My Family and the Military

My family has a rich history in relation to military service.  Both my parents, uncles, and brothers-in-law all served here in America, in Europe, and also in South-East Asia.   More importantly, they all returned home safely. Many of these loved veterans have departed this world long ago, so I am putting this tribute together in their honor. They served proudly, lived full and rich lives after their service, and will never be forgotten.  Much of what I am is because of them..

 

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Before my parents were my parents, they both enlisted in the navy towards the end of World War II.  They were assigned to Pensacola. Florida when they first met. Shortly after they married, the war ended, and about a year later, I arrived.

My father was a photographer in the navy.  After the war he taught photography at Fort Holabird in Baltimore for the army military intelligence school.  He later taught in Washington D.C. for military attachés. Perhaps my love for both teaching and photography is located within my DNA.

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My Uncle Ernest, who was known to all as Uncle “Choo,” was my second father as a young boy.  During the war he was an army MP where he served in France.  When he returned to the states he opened up a camera repair store where I worked part time in college. National Camera Repair was located just one block north of what is now Harbor Place in Baltimore City.  Another photography link…

My Uncle Leo was the youngest of my father’s brothers.  As a teenager he volunteered for the army where was sent to France and Germany.  He was assigned to tank duty, where he saw considerable action.  He was the head gunner, and he did not talk much about his experiences, but he did tell me was involved in the Battle of the Bulge.  My other uncles talked about him suffering from Shell Shock upon his return, which we now refer to as P.T.S.D.  After the war he became an electrical technician, and I think we may have shared a math gene.

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My Uncle Lester was the oldest of my father’s brothers that served, and he saw the most action.  He was in the infantry where he fought in several major battles.  We never talked about his experiences but my uncle Choo told me that over three fourths of his company did not return.  In spite of all these conflicts, I remember him as a fun loving man. I lived with him during my last summer in high school when I worked as a camp counselor at the seminary at DeMatha High School outside Washington.  I think perhaps he may have given me his joy and respect for life.

My father’s only sister, Elsie, got married just prior to the start of WWII.  Her husband, Uncle Barney, saw action throughout France. One interesting thing I only discovered after his death was what a prolific and organized photographer he was.  I recently found several of his annotated photo albums that chronicled his travels throughout France.

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Don My youngest brother-in-law, Don, enlisted in the army just following Vietnam. He was trained as a tank and deuce and a half mechanic. He was then stationed in Germany and served to keep its massive fleet operational.  Even today if something here needs to be fixed, Don can do it.

My brother-in-law, Fred, served in the army during the war in Vietnam. He was a combat photographer and received a purple heart when a grenade exploded in front of him. His Graflex camera was destroyed, but it saved his face. Following the war he joined the Baltimore City Police Department. After only a few years as a police officer, he lost his life in the line of duty. The governor of Maryland recently honored Fred during a Fallen Heroes Ceremony.

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Fred’s father held perhaps the highest rank in the family while serving in the army.  He was a sergeant in the 101st Airborne, and he was one of the greats who fought in Normandy on D-Day,

My father-in-law, Sid, was the only marine in the family.  As a young man in the 1st Marine Division in WWII, he saw considerable action on the islands of Peleliu and Pavuvu in the South Pacific. After the war, the decades passed, but the Corps remained a huge part of Sid’s life.  He was forever a former marine, not an ex-marine.

 

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It is now finally my turn. During the Vietnam conflict I enlisted in the Army Security Agency (ASA). Our function was to electronically intercept transmissions from North Vietnam and also to track the movements of their military. I was stationed for almost three years in Okinawa and north eastern Thailand where Morse code became my second language. The ASA required us to work long hours, but in the end it provided the funds for me to complete my life goal of going to college and becoming a math teacher.

Perhaps the most important thing I have ever read about combat is that in times of war life and death are totally arbitrary.  Bravery is obviously important in winning, but has little to do with survival. My family was beyond fortunate.  Everybody returned home.

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