I have long loved this tale but can no longer locate the original and am therefore reduced to giving
you the version that has been, no doubt, altered by time. My apologies to the originating author.
If anyone recognizes this tale and knows whence it came, please let me know.
The Wish of the Historian
A noted and much beloved professor of history passes away and, as he has lived a life full of selfless acts helping his student learn to love knowledge and scholarship, he is transported straight to heaven without stopping at purgatory. At the pearly gates he is met by no less than Saint Peter, but is so humble that he wonders aloud why he had been singled out. Saint Peter replies that, due to his long career in the service of humanity, the numerous souls he had touched with his kindness, the lives he had sent out on to the service of caring and teaching, and his devotion to his family, he is more than worthy of the honor. Our historian is then asked if he has any special requests that Saint Peter could satisfy for him.
“Why, yes.” he says, “I have long been an avid student of military strategy and history. Could you introduce me to the greatest military mind of all time? I have often wondered who he was. Muddled as the records of combat are, it was hard for me to make any rational assessment of them all.”
Saint Peter quickly agrees to that request and they walk through flower covered hills until they approach a large commanding hall, high on one of the loftiest hills. Over its portal, there is inscribed the word: “Valhalla.” Inside, they walk down a long passageway. The historian glances through an open door to see Caesar and Pompeii in one room discussing the best disposition of Roman Legions, if outnumbered. In another, they see Napoleon and Wellington arguing with passion about the right proportion of artillery to infantry. Further on, Rommel and Patton are finding agreement about the qualities that made the best tank commanders. At the end of the hall, in a poorly lit corner, sits a pleasant looking cobbler, contentedly working on some boots.
As they approach, Saint Peter stops our historian and grasps his arm. “This,” he says, “is unquestionably the greatest military mind the world has ever known.”
The historian is incredulous. “Who is he? What is his name?”
“Oh,” says the Saint, “you would not recognize his name. He lived peacefully for all his years, plying the trade of a cobbler in an eighteenth century village in the Italian Alps, but had he been called to military service,” the Saint’s arm swept back down the hall, “he would have outshone them all.”