October 22, 2003: Letters

Johnny Poe, athlete and warrior

Visas today

In the nation’s service

Orange and black on the wall

Towns’s teaching

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Johnny Poe, athlete and warrior

While reading Mark Bernstein’s entertaining minibiography of Johnny Poe (cover story, September 10), I could not help thinking of another figure of that era, Winston Churchill. As young Winston thrust himself into military campaigns in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, he was able to do what Poe was not. Churchill made a living (both as a soldier and writer), he participated in battles of significance, and he probably was a lot happier than poor Johnny Poe. But Poe’s romantic spirit did not do him in. Rather, his lack of professional military training, lack of a college degree, and apparent inability to focus on long-term goals did. Churchill, on the other hand, confided to several people in the late 1890s that he would be prime minister one day.

In the same issue of PAW, it was noted in the football preview that three of Princeton’s All-Ivy players were ruled academically ineligible this year. We wish them well and hope they return to football and get their Princeton degrees, but better they follow the example of Winston Churchill than Poe.

Kerry H. Brown ’74
Tampa, Fla.


“The Legend of Johnny Poe” made for fascinating reading. I would like to add another reference to Princeton that comes from the “Breakfast in Princeton — U.S.A.” odyssey my wife and I made in 1996 when we visited all 32 Princetons (feature, January 22, 1997).

Your article noted that in 1904 Poe volunteered when the Kentucky governor called out the militia to suppress the “Black Patch (Tobacco) War.” As you may know, Princeton, Kentucky, is in the heart of the region that produces this tobacco, the principal ingredient in chewing tobacco and snuff. The American Tobacco Company, under James Duke, fixed the price of dark-fired tobacco under cost, which provoked 5,000 farmers to organize and conduct civil uprisings and night raids that lasted for about four years. Though the town was named not for our Princeton but for a local benefactor named William Prince, could the Princeton name have influenced Johnny to volunteer in that particular region?

Ken Perry ’50
St. Louis, Mo.


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Visas today

I’m glad to see Princeton taking part in the national discussion on the student-visa system (President’s Page, May 14).

In my view, the system was instituted and operated quite simply for the convenience and economic benefit of our colleges and universities (and, in turn, our country). We all now recognize that the student-visa system provided other opportunities, e.g., an opportunity for terrorists to gain entry to America. Like many immigration programs, the student-visa system is being reworked to facilitate the entry of foreign students, but also to prevent future acts of terror.

I understand the frustrations some have with the new Sevis student-visa database. I urge patience as the government works out any problems in what is an intricate system, which now must serve more purposes than just enabling schools to bring in students. That same patience will be required of families and the businesses, arts, tourism, and many other constituencies that have over the years helped craft our complex (and sometimes contradictory) immigration policies, statutes, and regulations. Everyone will need to plan ahead to a much greater extent, given the increased demands on an overburdened and historically underfunded government agency.

It is folly to blame any particular administration for complications over immigration systems. Both major political parties have had sharp internal debates over immigration policy. Viewing the situation from inside the government, it is clear to me that we as a nation lack a consensus on what we want from our immigration policy.

I work for the Department of Homeland Security, but the views expressed in this letter are my own, and are not intended to express the official views of D.H.S.

Peter N. Schmalz ’89
Essex Junction, Vt.

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In the nation’s service

I am writing with some observations on the letter of J. Wilson Morris ’61 (September 10) about “In the nation’s service.” In referring to various policies, he asks whether Messrs. Daniels, Frist, and Rumsfeld really are in the nation’s service.

Although I may not agree with many of the policies these men are acting on or advocating, they are indeed constitutionally elected and appointed. I believe that they are people trying to do their best for the American people in very difficult circumstances. It is up to the electorate to decide whether their best is good enough.

Mr. Morris asks if “Princeton in the nation’s service means only the holding of high office.” Here, I think he missed the opportunity to make a broader point. Graduates who have done significant work in entertainment, literature, science, social work, and many other fields are also in the nation’s service. In the same issue, Shirley Tilghman writes about my classmate Henry von Kohorn ’66, who with others is “looking for ways to recognize and encourage high school students who are taking initiatives to improve race relations in their schools and communities.” I do not know what Mr. von Kohorn’s politics are. I could care less. Here is a person who represents Princeton in the nation’s service at its best.

Being in your nation’s service often means doing your duty because that is the right thing to do. I, like many of my classmates, fought in Vietnam — a stupid, despicable war that still mars the Ameri-can psyche. There was a president and a vice president I despised. They were constitutionally elected, and I, like many of my classmates, did my duty. Princeton in the nation’s service — no second-guessing who the elected leaders are.

David M. Kinard ’66
Ocean Grove, N.J.


J. Wilson Morris ’61 decries the recognition of Mitch Daniels ’61, Bill Frist ’74, and Don Rumsfeld ’54 as exemplars of “Princeton in the nation’s service” because they are “extreme and partisan.” I would like to address his questions about their supposed inadequate leadership of our nation:

1. “They aim to shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class.” Even after the modest Bush tax cuts, the top 5 percent of taxpayers will pay more than 50 percent of the income tax burden. The top 1 percent will pay 35 percent of all income tax, while earning about 17 percent of all income.

2. “They are cutting programs for the poor.” Under the current administration, no programs for the poor have been cut.

3. “[They are creating] massive public debt to undercut Social Security and Medicare as universal programs.” In the two and a half years since President Bush took office, Senate Democrats have proposed more than $1.9 trillion in spending over and above what the president has asked for and what Congress eventually approved. As for Social Security and Medicare, the huge unfunded liabilities of these programs originated in legislation passed between 30 and 70 years ago.

4. “[They are trying] to install an ideologically supercharged federal bench.” Mr. Morris is presumably referring to nominees such as Miguel Estrada. Mr. Estrada, a true American success story, has been given the highest possible rating by the American Bar Association. However, because he and certain other thoughtful nominees are unwilling to make a public pledge of allegiance to Roe v. Wade, Mr. Morris feels justified in branding them “ideologically supercharged.”

5. “[They would] advance foreign policies which isolate our nation and make us the enemy of former friends.” Apparently having 28 other nations fighting alongside us in the liberation of Iraq was of no consequence.

Robert H. Braunohler ’68
Washington, D.C.

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Orange and black on the wall

Your item about Princetoniana (Notebook, September 10) reminds me of my own piece of it.

As a student, I lived with Janet and Ham Cottier on Orchard Circle. Both enjoyed deep connections with the University. Beyond that, Janet was a keen needlewoman. One day, she appeared at the bottom of the steps with some mysterious textiles. She said she had just come from an auction benefiting the Princeton Embroiderers Guild and, by the way, would I like some throw pillows made out of President Harold Dodds’s doctoral hoods. As it happened, Margaret Dodds, when preparing to move out of the family home into retirement accommodations, decided to dispose of her husband’s many honorary hoods to the advantage of the Guild. I expressed delight at the prospect of bits of history stuffed with down. At that, Janet went off on her appointed rounds, but well before the pillows arrived, she again appeared at the bottom of the stairs with a box, announcing that since I had liked the hoods so much, she had gone back to her pal, Margaret, and taken them all. “How about a quilt?” she queried.

At an arranged time, Janet then spirited me off to an army base in southern New Jersey, where a retired colonel’s wife presided over a sewing bee. On her command, we politely spread the hoods out on an enormous table before a group of ladies, awaiting the verdict as to the project’s worthiness. I timidly suggested that the shape of the hoods should be preserved, not wanting them to be transformed into little bunnies and stars. She barked that they would take on the job and would be in touch in 18 months. As we were retreating, Janet suddenly grabbed the Princeton hood and shoved it into my hands, expressing surprise that Harold had let this one go. “I assumed he would someday want to be buried in it,” she snapped. “You must use it when you get your degree.”

A year and a half later, I got the call and went to retrieve the quilt; this unique bit of Princetoniana has found its way from southern New Jersey to England and then to Shelter Island, where it now festoons an enormous wall in my summer home.

Incidentally, when receiving my degree, I did get to use President Dodds’s hood, grateful for Janet’s creativity and Mrs. Dodds’s lack of sentimentality.

Peter Rupert Lighte *81
London, England

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Towns’s teaching

It is unfortunate for Princeton undergraduates that Caldwell Field House equipment manager Hank Towns h’82 is retiring (Sports, September 10). He was an integral part of my Princeton education. I remember my first meeting with Hank. I was a freshman cross-country runner, and he handed me a pair of socks. I just sat there and waited for him to hand me the next item. Hank stopped everything to say, “Now let me tell you something. You’re at Princeton now, and you’re supposed to be a gentleman. When somebody gives you something, you say ‘thank you.’ ” Hank covered in a few seconds what my mother must have been trying to teach me for 18 years. I’ve been saying “thank you,” when appropriate, ever since.

Joseph LeMay ’89
Branford, Conn.

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