Monday, May 29, 2017

My Growing Family Memorial Day

When I was a child, Memorial Day meant that summer was officially here. That it was time for beach, barbecue, beach barbecue, frisbee, and best of all... no school!

We didn't have any close family who were lost in war, so we didn't have anyone to remember at a solemn cemetery visit. We skipped that, and moved directly on to the fresh ice cream and swimming lessons.

Life was carefree and untouched.  The meaning of Memorial Day was abstract and a little lost. Memorial Day honors those who have fallen in the line of service for their country. Not knowing any of those, we had to really stretch. We honored neighbor's cousins, friends of friends, veterans who died of old age, and even living veterans (forgetting that's what Veterans' Day is for).

As I've dug into our family history, I have found some of the fallen. Not very many, to be sure, but the list keeps growing ever year as I track down second cousins, third cousins, and more. Genealogy has many surprises, and finding relatives who gave up their lives for their country is one of the heart-stoppers for me (others include infant deaths and holocaust victims).

So on this Memorial Day here in the United States, I'm taking the time to list out my family's patriots who gave their lives in service to their country. Their home country is not always America, but it was the home country of my family. This is my personal memorial day, honoring those who've fallen in protection of their home and family.

My Own Personal Family Memorial Day

Leo Dorman Martyn (1892-1915)
1915 Leo Dorman Martyn, Australian in WWI at Gallipoli
Private Leo Dorman Martyn of the Australian Infantry was born in Moruya, New South Wales, Australia in Decemember 1892. He was my grandfather Kessler's second cousin via the Lukes and Martyn families of Cornwall.

Leo was wounded on the first landing at Gallipoli in WWI on 25 April 1915. After landing, he was attaching at the top of the ridge about half a mile from the beach. He was struck by a bullet and fell backwards down the cliff, breaking his back. Leo died a few days later on 2 May 1915, at the age of 22, aboard a hospital ship as it was leaving the Peninsula.

I've seen the 1981 movie, Gallipoli, with Mel Gibson, but now I really need to see the movie again. Urgently.  With this new context, it will surely take on a new meaning to me. It will probably make me cry. I certainly didn't cry the first time I saw it back in the 1980s.

Leo Martyn is one of the honored heroes on the Roll of Honour each Anzac Day on April 25th. I only just discovered him recently, missing that date by about two weeks. Watch out for next year!

Leo was 22 years old, unmarried with no children.

Ludwig Bodenheimer (1879-1918)
1918 Ludwig Bodenheimer, German in WWI
Corporal Ludwig Bodenheimer was my great grandfather Bodenheimer's third cousin. I'm quite certain they probably never met and never knew about each other, however I have tracked down living descendants of Ludwig and reunited our Bodenheimer family.

Ludwig was born in Waibstadt, and died on the field of battle during WWI on 23 August 1918. He fought for Germany, and as I've read more of the history of WWI, it seems that the entire thing was a real mess and probably should never have happened.

A commemorative plaque to honor him and the other fallen of his hometown of Bad Nauheim was placed in 1921. Sadly, during the Nazi period, his part of the memorial plaque was defaced as he was Jewish. I've tried to do as many Photoshop tricks as I know to clean up the photo, but as you can see it's still a bit mangled. Many Jews fought for Germany in WWI, which is one of the reason that they didn't immediately leave when Hitler came to power -- they were decorated veterans or families of the fallen. What could be more German than that?

Ludwig was 39 years old, married with two children.

Edward John Fry, Jr. (1922-1943)
1943 Edward John Fry, Jr., American in WWII in Italy
My mother's first cousin is probably the closest relative we've lost in war. Corporal Edward John Fry, Jr. was killed in action in Italy during WWII.  He was born in Garrison, Benton County, Iowa on 3 December 1922. Edward Fry enlisted in the army on 3 October 1941 and went overseas with the first American troops following Pearl Harbor. He was in the US 133rd 34th "Red Bull" division, and after some training in Ireland they shipped out to North Africa. News that he was wounded arrived in Iowa in June 1943. At that time his division was securing the Chougui Pass near Eddekhila, Tunisia in preparation for the invasion of Scilly.

9 September 1943 was D-Day in Italy, as US troops landed at Salerno. It appears that Edward had recovered enough from his injuries to join his regiment as they crossed the Volturno river in Italy to secure the town of Alife.  He was killed in action near Alife on 21 October 1943.

Edward was 20 years old, unmarried with no children.

Harris W. Fehr (1917-1944)
1944 Harris W. Fehr, American in WWII in Italy
Harris W. Fehr served in the same "Red Bull" division as Edward Fry. Harris served in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy; participated in Battle for Rome, 1944, invasion of No. Africa. Stationed in Algiers several months and was at one time attached dto Hqs. of Gen. Eisenhower as Honor Guard

He was born in Tama County, Iowa on 5 December 1917 and was Killed in Action on June 3, 1944 in Italy during the Battle For Rome, most likely near the town of Lanuvio , Italy as part of the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division.

Harris is a little more distantly related to me, as he was the first cousin of Dean Gilliatt's wife. Dean is the next entry.

Harris was 26 years old, unmarried with no children.

Dean Willis Gilliatt (1920-1944)
1944 Dean Willis Gilliatt, American in WWII in the Pacific
This is probably the story I know the most about, and I need to sit down and properly write the entire case up. It hit me the hardest.

Dean Willis Gilliatt was born in Benton County, Iowa on 6 December 1920.  He is my great uncle, Edward George Fry's first cousin twice removed. Edward Fry is indeed the father of the Edward Fry listed above, so that also makes Dean the second cousin once removed of Edward John Fry, Jr.

Dean was a Naval Aviator, flying off the U.S.S. Gambier Bay. He was killed in action off the coast of Saipan during the Pacific campaign. On 19 June 1944, the Wildcat fighter plane he was flying wasn't properly trimmed for takeoff and he crashed into the sea as all his shipmates watched in horror. His wife got the news of his death on the same day that his daughter was born.

The exact location of Dean Gilliatt’s fatal accident was 43.5 miles east of the island of Saipan in the Marianas at 15°12’00”N,146°27’00”E

Dean was 23 years old, married with one child.

1944 Leslie Arthur Martyn, New Zealander in WWII
Leslie Arthur Martyn (1911-1944)
Flight-Lieutenant Leslie Arthur Martyn was my grandfather Kessler's second cousin. I doubt they ever met, and I don't have any pictures from that entire branch of Martyn cousins.

Leslie was born in Kumara, New Zealand on 30 March 1911, the son of Edward Martyn and Jessie Andrews.  He was one of ten children.

On 21 November 1944, his Lancaster Mk.I NN745 AA-A took off at 13:46 with him in the pilot seat. This was a three-aircraft operation to lay mines in the Oslo Fjord. Two aircraft planted their mines in good visibility and without opposition. One aircraft captained by NZ417082 A/F/L L. Martyn, failed to return.

All seven crew are commemorated on the Runnymeade Memorial.
  1. F/L Leslie Arthur Martyn, RNZAF NZ417082 – Pilot.
  2. F/O Thomas Issac Elliot, RNZAF NZ421364 – Navigator.
  3. F/O Allan Roy Frank Dunkerley, RAAF AUS.423083 – Air Bomber.
  4. F/S John Calverley Crabtree, RAFVR 1492180 – Wireless Operator .
  5. Sgt. Charles Ronald Starkey, RAFVR 1863956 – Flight Engineer.
  6. Sgt. George Lindsay, RAFVR 1624589 – Mid Upper Gunner.
  7. P/O Andrew Roy Wright, RCAF J.88789 – Rear Gunner.
Leslie was 33 years old, and as far as my research shows no wife or children.

Thomas Burton Lukes (1947-1968)
1968 Thomas Burton Lukes, American in Vietnam War
Thomas Burton Lukes is my mother's third cousin. I don't think she ever knew about him, as I'm not sure she even knew or met all her first cousins.

Thomas was born in Waterford, Pontiac County, Michigan on 18 December 1947 to my grandfather's second cousin, Thomas A. Lukes. His grandfather, Thomas B. Lukes was my great grandmother's first cousin. That's how cousining works.

Thomas was a member of company A, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry which served in Vietnam beginning on 22 September 1967. Thomas's tour of duty started 27 February 1968.

On day 137 of his tour, 13 July 1968, Specialist 4th Class Thomas Burton Lukes and another member of "A" Company (Ronald Pillow) were killed near the base of Cay Giep Mountain (about 14.346353, 109.085670) in Binh Dinh Province by a 105mm artillery shell that had been modified as a pressure detonated mine. Death was instantaneous.  Thomas was promoted to the rank of Sargent posthumously, and awarded the bronze star for meritorious service. He is honored on Panel 52W, Row 23 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

Thomas was 20 years old, unmarried with no children.

Memorial Day has Real Meaning to Me

I took an informal poll the last few days, with a sample size of about 4. Many people have been v ery lucky just like me. They didn't have any family members who were killed in wartime. They were able to enjoy Memorial Day without thought or pain. They honored the memory of those who've given their lives to protect our way of life, but it didn't really hit home. It wasn't really real. While I still can't even imagine losing a son, brother, father, or close friend; this growing still hits me where I live. It's real to me.

The lesson here is that genealogy makes history relevant and relatable. Memorial Day is not an abstract concept now. It's a real thing, and as you find your connections to history through genealogical adventures, you too will discover how many new things really matter to you. Truly matter.

1 comment :

  1. Great post. War touches us all in some way.