By Harry Herget, House, 1965
Graduating from the Capitol Page School marked the end of my 18 month career as a floor page. I graduated in 1965 during Lyndon Johnson’s administration and in the middle of the Vietnam War.
During my time on the House floor, I rose to become the highest ranking page on the Democratic side back when the Democrats made up the majority in the House of Representatives. I recall the stately John William McCormack, Rep from Massachusetts, was the Speaker of the House. The diminutive Carl Albert from Oklahoma was the Majority Leader and the Honorable Hale Boggs of Louisiana, served as Majority Whip. As the ranking floor page, I served a dual role of keeping my fellow floor Pages at work running errands and, second, keeping the Dem. Committee Table, and its principal purveyors, Rep. Albert and Rep. Boggs, up to the minute with documents covering all of the current days agenda items.
I’m an Arkansan and our Congressional delegation at that time included William Fulbright and John McClellan in the Senate and such notables as Wilbur Mills, E.C. ‘Took’ Gathings, Judge Trimble and Oren Harris in the House. The Arkansas delegation boasted an average tenure of thirty years making it the single most powerful state delegation in Congress. I’ve always been proud of my Arkansas roots, but never prouder than at that moment in time.
My graduating class totaled a whopping twelve young men. Our graduation ceremony was held in one of the Senate Hearing Rooms and Vice President Hubert Humphrey delivered the commencement address before an audience of twenty grateful parents, one of the smallest groups the Vice President ever addressed. The following day we were invited to the White House for a second ceremony hosted by the President himself, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
I was the only page who lived at home and home was several miles from the White House in the town of Arlington, VA. I was the last to arrive at the White House that morning, and made it just minutes before the ceremony began. Unlike my fellow graduates who were attired in the standard page uniform – dark suit, shoes, socks and a matching dark tie set against a lily white shirt – I appeared wearing tan slacks, a paisley tie and a sear-sucker sport coat that was light in color, so light in fact that at a distance of only ten feet, it appeared to be solid white.
I was not particularly proud of my choice of garments, but at that moment in time, I was immune from any formal rebukes so what did I care. I was, in the words of the late comedian George Goble, visible proof of his self deprecating description of his station in society – “I feel the world is a tuxedo and I’m a pair of brown shoes.”
Nevertheless, bad clothes and all, I and the others were ushered out into the Rose Garden and assembled on steps behind a podium. To our surprise we were in full view of an estimated 100 reporters and what seemed to be an equal number of cameras. Gee. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten how special it was to be a Capitol Page.
The President joined us after everyone was in place and he began by addressing the reporters and making a major statement relative to military progress in Vietnam. In an instant, it became clear that we were not the subject of this gathering; on the contrary, we were a convenient backdrop. Some have argued that we were a deliberate diversion from what was then and even now, a painful and aggravating subject for many Americans.
When his war commentary ended, he immediately offered a few obligatory and apparently forgettable remarks about the importance of graduation giving his main audience some clue as to the reason we were there. He then presented each of us a signed certificate which stands in contrast to his remarks as lasting evidence of that special moment in time.
An AP wire-service photographer was among the press corps that day and snapped photos of each of us as we received our printed token from the President. You must remember that this was 1965 and news photos in that day were all black and white.
When I appeared to receive my certificate, the contrast of my near white, sear-sucker sport coat against the black suits that stood behind me created a near perfect image for the black and white world of print media.
The next day, the photo of me and President Johnson appeared everywhere since AP chose to release it worldwide to accompany their story of the President’s statement on Vietnam.
There I was.
Against a world of black.
His obliging prop.
And it worked.
Harry Herget, House ’65, was sponsored by E.C. “Took” Gathings of Arkansas. After his Page service, Harry graduated from America College Paris, France and then from the University of Arkansas. He counts founding numerous companies in the course of his career, including Syntel, LLC, a software development company and DOC, LLC, also in the information technology field. He currently lives in Memphis, TN.