Remembering a Fallen Harvard Soldier and a Historic Commencement

Henry P. Briggs, Jr. ’54, MAT ’59 recalls his brother, Frank Stewart Briggs, and a special Commencement day— June 5, 1947.

Frank Stewart Briggs

Frank Stewart Briggs, Class of 1946, the day before he left for Fort Dix for basic training in the fall of 1944. Stewart, as he was known, was killed in World War II on Nov. 23, 1944. Photo submitted by his brother, Henry P. Briggs, Jr.

“ It’s hard to believe that 70 years have passed since my father told me one June morning to put on my Nobles blazer, mind my manners, and accompany him to my first Harvard Commencement. I recall the silly top hat and formal black finery he wore that day. After the festivities, we walked up the steps into the Widener Library, where my father said he hoped to introduce me to the greatest man he had ever known...

“ The Boston Herald reported the next day that one particular ovation at Commencement was especially ‘prolonged, spontaneous and tumultuous,’ and it honored General of the Army George Catlett Marshall, our Secretary of State. The gathering at Widener was a large one, so I was surprised when Gen. Marshall made a point of crossing the room to greet my father, and to say to me that ‘you must be Stewart’s younger brother.’ What became immediately clear to me was that my father's position on his team must have been a great deal more important than I had been led to believe...

“ On that same morning that General Marshall received his honorary degree, and introduced the same afternoon to a still troubled world his extraordinary GI Bill and Marshall Plan, he worshiped in the venerable Memorial Chapel in the Harvard Yard, and perhaps noticed there the many plaques that line its walls, honoring alumni who had lost their lives in foreign wars, among them 50 members of the class of 1946, including Private Frank Stewart Briggs. There is an ancient inscription at Harvard College I will never forget:

‘ They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.’ ”

— Henry P. Briggs, Jr. ’54, MAT ’59

WWII Memorial on south wall of the sanctuaryThe World War II memorial on the south wall of the Memorial Church sanctuary. Frank Stewart Briggs is honored with the Class of 1946.

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Briggs has had a long association with Harvard. He shared many recollections of Memorial Church, including fond memories of the late Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes. “When I spent 35 years heading prominent independent schools, Peter Gomes frequently paid us visits... I loved Peter Gomes,” recalled Briggs. 

His father, Henry P. Briggs, graduated with the class of 1915, and his brother, Frank Stewart Briggs, is remembered with the World War II Memorial, Class of 1946, on the south wall of the Memorial Church Sanctuary. Briggs noted that the photo he shared above was taken “just before [Stewart] left for Germany in 1944 when he was 19 and I was 12. I adored him.”

Frank Stewart Briggs finished two terms of his freshman year. He was called to active duty in March 1943.  He was selected for the Army Specialized Training Program at Ball State Teachers College in Muncie, Indiana, then was assigned to the 405th Infantry of the 102nd Infantry Division at Camp Swift, Texas before being sent overseas in the fall of 1944. Stewart was killed by mortar shrapnel while fighting as a machine gunner at Beeck, near Aachen, Germany, just eight days after the division was activated.