The article about Thayer Greene ’50’s experiences as a soldier in World War II (“I Have to Honor It All,” Fall 2019) hit me on so many levels. I remember Thayer from many years ago, when I visited his home with his daughter Rachel ’80, who was a freshman when I served as R.A. in Moore. He told me about becoming a therapist after being a pastor, to help people with problems. But he never told me about his war experiences. I attended Amherst on the GI Bill after serving two years in Vietnam. That war was an emotional roller coaster of hate and fear. I remember three Vietnamese children with a French nun that we rescued and brought to safety. They were so hungry and had been orphaned by artillery fire on their village. I served as a naval artilleryman. And that made me wonder if I had been responsible for their plight. Unlike Thayer, who came to that horrible camp as a liberator, I felt responsible for causing the plight of those children.
I wish we had talked more about war experiences, Thayer. I thank you for sharing your memories in the magazine.
David C. Litrico ’77
The article about Thayer Greene was wonderful. I write now to add an anecdote to the record. When I was a freshman at Amherst and Greene was the college chaplain, he organized informal discussion sessions in his living room, not far from campus. I remember attending sessions—we were eight or 10 each time—with fellow freshmen in which we discussed adjusting to college; our sense of religion; our hopes, fears and what have you. I remember that it was a varied group and that Greene was an effective and sympathetic leader of the conversations. For me, a Jew from New York, the sessions were extraordinarily valuable. Greene, quite literally, made me feel at home. Ironically, an important part of that sense of welcome was my growing awareness of how different my upbringing was from that of my classmates and that I was very much in the minority in my class.
It was no accident that in the coming years, Chaplain Greene’s brother, Ted Greene ’43, became my mentor and thesis adviser. The Greene brothers had a marked influence on my life at Amherst and after.
Joe Tulchin ’59
The article on Thayer Greene’s experiences in 1945 in Germany, then in Amherst and ever since, evoked my memories of those years too.
I did not have the brutal exposure to the Nazi death camps that he had, but I saw enough of war’s personal and physical aftermath in Europe in the summer of 1949 to raise hard questions in my mind about warfare.
The article on Thayer Greene’s experiences in 1945 in Germany, then in Amherst and ever since, evoked my memories of those years too.”
At Amherst from 1946 to 1950, I also was helped forward in my life by the same men that he mentions: John Coburn, rector of the town’s Episcopal Church, and Robert McAfee Brown of the First Congregational Church, both chaplains to the College. Bob Brown and his wife also had a coffee evening in their home once a week in the fall of 1946 that I greatly enjoyed in my quest for meaning in life. These two men did their jobs well in Amherst, both in the town and at the College.
Ted, as we classmates called him, went into the ministry, which soon included chaplaincy at our alma mater, and I went into medicine. I joined a communal pacifist church community, the Bruderhof, where I practiced medicine and helped with pastoral work for 60 years. So Ted and I had similar responses to the horrors we saw in Europe, and to the rich relationships we had with Amherst chaplains more than 70 years ago.
Thanks for your story, Ted!
Milton Zimmerman ’50
Thank you for the cover story on Thayer Greene. During his 1950s chaplaincy years, Thayer touched many lives. As a member of the class of ’55, I write to testify that he changed mine.
Thayer changed my life’s trajectory with five words: “Al, what are you fighting?!”
In January 1955 I had achieved what I thought was my life’s goal: acceptance in medical school (in spite of D’s in organic chemistry!). I was going to be a general-practice doctor like my father, whom I had grown up admiring. I should have been on cloud nine. But upon returning to college following the Christmas holidays, I was troubled, restless, puzzled about my melancholy. I sought out Thayer, who knew me well. He listened for a while. Then out came that life-changing question: “Al, what are you fighting?!”
Thayer had figured it out: Now that I had survived all that pre-med grind, I was free to face something that had been happening in my personal, spiritual life. Christian ministry and physician ministry share a common caring, servant calling, but after 50 years of parish ministry I have Thayer to thank for guidance into the life journey that was right for me.
Al McLean ’55
McLean is minister emeritus of the First Church of Christ in Hartford. He served as assistant chaplain at Amherst with Greene in 1957–58.
In a day when inhumanity seems to be increasingly acceptable in a political agenda, the excellent article on Thayer Greene is quite timely.
However, I would like to address the idea that most Americans didn’t know about Nazi concentration camps before 1945, and that, in the author’s words, “it was all too easy not to know, even for Germans who were living right there next to them.”
While it is quite believable that “most Americans didn’t know about them,” it is much more difficult to swallow the apologia that Germans had the same cognitive deficit. It may have been “all too easy not to know”; but the words “not to know” need themselves to be placed in quotation marks, for there is no way that the Germans literally did not know of the horrors taking place down the road from where they were eating breakfast, lunch and supper with their children.
That “most Americans didn’t know about them” may well have been true. But it is also true that there were some Americans, and among them some in positions of public trust and responsibility, who most certainly did know and chose to keep that knowledge to themselves and/or, abandoning any consideration of morality, found it politically inexpedient to do anything about it. Unfortunately for our Fairest College, one of the individuals to whom this description most aptly applies is the late John J. McCloy ’16.
On the other hand, our alma mater is lucky to have nurtured the thought and morality of Thayer Greene. Indeed, Dr. Greene’s humanity is a lesson for those in our time who do “know” of political and moral wrongs being perpetrated but, out of self-interest and/or political expediency, choose to acquiesce in, and thereby to enable, that perpetration.
Jay M. Freyman ’64
Thank you for an interesting look at an Amherst grad’s attempt to run for office (“Laura Moser Won’t Run for Anything Again,” Fall 2019). Laura Moser ’99 is fortunate that the “gotcha” culture that lost her the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee only meant she failed in her run for office. Many other victims, predominantly on the other side of the aisle, have faced far worse for simply wearing a hat. The silence of progressives on this trend is troubling.
New York City
The writer is the widow of Michael Randall ’62.
At the risk of making this a multi-publication, generationally based controversy, I wish to support Sheldon Taft ’59’s comments (Voices, Fall 2019) about the criticism of Amherst magazine’s Spring 2019 coverage of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s appearance at Amherst. Not only was the coverage appropriate for a high-profile speaker’s remarks but it seems to have captured the tone of the event and Mr. Kasich’s personality.
Donatella Galella ’09’s Summer 2019 letter to the editor attacks Mr. Kasich for a “sexist, clueless remark on what a college president should look like” without noting his self-deprecating moment that immediately followed, when he acknowledged that standards once relevant for “what a college president should look like” were no longer valid. According to the coverage, the audience appreciated his self-correction and moved on. Ms. Galella then excoriates Mr. Kasich for an array of thought-sins she generally associates with the broader Republican Party. In reality, Ms. Galella is aggrieved not so much because of what Mr. Kasich said (the magazine coverage does not indicate he touched on any of the issues of concern to her), but because Mr. Kasich is not aligned with her political views.
Not only was the coverage appropriate for a high-profile speaker’s remarks but it seems to have captured the tone of the event.”
One of Amherst’s strengths is its ability to attract, and provide a forum for, a wide variety of impressive policy and thought leaders, giving students direct exposure to different thinking and beliefs. Isn’t being challenged by views not your own, and learning to listen to others, at the core of the liberal arts mission? Indeed, contrary to “undermin[ing] the College’s mission,” as Ms. Galella asserts Mr. Kasich’s policies do, Mr. Kasich’s appearance was exactly in line with the College’s mission, and his remarks seem to have presented the attendees with provocative and challenging concepts outside the realm of politics. Credit to the magazine for its coverage and the College for hosting him.
Marc Freedman ’82
Falls Church, Va.
I loved the interview of Anthony Abraham Jack ’07 (“The Road to Access,” Summer 2019). I’m not economically or racially disadvantaged, just academically (or I was before I went to Amherst). I came from a disadvantaged high school in central Pennsylvania that was not even accredited. No one was expected to go on to a renowned college from there. My senior year, we moved to Amherst, and I graduated from Amherst Regional High. My senior year of high school was a blur: I basically did the work of six years in one. I loved it. I thought if I could do that, I could do anything.
Amherst College woke me up to the reality of higher academics. I loved the challenge, the excitement, the intellectual curiosity, but my entire four years there were pervaded by a feeling of total inadequacy. I graduated cum laude after creating my own major, but I was in awe of the people around me—the professors, students and alumni. That feeling never left me. Even graduate school was nothing like Amherst; there I was solidly in the middle of my class.
I wish I could do it all over again. I would take more advantage of the opportunities, rather than hiding in fear of them.
Dorrin B. Rosenfeld ’85
Seeing Theodore Baird’s handwriting (“A Baird Bounty,” Summer 2019) lifted from memory the letters he wrote to me several decades ago. After graduation and prior to entering the service, I took a one-year position teaching high school English and wrote to ask him whether English 1–2 could be taught at that level. He wrote that “it would be like trying to stop a fast-moving object by talking to it.” Years later, when I asked him to write a letter in support of my application to graduate school, he mentioned in his reply that he was on sabbatical and that although he loved teaching, he also loved “not to teach or to not teach,” which I took to be his indifference to the convention of avoiding the split infinitive.
Your article states that Baird’s “personality was especially intertwined with his teaching,” and you quote William H. Pritchard ’53’s comment that Baird “was a man of very strong taste, and … pretty much of no two minds about anything.” Precisely, and that is what drew me to his classes.
When the classroom bell rang, he stopped in mid-sentence and sometimes in mid-word. When a student in Baird’s course on the modern novel regularly commented on the topics Baird presented for discussion and informed the class that he was a member of the Christian Association and its president as well, Baird absorbed this information without comment. But in a later class discussion he turned to the student and asked: “What’s the position of the Christian Association on this issue?”
Ron Gregson ’55
La Grange, Ill.
I have a slight correction to Craig Kaufman’s otherwise very nice article about the 1999 women’s tennis team (“The First Champs,” Fall 2019). They were not the first Amherst team to win a national championship. The 1962 men’s lacrosse team, which Ralph Ardiff ’62 and I co-captained, won the National Class B championship. We were undefeated and untied. Granted, we did not have to play through an end-of-year championship bracket but instead were declared national champions of Class B (equivalent to current Division III) by the powers that be. The winning game ball against Williams (our last game) is ensconced in Coach Jon Thompson’s office.
Laurence H. Beck ’62
Director of Athletics Communications Craig Kaufman responds: When we refer to national championships, we are talking about NCAA team championships administered by the NCAA through postseason tournaments. Amherst was not a member of the NCAA in 1962, and there was no championship bracket for lacrosse. The team was instead named #1 in a season-ending ranking. This in no way detracts from the achievement of being an undefeated team.
Thank you for publishing the lovely and moving First Words piece from Peter Zheutlin ’75 (Fall 2019). I started to read it while sitting at my dining table—then realized this was not the correct approach. I instead sat on the couch with my golden-retriever-mix rescue dog, Henry James, and read it out loud to him while petting his fuzzy head. I’d like to think that his tail thumps meant he appreciated it just as much as I did.
Manisha Pai ’99