The following is an excerpt from A Letter to My Son — an unpublished manuscript written by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller to his son and former Lt. Gov. of Arkansas, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller.
The roughly 150-page manuscript tells the story of Winthrop’s life, as he saw it, beginning with his childhood in New York to Dec. 7, 1941 — the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. The stories and lessons included in A Letter to My Son cover a wide array of topics, such as civility, wealth, politics, education, honesty, leadership, philanthropy, and many more. On this Independence Day weekend, we would like to share this excerpt from the first chapter of A Letter to My Son in which Winthrop writes about democracy and why he decided to join the U.S. Armed Forces.
In America we are sure of ourselves and our strength. We try to help each other, and we intend to remain free because we know that freedom is our greatest strength and our greatest security.
These are some of the biggest reasons why I hope you will learn to know and understand people.
How tragic it is when human freedom, independence and dignity is lost! In this book, you will read about how I saw that happen to people in Romania and Hungary just after World War II started. I had gone to the oil fields in the Near East, on business, and after I finished my work in Iran and Arabia, I went into Turkey and into Europe as far as Hungary. I saw the terrible choice those people had to make — caught between the Nazis and the Soviets.
Those small countries did not have the strength to stand alone, to resist the aggressor. They knew they would be conquered by one or the other. Yet either choice — conquest by Nazis or Communists — meant the end of all human freedom; the end of everything that makes life worthwhile.
That terrible vision of a people defeated before the fighting began; of a people stripped of any hope; people who no longer had any voice in their own future, who faced disaster and slavery whichever way they turned — that was one of the things that made me volunteer for immediate induction when the draft started in our country in 1940.
Our family has profited greatly in this country. I believed that we had as great a stake in freedom as anyone else -— greater, perhaps, both because of the wealth we had to defend, and because we had an obligation to the land which had given us that wealth. And so I became the first inductee in the First Division of our Army.