Converting Convictions into Realities: The Case of Herbert Birdsey

February 14th, 2011
Jim Thomas

Critical to performance with integrity is a willingness to act in accord with one’s convictions. This fundamental tenet is one of the big three, the other two being adherence to the truth and a willingness to stand and be counted when it counts.

 For a memorable example of conduct based on conviction, consider one from Macon, Georgia

In 1941 Herbert F. Birdsey was chief executive officer of Birdsey Flour Mills in Macon. A man of sterling character and Christian values, he became bitterly opposed to the rise of Fascism, the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler.

When World War II erupted, he was 35, far beyond draft age. He was also heavily burdened with business responsibilities. Nevertheless, he attempted to enlist. Because of his age several branches branch of service declined to accept; him. The Navy did enlist him, but when he came down with phlebitis he was discharged and denied readmission.

Undeterred he continued the effort. Finally the Merchant Marine took him. When friends and neighbors inquired why he was volunteering for military service he replied, “It’s time to act on the things I believe in.” 

He was aboard the liberty ship, the Richard H. Olney, in 1943 when a German submarine torpedoed it. Herbert was at work in the engine room. He was badly burned. He spent two years in treatment at Army burn centers on Sicily and at Savannah, Georgia. The war over, he collected an honorable discharge and quietly resumed his duties at Birdsey Flour Mills.

Did the man have integrity? Send me your comments…

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