Every Veterans Day, I try to do something special to remember or honor a veteran. I don’t like the standard flag-waving event that this day has become for many people. In many Veterans Day speeches, the speakers talk about the hundreds of thousands of American veterans who gave their lives for our freedom. The problem with that is twofold: (1) Very few of those who were killed in war literally gave their lives but instead had their lives ripped away, and (2) very few of them fought for our freedom. So my tribute this time is to a veteran who did not give his life and knew that he wasn’t fighting for our freedom. That veteran is Richard H. Timberlake, Jr.

Dick Timberlake, who has become a personal friend, is a fairly well-known monetary economist and a veteran of World War II. Timberlake’s book They Never Saw Me Then is his account of his time in World War II, first training to be a pilot in the United States and then being a co-pilot of a B-17 on bombing raids over Germany. The book ends with his being wounded in one such raid and then recuperating in hospitals in England and the United States. The title of his book, he explains, comes from the thought that he and his buddies had about their wish for various friends, relatives, and “enemies”: “Boy, if they could see me now.” But because they couldn’t see him then, he writes, his recourse is to tell the story himself. He tells it well.

One thing that is clear throughout the book is that Dick Timberlake had one main goal during the war: to preserve the life of Dick Timberlake. And, he points out, this was the norm. He quotes from Arthur Hoppe, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle: “I suppose there were a few in World War II who were fighting for freedom or democracy, but in my three years in the Navy I never met one of them. … [W]e were fighting to stay alive. And that is the true horror of war.”

Arthur Hoppe, writes Timberlake, “had it right.”

These are the opening paragraphs of David R. Henderson, “A Veterans Day Tribute,” antiwar.com, November 11, 2008. I happened to reread this article 2 weeks ago because I’m putting most of my antiwar.com articles, plus a few other pieces, together in a book on foreign policy.

When I reread it, I thought, “I should call Dick to express my appreciation to him over the phone, both about that book and about his important work on monetary theory and policy.” I had interviewed him about his life, on audio/video, about 15 years ago and had taken my sweet time putting together a DVD of the interview that I could send him. I had called to tell him I would be sending it soon and he replied, at about age 82, “Remember, I don’t buy green bananas.”

I remembered that line 2 weeks ago, a further motivation to call him.

I’m so glad I did because Dick Timberlake died last night.

George Selgin had sent a note to a number of people who knew and appreciated him, encouraging us to send our appreciations to his son so his son could read them to his father at the hospital. His son, Tommy, wrote:

When Mom and I arrived at his room earlier in the afternoon, he was more alert and interactive than I expected him to be so I started reading each of the replies your colleagues had sent.  Everyone had such kind words I cannot describe. I read each and every of the tributes to him in a very deliberate manner.  After each tribute, all 3 of us discussed the author and time of intersecting paths with dad.  That lead to some really nice discussions and remembrances.  Some of the colleagues were known to all of us, some only to Mom and Dad, some only to Dad and a few were even unknown to any of us including him.

It was such a rewarding time for all 3 of us!  More so, I didn’t realize the impact dad on so many, neither did Mom and neither did Dad fully grasp his impact until reading the tributes.  After almost reading them all, he turned his head to Mom and I and said, “I didn’t really realize my work has had that kind of impact.  It’s really terrific.”

I didn’t send a note to Tommy because I had communicated directly with Dick just 2 weeks earlier. In our conversation, he told me about his latest book. I hope I’m still writing in my mid-90s. I told him that I had appreciated his work in economics and that a number of other people I knew, especially Jeff Hummel, did also. I told Jeff earlier this week, before Dick had gone into the hospital, that the ratio of the importance of Dick’s work to the recognition he got from the economics profession was higher than that of any other monetary economist I know of. The many expressions of appreciation that various economists sent his son Tommy make me think that my evaluation of the denominator was too pessimistic.

I also reminded Dick of his high compliments, 15 years earlier, of his dissertation adviser Milton Friedman and of Milton’s son, David, whom he had met when David was barely in double digits. I told him that I had shared that appreciation with Milton’s widow, Rose Director Friedman, in the last conversation I had with her.

Realizing that my phone call might be my last communication to Dick, I ended by saying “I love you, Dick.”

P.S. Dick’s latest book, co-authored with Thomas M. Humphrey, is Gold, the Real Bills Doctrine, and the Fed: Sources of Monetary Disorder, 1922-1938.