Wartime losses and social bonding: influences across 40 years in men's lives

Psychiatry. 1988 May;51(2):177-98. doi: 10.1080/00332747.1988.11024391.


By 1990 over half of all American men entering the retirement years will be veterans with a life history shaped by participation in the Armed Forces. This investigation traces the burden of war mortality and social bonding across the life span of 149 veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict. These veterans come from longitudinal samples at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley. Data were also obtained from the record of a Marine unit that served on Iwo Jima. The study is organized around two lines of inquiry. The first examines the relationship between combat and social ties, with emphasis on exposure to combat deaths, the loss of comrades/friends, and postwar stress reactions. The second concerns the healing potential of social ties with service friends and spouses in later life. According to the analysis, heavy combat veterans are more likely than other veterans to have enduring ties from the service. But combat experience alone does not explain these ties; it is war trauma and especially the loss of significant others during war, both comrades and friends, that intensify and maintain postwar relationships. Painful memories of war and stress symptoms in later life are likely to weaken through exposure to a supportive community of service mates and spouses, an effect that suggests the healing potential of periodic reunions of the primary military unit and marital sharing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Combat Disorders / psychology
  • Death*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Memory
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Peer Group
  • Social Support
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Warfare