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The Bell Curve: Born on the Fourth of July

June 30, 2011|By Joseph N. Bell
(Daily Pilot photo…)

Editor's note: Retired Daily Pilot columnist Joseph N. Bell has written a special column to mark his 90th birthday, which falls on Independence Day.

As a young boy watching the Fourth of July parade in the county-seat town of Decatur, Ind., the biggest attraction always was a very old man, who shuffled at the head of the parade. I was told he had been a drummer boy and flag carrier in Mr. Lincoln's army.

He had a long gray beard and carried a cane, but I envisioned him as a young and vigorous lad waving his flag and beating his drum atop the carnage at Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg. I felt a special connection to him because my own grandfather had also fought for Mr. Lincoln's Union Army.

I will think of that old man Monday as I celebrate my 90th birthday and our country's Independence Day. Only now I'm the patriarch at the head of the parade, feeling incredulous to have arrived at this mystic age. People have been asking me how it feels to be turning 90, so I thought I'd return to The Bell Curve to share the state of mind, in which I approach the start of my 10th decade on this planet.

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I'm officially part of what's been called the Greatest Generation. I've never liked this term because I feel that other generations would have responded to the challenges mine faced in a similar fashion.

But being part of World War II as a Navy pilot did shape the way I have approached life ever since. The lessons I took home from the war are the same ones I'd most like to share with those who look to me for whatever words of wisdom I can offer from my uneasy position as an elder statesman.

For example, I learned the value of interdependent friendship — of being able to trust and depend on another human being literally with your life — and to be able to offer the same in return. The war also taught me that both our physical and intellectual limits are far beyond what we believe them to be, that we can endure stress and physical hardships and make decisions we wouldn't believe possible under normal circumstances.

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