The rich histories of our NESCAC schools are riddled with war stories. These stories change with the tides of social consciousness, as the intellectual in us contemplates the morality of war, and the humanity in us inherits its pangs. The simultaneous questions–what is virtue? will my best friend come back? compete for space in the complicated forums of our educational institutions.
Thus Bowdoin, the same school with the highest percentage of men from a northern college to serve in the Union during the Civil War, would later shut down in protest of the Vietnam War and the deaths at Kent State.
But despite our opinions on a war or War in general, the bravery of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country is indisputable.
Robert Frost, a former Professor of English at Amherst College wrote the following unpublished lines on the experience of the homefront during WWI:
France, France I know not what is in my heart.
But God forbid that I should be more brave
As a watcher for a quiet place apart
Than you are fighting in an open grave.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Not mine to say you shall not think of peace.
Not mine, not mine. I almost know your pain.
But I will not believe that you will cease,
I will not bid you cease, from being slain.
Frost wrote to his friend Edward Thomas “You know I haven’t tried to be troubled by the war. But I believe it is half of what’s ailed me ever since August 1914.” Thomas would later die in 1917, falling victim to a shell burst in France.
Amherst College is home to arguably the most beautiful and certainly most well- known war memorial in the ‘Cac.
In 1994 Bowdoin dedicated a memorial to those lost in WWII, the Vietnam War, and Korean War. Then President of the College Robert Edwards told the story of 21-year-old Dean Hefflin, who wrote home to his wife in 1944:
“Do not expect me home before it is over over here and even then, don’t expect me to stay long because my big job is in the Pacific.”
Dean Hefflin never saw his 22nd birthday. He was killed in action in Luxembourg, in December 1944. His father, released from a Japanese prison camp just two months later, wrote to President Casey Sills, describing “the fire in his bones” at learning of his son’s death.
Edwards also told the story of Mickey McPharlin, Bowdoin class of 1935:
The price was high for Michael George Hershall McPharlin of the Class of 1935. Mickey, as he was called, was the first Bowdoin student to find his way into World War II. When the war broke out in Europe, Mickey tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps but was rejected because he was a quarter-inch too short. Undaunted, he traveled to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Eleven months later he was overseas. For over two years he served in England as a member of the American Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force, gaining a reputation as an ace fighter pilot. In 1942, during a commando raid on Dieppe, he was shot down over the English Channel and was rescued by a PT boat. When the Eagle squadron disbanded, Mickey returned to the United States and joined the Army Air Force, achieving the rank of Major. He was married in December 1942 and returned to Europe, once again distinguishing himself in battle. On June 6, 1944,—50 years ago Monday—Mickey was reported missing, having failed to return from a strafing mission over Evereaux, France, behind the invasion beaches of Normandy.
Today we honor and remember the sense of duty that impelled and continues to impel many brave men and women who once shared our classrooms, dorm rooms, and dining halls.
Read Eph Blog for the piece “Ephs Who Have Gone Before.”