July 14, 1945
before you turn this
page, pause, and say a prayer ...
John Duffy is dead, killed on the 5th of May in a plane crash. That's all I know. My letters have not been getting through to me. I presume it was England.
In less than one year of Joe Oussani, two of our intimate group have passed on. We would never have anticipated what has happened.
It is a blow to his friends, though we are hardened to evidences of suffering. The blow to his parents it is presumptuous for me to mention. For himself, I think that he was fortunate; a man can never expect to be more than a hero - and he is one who can never grow old.
Can we lighten grief with words? Let me try. Here are a few ideas it is good to express about him. We are friends, and as a friend we miss him; however, is it clear to each one of us as men, that we regret, in him, the parting of a fine man? I know Duff's habits were irregular, and were ridiculed; I know his intellectual attainments have been thought meager. But Duff had strength of will; the possessor of sexual impulses above normal, he kept his purity - I am convinced of it - until the last moment; even in the absence of his family, in crowded cities, amid relaxed vigilance, invited by magnets upon every sense to commit sin. He was pure six months ago when I spoke to him; he is pure now.
Such his will power, with a mind averse to study & discipline, we know, he used to attend college at night, while he was at work during the day. I said he could not keep that up, but he did it. When war came, John got into the air corps, and we all said, "He can't keep that up!" But he did it! He did nothing that was expected of him; he did all that was required of him; and that practice has lifted him to be a hero. I am sure his blood is this day a rose, upon England's land, taught by his body and spirit, to assume the fairest aspect, according to its substance, before God's eye and ours.
Duff had enthusiasm too. He had a passion with everything. Duff loved sports; others loved them too; but he alone loved them passionately. You can define a great character, because it is the best in perfecting that thing it admires. A baseball player, like Lou Gherig, for example, who has a passion for his game, and is its champion; that man is great. You can win through to an idea of perfection, and to a valid philosophy, by way of small items in human interest, as by "dignified" occupations; only you have to love them much. An insectologist saw Paradise under a mantis. That is what I mean; I am trying to explain it to you; that John Duffy, in his manner, did have a little of greatness in him. He was ever active, not at all indifferent, and his will, the force he could command, was ever as full of dignity and honesty as his intellect permitted. If Duff could have seized upon a high thought, people would have known him.
I knew him. He was the first to make friends with me - had a devil of a time at it. I was quite uncivil at first, but he was patient. One year at St. Michaels, you may recollect it, I was persecuted; (those who engaged in it little suspect that I suffered then more than ever before or since, and still bear the marks.) Duff never mentioned it, never flickered in his attitude, nor was less faithful in soliciting my badinage or gratifying my vanity. I need not tell you that I have never lost anything so precious; and this is the first "tragedy" to happen to me. For his sake, for prayers that you will give to him, if you are deeply affected, I hope it is so too with you.
If he be dust, then dust is winged. If his lids be sealed, it is upon the heaven mantled therein. Arise, and go forth and meet him; for life is a prison to him who can see beyond its walls.
I have sent a copy of this letter to Eugene Dembinski. I thought that I should be the first to tell you about this, if you are not already informed of it. Keep pluggin'