Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

March 7 , 2001:
The Greatest Generation
Learning about sacrifice by reading Memorials

by Wes Tooke '98

I have recently adopted the somewhat morbid habit of carefully reading the Memorials in every issue of the PAW. While regular readers of this column might suspect that I am eagerly scanning for obnoxious members of the various Princeton e-mail lists, my interest-for once-serves a nobler purpose. I have become fascinated by the way Princeton graduates choose to spend their years.

I am particularly interested in the men who graduated in the decade surrounding the Second World War; those who stepped away from the pedestrian progression of a typical Princeton experience to fight the greatest evil the world has ever known. For obvious demographic reasons the Memorials these days are filled with members of the classes of the late thirties and early forties, and every short tribute to a departed Tiger makes me want to know more. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to leave campus after my sophomore year to fight with Patton in Europe. Or to abandon my current "job" and fly with the Army Air Force in Europe. Or to have served on a tiny escort surrounded by hostile behemoths in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Somehow I doubt that I would have served with the distinction evident even in the abridged text of the Memorials, and somehow I doubt that I would have returned to civilian life with a similar level of grace. Perhaps they served a stiffer brand of beer back then in the clubs. No matter what the reason, every tiny entry is a reminder of lives lived with a degree of sacrifice virtually unknown today. And what's even more remarkable is that most of these men went on to live lives that demonstrate the remarkable range of options that a Princeton education can present to those whom are brave enough to sample widely. In the last two issues alone I've read about orchids and mysticism and moon landings and oceanography.

So as my own hopelessly inadequate tribute to the Princetonians of my grandfathers' generation, I've selected four Memorials from the last two issues that especially touched me. Many thanks to the class secretaries who wrote the original text. Any interesting information contained herein comes from them; all mistakes are mine.

John M. Smyth '37

Johnny Smyth was on the boxing squad at Princeton and a member of Tiger Inn. Upon graduating, he attended Northwestern University School of Law and had just begun practicing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mr. Smyth served for almost four years in the Navy, starting as the commander of a gun crew on a Liberty ship before transferring to a destroyer escort. He won a Presidential Citation in 1944 when his tiny escort torpedoed a Japanese heavy cruiser during the battle of Leyte Gulf. After the war, Mr. Smyth gave up the law and returned to his family's furniture business. His friend Roger Barrett describes him as being "the most widely-beloved man I have ever known."

Richard Dike Faxon '42

At Princeton Dick Faxon majored in geology, won three letters on the hockey team, and was a member of Cap and Gown. He joined the Army Air Corps upon the outbreak of war and flew Spitfires and P-51s in the Mediterranean. Mr. Faxon won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Star among other awards en route to becoming the only acknowledged Class of '42 ace. After the war, Mr. Faxon worked as a geologist for the Keener Oil Company.

George Richard N.H. Nash '45

Dick Nash arrived at Princeton, joined ROTC, and was soon whisked away to serve in the field artillery. The Army assigned him to the 90th Infantry Division, and he tore through Europe with General Patton's Third Army. Upon returning to Princeton after the war, he joined the Triangle Club and served as Captain of the golf team-once winning a match against Navy with a hole-in-one on the 18th green. For the last 15 years of his life, Mr. Nash indulged his great passion, the quest for spiritual peace, by studying with gurus and mystics in places such as India and Puerto Rico.

Harris Bates Stewart Jr. '45

"Stew" Stewart's years at Princeton were also interrupted by the war. He served as a First Lieutenant with the Fifth Army Air Force in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese in the skies over New Guinea and Philippines. He graduated from Princeton in 1948 with a degree in geology, and, after a brief stint as an English teacher, he joined the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and became one of the foremost oceanographers in the world. Princetonians interested in reading a collection of Mr. Stewart's essays can seek out "The Unpredictable Mistress," which was published last year.

If you are interested in more of these stories, just browse the Memorials. I know I'm never disappointed.

You can reach Wes Tooke at cwtooke@princeton.edu