He received his notice. It wasn’t by e-mail but the message was the same. The second semester of his senior year was coming to an abrupt end. It was not a virus. No, it was World War II.
This smiling young man was my Dad. He smiled a lot and took things with grace and good nature. And so when he was notified that he had to leave the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and report for Basic Training on March 1, 1943, he did. He was not alone and his departure made the front page of the Daily Collegian. https://dailycollegian.com/
My Dad and 131 others had their college life interrupted in a big way. If you look at the names of the seniors you can read: Martin, Henry F. was off to the Army.
I recall my Dad saying that he had to leave college early but honestly, and perhaps a bit selfishly, I did not think much about it. Now, as I watch all the seniors in high school and college leave their beloved places of learning so abruptly and under difficult circumstances, I see my father in a new light.
This time of quarantine offered me a chance to do some research. Fortunately, UMass has some great archives and down the rabbit hole I went. There I found my father’s yearbook.
He looks so serious. Perhaps he was trying to look grown-up. Or maybe they were told not to smile. He does not look ready for war. How was he going to go from helping with the publicity of the Newman Center to dodging sniper bullets in Okinawa. (That was indeed a reality he told me when I pressed him for war details at the end of his life. ) How was this fun-loving lad going to manage?
The yearbook showed him pictured with his fraternity brothers at QTV. And a candid on the next page reveals a lighter side.
My father is behind the kid with the drink. I do not know the occasion but it probably ended with my father playing the piano. He loved Big Band music. He also loved God and his faith helped him as he transitioned from a senior in college to a soldier.
I think his faith faith helped him to cope with the sudden and difficult end to his college career. And I do know that he did not let that moment define him. He was not bitter or angry about it. It was not the path he expected or would have chosen but it was a path that led him to a new life. In fact, it placed him at a USO dance in Springfield where he met my mother. So the end was a new beginning and one for which I am particularly grateful. And it is my hope that all seniors who have missed out realize that as hard as it is, it can be okay — maybe really good in hindsight. Here’s hoping.