Mat, Henry & Max’s Dad

This week I’ve been talking to my grandson Henry (9 years old, fourth grade) about the veterans in our family. He’s also been on the phone with his Dad’s mother, Margaret, learning about the veterans on that side of his family. Margaret and I enjoy talking to Henry whenever we can, but being called in to work on his school Veterans Day project has been delightful! Henry’s very proud of his Dad, a veteran of the US Air Force, and he’s curious and eager to discover more about his family’s role in protecting and defending our country.

Mat has an amazing photo taken by his grandfather during the liberation of Paris by the Americn troops in World War II. His grandfather had stepped aside to snap this scene of soldiers walking toward the Eiffel Tower in the background. The photo is a treasure, and Mat shares this story of his grandfather with Henry and Max (7 years old, second grade) so they can keep this memory, too.

The boy’s school in Mercer Island, Washington has an awesome midweek celebration planned leading up to the Veterans Day holiday. Students are encouraged to invite a special Veteran guest, or more, to sit with them during a morning School Assembly, and an evening Community Celebration will also be held. The children are creating a “Veterans Day Tree” display to help honor Veterans important to their community, as well as family and/or friends who are or were Veterans.

The kids are cutting out construction paper leaves, one for each veteran they wish to honor, labeled with the name, years served and branch of service. This is where Margaret and I come in. When Henry heard “extra leaves are available in the music room and main office”, he called in the grandmothers to help him climb his family tree and reach more “leaves!” He told me, “Mama, we can go all the way back to the American Revolution! Can you help me? Grandma’s already given me six!” Seriously? I’m all about this!

In addition to telling Henry & Max the names and dates that I have recorded, I’ve been gathering available photos of our family’s veterans so the boys can put a face with a name during their tree leaf project. It’s so much easier to think of ancestors as real people when you can see them in photographs, like this one of my Dad in Japan during the Korean War.

Great Grandfather, Vincent Askin, Civil War Union Soldier

I’ve always loved doing genealogy. I started playing around with it in 1976 when we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, close to a branch of the National Archives. Before you know it, I was hooked. Along the way I found that members of Ken’s family and mine served the military in peacetime and in conflict. I knew my father and both of his brothers served during World War II, but discovered grandfathers who fought in the Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. And I finally became interested in American history – my history! Yes, I have massive data on, and I love watching “Finding Your Roots” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” And I’m absolutely certain that many of our family stories would make equally fabulous episodes! Whether it’s a story shared by a family member or one you discover on your own, these family stories give context to your American story.

When I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia this past summer, it was a thrill to see William Trego’s painting, The March to Valley Forge, December 19, 1777, and artifacts – including the actual tent of George Washington – from the encampment. Knowing that my 4th great grandfather, John Clough, was a Virginia soldier who wintered at Valley Forge in 1777, the experience was surreal.

“Visiting Grandpa Ballard” at the Old Soldiers Home circa 1908 (L to R, Flo Keefe, Jessie Keefe, cousin Clara)

My grandmother, Flo, often reminisced about several family visits to the Lafayette, Indiana “Old Soldiers Home” to visit her grandfather, Cornelius Ballard. A blacksmith with the Indiana 9th Cavalry, he’d been a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia during part of the war.

In 1979 I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to have the research verified on my family’s Revolutionary War soldiers and patriots. Lots of documents, much dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment for uncovering the trails of these long ago men and the familys that led to me. As a DAR member, respect and reverance for our military men and women grew. As a child of the 50s, I didn’t hear much from my Dad or his brothers about their time in service in the Pacific. During high school and college, the Vietnam era was frought with controversy. Now we realize the psychological dangers of not talking about the experiences of war and the great debt we owe to all past and present members of our military.

The three Esmon brothers who served in WWII (L to R) my Dad, John Thomas Esmon, and my uncles, William and Richard Esmon.

My Dad also served in the Korean War. As a Navy dentist “on loan” to the Army, he was stationed at the US Army Hospital in Tokyo. I was just a tot, and at the time I knew him only as “the man in uniform in the picture frame” on the piano. I know my Mom had her hands full with my brother and I during his absence, and his letters must have been wonderful to receive.

In December of recent years, Ken and I have participated in Wreaths Across America, helping to place holiday wreaths at the Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery here in Madison, Indiana with a host of volunteers. It is an incredibly moving event. I also like to remember my Dad and Uncle Dick by taking wreaths to Acton Cemetery in central Indiana where they’re buried, and arranging for a wreath for Uncle Bill in the Florida National Cemetery. “Thank them for their service. Say their name.” It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

So you can see why when Henry wanted to “know his people”, I was all in. If he can begin to find a love of history through the experiences of his own family members, and learn to appreciate the sacrifices that many Americans have made with their military service, he’ll be off to a good start as a caring American citizen.

November 8th – Veterans Day Program Update! Our daughter Carrie reported in that the program was a huge success and simply wonderful. The boys did a great job with all their prep work and enjoyed their moments of pride with their Dad. Here are a few photos. 🙂

#VeteransDay #HonoringAllWhoServed

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.