The [Fall 2001] article “The Greatest Interruption” highlighted some distinguished alumni whose continuity of study at Harvard Law was disrupted by World War II.
For two undistinguished alumni of the Class of 1939, the war really was the greatest interruption.
My friend Robert Heller had an intelligence quotient that was off the chart. In addition, he was a military enthusiast and a ROTC graduate whose poor eyesight precluded a military career.
Like many others, we went to law school for reasons that did not include a fascination with the law. As in an arranged marriage, love was to come later. After staggering through the first year, I wanted to graduate but was not going to increase the boredom with intense application.
We believed that unless a high grade was the objective, an exam could be beaten with general intelligence, writing skills, keeping cool, and controlling the clock, even with an incomplete grasp of the subject. With that outlook, our work was minimal. I went to class, took notes, and transcribed them into a notebook. If I anticipated a classroom call, I read the assignment.
Bob did much less. He had the texts, which he read occasionally, but his classroom attendance, always sporadic, came to a virtual halt after the midyear. He used my notes for the exams.
At the time we graduated in 1939, the Army was expanding and Bob went on active duty as an infantry officer. I clerked for a small firm that did some admiralty work and heard that the Marine Corps was recruiting volunteers for its First Officer Candidates Class. I joined in 1940 and about a year later volunteered into the Marine Raiders, then the commando unit of the Corps.
At the conclusion of the hostilities, I took a regular commission. Thus the war was a permanent and, I admit, welcome career interruption.
As for Bob Heller, his was the ultimate and final “greatest interruption.” He was killed on New Georgia in 1943.