The Character of Service

“When Edward III of England needed fighting men to carry on one of his various and sundry wars, a band of a hundred men from the coal mines in Somerset came bearing battle-axes upon their broad shoulders. So well and bravely did they fight that the king rewarded their leader, one Henry Bullman, by knighting him and giving him the name of Miner.

So the story goes, and that same Henry Miner, who died in the year 1359, was the first known forefather of the man of whom I write.

Three centuries later, in 1630, a descendent of his, Thomas Miner from Chew Magna in Somerset, landed in America at the port of Salem, Massachusetts, and went thence to live in the colony of Connecticut (Morton, 3).”

These are the roots of my father’s lineage, and the opening paragraphs of the story of my great-grandfather, Asher Miner.

He was often described as a pistol by his peers and family members, for his intelligence, energy and flair for the dramatic. One of his grammar school teachers remembered “…that Asher was a good boy in school and an excellent student. Outside of school he belonged to a gang of boys who held daily warfare against a gang from another school, the ammunition in winter being snow, in summer, mud. The fights were exciting enough to be remembered throughout Asher’s entire life—though perhaps it was the combats of one sort or another in which he participated that made the greatest impression on him. They scaled all the fences in Wilkes-Barre’, knew every back yard and alley in town, considered everybody’s barns their own private playgrounds and built runways from which they jumped from one barnloft window to another….Outdoors all day when they were it in school, with no bounds to keep, no rules to remember, no supervisor to instruct and suggest, they led a gloriously free existence and one which was likely to develop independence and initiative (8).”

One such activity that may have led to this moniker was a rather flamboyant prank with which he was involved during his one year of boarding school. “There was a new principal that year, a brilliant man, but one with no talent for dealing with people, who became hated by his entire faculty. This was the underlying cause for the ‘Great Revolution of 1877.’ The faculty encouraged the boys in any deviltry they might undertake against the head master, until the boys became so lawless that even the faculty must have entertained regrets. Asher, as always, took an active part in what was going on and found splendid outlet for his imagination. For a week he and two or three other boys ran the school like so many dictators and gave orders to their delighted school fellows that were obeyed without question. The details of the story have been forgotten, unfortunately, for it was a dramatic one and savored of Mark Twain, but certain it is that on one dark night all the teachers were locked in their bedrooms, a huge bonfire was lighted in the center of the campus, stone walks were taken up and transported hither and yon, one small building was blown up with dynamite, and the pillars of the principal’s house were painted like barber poles….Asher’s father, on hearing this tale, seems to have missed the humor of it, for he refused to send his son back…(11)” to school.

Behavior like this today would be plastered all over the news; and though this occurred over one hundred and thirty years ago, this was an undisciplined group, behaving completely inappropriately. Apparently, and thankfully, nobody was injured. In their faculty room banter, the teachers, more than likely, and more bluntly, might have used more colorful language in observation of his antics. All of them, however, agreed that in spite of his proclivity for risky behavior and inability to sit still, he was extremely capable, creative, displayed an uncanny ability to influence and lead others. As he matured, he was commissioned a colonel before the Spanish-American War and served as a field artillery officer in WWI during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which he was wounded by shrapnel, and lost a leg, as a result. He was awarded the Distinguished Cross for his bravery, and retired from service in 1923 as a Major General. In spite of being a bit rough around the edges as a boy, he became a remarkably conscientious, courageous, thoughtful and honorable man.

His father served as a sergeant with the Pennsylvania volunteers in the Civil War, and his grandson, my father, Henry, volunteered for service as a medical corpsman in the Navy during WWII. My father passed away this summer after sharing 86 remarkable years with this world.

Yesterday, as we do every day in Lower School Chapel, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution and we took time to pray for and remember all veterans for their service to our country. I don’t presume to glorify war in the least; not many people I know do. It is one of the more horrifying behaviors we, as human beings, undertake. But we recognize the ultimate sacrifice people have made and continue to make to serve their country in peacetime and during war. Each of us are likely to recall colorful stories of our past, including family members who have served this country, in one form or another.

Today, on the heel of Veterans Day, we welcome to campus Major Heather Penney, one of the first female combat aviators and a woman with a remarkable story to tell, particularly as it relates to her experiences on September 11, 2001. As we try to foster servant leadership in our students, we must endeavor to share the character and lives of individuals who serve our country in ways both seen and unseen. We honor all of our service men and women for their commitment and service.


Bibliography Asher Miner: Citizen and Soldier. Margaret M. Miner. University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1929.

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