We recently received a letter from Dr. George R. Eichler, former Northampton High School graduate and retired orthopedic surgeon.
His father, Dr. George A. Eichler, a former World War I veteran and former superintendent of Northampton Area School District for 31 years, received a special letter in September 1941.
Dr. George R. Eichler writes:
“The recent recollection of the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought vivid memories back to me.
“In early September 1941, I had entered the third grade at the George Wolf Elementary School in the neighborhood and went home for lunch. There was no school cafeteria in those days.
“Ruben (Ruby) Smith, the mailman, got to our house every day around 10:30-11 a.m. Mom placed the mail on the radiator cover in the hallway inside the front door. Everyone in the family went through the mail and took whatever mail was addressed to them.
“I noted a business-letter-sized envelope addressed to Dad with the return address from the White House! Naturally impressed, I asked Mom what she thought that was all about.
“She seemed concerned and said, ‘I don’t know. Dad’s coming home for lunch so we’ll soon find out.’
“In retrospect, I’m pretty sure she had a good idea of what was in the letter.
“Dad came home for lunch and opened the letter. His face became concerned. My sisters and I knew that it was not good news.
“‘I’ve been appointed to the draft board,’ he said.
“As an 8-year-old, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what a draft board was! I was aware of the gathering war clouds and the start of the military buildup. It was three-and-a-half months before Pearl Harbor, and we had no idea of what the future had in store for us.
“Dad was superintendent of Northampton Public Schools. War seemed inevitable.
“‘This is going to cost me my job,’ he said very slowly. ‘Men will lose their lives or come home crippled! Men and their families will blame and hate me because I drafted them and get the school board to fire me.’
“Mom started to cry. Two years out of high school, she had served as the secretary to the draft board of her hometown of Milton during World War I. She personally knew the horrors of war as a young lady, losing her fiancé, who was killed in action in France.
“‘You have a doctor’s degree in education and could get a job in almost any school district with a vacancy if you get fired,’ Mom said.
“It was rare for small town superintendents to have a doctoral degree in those days.
“Dad was very patriotic and proud of his World War I service. As the gathering war clouds and urgency and importance of his appointment to the draft board sunk in, he realized it was his patriotic duty to serve.
“I remember many a late night of Dad being away from home. As kids, Mom always reminded us that he was serving his country.
“When the war was over, the draft board, which had their office in the Northampton Post Office basement, was moved to Bethlehem. The office was in the Old Sun Inn, built before the American Revolution. George Washington slept there, and Dad jokingly said that it showed. Fortunately, the inn has subsequently been restored to its grand colonial status and is a Bethlehem civic gem.
“He served 32 years from September 1941 until the draft boards were disbanded in 1973 when the military went to all volunteers. His only pay was the thanks he periodically received from every president from FDR to Richard Nixon. He was immensely proud of his service in two world wars.
“Shortly after Dad passed, our family was gathered around the kitchen table making plans when the telephone rang. My sister answered and started crying. She handed the phone to me to take over. It was the commander of the Fred A. Snyder American Legion Post asking if they could present full military honors at the cemetery.
“I gave him a tearful yes.”