Embraces flew thick and fast in all directions, and in moments we were all in tears.

Reunions are mysterious and wonderful events, for institutions and for the people who make them up. They bring us face to face with the riddle of time's passage, of separation, of longing, of memory, of love. Even when seemingly mundane, they have within them the seeds of that Great Reunion in which I was so fortunate to participate nearly half a lifetime ago.

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