I am fortunate to have known Theodore Draper as he served in Company K, 335th Infantry before being assigned to Division headquarters when we entered combat in the fall of 1944. Following is a remembrance I wrote for the Railsplitter Society newsletter following his death.
Remembering Theodore Draper
Theodore Draper, the chronicler of the 84th Division's combat history, died February 20 at his home in Princeton, New Jersey where he lived since 1968. He was 93 and had a stroke two years before.
An obituary in the Washington Post described him as "an independent scholar and social critic who wrote skillfully about the history of American communism, racism and abuses of executive power. Although he was the author of many learned books, Railsplitters honor him most for "The 84th Infantry Division in the Battle of Germany" which luminously portrays our combat history and has won praise as one of the best unit histories to come out of World War II. He is also remembered for leading seminars at Camp Claiborne in the "Why we Fight" series that continued on the fantail of the H.M.S. Stirling Castle as the 335th sailed toward Liverpool.
In K-335, where he trained as a rifleman at Claiborne (later commissioned after detached service with the division history section), he was the reserved, older man (age 31 at the time) from Brooklyn swimming in an oversize uniform with his rifle belt sagging toward his hips. Draper looked nothing like a soldier. Once during a field exercise we came upon someone sitting in the woods against a tree. His rifle was discarded beside him and papers flowed from a briefcase extracted from his backpack. It was Draper, perhaps correcting the galleys for his first book, "The Six Weeks' War" about the German breakthrough into France, published that year.
Those of us who got to know him through a rather diffident personality found an erudite man of the world with an ardent bent for history and a keen analytical mind equally skilled at dissecting military operations (it was the time of the great Russian offensive) and the geopolitical aspects of the world conflict in which we were about to become active participants. We smart aleck ASTPers thought we had found a soul mate.
Draper had strong likes and dislikes and did not suffer fools lightly. At one of the "Why we Fight" seminars one of our company know-it-alls, in response to a topic on policy toward Germany after the war, suggested that "all Germans should be shot except it would cost too much for ammunition." I never forgot Draper's scathing stare as he dismissed the crazy idea with silent contempt. He could be caustic but also self-deprecating. Many years later, in a book review of a Henry Kissinger biography published in the New York Times, he described the young Henry, whom he had met at Claiborne, as "merely a diffident, pudgy, unformed young man." It was, he noted, evidence of his adverse perspicuity in judging human capacity.
I rediscovered Draper in the fifties when he wrote for the Reporter magazine. From then on I followed his career and read many of his books including the last and best known, "A Very Thin Line" on the Iran-Contra affair. For Railsplitters, his superb division history provided, over the years, a definitive link to the war. Today, the book provides connections for children and grandchildren of the many 84th veterans who rarely, if ever, talked about the war and the division's exemplary accomplishments.
Theodore Draper was a self-make intellectual (his sole degree a BA from Brooklyn College)—a scholar's scholar without the trappings of a Ph.D. His likes will rarely be seen again.
Allan Howerton, K-335
This board is dedicated to the memory of CAPTAIN LEONARD REED CARPENTER, Company Commander, November 19, 1944 - March 27, 1945.
BOARD HOST: Allan W. Howerton (E-mail: Allanhowerton@aol.com)