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Over 200 years of service to the United States in family

May 21, 2015
Westfield Republican

Dear editor,

In the fall of 1780, during the Revolutionary War, my sixth great grandfather was killed in the Battle of Klock's Farm in Montgomery County, New York.

His son, who was then six or seven years old, was captured by a tribe of "Canadian Indians" who received a $7.00 bounty for each captured rebel, and he was transported to prison with others who had been taken.

An English officer took pity and ordered the boy out of prison and sent him to Montreal to live with a loyalist widow until the end of the war. On his release after the war was over and on his way back home, while he slept, he was robbed of his shoes and what little money he had and then abandoned. Eventually, with the help of other released captives, he made his way back to his home in Palatine, New York, where he eventually married and raised a large family.

Several of my third and fourth great grandfathers and uncles fought, and some died, in the Civil War. Copies of letters home paint a grim picture of hardship, starvation and sickness; while letters from sweethearts and wives paint a picture of longing, life on the farm and everyday trials with the children. Letters were often written over sideways because of the shortage of paper on the battlefield, making them very hard to decipher. (Side note: there is a movement to no longer teach cursive writing in the schools. How will our descendants ever be able to read old manuscripts and letters? Perhaps a new occupation will be available in the future translating old scripts into keyboarding.)

In my archives I have an amazing love letter from one of my great grandfathers to his wife, written while he was away during the Spanish American War. The script is flowing and legible and filled with endearments.

The one odd thing I noticed is that many, if not most, of the letters are addressed as "Dear Brother" or "Dear Wife," rarely using names. I wonder if it was custom or protection.

World War II, Korea and Vietnam saw my father, my uncle and my husband doing their part for America, fighting in the South Pacific, running supplies and risking their lives as couriers of documents and plans.

The month of May honors our military men and women with VE Day, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. My personal family history is filled with men who went off to war, or served in peace time. It never meant much to me until recently. Perhaps it's a function of getting older that we begin to appreciate what our forefathers sacrificed for us.

This Memorial Day I will make the rounds of cemeteries as I have done for years, but without my father this time. Red geraniums for the men, white for the women in my family; remembering along the way what they did, imagining what they went through and the reasons they fought for America's freedom and kept the home fires burning.

I hope you fly the American flag. I hope you visit the cemeteries and remember those you knew. I hope you say thank you to a veteran or serviceman. I hope you give thanks for this country of ours. We are a work in progress and it is up to us to make it better with each passing day.

Robin Near




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