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A Hand Up

Giving News

He had earned a Combat Infantry Badge, two Purple Hearts, and a Bronze Star. But could he still earn his degree?

By Avrel Seale

A Hand Up_Prisoners_

Don Houseman, third from left on the front row, and fellow prisoners of war celebrate outside their prison camp after it was liberated by U.S. Troops.

A manual typewriter could be a formidable device to operate, even with fully functioning hands. But in 1945, business senior Don Houseman had an extra degree of difficulty: In order to graduate, he had to pass a notoriously demanding letter-writing class. Never mind that one of his arms was in a cast above his head.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Houseman, then a freshman, joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps. In April 1943, he and 900 of his fellow students were called up for basic training. He shipped out to Europe, and on December 19, 1944, his unit at the Belgium-Germany border was overrun during the Battle of the Bulge.

An exploding mortar round filled his right forearm with shrapnel. Later that day, he took a machine gun round in the leg and was captured by the Germans. A forced march through the night was followed by a freezing open-truck ride to a stalag.

His arm became infected and was so painful he asked for an amputation, but a fellow American prisoner who was a doctor employed by the Germans was able to secure a supply of sulpha, a newly discovered antimicrobial drug. He sneaked the drug to Houseman and saved his arm.

Katy and Don Houseman

Katy and Don in his Army days. The couple were married after the war.

After his camp was liberated, Houseman returned to Texas, where for 19 months he bounced between hospitals in Temple, El Paso, and San Antonio undergoing a series of bone grafts, treatments for infection, and rehabilitation. All the while, his arm was immobilized in a cast that, for reasons he still doesn’t know, was positioned above his head.

During this time he also made two important reconnections. He married the UT girl he’d left behind to fight in the war, Katy Buckley. And he contacted the university to re-enroll in the business school during a 90-day leave following a bone graft. Gone was the partying fraternity boy of 1941. Like thousands of classmates, Houseman was now a worldly veteran. He rose at 6 a.m. each day to hit the books.

“I was intent on getting my degree and getting out of there,” he says.

But there was a hitch. No business major could graduate without taking Professor William P. Boyd’s renowned letter-writing class. “He was famous because he was so tough,” Houseman says. “Everything had to be fitted perfectly in proportion to the page.”

Houseman’s left-handed typing was so slow he simply could not do the work. He went to Boyd and said, “I’m sorry. I know this is going to prevent me from getting my degree, but I just can’t do it. I’m going to have to drop it.”

But Boyd had also served in the military and, taking a liking to Houseman, allowed him to write the letters longhand. At first the right-hander’s left-handed writing was unintelligible, but he worked hard enough to pass the class. In fact, he earned six A’s to complete his remaining 18 hours. From that point on, he was Don Houseman, BBA ’46.

A Hand Up_Don Houseman

Don slowly regained use of his right hand after a long series of treatments and rehabilitation.

He and Katy moved back to Dallas, where he joined his father’s insurance company and over many decades built it into a thriving success. Houseman Insurance merged with Marsh & McLennan, and he was put in charge of the Dallas office. Meanwhile, he and Katy raised five children.

Boyd died in 1987 at the age of 90, but Houseman never forgot the hand up his professor had given him. He and Katy recently established the Don and Katy Houseman Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Business and will provide additional funding for the endowment through their estate.

Houseman, now 92, explains that his father did not have a formal education but educated himself.

“That meant something to me. That was part of my determination to become educated myself, to get my degree. I’m very proud to have graduated from The University of Texas, and if I can help others get an education and have opportunities like I’ve had, I’ll do it.”

As he slowly regained limited use of his right hand, Houseman lost the ability he acquired at UT to write with his left, just as the German he learned as a POW faded as the decades rolled by. But when he wrote a memo describing the Houseman Scholarship, its formatting was perfect.

 

 

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