Letters of Note has posted Robert Heinlein’s letter to Forrest J Ackerman offering condolences on the death of his brother, Alden, at the Battle of the Bulge on New Year’s Day 1945.
Forry had a brother who died in the war?
It’s hardly shocking that another fan would be ignorant of a friend’s mundane relatives who passed away decades before the two of them met. But what if that fan has written dozens of news stories about the friend? What if that fan not long ago spent hours researching the friend’s obituary? What if that fan is me (coff coff) and the information is on a page I consulted in Harry Warner Jr.’s All Our Yesterdays?
His only brother, Alden Lorraine, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on New Year’s Day, 1945. Ackerman published a memorial booklet in which he spoke with a simple eloquence, like a newly matured person.
Forry evidently had asked Heinlein to contribute to the booklet and the letter conveys Heinlein’s answer.
Alden Lorraine Ackerman died at the age of 21 while serving in D Company of the 42nd Tank Battalion of the 11th Armored Division. It’s entirely possible that his death is the subject of this entry on the unit’s webpage describing the events of January 1 (the only deaths specified that day) while the battalion was fighting its way to Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne:
Between 1930 and 2000, one enemy airplane bombed Rechrival three times scoring a near miss on one tank which was not damaged. However, two men standing near-by were killed. The rest of the night was marked with scattered artillery fire which did no damage.
Heinlein not only said no to the invitation, he took the opportunity to tee off on fandom for its perceived failure to join the war effort. One of his milder statements is:
I know that you are solemn in your intention to see to it that Alden’s sacrifice does not become meaningless. I am unable to believe that fan activity and fan publications can have anything to do with such intent. I have read the fan publications you have sent me and, with rare exceptions, I find myself utterly disgusted with the way the active fans have met the trial of this war.
Of course, it should not be surprising that in 1945 Heinlein would feel that way toward any able-bodied person who was not in the service or doing war work. Therefore, the most remarkable thing about this letter actually is the warmth Heinlein expresses to Ackerman in closing (after attempting to persuade him to request a transfer to serve in Europe):
We are very fond of you, Forry. You are a fine and gentle soul. This is a very difficult letter to write; if I did not think you were worth it, I would not make the effort.
I was really surprised by this. Til now, all the stories I have ever heard were about the friction between them, such as Heinlein’s famous letter telling Ackerman to “Keep your hands off my property” after Forry sold Heinlein’s 1941 Denvention GoH speech to Vertex in 1973.
[Via Ansible Links.]