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War Stories

Alumni Council President Albert Masland '79

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by Albert Masland '79, Alumni Council President

In December of 1917, my grandfather, Robert Paul “R.P.” Masland, left school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Following training and several months in and around the British Isles, R.P. came home in 1918.

Robert Paul “R.P.” Masland in his U.S. Navy uniform.

Robert Paul “R.P.” Masland in his U.S. Navy uniform.

Although he did not return to Dickinson to finish his junior and senior years, like many other veterans, he received his diploma just the same. I was only 10 months old when R.P. died, so I never had a chance to hear his stories, but I do have a copy of the letter he sent to my uncles on Dec. 9, 1941, days after Pearl Harbor. He begged them to finish their studies in a way only a father who had been through a war could do.  

In the spring of 1979, my senior year was interrupted by a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. Our one-week “nuclear break” occasioned a lot of stories, and the memories never grow old on Alumni Weekend. But as horrifying as that event was to many students and faculty who fled Carlisle, it was nothing like a world war … or a pandemic.  

Tmi 2

Photo courtesy of Bill Bowden/York Daily Record/AP.

As I write this column on March 17, 2020, I have no idea what the future will bring to the students whose college experiences were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. As I struggle to make the course I teach meaningful in an online context, I realize that I cannot grasp the impact, especially for the seniors. This will be their 9/11, their war story. 

I could have played it safe and written a quaint article about how my grandfather and his buddies attached a bicycle belonging to Chaplain Springer to the mermaid on top of Old West. But that prank didn’t change his life. The war did. Perhaps by June I may wish I had told that tale, but Dickinson didn’t teach me to be superficial.  

For the class of 2020, I pray that you are able to walk down the old stone steps to the cheers of your classmates, family and faculty sometime soon. I wish I had the gravitas of my grandfather (because my uncles listened) and could provide the reassurance you may need to hear. But even if your diploma arrives in the mail, know that you are no less cherished. Moreover, your stories—before, during and after this crisis—will mold not only you but also the world.

Read more from the spring 2020 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published May 13, 2020