Sigma Nu Fulfills a Vietnam Vet's Dream
By Sara Hemmenway, Lamar University Press
POSTED: 2008-02-26 :: LAST UPDATED: 2008-02-26, 11:53 ET
"I felt like I had been cheated out of an important college experience," Scott Thomas, a 1978 Lamar alumnus, says.
Thomas entered Lamar in 1969 during a tumultuous period in U.S. history - the Vietnam War. At 18, men like him were being drafted right out of high school and sent overseas away from their loved ones. Men enrolled as full-time students in college, however, were able to receive deferred draft status until they graduated or left school, Thomas said.
During the summer after graduating from Forrest Park High School, Thomas had just entered his first semester in college when he received his first draft notice, he said.
"When I got my first draft notice in, I went down to the draft board and said, ‘Wait a minute, I've just graduated from high school and I'm going to college. I'm supposed to have a deferment.' They said, ‘Well, we'll fix that,'" Thomas said. "When the summer semester ended, I enrolled into the fall '69 semester and pledged Sigma Nu fraternity."
Joining a fraternity was a dream of his. In high school, he had always been very involved, such as being his class president and playing baseball. He looked forward to the [camaraderie] of belonging to a brotherhood, he said. It was a dream he was determined to see through, he said.
"Sigma Nu, to me, was the tightest group as far as counting on each other," he said. "Everyone was a friend. I'm talking about the actives, the alumni, everyone. That's what I liked about it more than anything else."
But shortly into the fall semester, before he was initiated into the Zeta Psi chapter of Sigma Nu, Thomas received a second draft notice asking him to report to Houston for his physical. This time there was nothing he could do.
"I tried to get it straight that I was supposed to be a college-deferred student, but they said, ‘Sorry, no,'" he said. "What else could I say? They drafted me. I went to Vietnam with the 101st airborne infantry. I was there for 14 months."
By the time Thomas was able to return to Lamar to complete a BBA in marketing, he was married, going to school full time and working two jobs. He had no time for any fraternal organizations, he said.
"I missed out on a big part of my life, but at the same time it made me grow up real quick," he said. "It pretty much made me learn what life was about; but given the opportunity, I would have never gone. No one needs to go through war. No one."
Some 38 years later, Thomas had not forgotten his dream of being in Sigma Nu. By chance, his niece was marrying an active Lamar brother. At the wedding, Thomas and many of the Lamar actives got to talking about his experience.
After verifying his story with headquarters, the Lamar Zeta Psi chapter decided to right the wrong that had been done to Thomas, Chris Graham, Sigma Nu South Central Division Commander said. They decided to ask for approval from their governing body to induct the now 56-year-old Thomas into the fraternity.
"We invited Scott to our 50th anniversary where he met the regent," Graham said. "At our anniversary we gave out alumni pins to every alumni for their number of years of being a Sigma Nu. The regent pinned a 40-year pin on Scott and said this is what you should have already had. Then he told me, ‘You make sure that paperwork makes it to my desk.'"
On Sept. 23, after a unanimous vote from the chapter and another unanimous vote of Sigma Nu's national governing body, Thomas‘s dream of being a Sigma Nu finally came true. That night he traveled from being a candidate to, 15 minutes later, becoming a brother, and as soon as he walked out the door became alumni.
"A bunch of my friends and I had pledged together. They went through and became actives and I didn't. It was something I always missed. It was something I always told everyone. Yea, I was a Sigma Nu pledge, but I was drafted.
"It made me a little emotional," he said. "When they initiated me I felt like I was 18 years old again. I was so nervous. Here I am 56 years old - what do I have to be nervous about? I felt like a kid again going through it from the get-go."
Though Thomas felt that Sigma Nu went above and beyond what they needed to do for him to fulfill his dream, he said, the initiation ceremony of Scott Thomas was just as important to the Lamar chapter as it was to the man himself.
"It was really inspiring to me and the whole chapter because it shows that there is a certain bond that comes with being in a fraternity that lasts a lifetime no matter if you leave and come back," Brad Spooner, Sigma Nu Zeta Psi chapter commander said. "Even 38 years later he still had that sense of brotherhood."
The chapter felt as though Thomas brought out the true meaning of being in a fraternity and that he personified the passion involved.
"It comes down to our creed: love, truth, and honor," Graham said.
"To believe in the life of love - you could tell how much he loved the ceremony and what it meant. The concept of honor - the man is a Vietnam veteran. It is obvious he knows what the term ‘honor' means. And to serve in the light of truth - he is a service person. And there is no doubt in my mind that he knows the meaning of those because he has lived them already. We allowed him to put the Sigma Nu badge behind it to continue that part of his life. He knew what it meant; he just didn't have the badge. We changed that.
"That day was by far one of the highlights of my 20-plus years as a Sigma Nu."
Spooner believes that the ceremony served as a sense of completion for Thomas.
"When I completed my candidacy and became a brother, it was a big deal," Spooner said. "I know with him having started candidacy and not being able to complete that, it was an unclosed chapter in his life. It (the ceremony) completed his membership with a group of guys that he intended to be friends with for life."
I want to tell Sigma Nu how much I appreciate what they did for me," Thomas said. "I thought that this was something that would never ever happen. I found it to be right up there with getting married and having my son and daughter. It was a dream come true."
Now living in Nacogdoches with his wife, Thomas — Sigma Nu brother, Zeta Psi 588 — is a 100 percent retired, disabled Vietnam veteran. He has nerve damage from his brain to his ears, presumably from being around heavy gunfire, he said. He spent 30 years in sales, has coached baseball for eight years and has been a hunter safety instructor for seven years. Thomas looks forward to helping the fraternity in any way and all the ways he can for the rest of his life. Courtesy Lamar University
Courtesy Lamar University Press – November 30, 2007