Phi Kappa Sigma

MIT during World War II

We have received the following letter from brother Tom Cooper ’47.

August 24, 2021

Keith T. Kallberg, President
Alumni Association of
Alpha Mu Chapter of the
Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity at MIT

Dear Keith,

Many thanks for your inspiring July, 2021, letter, as I hasten to write this delayed response by August 31. I am also very appreciative of the copies of 530 AM, the reporting about the 2021 initiates, and the survival of Alpha Mu through the pandemic, which I feel is due, in no small measure, to your efforts. The news about the new class of Phi Kaps was most welcome and reminiscent of my own experience.

I arrived in Boston in the fall of 1941 after two years at a rather sheltered prep school in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and two years younger than contemporaries. That was 80 years ago, and with that background, I still regard my pledge to Phi Kappa Sigma as a sort of miracle. I use the term “miracle” advisedly because, in the spring of 1941, I had been interviewed as a candidate for an MIT scholarship by an alumni committee which included a Phi Kap from the twenties. The interview went very well, but it has always been my surmise that there was a connection between the Phi Kap at the interview, my attending “rush week” at Alpha Mu in the fall, and the subsequent invitation to pledge Phi Kappa Sigma. Without the good fortune of having Alpha Mu as a home-away-from-home and the support of brothers, I doubt that I would have made the grade at MIT or returned after the wartime interruption.

As I reflect on more recent historic events (January 6, 9/11, JFK assassination, etc.), I still remember exactly where I was on the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, 1941: after Sunday dinner, playing bridge in the Chapter Room, second floor, front, and everyone throwing down their cards to a chorus of “Oh s-t” when the news of Pearl Harbor came through. The prospect of a peaceful, uninterrupted time at MIT had suddenly become something quite different.

I guess I’m one of the last (if not the last) members of the 12 1942 initiates. We all left for some type of military service; all survived and all (with one exception) returned to Alpha Mu and to MIT to graduate in the late forties.

I began summer-time employment with the Pennsylvania Railroad in the summer of 1942 as a block operator (controlling train movements) at Rahway, New Jersey, left MIT to serve three years in the US Navy, returned to graduate in Course I in 1947, continued with the PRR in management, survived two mergers and a bankruptcy, and retired in 1990 after 48 years of continuous service.

For the Alpha Mu archives, I’m enclosing my original copy of a letter that Jim Brayton circulated to brothers during the World War II years; it’s undated, but a close reading suggests that it was written very late in 1944, possibly around Christmas time. I’ve made a copy for myself, but I think this original has a better chance of preservation if it’s in Boston. Jim was class of 1945 (accelerated to 2/45), so he would have been a senior at the time this was written.

Thank you again for your good work on behalf of Alpha Mu, and please tell the new Phi Kaps of my hope that their years at Alpha Mu and MIT will mean as much to them as they have to me.

Fraternally yours,
John Thomas Cooper