"Lessons from Letters by Our Betters" (And they probably are)

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"Lessons from Letters by Our Betters" (And they probably are)

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on February 27, 2013 FREE Insights Topics:

This FREE Insight is a warm recommendation of a book by WWII veteran Warren R. Higgins, The Wednesday Pen.  His daughter, Ris Higgins, is a Bozeman friend.  She lovingly edited this volume and it was just published by Brown books of Dallas, Texas. 

This is a most unusual book.  It's a collection of letters, one each Wednesday for five years. A loving grandfather crafted these charming missals for his first grandson, Ryan, a Bozeman High graduate now in the military.  As Ris tells us, the letters "...taught Ryan and all of us how to love life and family, how to be a leader in business and the military, how to enjoy sports, and how faith can enrich your life."  This book reminded me of another.

A few years ago I reviewed a book, Soldiering for Freedom: A GI’s Account of World War II, by Herman “Obe” Obermayer. Texas A&M Press published it in its military history series. Obe is a dear friend so this wasn’t a neutral review. I strongly recommend it, not only as history but also as social commentary. His book is drawn from more than 400 letters he wrote to his parents in Philadelphia from July of ’43 through March of ’46. It's not a series of battle stories but rather a young man's commentaries on an enlisted man's life in wartime. 

Today’s military can be selective; it seeks out high human capital, people with the qualities of these two authors. This is unfortunate for those not well endowed at birth by strong intact families and the advantages that come with stable, ethical foundations.  Young men who would benefit most from military experience are often denied acceptance and excluded from the training and discipline they so desperately need.   (Those emerging from foster care are at especially high risk, among the least likely to gain acceptance to the military.) 

Concurrently, today the majority of the most fortunate young men opt out of military service.  Fortunately for America, a few young men such as Ryan elect to serve.  Reading The Wednesday Pen, will help you understand why he did so. 

Obe's and Mr. Higgins perspectives have fascinating parallels.  Both young men were students in the Ivies when war broke out, Obe at Dartmouth, Higgins at Cornell.  Both interrupted college for military service.

Obe comes from German Jewish stock. His ancestors immigrated shortly before the Civil War. He was a freshman at Dartmouth in 1942. At halftime during the Harvard game in October, they announced the draft for men 18 and older.  Warren Higgins is also of German stock, but Catholic.  He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in his freshman year and was called up in 1943. 

They also had a friend in common, William Rehnquist. Warren Higgins was a high school friend of Bill Rehnquist (see page 181 of The Wednesday Pen)   Obe became a friend while Rehnquist was Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court and he  published an account of his friendship with Bill Rehnquist,   Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States.

Obe and the Chief Justice played tennis, they went to movies and dinner on Saturdays with their wives, and together followed elections. They most prized intellectual conversations.  Obermeyer slyly unfolds facts that let the reader draw conclusions. Warren Higgins concludes many of his letters to Ryan with this admonition, "Think about it". 

Here is the key difference in the two books I’m recommending.  Obe was a young man writing to his parents from a war zone in the 1940s.  Fifty years later, Warren Higgins a veteran of that war, shared a lifetime of wisdom with a grandson.  Obe served in France when writing to his parents.  Mr. Higgins flew over the Pacific front. While many of Mr. Higgins' letters draw his flying and fighting experiences, most draw on his life after the military.  It's unlikely they ever met--but if they did they'd like and surely respect one another.

Each of Warren Higgins' letters is brief, 150 to 200 words. I read a few hours every night and The Wednesday Pen has been my dessert.  I recommend the book, to you, to your children, and grandchildren.  I'm grateful to Ris, a friend and a strong supporter of Warriors and Quiet Waters, for editing this meaningful and highly worthwhile collection.  It would be a fine gift. 

PS   Not to spoil the ending, but here's a hint.  The last letter in the book is one from Ryan to his grandfather.  It shows the value of the sharing deep, and even seemingly minor thoughts, with those you love.  I believe the lessons and behavior accounted in both books described above merit emulation.