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The Greatest Interruption

Sixty years ago, the attack on Pearl Harbor impelled many HLS students to join the fight of their generation. Survivors returned to a new world and to their old School.

Major Walter Morey receives a Croix de Guerre

Ralph Nutter '44 ('48) remembers the moment he heard the news. His law school roommates were making a racket in the hallway, and he yelled for them to can the noise, he was trying to study. Then one of them told him to throw away his books--the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Nutter pushed his books into the trash.

Four years later Nutter and a whole class of Harvard Law School students returned to Cambridge to finish what the war had interrupted. They'd served in the Allied forces, overseas and at home. They'd navigated bombers, fired artillery, lived in submarines, deciphered messages, organized shipments of supplies, watched their friends die. They'd been given medals and commendations, seen more of the world than they might have expected, and been part of a bureaucracy larger than any institution of higher learning could ever match. Chiseled in the marble of Langdell Library are the names of the 112 students killed in World War II. Those who returned were determined to get on with their law degrees and their lives.

This fall some of these graduates come back to the School for their reunion. Some see the war as having shaped their legal careers, albeit indirectly. For others this break in their legal training was only a brief detour, a point of affinity not always explored or even considered. Nevertheless, when asked, members of these classes interrupted tend to remember their experience with vividness, humor, and sometimes anger. They recall not textbook moments of strategy, but the smaller victories and failures that make up a war and a life.

Leonard Robbins '44 ('47) joined the Army Air Corps out of a mixture of patriotism and pragmatism. "I am Jewish and I thought something had to be done about Hitler." He says that at the same time he and others who enlisted were motivated by a desire "to choose the branch of the service we'd be in rather than be plucked up as a draftee and not have any control."

Walter and Dorothy MoreyWalter Morey '44 ('47) had already served in the military for a year after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1940. His first semester at HLS, he remembers the formidable Edward "Bull" Warren urging his class to serve their country. Warren offered a copy of one of his books to any man leaving for the war. In December Morey volunteered to rejoin his old artillery unit, and before he left, he picked up his prize. Warren was cordial, Morey said, "although his book never helped me win the war." Morey drove home to Decatur, Ill., and before he shipped out he proposed to his sweetheart, Dorothy Huff. They agreed they would write every day and marry when he returned--it couldn't be longer than a couple of months. Three years later they were still writing.

Marshall Levin '44 ('47) grew up hearing good things about the Navy; his French grandfather had left Alsace, France, to enlist. Once the United States was at war, Levin joined up, rather than waiting to be drafted. "The understanding was that students who did would be allowed to finish their first year," he said.

Gerald Lipsky '46 ('48) had enlisted in the Army when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania to avoid being drafted before he finished college. He was at Harvard Law School only two weeks before he was called up, but he remembers loving every day. Lipsky had been so eager to attend HLS he had first applied after he graduated from high school. He recalls the pleasure of being taught Property by Roscoe Pound with only nine other students in the class. When he returned, the number was closer to 250.

Clyde Martz '44 ('47), on the other hand, was not loving law school. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was ready to do his duty to his country and get away from "the frustrating lecture program." As an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, Martz had intended to go into business. But when a professor helped him get a scholarship to Harvard Law School, he couldn't say no. He came to the School with no drive to practice law and was "perplexed by the study of abstract principles and cases that hadn't been decided." Anticipating being drafted, several friends signed up for the Army Air Corps. "I couldn't because I was too nervous, my blood pressure was too high," Martz said, "so I opted for the Navy." He was eventually assigned to submarine service on the USS Tilefish in the Pacific. Martz's brother was also in the service, stationed in the Middle East. Once the war was over, they'd start an international trading business together, they decided. During the long hours on the Tilefish, Clyde Martz reassured himself that practicing law would not be part of his future.

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