Veterans Day: A Family Legacy

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and like most of my classmates, I’m looking forward to having a day off of classes. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about having Veterans Day off; after all I didn’t do anything to deserve it. When I was an undergraduate I remember my dad saying: I’m a veteran and I don’t even get the day off. Let’s face it, most people employed outside of banking, government, and education won’t have a day to enjoy the freedoms that our veterans help secure. I don’t have the power to persuade companies to give working veterans and active duty service personnel the day off work, but I can do my part to honor those who have served. To that end, I’d like to dedicate this blog to the men in my family who have served.

In a class presentation last night, we learned that half of the men of the Greatest Generation served in the military. My grandfathers were among them: my grandpa Jake Stebelton served in the Navy and my grandpa Cyril Stickel served in the Army. My grandpa Jake passed away more than 20 years ago and I do not know much about his service. My grandpa Cy is 85, active, and opens up more and more about his time in the European Theater during WWII. During that time he served as a paramedic assistant with the Black Panthers and helped liberate France. He once missed his convoy when he stopped for a restroom break, and spent a few nights of liberation in Paris, before rejoining his unit a few days later. Reading between the lines, I think that accidental leave was one of the best times of his life.

Unlike a lot of my classmates, my parents did not attend college. Basic training in South Carolina 1968 was my father’s undergraduate education and Vietnam was his graduate school. As a rural kid who had never been in a taxi, never been on an airplane, and never left Ohio, the Army’s 82nd Airborne was surely a culture shock. He doesn’t talk much about Vietnam; I can only imagine why. Most of his time was spent in the trenches, fighting jungle rot, insects the size of helicopters, and an unrelenting opponent. On one of his first outings, the man in front of him and the man behind him were both shot. He survived. For good or for bad, my dad had a major seizure while on duty. At first they thought he was trying to fake his way out of duty. He was sent to a hospital in Japan to recover, and then sent home to finish out his service at Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs. My brother was born in the Army hospital there, and my mom had to dutifully make her own bed after labor, as if she were enlisted too! My father still takes Dilantin to prevent seizures (and he hasn’t had another one since I was a child)…a little lasting legacy from the Army. Within the last few years the government has recognized that epilepsy may be linked to conditions and materials from service.

My husband’s father, Jack Stephens, is also a veteran. He served on the Kir Sarge in the Korean War. The swallow he had tattooed on his arm, a rite of passage for many Navy men, has faded. But he too also has a lasting legacy from those days: cataplexy. Unlike my father’s grand mal seizures, my father in law’s seizures simply look like someone collapsing. This happens when he gets too excited: perhaps someone has said a funny joke or said something upsetting. We don’t know that our fathers have epilepsy because of their time in the service, but, for them both, it’s when it all began and it has never gone away. Surely these men both deserved a day off on Veterans Day.

Currently my brother-in-law Bob serves in the Ohio Air National Guard as an aircraft mechanic for the refueling wing. As a member of the Air Force and ANG he has been around the world to Japan, Turkey, Germany, Guam and southwest Asia. His son, Bobby, is also in the ANG, and two other nephews serve in the Army and the Navy.

From both sides of the family, we are proud of our military heritage and those who have served and those who still do serve. We’ve been blessed not to have a fallen soldier, but Veterans Day is also for remembering the heroes who never made it home alive.

My brother in law had the honor of escorting some of our fallen patriots home this summer. In his own words:

This year, on the return trip from Southwest Asia, I had the honor to escort the remains of two soldiers that gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country to Dover, Delaware. They were put on my aircraft in Southwest Asia, then flew with us to England, then to Dover, Delaware, where they were taken off the aircraft with a ceremony that I will never forget. It was a solemn flight where usually the flight home is upbeat and cheerful, this one was one of respect and honor. I was proud to have been on that flight and would do it again.

3 thoughts on “Veterans Day: A Family Legacy”

  1. I am sure there are millions of families that have a military legacy story! I am humbled and grateful for their service to this GREAT country of ours!

  2. Thanks, Eric. I really enjoyed telling this story and I’m glad other people have enjoyed it too. 🙂

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