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The Bell Curve:

Bonds run strong

March 17, 2010|By Joseph N. Bell

I watched the first episode of “The Pacific” on Sunday, and I will watch the other nine episodes in the weeks ahead. It promises to be “Band of Brothers” played out on the other side of the world, on some Pacific islands that I knew firsthand from flying out wounded warriors.

Beyond that brief familiarity and the graphic combat scenes, “The Pacific” has already discovered a by-product of war that both precedes and lingers long after a war becomes history: the powerful bonding that takes place between men — and increasingly women, as well — who share the war experience. This bonding lasts a lifetime and transcends the connective power of fraternity brothers or neighbors or working partners or even love affairs. Here are some examples from an old bondsman.

When I enrolled at the University of Missouri out of high school in Fort Wayne, Ind., we were not yet at war, and I didn’t have enough money to pay my out-of-state tuition. But there turned out to be help close by. I had an uncle who ran a Savings and Loan in Jefferson City, and he told me to use his address. So I did and sailed through enrollment — except for one mindless mistake. I used my Indiana address on a single critical document and got hit with the out-of-state fee. I turned back to my uncle for help, and he told me to wait 24 hours and then check at the enrollment window.

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When I did that the next day, the clerk on duty peered intensely through the grille, then disappeared, followed immediately by a man who I assumed was the registrar, who also studied me.

Then he said, “You’ve got some powerful friends,” and shoved a telegram under the grille.

Like an idiot I gave the telegram back to the Registrar, and I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: “I would be most grateful for any courtesies you can show Mr. Bell, a good Missouri boy we’ve known for many years, who made a careless mistake on his application. ”

It was signed “Sen. Harry S Truman.”

When I completed a new enrollment form with my Missouri address the next day, I was officially a student. And only when I thanked my uncle did I learn that he had served in the same platoon with Truman in France during World War I. Politically, my uncle was a rabid Republican who probably never voted for Truman, but when he needed help, bonding trumped mistakes and rules.

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