Linking combat and physical health: the legacy of World War II in men's lives

Am J Psychiatry. 1997 Mar;154(3):330-6. doi: 10.1176/ajp.154.3.330.


Objective: This longitudinal study investigated the health effects of experiences during World War II among veterans by examining how well-being changed across the postwar years and varied by prewar individual attributes.

Method: The subjects were men from the Stanford-Terman data archives who served in World War II and were born before 1925 (N = 328). Of these veterans, 236 were known to have been overseas during the war, and 64 had remained in the United States; 204 of the men who had been sent overseas experienced combat. Life history records were used to construct measures that described physical and emotional health over a range of time points and intervals in the postwar years.

Results: Exposure to combat predicted that a subject would experience physical decline or death during the postwar interval from 1945 to 1960, after the effects of self-reported physical health in 1945 and birth cohort were controlled. Rank and theater of engagement, however, were of little consequence, either additively or in interaction with combat. Self-worth before the war did not moderate the risk of physical decline or death that was associated with combat.

Conclusions: Combat in World War II predicted that in the 15 years after the war, a subject would experience physical decline or death. There was no evidence that the effect of combat was more pronounced among men of different ranks, theaters of engagement, or levels of self-worth in 1940.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Health Status*
  • Helplessness, Learned
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Occupations
  • Personality
  • Probability
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk-Taking
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • United States
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data
  • Warfare*