Many believe the origin of this wise prophecy to be a Senegalese proverb. Most any country where it is a belief could perhaps stake the same claim.
Its source can remain a mystery without robbing us of its impact because it is so very applicable in today’s world — especially when a community, a nation and a world have lost a walking library such as best-selling author and military historian William B. Breuer.
“Bill,” as he was known among his friends, family and fans, died last Wednesday morning. He was 87.
He will be sorely missed.
Author of 41 books published in the United States, this American patriot, World War II veteran and talented writer was a staunch supporter of the combat soldier. As a 20-year-old platoon sergeant, he was among the thousands of American fighters who landed with the first assault waves on D-Day at Normandy Beach. He saw action in five military campaigns.
He knew war. He was well-versed in the U.S. military. He understood the intricacies of life and the realities of death. In the words of this newspaper’s managing editor, David Davis, in an article about the diverse historian published on the front page of Sunday’s edition, “Writers write of things they know.”
Bill Breuer knew much. He wrote about much. He was read by many.
A keen wit was a keepsake of this literary genius who remembered launching his journalism career at the ripe young age of 8 when he began publishing a mimeographed neighborhood newspaper with a circulation of 29. His publication’s inaugural headline proclaimed, “Mrs. Kershner’s Cat is Sick.” And a writer’s career was launched.
The date of Sept. 17, 1922, was a special time for this literary journeyman. The place was Rolla, Mo. At what Bill later described as occurring “at a very early age,” he was born. Some of this is information included in a sealed envelope that he gave to Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and his wife, Sandra, last April with the instructions that it be opened only in the event of an emergency.
The package contained autobiographical information — a sign that this old soldier realized his fate was fast approaching.
The successful writer, who brought global acclaim to Cleveland with the premier of the epic movie, “The Great Raid,” on Aug. 12, 2005, served as a consultant for this Miramax film. It was based on his best-selling novel. It revealed a side to Bill Breuer that we spoke of earlier — his heartfelt empathy for the combat soldier. This was also spelled out by film critic Roger Ebert who described the film on its opening day.
“Here is a war movie that understands how wars are actually fought,” Ebert cited. “After ‘Stealth’ and its high-tech look-alikes, which make warfare look like a video game, ‘The Great Raid’ shows the hard work and courage of troops whose reality is danger and death. The difference between ‘Stealth’ and ‘The Great Raid’ is the difference between the fantasies of the Pentagon architects of ‘Shock and Awe’ and the reality of the Marines who were killed in Iraq last week.”
Sound words ... spoken by one of the country’s leading film critics.
Bill Breuer came to Cleveland in the mid-1990s because he felt it was the perfect place for a writer. He called it his home.
An ambassador for Cleveland like none other, this literary visionary and international traveler will be missed.
Yet, he will not be forgotten.
For this, we have Cleveland State Community College to thank. In 2008, the civic-minded, two-year school launched an ambitious project that was completed a year later with the opening of the William B. Breuer Archives which contain thousands of pieces of his printed and published materials.
As the Senegalese proverb attests, perhaps a library has burned with Bill Breuer’s death, but a legacy lives on, one whose flames will light a path to knowledge, and freedom, for a lifetime.
Rest in peace, Bill Breuer.