- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

World War II interrupted — but did not kill — the friendship between Tom Harrison and Carl Conley, a pair of fraternity brothers from George Washington University who have led divergent lives but have remained close throughout the decades.

“I keep every letter he’s sent me. They’re so elegant and intelligent,” Mr. Conley said during dinner at Mr. Harrison’s Alexandria home this week.

Mr. Harrison, 80, smiled with embarrassment. He was overjoyed to visit his old friend, whom he had seen only once since 1948.

“It’s great. As you can see, we don’t have many contemporaries anymore,” he said.

Mr. Conley, 82, and wife Merle, 75, of Austin, Texas, have come to Washington to attend the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall tomorrow. More than 200,000 persons are expected at the event.

Mr. Harrison and Mr. Conley were working for the FBI and attending night classes at George Washington in 1942. They met through their fraternity, Sigma Nu, but were separated after a semester.

Mr. Harrison joined the Army Air Forces and became a B-24 navigator in the 22nd Bomb Group, 5th Air Force. He went on to have a distinguished military career, serving two tours in Vietnam, and retired to become a dealer in imports and exports. He married a Vietnamese and had two daughters.

Mr. Conley joined the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 80th Infantry, 327th Regiment. His feet froze during the winter of 1944, and his entire platoon of 25 soldiers was wiped out during a battle near Luxembourg.

“Every one of my buddies was annihilated by mortar shells. They had hollowed out their skulls. It was a horrible situation,” said Mr. Conley, who received shrapnel wounds in the legs.

But the two saw each another at the Sigma Nu fraternity house at the University of Texas in 1948, and have kept in touch since.

Mr. Conley stayed in Texas, marrying a girl he “stole” from a fraternity brother. “I knew him pretty well, and I thought, ‘Well, that won’t be too hard,’” he said. He danced the night away with her during a lakeside fraternity party in 1948 while his competition was tending to the new pledges.

He went on to become a lawyer and served as district attorney for Willacy County and then state representative for Willacy and Cameron counties from 1957 to 1961.

An avid polo player, Mr. Conley broke toes and ribs playing the game, and about 20 years ago, he was thrown to the turf and a 1,000-pound horse fell on top of him. He had no pulse for several moments and suffered from double vision for many years, never telling his family because he thought it was his “problem to deal with.”

Both of Mr. Harrison’s daughters received their doctoral degrees in chemistry, and he has five grandchildren. The oldest of his grandchildren recently graduated from West Springfield High School and was accepted to the University of Virginia.

At Mr. Harrison’s house, Mr. Conley, who has lost his hearing over the past few years, reflected on his past.

“All in all, life’s been pretty good to me. I’m very conscious of God and His mercy and greatness, and always will be,” he said.

He was excited by the dedication of the memorial and the attention paid to the war effort.

“It’s a real thrill to me. It makes me realize what a great country we live in,” he said. “I’m proud of our country and what it stands for.”

Mr. Harrison, a widower since 1999, said that although he is glad that World War II veterans are suddenly the focus of attention and gratitude, “I don’t need anything for myself … My life has been full of grace. I have more than enough thanks.”

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