He was a Pennsylvanian and proudly bore the name. His death signals the loss of an Army stalwart, a conspicuous civil servant, and a loyal son of West Point,
John Stewart Bragdon was but 70 years of age yet he had managed to fill his life with achievement, with usefulness, and with the love of those friends and acquaintances whom he revered and served. We recognized early some of the qualities which presaged greatness for the modest cadet who came among us one summer day in what we like to call our yesterday, the span of a life being but a projection of memorable yesterdays, spelling the sum of our living and of our worth.
Stewart was a friendly sort—modest, to a degree, but possessed of a warmth and kindliness which endowed him with a magnetic quality, a capacity for inspiring and retaining the affection of others. His natural aptitude for learning was augmented by an invincible ambition to excel, a devotion to knowledge for its own sake, and an insatiable curiosity of the world about him. It has been said that industry is a better horse to ride than genius. Stewart combined both of these in a happy and satisfying degree which early stamped him, indisputably, with the mark of scholarship, and eventually brought him eminence and renown.
The man’s record is an attestation of ability, of devotion to an ideal, of a soaring spirit which scorned frustration and refused to be intractable or dismayed in the face of adversity. His military service was characterized by distinction in two world wars, in the first of which he earned the Purple Heart, and by conspicuous contribution to the work of the Corps of Engineers in years of peace. His experience ran the gamut of military assignments and steady growth, encompassing a period of forty years, culminating in two-star rank as Assistant Chief of Engineers for Military Construction, and appropriately recognized with the award of the Distinguished Service Medal with cluster.
Following his retirement in 1951, his restless spirit sought other fields in which to exercise his talents. Stewart became associated with private industry in New York and subsequently served as a staff member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in 1954, and as White House Coordinator of Public Works Planning from 1955 to 1959. In fitting recognition of his ability and service, the President appointed him a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1960, a task which he discharged with characteristic efficiency.
Space does not permit a full recital of Stewart’s accomplishments nor a detailed appraisal of his service, nor would their recounting be appropriate to the purpose of this writing. We are concerned with the worth of the man; with the measure of his character; with the spirit which added an ennobling touch to all that he undertook. He was essentially an idealist, as well as a doer; a thinker, as well as a man of action. In fact, he considered the highest function of thought to be a guide to action. Equally intolerant of impulse and passivity, he followed a well-ordered plan in all of his tasks and accepted with equanimity the honors which success bestowed upon him. We search in vain for a single word—a verity—which would aptly describe him or do proper credit to the many facets of his character. Honesty, diligence, brilliance, integrity—all of these he combined with becoming modesty. To classify him or to assign to him a singular uniformity of type is to overlook one of his outstanding characteristics—individuality. He was gifted with a serene ascendancy of mind and spirit, of sagacity and unbending virtue, yet he lived in a world in which he nourished the ideal of personal responsibility. He was generous of his time and of himself with a friendly spontaneity which cloaked the onset of a physical infirmity, induced by the ardors of unremitting service. Yet he bore his cross with characteristic stoicism, seeking ever the good in all about him. His moments of highest transfiguration were those spent in the company of his friends; his greatest legacy a golden hoard of fellowship within their hearts.
One of the remarkable aspects of intellectual human phenomena is attributable to the manner in which one precious thought, one single ray of life—indeed, one single life itself—can illumine the whole spectrum of our living. In such a mood we can regard with complacency the futilities of the little worlds beneath us; in such a mood, we can say farewell to a beloved classmate.
For the loyal heart, the unfailing friendship, the living deeds coming down to us from some Homeric yesterday—our thanksl Inevitably our sun will set. Evening will come quietly into its own. The Long Gray Line will momentarily open ranks and another comrade will have taken his appointed place.
"In that strange spell of his bestowing
We dreamed, with him, of brotherhood."