Those of you who read last week's column, which quoted a letter printed in the London Times on June 18, 1940, already know what this column is about.
Those of you who didn't see last week's column owe it to yourselves to go back and read some of the finest words ever written. Not by me; by a young English airman.
Perhaps the sentiments expressed in the letter were so incredibly perfect that you wondered, as I did at first, if it might not have been a piece of wartime propaganda. It wasn't. Though it was published anonymously, the letter is absolutely genuine. The handwritten original can be found in the archives of the London Times.
Those archives disclose that the author was Flying Officer Vivian Rosewarne, the copilot of a Wellington bomber who was stationed at RAF Marham, Norfolk, England.
His RAF serial number was 40021; he was a member of 38 Squadron. He died Thursday, May 30, 1940, and is buried at Veurne Communal Cemetery, Veurne, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium in grave number B1.
Rosewarne's station commander found the letter among his personal effects after his death and asked the bereaved mother's permission to forward it to the London Times. When it was published, the Times received more than 10,000 requests for reprints.
In 1941, MGM released a five-minute short subject titled, appropriately enough, "An Airman's Letter to His Mother."
In W. Somerset Maugham's 1943 book, "Great Modern Reading," he refers to the letter as "already famous," but I suppose that the 66 years which have intervened since it was written have changed that. I never heard of it before I chanced upon it in that old volume, and I'm willing to bet that most people haven't.
What strikes me most about what the young airman has to say in his letter, putting aside his obvious courage, and his even more obvious love for his mother, is the universality of the feelings he expresses. He writes of duty, honor, country, and the Creator. Change a few words and he could be any young man or woman writing home from any war.
War is war, I suppose. The names of the combatants change, the precipitating causes change, the battlefields change, but the enemy remains the same. It is, as one very brave, and very wise, young airman expressed it in his letter: "...evil things sent into this world to try us."
What better way to end this column than to quote again from a young man who spoke for all young men and women, saying what they all say to us when they give up their lives for their country:
"... but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have contributed directly to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain."