Globally a Newly Aware Generation Responds to the Challenge of  Leadership 

Globally a Newly Aware Generation Responds to the Challenge of  Leadership 

By J. Blanton Belk

 The 1960s were a most turbulent time for youth in the US and around the world. It was a young world where a third of  the population of the US was under 19 years old and the same was true of the USSR. The Baby boomers born after the Second World War had gone boom! Through television they were more aware of global affairs than any generation before. They were transported via television to the war raging in the jungles of Vietnam. This generation had lived through the tragic assassination of President John F.  Kennedy.   The boomers were full of ideas for their future and the future of the world. Some were against the war in Vietnam and at the same time full of passion for the struggle of civil rights.  It was the first time they were interested in what was going on and  youth were taking a stand and becoming involved in the civil rights movement and the conflict in Vietnam. The only policy in the US seemed to be, “how quickly can we shut them up?” I thought if we could harness some of that energy and give them a positive voice it might capture their attention and touch the world.

     I thought how could this new interest be channeled? A plan emerged to rally other concerned students. A group of students led by John Sayre, a University of Washington alumnus and Rusty Wailes, a Yale graduate  who between them won three Olympic Gold medals. became a force to rally others. They spoke at more than 60 colleges and universities. As a result, eight student leaders came to Tucson, Arizona to meet with a group of us in April 1965. Those present were Jim Bell from Clemson University, Don Reed from Oregon State University, Ellis Fisher from Duke University, Roger Buchholtz from Western Michigan University, Ed Livermore Jr. from the University of Oklahoma, John Seeley from the University of Colorado, Steve Roberts from the University of Wyoming, and Dave Neely from Southwestern State College. They came together to decide how to mobilize this energy. Out of our discussions it was decided to have a conference called “Modernizing America.” The world knew what young people were against but not what they were for–this conference would set the stage for this. 

     We had found that military people were very interested in the program that the young people were being given at the 1965 “Conference on Modernizing America.” The year before, Director of Selective Service Lieutenant General Lewis B. Hershey spoke at the “Conference for Tomorrow’s America” at Mackinac. We can only surmise that these individuals had spoken to Major General Curtis LeMay and his wife about what we were doing with young people. LeMay had recently retired as the 5th Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. In order to get their own assessment of the Mackinac conference, Major General LeMay’s delegation requested that they not be publicly introduced. They involved themselves in everything from early morning calisthenics to the musical entertainment in the evening. They were constantly talking to the conference delegates.

     At the end of the week, Major General LeMay asked to have a private word with me. I thought to myself the general is obviously the spokesman for this delegation. I was nervous and tried to prepare myself. The general began by saying how impressed he and the delegation had been with all they had seen and experienced. He told me that what he wanted to emphasize had come out of years of experience in dealing with young people. He said, “All of us have been impressed with the character and commitment of the young people and your staff. I have thought long and hard about how this program can succeed and I have come to this conclusion. I think this is only going to work if you as the leader have no skeletons in your closet. If you do, the press will eventually track you down and destroy the program. Secondly, that you have a staff around you who will take corrections, sometimes with heat and never back down. If you have that, I think this experiment will work and touch the world! We stand by to help!”

     During the ensuing years those comments and convictions of Major General LeMay lived with me–they were engraved in my memory! Our staff were the envy of the nonprofit world. Their commitment carried Up with People to the far corners of the earth!

     Soon after Sing-Out ‘65 went on the road, the US Air Force Academy invited us to perform in Colorado Springs. We can only surmise that our new friend, Major General Curtis LeMay had encouraged this. The initial show in November 1965 was a resounding success with the cadets yelling and stamping their feet calling for more. This reaction resonated with other military academies that trained future officers for the army, air force, navy, coast guard and merchant marine. Invitations came from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York and the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.  The response of all these academies was so intense that it even led to a competition that year about which academy gave the longest ovation. I’m most happy to report that Annapolis ended number one. At the end of that performance, 4500 midshipmen and distinguished guests stood for 41 minutes applauding. 

     Therefore between 1965 to 1971, similar invitations poured in from schools, colleges and military installations. Over that period Up with People was invited, performed and interfaced with 953 schools and colleges in North America and 114 military installations in the United States, Japan, Korea, Canada, Germany, Spain, Panama, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. To our knowledge, seldom has another nonprofit had such an opportunity. Without a doubt our students came out of this experience with a new respect for the training of the military and the military came out with a new respect for high school and college age students on a positive mission. 

     The San DiegoTribune put their finger on it when they wrote in the January 14, 1967 editorial after the cast of 280 students performed for 15,000 during an action-packed week, “Up with People, the musical Sing-Out program geared to the young and young in heart…. proved to be one means by which the human spirit can be elevated and imbued with desperately needed hope.… Singing by itself won’t, of course, re-shape the world. But it can strike some of the sparks that will. This is precisely what these young people in their boundless enthusiasm seem to be doing. …The aim is not uniformity but unity of purpose.”

     We were most fortunate to have two granddaughters of Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. On June 16, 1944, he assumed command of the Third Fleet, and was also designated Commander, Western Pacific Task Forces during the Second World War. Two of his granddaughters traveled with the early casts of Up with People in 1966 and 1967.  It was an honor to stand with one of them in the midst of thousands of white wooden crosses in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu Hawaii, called the “Punch Bowl.” The cast had gone completely silent and the only sound was the whistling of the wind as it shrieked around the crosses. Jane Halsey, speaking on behalf of her cast, moved all of us by her passion and ended with, “My grandfather felt strongly the privileges and demands that go with freedom. As his granddaughter and a young American I feel I have a responsibility and obligation to live up to that freedom which he and men like him fought to give us.”

     During Up with People’s fourth visit to Washington, DC in October 1966 and show at the Statler Hilton Hotel cast member Jean Morris, daughter of Major General Frederick Morris, speaking for the four girls in the cast who were daughters of generals and admirals, said, “We have always wanted to know how to serve our country in the way our fathers do. With Sing-Out for the first time we feel we can participate in what our fathers are giving their lives for and back them up in their fight for freedom.”    

     First, it seems only proper that the last word about the military and Up with People should go to the former President of the United States and General of the Army Dwight D Eisenhower. He had become a close friend and followed with great interest the development of Up with People. His voice came booming over the phone to me, and he immediately came to the point, “I’ve been thinking about your program, and I have some thoughts for you. I want you to incorporate Up with People making it totally independent, apolitical, and nonsectarian, and available for the youth of the world. Then he said, now, remember, with your young people, you are talking about the essence of freedom, which is self-responsibility and service to others. It is a precious substance, freedom, so treat it as such.”


United States Army Infantry Center, Certificate of Achievement, To the highly motivated and dedicated young men and women who comprise the troupe of “Sing-Out ‘66” for the brilliant light of mutual understanding and revelation they are singing into the hearts and minds of people throughout the nation. Their sincere and enthusiastic representation of Young America on the Move is refreshing and inspiring and comes at a time when all of us sorely need faith and confidence in our fellow man and, most of all, in the youth of our country. We salute you as comrades in arms in our mutual battle for universal peace, personal liberty and inward strength. Signed, Robert H. York, Major General, USA, Commanding General, Fort Benning, Georgia. 

Lieutenant General Thomas S. Moorman, USAF, Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, wrote in an October 6, 1966 letter: I wish to extend my personal thanks along with the gratitude of the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Wing for bringing “Up with People” to the Air Force Academy. The performances here were extremely well received. There is no doubt that the message you are bringing to the youth of America is timely and significant. 

Three hundred uniformed cadets from the College Militaire Royale, one of Canada’s great military academies, were in the audience of 2,000 which attended the showing of Up with People at Canadian Forces Base at St. Jean in Quebec. … At the conclusion of the performance the entire audience led by the cadets rose to their feet in a standing ovation and remained standing while the cast sang a special song for the Canadian Forces.. (Tomorrow’s American News, October 17, 1966, 3.)

West Point rocked last weekend not only to the fight songs and pep rallies of the “Beat Navy!” theme but to more excitement still–the sight of 4,400 future commanders of the Armed Forces leaping to their feet to salute the Up with People spirit.  (Tomorrow’s American News, November 28, 1966, 1.)

In the introduction to Morris Martin’s book Born to Live in the Future, Dr. Frederick Starr,  ​​the founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute wrote, “In many regards, the late twentieth century has been a grim era marked by frightening global problems and forms of suffering unknown even to our grandparents. In the face of this, Up with People has the audacity to be joyful. For all its earnestness of purpose and moral depth, Up with People is sheer fun. And that, too, may place it on the cutting edge.”

For more information please see J. Blanton Belk: It’s an unfinished world and it’s still in the making. Pediment Publishing, 2020.

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