Dec 10, 2020

The University of Madrid was in political turmoil that year—there were frequent student demonstrations and violent confrontations with the “Guardia Civil,” the state police. (We called them “grises”—“gray men”—for their gray uniforms.) When there was liable to be trouble, Gay, at the Education Abroad Office, would call all sixty of us in the program, warning us not to attend classes that day. We risked jail if we were anywhere in the vicinity—police trucks would drive around and spray “protesters” with paint to mark them for arrest. One day Gay didn’t reach me in time. I took my two metros and bus to campus, but as I got off amid a crush of students, I saw a line of Guardia Civil on horseback at the far end of a field. Frantically I scrambled back onto the bus a moment before the doors closed—and watched the grises charge down the field, descending on the students and beating them savagely with “gomas” (rubber clubs), until the melee was right underneath my window—frightened horses rearing, clubs swinging, students screaming as they were thrown against the bus or clawed at the doors.

Some time after this incident, all classes were suspended, and we U. C. students were given a choice—to leave Madrid or stay—because if the university remained closed, the boys in our program could lose their credits for the year and risked being drafted for the war in Vietnam.

My friends and I, including Ella, Dale, and Pete, chose to stay.