The Good, The Bad, and The Hazy In-Between

While a student at the California Institute of Technology in the late-1920s, my grandfather was chosen for the Henry Ford II Scholar Award and provided the opportunity to travel across Europe with three other standout engineering students. The young men drove from Pasadena to Detroit, where they explored the Ford automobile manufacturing plant, witnessed production efficiency that would usher the country into the Industrial Age, and were gifted a Ford Model T for their journey. They drove to New York and then took a ferry across the Atlantic to begin their trip across Europe.

My great-grandparents had sold their general store in El Paso to fund their son’s $5,000 trip, which would equate to $90,000 today. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, despite the hardships of the Great Depression, they weren’t going to let their son miss out.

During his trip, my grandfather kept a travel journal, which my mother and I worked to transcribe over the last year. He noted the historical landmarks, cultural events, the discovery of cheap on-campus dining, the weather, and the Caltech contacts they has been scheduled to meet. Throughout his trip, he attend Latin Catholic mass at a number of different churches, often noting the prismatic depictions of Christ. It’s obvious from his journal that the Texas-raised boy was cultured and acutely aware of the names, style, and time periods of all the cathedrals and castles they visited.

My late grandfather was a smart man so it comes as no surprise that, shortly after his return, he was recruited by the American government to work on a top-secret project that would put his brains and his educational experience to the test. The project that he worked on may be viewed as controversial today, but can we really say what is “good” or what is “bad,” or is it just a mater of perspective? Join us over at the Heart of the Matter to discuss Books, Bombs, and Ethical Situationalism.

11 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad, and The Hazy In-Between

    1. Yes, it seems to have an an incredible experience for him! The cost comparison is almost mind-numbing. The four young men were abroad for five months, so I’m not sure whether the $5,000 covered the full trip or was to supplement the scholarship (or perhaps the scholarship was for his Masters program tuition). It’s neat to catch a little glimpse into family history.

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  1. Wow, that is such a fascinating ancestry you have! War is such a complex topic and often without real winners and only losers on both sides – if I can be honest. So I share your grandfather’s opinion on his role. He was doing what he was trained to do in life – innovate and create. Technology has the potential for both good and bad and it was leaders at the time, not your grandfather, that utilized that technology for purposes of war.

    It must be surreal to have this personal connection and to see yourself as a child in the Smithsonian!

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    1. You’re absolutely right–no one wins wars, except perhaps the military-industrial complex who are profiting from others’ losses. I truly appreciate the empathy and understanding, Ab, truly. 🙏 I agree–he was doing what he was trained to do, and may or may not have known the implications of the project he was working on.

      I visited the Smithsonian museums at 13 and they were amazing!! I wished I could spend a full week exploring each. It was really neat to have that personal connection. I was also told to look for (but couldn’t find) an exhibit of another distant relative who was an early aviation pioneer who flew aircraft off his home in the Chicago suburbs 🤣

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      1. You nailed it, Erin. War is an industry and so many people profit from war sadly.

        The Smithsonian sounds wonderful and I’ll keep an eye out for the photo should I ever get to visit one day. 🙏


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