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Most of my life, I never considered mine to be a military family. We had picnics on Memorial Day, but it was more or less just a family day. Veterans Day came and went, with not a thought toward any family members who served.
It really wasn’t a topic that we discussed.
I did know we had veterans in my family. My mother’s sister, my Aunt Max, was a member of the Army Nurses Corps in World War II. While serving at the 115th Station Hospital in England, she met my Uncle Gerry Bosscher, an orthodontist from Grand Rapids, Mich., who was an Army doctor.
It always sounded very romantic, but we never talked about it when they would visit.
I inherited most of Mom’s photos, and among them I have found several of my aunt in uniform. In a scrapbook, Mom saved letters Aunt Max wrote while she was overseas. Mom also was big on newspaper clippings, and the scrapbook also includes many pieces from our hometown paper about my aunt and Mom’s brother, Harry Wherry, and their service in the war.
Mom didn’t serve in the military, but she did serve as a civilian. In 1944, at age 19, she moved to Washington, D.C., with her best friend and became a secretary at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters. But I never really fully appreciated that until after she died.
I knew, though, that she was very proud of her siblings’ service. Uncle Harry served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator. Mom told me about that when she received a gift of two books in which he is mentioned.
One was a book called “Aphrodite: Desperate Mission” and the other was, “The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy”; both include accounts of the top-secret 1944 Operation Aphrodite, in which the United States tried several times to create drones, or remote-controlled bombers. Kennedy’s plane was loaded with 10 tons of explosives, aimed at an enemy target in Mimoyecques, France. Kennedy was flying the explosives-laden plane, which detonated before he and his co-pilot could bail out. My uncle was flying behind Kennedy’s plane, and mom told me it was all he could do to stay in the air and avoid the debris.
While doing genealogical research, I found that my mother’s grandfather, Frederick Reed, also was a Civl War veteran, who served in an Ohio regiment.
Growing up, all I knew of Codling military service was that my grandfather, Charles Cicero Codling, was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. We have a photo of him in uniform, complete with its spiked helmet. My dad used to tell me grandpa was nearly run out of his hometown, Panama, N.Y., by a mob, because people who saw the helmet thought he was a German – the spike style was similar to what the German army wore at that time.
It wasn’t until I went to visit Dad’s sister in 1991 that I discovered my great-grandfather, Josiah Hackett (Charles’ father-in-law), was a veteran of the U.S. 17th Regular Infantry in the Civil War. After doing a lot of research, I found that he fought in two major battles in 1863 – Chancellorsville in Virgnia and at Gettysburg, Pa. Two of his brothers also served in that war, Gilbert Samuel Hackett and Henry Clay Hackett. Researching further, I discovered their great-grandfather, also named Josiah Hackett, was a Revolutionary War veteran from New Hampshire.
But what amazes me still is that I never knew my Dad’s brother also was a WWII veteran – not until long after both my uncle and Dad had died.
When we moved to Ohio, we no longer lived near any of my dad’s family, but we did visit with Uncle Howard and Aunt Jane many times. I don’t recall the subject ever coming up. I didn’t find out until 2000, when I had a long phone conversation with Aunt Jane.
After she died five years later, her cousins gave me a whole album of photos my uncle took while he was in Italy and North Africa as part of a cartography unit.
It’s frustrating, because now there is no one left to tell me about the pictures or the friends who appear in some of them.
So, yes, my family actually has a long history of military service. And, as I write this, I keep telling myself that I really need to go visit my Uncle Harry and my Aunt Max, both of whom are still living – the sole survivors of my parents’ generation. I really need to ask them about their experiences, while I can.
I encourage everyone to do the same with their relatives who also are veterans. The only way we can understand and appreciate the great sacrifices they made is to find out – from them – what it was like to serve.
So, I take some time on this day after Veteran’s Day to salute all of my relatives who served in all of those wars.
And I also salute all of the veterans here in Carroll County, in Kentucky and in the nation, who served in the past and are serving today. It is because of all of you that our nation is great. Your service and sacrifice has allowed us all to live as a free society, and for that I am grateful.
Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The News-Democrat.