Veterans in My Family Tree

Inspired by Veterans Day, here is what I know about the veterans of the American military in my family tree.

I use the term “veterans” loosely, instead of getting into a debate over who officially is or isn’t supposed to be recognized on the federal holiday. I’m regarding this as a family history piece inspired by Veterans Day, not praise for everything my ancestors did or an official Veterans Day roster. In other words, I’m including Confederate veterans because they’re in the family tree, even though there are debates about whether those who took up arms against the US should be honored on Veterans Day. This list also includes slave owners, a deserter, and a convicted killer. I take a “warts and all” approach to family history, finding what it was instead of pretending it was something else.

Mostly, I’m focusing on my direct ancestors and their siblings. I’ve included a few others. However, I’ve left out a lot of Nth cousins M times removed, to keep this list from getting really big. And because it’d be a lot more work. I have my limits.

For privacy reasons, I’m omitting the birth years and photos of living relatives. I’m including birth and death years and a few photos only for the deceased veterans.

Veterans of the Iraq War

My niece Charlotte Brock (living) served in Iraq as a Marine officer. She was interviewed on NPR because of the essay she had contributed to the book Powder: Writing by Women in Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq.

Veterans of the Vietnam War

My cousin Pat Sharpe (living) served as a Marine in Vietnam. He received a Purple Heart.

Frank Giddings (1945-2009), ex-husband of my cousin Maureen, was also a Vietnam vet. My recollection is that he was in the Army.

Veterans of the Korean War

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Earl Becker

My father, Earl Becker (1930-2005), was a Marine during the Korean War. He received a National Defense Medal for enlisting during a time of war. Dad never got shipped out, and stayed stateside the whole time. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve for several years after his regular service.

My uncle Herman Becker (living) served in the Army, and I understand he did go to Korea.

Between WWII and Korea

My uncle Bob Becker (1927-2009) was a U.S. Navy veteran. He enlisted in 1945, after WWII had ended. He wasn’t old enough to have joined up any earlier. He left the service three years later, which was before the Korean War started. He spent at least some of his service stationed in Hawaii.

Veterans of World War II

I’ll count Dad as a WWII vet in a sense. As a teenager, he was a volunteer in the Army’s Aircraft Warning Service. These civilian volunteers were stationed at posts along the American coastlines. They were trained to identify enemy aircraft. This service existed because of concerns that long-range bombers might attack U.S. soil. The AWS volunteers were expected to be at their posts regardless of adverse weather conditions. The service was closed down shortly before the D-Day invasion, in order to divert full resources to that.

My late father-in-law Henri Soudée (1906-1996) was a veteran of the French military, not the US military, but I’m including him here because he was part of the French diplomatic team that came to the US during the war as supporters of Charles de Gaulle, not Vichy France. That’s how he wound up living in the US and raising a family here, which is how I met my wife.

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Peggy and Johnny Sharpe

Mom’s brothers-in-law (and my uncles) Bill Schulz (living) and Johnny Sharpe (1921-1984) were both World War II veterans. Uncle Bill was in the glider service. Uncle Johnny was a sailor on the USS Alabama, among other ships. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Peggy (Mom’s sister) met at a USO dance.

Mom’s cousin Billy Shepherd (1924-1945) was a sailor, and a war casualty. He was on a destroyer, the USS Evans, for Operation Iceberg, the Battle of Okinawa. The Evans and another destroyer were escorting landing craft at Okinawa when they were swarmed by Japanese aircraft. Billy was among those killed. The crew of the Evans was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and Billy was awarded a Purple Heart. Mom was 8 years old when they got the news that her cousin Billy had been killed.

Joseph M. Miller (1921-1996) was another of Mom’s cousins. He served in the Coast Guard during the war. That’s all I know.

William Charles O’Connell (1919-1992) was yet another of Mom’s many cousins. He fought for the Army in Italy and North Africa.

Veterans of World War I

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William Miller

My maternal grandfather, William Miller (1891-1943), was in the Army. He was stationed at Camp Meade (now Fort Meade, Maryland). A family story says that when he heard his unit was going to be shipped out, he walked the 25 miles from Camp Meade to his fiancee’s (my future grandmother’s) house in Washington DC to let her know. However, the war ended before his unit shipped out, so he never saw service “over there.” I never met him, but from all the stories, I think I would have liked him. I still remember my grandmother Nora, his wife, from when I was little.

Will’s brothers Edward Miller (1889-1931) and Joe Miller (1891-1973) registered for the draft on the same day as Will. I assume his brother Alfred (1895-1976) also registered, but I haven’t found any record of it. Edward’s draft registration card noted that he had to take care of his mother and his “crippled sister” (Aileen). I believe he was exempted from duty. I don’t know what sort of service Edward and Joe saw.

William James “Stoney” O’Connell (1887-1938) was Mom’s first cousin, twice removed. While Stoney was in France, he was the victim of a gas attack. He survived, but came back unwell. It was the eventual cause of his death.

Great grand uncle Walter Becker (1892-1971) was in the 68th Artillery.

Spanish-American War

I’ll mention Sister Brendan (Mary O’Connor, 1863-1921). Maybe including her is a bit of a stretch for my list here today, because she wasn’t in the military and she’s a somewhat distant cousin. However, there’s a story here, and besides, I don’t know of any other family veterans from the Spanish-American War.

Mary was my second cousin, three times removed. She became a nun (as Sister Brendan) with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She was also a nurse at Mount Carmel Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. In 1898, the governor of Ohio, Asa Bushnell, asked Mount Carmel for help bringing Ohio’s sick and injured soldiers back from the Puerto Rican Campaign. Sister Brendan and one other nun went to Tampa, Florida, by train and then to Puerto Rico by ship. After a couple of months, they returned with 1300 troops, plus other doctors and nurses. She was directly supporting the military, so I’m including her.

She later wrote of her time there: “We worked hard all day and at night we were entertained by lizards, fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitoes, large enough to beat a drum…. They were fat enough to fry after feasting on us.”

After the Civil War

Miles Carter (1840-1867) was my second great grand uncle, on Dad’s side. He had been a captain in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, fighting for the Confederacy, but he made the transition to the U.S. Army after the war.

Veterans of the American Civil War – U.S.

All of my ancestors who were Civil War veterans, both North and South, were on Dad’s side of the family. Those who fought for the North were on his father’s side. Those who fought for the South were on his mother’s side. There’s no reason to think the two branches ever met during the war, in battle or otherwise. Dad’s parents were the connection. His father’s family had been in Illinois and Indiana for generations. His mother’s family had been in Virginia since colonial days. The connection between the two families didn’t happen until Dad’s parents got married in 1925.

One of my third great grandfathers, John Harmon (1834-1865), fought for the 140th Indiana Infantry. He saw action at places like the Siege of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was in Clifton, Tennessee, when he contracted pneumonia. He died of pneumonia at a military hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. A nurse who had been taking care of him wrote a letter to his wife. She said John “passed away as gently as the snowflake melts into the flowing stream.”

Three of John’s brothers – my third great grand uncles – also served. Two of them survived the war.

Samuel Harmon (1831-1912) was identified as a Civil War veteran of the Union Army in one record, but I haven’t found any other particulars about his service.

Archer Harmon (1842-1863), was in the 93rd Indiana Infantry. He was apparently at the Siege of Vicksburg, among other actions. He died a few months after the siege, shortly before his 21st birthday, in Missouri, but I don’t know what the story was.

Michael Harmon (1844-1927), the fourth Harmon brother to fight, was in the 3rd Indiana Cavalry.

A few more of Dad’s ancestors might have fought for the North, but I’m leaving them out of this list for lack of evidence.

Veterans of the American Civil War – Confederacy

My second great grandfather, Abner Walker (1824-1894), enlisted in 1863 at the age of about 39, two weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation. The war had already been going on for almost two years, so one might speculate that the Emancipation Proclamation had something to do with his decision to enlist. He was a slave owner, like so many of my Virginia ancestors. At the time, many southerners worried that the Emancipation Proclamation would lead to a slave rebellion or race war, so maybe that’s what drove him to join up. His unit, the 53rd Virginia Infantry, saw action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, but Abner wasn’t at those battles. He spent the war in Richmond, alternating between hospital stays and detached service at the Ordnance Department. The diagnosis I found in one record was “rheumatism,” so it seems likely he was deemed unfit for combat duty.

My third great grandfather, Overton G. Slater (1828-about 1875), served in Tomlin’s Battalion in the Virginia infantry. He was another slave-owner.

John Henry Blayton (1827-1896) was my 3rd great grand uncle. He served in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry Regiment. A later newspaper account said he was reputed to be fearless in battle. Before and even during the early part of the war, before he enlisted, he raised a family with an ex-slave and made sure the kids were educated, which was unusual at the time for mixed-race children. Mixed-race marriages weren’t legal in Virginia until 1967, so they weren’t legally married. Years later, he got a legal marriage to a young white woman, but eventually he shot and killed her for having an affair. He took the insanity defense and spent his final years in a mental institution.

Another third great grand uncle, William F. Garrett (1823-?), was in the 1st Virginia Artillery. At the end of the war, he was held as a prisoner at Point Lookout in southern Maryland. Point Lookout had no barracks for the prisoners. It was five feet above sea level, so it was subject to flooding. It housed twice as many prisoners as it was designed for, which led to disease and hunger. Many of the guards were from “colored regiments,” which led to tensions between the guards and the prisoners. I don’t know when William died, but he at least survived Point Lookout. He was released after two months, as prisoners swore their allegiance oaths to the U.S. and went home.

My third great grandfather Pinkethman (“Pink”) Garrett had three sons in the James City Artillery in Virginia: John Garrett (1832-1899), Richard Minor Garrett (1834-1900), and Pinkethman Garrett Jr. (1845-1905). Pink Jr. was listed as a deserter in early 1865, not long before the end of the war. I don’t have any info on why he deserted or what happened as a result. At that stage of the war, many Confederate soldiers realized the war was almost over, so many of them abandoned their units to return home. Pink Sr.’s youngest son, my great great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Garrett, was too young to serve in the Civil War.

My 6th great grandfather John Goddin had four wives (not at the same time!), and 28-32 children, according to various sources. His son John Goddin (1804-1864) was my half 5th-great grand uncle. John Jr. wasn’t a Civil War veteran himself, but he had a role to play. He owned Goddin’s Tavern outside of Richmond for about 20 years. Virginia lawmakers often stayed there when visiting the state capital, because it was cheaper than staying in the middle of Richmond. When the Civil War started, John sold the place to a Catholic order, apparently the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. That order sent their nuns as nurses to various locales in the North and the South. When the hospital first opened for business, they ran this ad in the Richmond Dispatch: “INFIRMARY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. BROOKE AVENUE, RICHMOND, VA. – Conducted by the SISTERS OF CHARITY. Patients of all denominations, not having small-pox or any other contagious disease, are received. Any physician may send his patients to the infirmary and attend them. White persons, in private rooms, pay from $7 to $12 per week, and in wards $6. Colored persons $5 per week.” It was variously known as St. Francis, St. Francis de Sales, the Goddin’s Tavern Hospital, the Catholic Hospital, and the Brook Hospital. It served as a hospital for the duration of the war.

Another of John’s sons, Norman Goddin (1828-1892), was also my half 5th-great grand uncle. He was a Methodist minister and a physician. He joined up very early in the war, and became the captain of G Company, 5th North Carolina Infantry. That lasted about a month, and then he resigned his commission when his wife became gravely ill. She died a few months later. I have no info saying whether he did or didn’t return to military service after that.

Veterans of the War of 1812

John Blayton (1780s-1840s) was my 4th great grandfather. He and his brother Haley Blayton (?-?) served in the 52nd Virginia Militia.

William Walker (1791-1874), my 3rd great grand uncle, was in a Virginia artillery regiment. He wound up moving to Kentucky, where he founded Walker’s Chapel Methodist Church. He was a slave owner, but a family history says that when the Civil War broke out, he told his slaves to “go fight for their freedom.” When they returned from the war, he gave them land to live on.

Veterans of the American Revolution

John Goddin (1738-1830), my 6th great grandfather mentioned above, served in the Virginia Militia during the Revolution. A couple of histories say he was a lieutenant in the militia and participated in the Siege of Yorktown. A 1923 family history says that when Cornwallis surrendered at the end of that siege, John served hot coffee to General Washington and General Lafayette, among others. He kept the coffee pot as a souvenir.

William Blayton (1757-1800), my 5th great grandfather and the father of John and Haley Blayton mentioned above, served in the Virginia Militia.

That’s my list of veterans, in one sense or another.

Jim

 

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