Stephen Rushing - Sergeant
Stephen Abram Rushing grew up in Live Oak, Florida and was the oldest of the four children in the Rushing family – two boys, two girls. In 1965 his father took a position with the National Animal Disease Laboratory and the family moved to Ames.
In the same year as the move to Iowa, Steve and his younger brother Michael were both awarded their Eagle Scout badges. Although Michael ended up being taller than Steve, he was never conscious of the height difference because he always looked up to his older brother.
Being a newcomer to Ames High School as a junior did not discourage Steve from diving into a wide array of activities. He did sports -- football, track and cross country -- and was active in Key Club and the Science Seminar. His senior year the Senior Class Play was “The Physicists” and he got a huge kick out of playing the part of Einstein. But the thing that most energized him was being on the Debate Team.
His brother Michael was just two years younger than Steve, and remembers this about him: “Steve was a gregarious person – a talker. You just could not get him to stop! In high school, he was on the debate team. Sometimes, in the thick of the debate - to underscore a point - he would make up an impressive sounding word that sounded like a real word but didn’t really mean anything! He had a huge vocabulary and was probably the smartest one of the family.
“A cousin in Florida – also named Steve Rushing – is a judge. When they got together, there was no way to get a word in edgewise. Steve from Iowa was a liberal, Steve from Florida was conservative, and the debate would go on and on. When Steve wasn’t talking or sleeping he was devouring books – eager to learn everything he could.”
His mother commented that he learned to drive but never got his license. He preferred waiting for and riding the bus because it gave him more time to read.
A high school friend remembers Steve as a “silly, gentle soul who would engage in "contests" of eating mustard by the spoonful or munching down lemon wedges. Another friend said, “I still remember Steve moving to Ames and being a Southerner at heart. He was the only one to stand at attention in assembly when the choir sang "Dixie".
Steve came to Iowa State in the Fall of 1967 and attended classes to Fall 1968. Given his inquisitive mind, it’s no surprise that he declared Philosophy as a major. He lived in the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church and did set ups for the parish in between attending classes.
The Vietnam War was underway and many young men his age were being drafted. It was a time of turmoil and fear for those who were of age.
Steve did not know anyone in the military and thought of himself as a pacifist. He did not support the military endeavor in southeast Asia. But, despite these convictions, he felt that it was not inherently fair that he had a college deferment from the draft while others had to go.
Without telling his family, he dropped out of college, failing to register but staying on campus into the Fall of 1968 to attend lectures and carry on as if he were a student. His mother paid Steve’s tuition and was aghast when Iowa State returned the check, saying he wasn’t registered. It didn’t take long before the draft board noticed and he was called up. He entered basic training in 1969.
Steve wasn’t happy about being in the Army, but he was dedicated. He earned the rank of Sargent in just a year.
He landed in Vietnam on May 18, 1970 and hoped somehow for an early out. He was eager to resume his college career and instructed his parents to get him registered at Iowa State for the spring quarter in 1971. Barely six weeks later, he was fatally wounded by hostile small arms fire. He died on July 30, 1970 in Binh Dinh province. He was 20 years old.
Michael commented on the intensity with which Steve talked and read and lived, “It’s as if he somehow knew he wasn’t going to live that long and needed to pack in a lot of living in a short time.”
As Steve was leaving for Vietnam, his Dad, Buck, started growing a beard, proclaiming that he wasn’t going to shave it off until Steve came home. Mrs. Rushing commented that the beard stayed on for a long time.
Steve loved poetry, especially T.S. Elliott and Robert Frost.
Here are several lines from one of his favorite Frost poems, “Birches”. In the poem, the poet observes a young boy who discovers that he can ride on the flexible branches of birch trees, bouncing up and down, launching himself through the air.
The poet says:
“So was I once myself a swinger of birches
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth a while
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”