How Did I Not Know This?

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.]

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4 thoughts on “How Did I Not Know This?

  1. Does it need mentioning that the ardent Mr. Heinlein had a Nice Safe Job at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, testing widgets and gadgets for aircraft that younger men would have to actually fly? Perhaps if Heinlein had been younger himself, and hadn’t been mustered out oft he peacetime Navy for TB, he would have been first in the recruitment line, so he could throw himself at German machine guns. All the same, it isn’t seemly for Armchair Patriots to sound off.

  2. Robert Heinlein was anything but an armchair patriot, and you insult his memory. He tried two different ways to get back into uniform and get assigned to a combat ship, one through official channels and one unofficially through his network of friends still in the service. He was rejected for his history of tuberculosis (which had gotten him discharged from the Navy in the first place), for being too nearsighted even for a staff officer, much less a command line officer, and I understand that Bill Patterson has uncovered evidence that Heinlein was considered too “pink” for further military service by some of the conservative brass because of his work on Sinclair Lewis’ EPIC campaign in California.

    He worked two separate civilian assignments in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, one of which was Top Secret, and he helped college ROTC-commissioned L. Sprague de Camp become accustomed to life as an active duty Navy officer without showing any envy or jealousy despite being a Naval Academy graduate who wasn’t allowed rank or uniform. He personally recruited Isaac Asimov to work in Philadelphia, and he later stated that Asimov’s genius helped shorten the war.

    He did the most he was permitted to do, and he did it without complaining about his lot. Read Grumbles from the Grave: he wrote to John W. Campbell, Jr. of how guilty he felt that when his shipmates, his classmates, his friends were fighting and dying at Pearl Harbor and the ships in which he had served were sinking, he had no battle station, no place from which to fight. I think it affected him the rest of his life, even though it wasn’t his fault.

  3. Taral, Heinlein did everything possible he could to get back into the Navy. I have a considerable number of criticisms of RAH, but criticizing him for having “a safe job” seems utterly baseless and ignorant.

    “…and he later stated that Asimov’s genius helped shorten the war.”

    On the other hand, that’s ridiculous. Not that Heinlein might not have said it, but it’s obviously a vast exaggeration if meant as other than politeness.

  4. Gary, it seems a bit hyperbolic to me, too, but I think Heinlein really admired Asimov that much. He made comments like this (and postulated an alternative universe where Isaac instead went to work for the Manhattan Project and reduced the time necessary to create the fission bomb by a similar time factor) in the MidAmeriCon program book, as well as other places.

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