Philanthropist Dick Holland tried a little bit of everything as a young man. He and a friend operated an ice house that was actually a bookie joint a couple blocks down the street from one of the country’s upscale horse racing tracks. He trained to become a Navy code breaker, and he even got fired from his job as a school janitor for reading library books on the job.
It all prepared him for a long and successful career in advertising and helped him summon the guts to invest with a little-known financial whiz named Warren Buffett. That decision helped make Holland, as he likes to say, “richer than Croesus.”
Be prepared to laugh if you sit down to read Truth and Other Tall Tales, Richard Holland’s command performance, taken straight out of his 999-gigabyte memory.
A peek inside
Jack and I had our hearts set on enlisting in the Navy. Professor William H. Thompson, whom we called “Bill,” had a friend in the Navy’s Code Department school. Thompson was a longtime psychology professor at Omaha University and later Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. His Navy buddy explained that he was on the lookout for any “bright boys” who might have a future working with codes.
WORLD WAR II WAS THE DOMINANT international event of the 20th century. It changed the face of Europe, Asia and the Pacific in ways no one could ever have imagined. It also helped the United States awaken from its slumber to become the world’s foremost superpower. More than fourteen million young men and women, including Jack, Bill and me, got their “chance” to participate.
Thompson put the word out and eventually got in touch with my brother Jack. If ever there was a “bright boy” poster child, Jack was it. Thompson explained to Jack the type of work involved, and Jack told me. So the two of us told Professor Thompson we were interested, and he passed along our names to his Navy intelligence pal.
Jack and I spent countless hours fooling around with anagrams and solving puzzles. We had anagrams all over the damn house. Who knows what our parents thought. I personally found it crazy how those puzzles worked out. As time passed, Jack and I did it decently, and one day we received a message from the Navy, instructing us to visit the nearest Navy recruiter for physical examinations. During the months of our code-breaking training, the vicious attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii occurred on December 7, 1941, and I wanted to join the war effort.
“This is the Navy regs,” he said. Talk about a blunt rejection.
So we gave up on our careers as code breakers. Funny thing, about four months later the Navy dropped all that crap about needing perfect vision. They had no other choice. If you had your vision corrected, for all practical purposes, you were just as good as the next guy. Eyeglasses be damned. This was World War II, after all, not some skirmish in the park.
Shortly after, we started receiving packages in the mail containing code-breaking lessons. Do’s and don’ts mostly. These typically consisted of a basic lesson in codes and a few examples to test our skill. The early lessons were simple, but they progressively became more difficult as we advanced. We learned all about frequency codes, letter usage, double transpositions and similar convolutions. Hell, to this day I could probably give a brief lecture on code-breaking.
Jack and I went down to take our physicals, and damned if we weren’t blind as bats. Without his eyeglasses, Jack could hardly see the eye chart from point blank distance, and I was equally half blind out of my left eye. “You guys can’t be in the Navy,” the recruiter told us.
“Why not?” we asked. “We hope to be code breakers. It’s not like we’ll be the guys lining up shots on a battleship.” We told him we’d been in code school and were asked to do this. He surely thought we were crazy.
Words from the client
“To anyone thinking of a personal history, it is always intriguing, insightful and a real pleasure. It is easy to do because Legacy Preservation makes it so. They know every detail, how to research and have fine writers. It doesn’t take as much time as you would think when you have this kind of help.”
— Dick Holland, Omaha philanthropist