On August 1, 1966, I was attending Peace Corps training at the University of Texas in Austin. As I was leaving Turkish language class, shots rang out, sending people fleeing for safety. I was among those trapped outside, well within the range of his rifle.
A highly trained marine sniper had dollied an arsenal up to the top of the tower, giving him a huge view in every direction. His potential targets numbered in the thousands. By placing his guns near downspouts, he was able to fire at will, sheltered by the parapet that surrounded the observation deck.
I was pinned down behind an oak tree, with no assurance that its canopy would shelter me. Before the shooter’s murderous rampage reached its end, he had killed 17 people and injured more than 30, many with serious complications. Up to that point in time, it was one of the worst mass murders in American history.
Some students in a building adjacent to my position signaled me that they would fling open the door if I wanted to make a run for it.
I observed that the gunfire rotated around the tower in a pattern of sorts. Counting down with my fingers, I dashed for the doorway and reached safety. I made a point of thanking those students who put themselves at great risk to get me out of the shooter’s line of fire.
There were many acts of bravery that day. I learned that Peace Corps trainee Bob Zahn put himself in grave danger by helping to carry a wounded woman to safety. I witnessed a man running down the street shouting for everyone to take cover. And of course our enduring gratitude goes out to the two police officers, Ramiro Martinez and Huston McCoy, who paired up to bring down the shooter.
It saddens me that our nation has done so little to prevent mass murders like the one I witnessed. I draw encouragement from organizations like Everytown and Moms Demand Action. We may have finally reached a point where reasonable preventive steps can be addressed and adopted. We owe it to the memory of those lost to mindless savagery to press on, knowing that our efforts will eventually be fruitful.