Charles M. Pearson: "A Duty to Perform"
The bombing of Pearl Harbor incited a fever of patriotism in young men across America. Thousands left jobs, college careers and families behind to answer the call to arms as the United States entered the war. Minnesota native Charles M. "Stubbie" Pearson, about to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1942, proved his belief in that call by forming the "Dartmouth Squadron," a group of 30 Dartmouth graduates who followed his lead by enlisting in naval aviation. As class Valedictorian, Charles shared his perspective on war and duty with his Dartmouth classmates in the following stirring commencement address, given May 10, 1942.
Dartmouth, parents, friends, and classmates
We came from the far off Western plains, from the Eastern coastal cities, from the sharp and rocky mountains, from the harbors of the Pacific. The night was hot and muggy. The lights were on in Commons. The wind began to blow and there was cheering. Thrilling was the tempest with its whirlwinds and its driving rain. Trees fell upon the campus. Roofs were on the ground. So in a hurricane were we conceived and here we have grown, absorbing the nourishment of our Dartmouth, shielded from all hardship. – To far off distant places we go – to Australia and to Hawaii and to Ireland – "Though round the girdled earth they roam her spell on them remains." – to the ice of the Arctic and to the ice of the Antarctic we will go. All of us – all of us together – are being born. We are entering a world nobody has ever entered before. But we are strong. We are hardy. In with a hurricane, out with a war, "stand as brother stands by brother, dare a deed for the old Mother, greet the world from the hills, with a hail." For her sons have courage. They know the way.
Dartmouth has been four perfect years. We would not wish to change them. We could, as a body, take off our protective armor – the armor that makes our generation appear cold and hard and cruel – and become our true selfs. We could speak to you "of soft September sunsets – of the drifting beauty where the twilight streams." We could speak "of the crunch of feet on snow – the long white afternoons, the twilight glow." Will we ever forget them? And we could speak of nights when we have crept across the campus spellbound with the delight and ecstasy of a Dartmouth sky. But we will not. You know how we feel, for you have felt it. Parents, and those of you who do not know the College, look into our faces, observe our actions, speak to us and you will see it. We could speak to you of courses, professors, and examinations. We could tell you of the quarrels we have had with the administration, with the faculty and with ourselves. We have fought for our beliefs and principles – over Green Key and Palaeopitus – over conscription and "Now we have waited long enough" – over physical education systems and no-cut plans. We have discussed and approved the streamlined college war time semester. The world laughed as we struggled with our small and petty affairs but they were not small nor petty. This was our world. We had a right to question. It was our belief in freedom. But need we speak of such things. You and we are Dartmouth. We understand her.
In a sense life has been made much easier for us. We do not have to worry about graduate studies. We do not have to worry about finding a job. Jobs are waiting for us – tankers and cruisers are sliding down the ways – P47's are nervously waiting at the ready line – Pensacola beckons – the battalions are calling us. We have many jobs – several years of work ahead. But then are we through – is our responsibility ended?
Dartmouth has given us formulas to use, methods to apply but the answers must be our answers. We know this. We are reaching conclusions at the present time. We have reached conclusions in the past few months. We know we must win this war. It means the birth and survival of everything we believe in. Our belief is so strong that we will fight to the end. That means we will win.
But this also we know, we know that the world is changing. That tomorrow is to be different from today even though our principle of democracy remains. We know that there will be almost insurmountable problems after this crushing affair is ended. We must meet these problems intelligently. We know we must do this. We do not know whether we will.
This is war for the future. Man must replace the importance of material gain. We must humanize ourselves. Man is man and that is all that is important.
As Robert Burns so beautifully said:
"The rank is but the guinea's stamp; The man's the gold for a' that. ...
"Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for all that, That over all the earth sense and worth May hold the foremost place, and all that. It's coming yet for all that, That Man to Man, the world over, Shall brothers be for all that."
Do not feel sorry for us. We are not sorry for ourselves. Today we are happy. We have a duty to perform and we are proud to perform it. – Dartmouth, we thank you for what you have done for us. Parents, we thank you for gifts we never can repay. Now we ask you to see with us – to see, as we see, a painting which is an unpleasant picture. But we see beyond this painting and we feel in spite of all the complications, in spite of all the hardships, that out of chaos and disaster, that out of this disagreeable present a tomorrow is to come, a tomorrow with a ray of sunshine more bright than we have ever seen before but perhaps not more bright than the rays we have thought of and dreamed about. If you see, what we ourselves can bring, you too can fight this war with a zest you have never known before. You can fight with a will. You have a hope. You have a future and you know that the outcome – the new order – our new world is in our hands. We must not, we dare not fail.
Charles M. Pearson was killed in action while dive-bombing a Japanese ship off the Palau Islands on March 30, 1945. Hailed as "perhaps the greatest combination of scholar, athlete and war hero in Upper Midwest history" by Minneapolis Star columnist Dick Gordon, Charles was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously, and was honored in 1967 with the Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-America Goalpost Trophy, which was presented to his brother, Curtis, by Minnesota Governor Harold LeVander.
Pearson, Charles M., Valedictory Address, Dartmouth College, May 10, 1942. Curtis Pearson, used with permission.
Gordon, Dick, Area's Pearson Honored; Phi Beta Kappa, 2-sport Captain, War Hero. Minneapolis Star, [date?].
Morris, Keith, Letter from Keith Morris, Sports Illustrated magazine to Dick Baldwin, Dartmouth College, January 23, 1967. Curtis Pearson, used with permission.