Plaza Library hosted book release conversation
Once upon a time, America’s Tax Man was America’s airman.
Henry Bloch, founder of H&R Block, enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and was trained as a navigator for bomber missions. He flew 32 missions over Europe as a navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress. His first mission was the third-ever raid over Berlin by the Allies.
Bloch’s wartime experiences, and the impact those experiences had on shaping his postwar business career, is the topic of a new book from BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“Navigating a Life: Henry Bloch in World War II” is written by John Herron, UMKC associate professor of History, and Mary Ann Wynkoop, retired director of UMKC’s American Studies program. Herron also serves as associate dean of the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences and associate director of the UMKC Honors College.
“Henry’s wartime experiences, and how he remembers them, prove that in many ways, the Second World War was the event of his life. How the war cuts through his career is the subject of this small volume,” Herron wrote in the book’s acknowledgments.
Bloch and Herron discussed the book, and how Bloch’s wartime experiences helped shape his business career, at a special book-release program at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library on March 29.
“I feel a special sense of pride about UMKC’s involvement with ‘Navigating a Life.’ Henry Bloch has been one of our university’s most steadfast and generous supporters, and has done so much for our community. And as this book reveals, so much for our nation as well,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton. “It is an honor to have this book, written by current and retired faculty members and published by our publishing house, so closely identified with our university.”
The book opens with Bloch as a student at the University of Michigan when the Pearl Harbor attack launched the U.S. into the expanding global war. Upon his enlistment, he was sent to San Antonio for training, and then stationed with the Eighth Air Force, 95th Bomb Group, at Horham, England. The narrative sees him through his combat missions, his return to the U.S. to learn cutting-edge business management practices through a special program for military officers at Harvard Business School, his return to Kansas City upon discharge at war’s end, and concludes with the founding of H&R Block.
The book includes a forward by Air Force Gen. (ret.) Richard B. Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and currently president of Kansas State University.
“This book is about the American spirit, embodied in the men and women who fought in World War II. Henry Bloch, through his early life and his decision to join the fight for freedom, especially exemplifies this spirit,” Myers wrote. “Through Henry, we also learn the remarkable impact these brave men and women had on the past seventy years of American history.”
Myers summed up the impact of Bloch’s wartime service on his business success this way:
“Henry Bloch came back to America a changed man. He was still the optimistic, intellectually curious, and persistent person he was when he left. But … Henry was no longer afraid; he was not afraid to fail and was no longer self-limiting in what he would attempt. WWII forever altered his views of risk taking. As the book makes clear, there would be no H&R Block without his experiences in military training and combat above the European continent.”
Bloch rarely discussed his wartime experiences over most of his postwar life. As his four children wrote in a note in the book, “He rarely uttered a word about his war experience. He understood his military experiences as his duty, a responsibility to protect his nation’s freedom. Why, Dad thought, should he then brag about something that millions like him were expected to do? Fulfilling an obligation was not considered bravery or heroism.”
But as the number of surviving members of the “Greatest Generation” dwindled, Bloch felt an obligation to history.
“That war was a singular moment in human history. Forces of great evil were vanquished, and it ushered in a period of American greatness on the world stage. My role in it was minor, but every thread in that tapestry has meaning and deserves memory,” he said.
“Navigating a Life” is published by BkMk Press, the UMKC publishing house. Copies can be purchased from the BkMk website. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to BkMk and the UMKC Department of History.