The Long Good-Bye, As Recorded in the Back of the Book

When the new issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW) rolls around, I read through it carefully. The back of the book sections, Class Notes and Memorials, are always worth a close scan. I’ve made occasional appearances in the former and have no current plans to pop up in the latter.

Details of the memorials sketch the great swaths of social and political history in which individuals lived. Men’s lives (and they were only men until co-education in the early 1970s) mostly followed patterns of early marriage, entire careers spent at a single company, civic involvement and a graceful retirement, often involving either a boat or golfing.

What strikes me with the most impact for graduates from the late 1930s through the late 1940s, however, is the connecting tissue of military service. The natural course of life now offers up the long good-bye of memorials for men who fought in World War II. Their memorials are matter of fact, with just the basics of involvement, but the background details of disrupted education and families, and ever-present danger, can be imagined. These are the ones, after all, who survived the war; one of every 30 Princetonians who served was killed, a total of 355. We will not see the likes of this common martial bond again in our lifetime, God willing.

Memorials from the May 11 issue of PAW bring out the terse language and what followed in a handful of lives. Some samples from just one issue, all illustrated with graduation photos:

Bruce R. Alger ’40: “After a brief stint with RCA, he joined the Army Air Corps and captained a Boeing B-29 based on Tinian Island, logging 23 bombing missions over Japan.”

George H. Erker ’44: “During World War II he was a Navy pilot and served in the South Pacific. In 1943, he married Barbara Griesedieck. He became a stock broker in St. Louis after the war, a career that continued for more than 50 years, up until the day he died.”

Edward D. Walen ’44: “During World War II he was in the Air Corps Technical Training Corps and was assigned for 18 months to the China-Burma-India theater. After the war, Ted returned to Princeton with his wife, Barbara Gahm, to earn his degree, then went to Harvard Business School.”

Joseph K. Gordon ’47: “A graduate of Episcopal Academy, he did not begin his Princeton career until he had served three years in the Navy, including seven months on a light cruiser.”

Alfred F. Shine ’48: “He served with the Marines during World War II, was stationed in the Marshall Islands and elsewhere in the Pacific, and was wounded in combat. After he graduated from Princeton in 1947, Al was called again to active duty, first in Korea, and then for a year in the U.S. military’s occupation of Japan. Meanwhile, he married Mary in 1949, and they were together until her death in 1995. Al’s entire business career was with Prudential Insurance Co.”

With the decline of military service, either conscription or voluntary, the memorials fragment in the last 50 and 60 years. The military is no longer a given in life arcs. Men and women from Princeton still serve ably, and I am proud that my class counts among its members Gen. Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, along with ambassadors and other skilled diplomats and public servants. What common themes will memorialists from the coming decades say about the classes ever more distant from the Greatest Generation? I leave that to them.

Well, maybe not totally to them. As both an ’80 class officer and a writer, I may have a certain control over what my memorial says, in the far future (so I hope in terms of timing, anyway. But as my late mother, a World War II veteran herself, used to say, “When your number’s up, your number’s up”).  The first memorial in the May 11 issue shows how that’s done. Read the memorial of veteran and tunesmith Richard R. Uhl ’39 to the end.

Dick died July 1, 2015, at his home in Redding, Conn.

He prepared at Lawrenceville and graduated from Princeton with high honors and a degree in music. Dick’s career in advertising as a musician and producer of radio and TV shows began immediately but was interrupted by four years in the Army. After being discharged as a captain, he joined Sullivan Stauffer Colwell & Bayles as executive creative director.

Dick was a trustee of the Westover School for Girls, a member of the board of the Aaron Copland Heritage Foundation, and an elder of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church.

With lyricist Tom Adair, Dick wrote the song “Everybody Every Payday,” the official song of the second War Loan Drive in 1943. His song “A Romantic Guy I” was the theme song of Robert Cummings’ first TV show. His bicentennial hymn, “We Who Love Our Land,” won an award from the Hymn Society of America.

Dick is survived by his wife, Emily Detwiler; daughters Laura, Emily, and Elizabeth ’82; and three grandchildren.

Our class secretary from 1981 to 2007 and memorialist until 2010, Dick wrote 453 columns and 418 memorials, including all but the last two sentences of this one. The class expresses deep gratitude for his faithful chronicling of our lives and our deaths.

 

Yes, that’s how I can see my last PAW appearance taking shape. But the story has a way yet to go before the long good-bye.

 

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