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WWII: No atheists in foxholes, or even 50 years later

ITHACA, N.Y., May 27 (UPI) — In the heat of World War II, men who experienced intense combat were more than twice as likely to turn to prayer as those who did not, U.S. researchers say.

Study co-authors Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and his brother Craig Wansink, professor and chair of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, looked at archived data collected in World War II as part of the U.S. Army’s survey of 163 soldiers, asking them how motivating they found prayer under different levels of combat intensity.

The study, scheduled to be published in the June/July issue of the Journal of Religion and Health, found as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose to 72 percent from 42 percent.

The second study examined the long-term impact of combat on a wider range of religious behaviors. Fifty years after combat, many soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, but it varied by their war experience, the study found.

Heavy combat versus no combat was associated with a 21 percent increase in church attendance for those who claimed their war experience was negative, but a 26 percent decrease for those who said it was positive, the Wansink brothers said.

“People of that generation are fairly religious to begin with. But we were surprised to find people who saw heavy combat were so highly involved in church, though their ages ranged from 75-95. Even at that age, they still went to church three times a month,” the researchers said in a statement. “The frequency surprised us.”

Brian Wansink said findings have implications for those who want to help or honor veterans.

“We can help by visiting veterans more often in nursing homes, making sure you talk every once in a while to your uncle the veteran, and not just twice a year,” Brian Wansink said. “Frequency of contact and gratitude or appreciation would be something they would benefit from.”

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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