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Letting Go of a Piece of History: Hanover Man Cashes War Bond He Received 70 Years Ago

  • At the Ledyard Bank in Hanover on Thursday Gerald Madden, of Hanover, cashes in his war bond. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Gerald Madden's war bond. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Ledyard Bank teller Dawn Brueckner looks at the war bond Gerald Madden brought. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Hanover — Not long after he was born, Gerald Madden’s parents made an investment in his future: They purchased a $25 United States war bond.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about that act, as Americans have made a cherished tradition of buying savings bonds for their children and grandchildren. There’s a lesson in that document, a sort of patience and a buy-in to the country’s old fashioned ethic of saving, self-reliance and patriotism.

Madden’s parents gave him the bond in 1976, when he earned his doctorate in finance from Penn State University’s business school. It was a gift of much more than money, which explains why he kept the bond all these years, finally cashing it in 70 years to the month after its purchase, on Jan. 27, 1943.

“To me, the amount didn’t matter, it was the sentiment,” Madden said. “I kept it all these years as a memento.”

Madden took the bond to Ledyard National Bank in Hanover earlier this month. Its value had appreciated to $99.95.

Dawn Brueckner, a client service representative at the bank, said she sees three or four savings bonds a year, “but nothing like this.”

If Madden had cashed the bond when he received it 37 years ago and invested the proceeds in the stock market, he probably would have earned more money, he said.

But that’s not the point, or not the whole point, of such an investment, Madden said.

“Then you have to ask what pleases you most,” he said. An economist would call it “utilitarian value.” What pleased Madden most was holding onto a tangible link to his parents.

“I’m getting emotional,” Madden said in an interview in the bank’s lobby. “My parents were poor, I mean relatively speaking. They were just great, great people.”

The bond, a handsome document bearing the signature of then-Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., was no small purchase for Madden’s parents. His father drove a truck for a couple of different companies in Philadelphia; his mother was in charge of the household and raising their five sons. Gerald was the fourth and could recall his father patching worn shoes with glue and pieces of rubber.

Madden has traveled far from those origins. He has taught at 15 different universities during his academic career. He first came to Hanover in 1986 at the suggestion of a colleague who was a Dartmouth College graduate. He spent the summers in the Tuck School of Business’ Feldberg Library, where he wrote a book and many articles. He established residency in Hanover in 1992, just before accepting an offer to teach in Ireland.

His decision to liquidate the bond stemmed, in part, from the national debt, now at almost $16.5 trillion. When Madden cashed the bond, negotiations on raising the federal debt ceiling were at a standstill and news outlets were predicting that the government would find itself unable to pay its bills by as early as Feb. 15.

The House is going to vote on the extension tomorrow. While a government default is possible, it isn’t likely.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Madden said. Then again, he added, if our elected officials haven’t solved the debt crisis so far, “why are they going to get wisdom suddenly?”

The bond that once held so much sentimental value for Madden is out of his hands. But he made a copy that he can keep, a true souvenir, with no value other than his feelings for his parents, still worth more than any sum.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.