With Memorial Day approaching, we talk about Princeton’s World War II veterans, featured in the magazine and online with the May 11 issue. Also, Gregg notes that Woodrow Wilson’s larger-than-life image isn’t the only reason why the Wilcox Hall mural should give us pause.
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BT: I’m Brett Tomlinson, the digital editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
GL: And I am Gregg Lange from the great Class of 1970, who should know better.
BT: And welcome back to another episode of the Rally ’Round the Cannon podcast. We’re coming up on Memorial Day, and the current issue of PAW has some material related to Princeton’s World War II veterans. There a couple of pieces online and one in the magazine. The one in the magazine about Fuller Patterson ’38 is absolutely fascinating and Gregg, I know you have some things to say about that. But I would also call your attention to one of the online pieces, which came to us from a non-alum, a researcher who was doing work in the archives of an Air Force base, and he came across these beautiful, colorful illustrations by Lt. Henry C. Toll ’42. And some Princetonians may know Toll as an artist, a cartoonist, and later an architect and a painter. These are beautiful pieces of artwork that were part of the mundane reporting of his unit’s movements and history during the war. He was also a pilot, but in his downtime he was creating these wonderful watercolor maps. And you can see these, with the essay by Allen Boyer, at paw.princeton.edu.
Gregg, I know you have some thoughts both about Fuller Patterson and about a recent student trip to Normandy, led by professors both from Princeton and from one of the military colleges.
GL: Absolutely. It just is funny the way things fall together, in terms of what’s online and in the print copy at the same time. Allen Friedburg’s seminar’s trip to Normandy, including the beaches and the cemeteries there, as well as Fuller Patterson’s death, ironically on Dec. 7, 1941, flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force, over the coast of the Netherlands, brought back a lot to me. My father served with the Army Quartermaster Corps, and because of a bunch of snafus was delayed in being assigned overseas. He arrived in France soon after D-Day but behind the front lines. And he ended up running some graves-administration details, principally where he was in charge of a few Americans and German prisoners of war, discovering, recovering, and disposing of the bodies of those on the beaches and surrounding.
And of course the story of Fuller Patterson – a wonderful job by Mark Berstein ’83 – describes the Dutch folks who actually recovered the aviators who were killed there and, somewhat defied the Germans by taking them, identifying them, treating their remains properly, and also notifying their families in the States, which is exactly what my Dad was doing in an official capacity on the beaches of Normandy. To say it affected him profoundly is just sort of touching the tip of the iceberg. I think those kinds of things affect everyone profoundly.
And the other thing I would mention is that this is the year that, really one of the very last classes to include World War II veterans – the Class of 1951 – is the 65th reunion class and as a result becomes the last bunch of World War II veterans to march as a class in the P-rade before next year they become part of the Old Guard with essentially all of the other World War II veterans who are alive. In total at Princeton there are about 1,200 or so members of the Old Guard, which is not a lot in an alumni body of 75,000 or 80,000, and we are the poorer for missing their classmates and all of our friends who were involved in that first-hand – the great men of that era who participated selflessly and in many cases very heroically. And then the lucky ones were faced with coming home and having to try to reintegrate themselves into rational human activity after that, which is the point where I picked up the conversation with my father as an example.
It’s the kind of thing that needs to be considered, you really need to think long and hard about the import of those kinds of achievements in human history, and by any account the absolute necessity to avoid anything similar in the future. I think it’s something that we all should think about and strive for, if we ever feel ourselves taking it for granted.
BT: Gregg, we talked off-air about the letter from the editor in this issue, the title is “The Accidental History Issue,” and sometimes we feel like we’re slogging through these examples of history in the news. There’ve been quite a few this year. Some of them come up in this issue of the magazine, the others online – the recent decision to remove the mural of Woodrow Wilson at Wilson College. What’s your take on the year that’s been at Princeton and the way that bits of history keep popping up?
GL: Well, I drop it into columns every once in a while. The current one, to cite a different example, deals with Adlai Stevenson ’22. He was an extremely brilliant and contemporary man of his own times, and when current events pop around to important issues, he arises in the same way that when various current events on the Princeton campus pop around, all of a sudden you’re talking about Woodrow Wilson – almost no matter what part of it you started out with, whether it’s sports, or undergraduate colleges, or the faculty, or the curriculum. So many of those things descend from Woodrow Wilson that he’s difficult to avoid. Which of course is one reason why he became the center of conversation this year as well. The Wilson mural is an interesting example. The students at Wilson College essentially chose to take that down. The one think, once it was brought to our attention – it hadn’t been up all that long, it was part of the last re-do at Wilcox Hall – that’s fascinating to consider, and makes the whole thing that much more cringe-worthy to many of us, is that it happens to show him throwing out the first ball at a baseball game. Which is fine and dandy, except for the coincidence that major league baseball itself was probably one of the great cultural aspects of forced segregation in the first half of the 20th century, as we’ve been talking about recently with the great Jackie Robinson film from Ken Burns.
But Wilson and baseball combined are probably a bit grating an image for the current discussion, and the students decided that it probably wasn’t necessary to have around. While the name of the college was appropriately Wilson College, given the history of the colleges at Princeton, which the trustees decided, the students asked that mural be taken down and it will be, which I believe is entirely appropriate.
BT: I believe we’ve reached the end of this episode. Gregg, do you have anything to add?
GL: Only that this Absolutely Intentional History Edition of the Rally ’Round the Cannon podcast is indeed a presentation of the Princeton Alumni Weekly online.