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The Bell Curve: Calmer moments in World War II

November 10, 2010|By Joseph N. Bell

I was surfing through cable TV stations Wednesday, looking for a path to write about Veterans Day. I stumbled on "Hoosiers," a film based on the true story of five boys from the tiny Indiana farming community of Milan, who worked, played and bonded together through 12 tiers of school to reach their ultimate goal, the state high school basketball championship tournament.

The Hoosier State in those days didn't classify teams by their school's size. Every contestant was thrown into the same pot. Winner take all. Farm kids or city kids, rich or poor, black or white, Christian or Muslim. Just as it should be. And in 1954, the farm kids from Milan brought it home and Hollywood made a movie about them, set in 1951-52 in the fictional town of Hickory.

The closing shot in "Hoosiers" was of a group picture of the team framed and mounted on a wall in the school's gym. I studied the photo until each player posing for camera came alive for me. I wondered how many of then were now veterans of their own wars — and what I and other members of my generation looked like at their age. That question took me to "Slipstream," my Navy Pilots' yearbook containing the only picture of myself that I still have from my war years. I was surprised that I could remember so many names of the people posing for that group picture.

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There was Tom Frazee, whose family owned a dry goods store in Columbus, Ohio. There was Elmer Larson, whose dad was a Chicago cop. Then there was Jack Nicks, who was as Texan as they came and who was my best man when I got married in Corpus Christi, Texas. Finally, there was Alex Banks, who got me in so much trouble when I covered for him. And, yes, the photo on the next page showed a group of aviators that included an 18-year-old future president of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

Those of us who served in the military and are still around are called veterans. We get to go to movies cheaper and to rail against members of Congress — one of them representing Newport-Mesa — who lowered taxes on the rich and picked up the slack by cutting benefits for veterans. The pool of 10 million or so veterans formed by World War II is now disappearing fast, thereby saving the government a lot of money for Goldman and Sachs. At the same time, our rapidly diminishing ranks has fostered more bonding and reunions among those of us who are still here, even though transportation has become a problem with advancing age.

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