When nine Wisconsin brothers signed up to fight a war

“He was a man of firm habits. He ate cornflakes for breakfast every day. He wrote letters with a pen and paper,”James Hagerty — Marilyn’s son — writes today in Wall St. Journal, remembering Fond du Lac, Wis., native Russell Bond. “At dawn each day he hoisted the American flag outside his home. He lowered it at sundown.”

That’s a fine piece of writing that could describe millions of others who went off to World War II.

Bond, who died two months ago after a series of strokes, was a little bit different only because he had eight brothers, all of whom, too, signed up to fight.

Bond’s story gets national attention today because he did something else that a lot of old-timers did. He wrote up his biography and then paid one of those companies to make a book out of it. The distribution was small — his family.

Not all of Bond’s siblings went to Europe — one brother was discharged after a boxing injury — but all of them survived the war, Hagerty writes.

Boyhood was a grand adventure. He made fishing rods from willow branches, bits of string and bent stick pins. With friends, he rode his bicycle 65 miles to Milwaukee and slept in a cow pasture before pedaling home. He wrecked his throwing arm by pitching too many curveballs and screwballs on the baseball diamond.

He liked school—though, as he wrote in his memoir, “things like this are better kept to one’s self.” When he misbehaved, a teacher required him to sit in a corner and shake a baby rattle for 15 minutes—a punishment he later deemed effective and appropriate.

When the war came along, he was determined to fight it from the air. After enlisting in the Army Air Corps, he gorged on raw carrots in an effort to make sure his eyesight remained keen. After months of training as an airplane radio operator, he and his crew flew to Britain, via Brazil and Senegal, where he bought a knife with a goatskin sheath and found the weather “hot as blazes.”

He was a radio operator on a B-24.

When he and his brothers came home, they also did what millions of Americans once did. They worked in factories or on the railroad.

With Mr. Bond’s death, all of the Bond brothers are now gone.

  • MrE85

    My father’s three brothers all signed up. As would have he, had he been old enough. He eventually joined the Air Force during the Korean War.

  • Al

    All nine of them. As a mother, I can’t fathom.

  • Ralphy

    “When he and his brothers came home, they also did what millions of Americans once did. They worked in factories or on the railroad.”
    And mining, building infrastructure and in the construction trades as the country took a hard pivot from a war economy to accommodate a surge in population.
    All are examples of jobs now gone, largely to mechanization and automation, and the mantra of shareholder value.

    The commitment to the war effort and these post war jobs are examples of what’s possible if we are willing to pull together for the greater good. If the US made the same commitment to reinventing and rebuilding America’s industrial heartland today, we could create millions of good jobs, rebuild livable cities and engage an economy that creates goods and services that bring tangible value to all of us.
    If only we collectively had the fortitude to forgo immediate gratification and were willing to invest in a sustainable future. If only.