Memorial Day. To some, this is just a day off from work, where we do labor around the house, go to baseball games, grill hot dogs and hamburgers, amongst other things. Those are all well and good. But for many, this is one of several days every year where we reflect on our American freedoms, and those who have fought and died in the preservation of our country.
For me, it is a day to reflect on all of those ancestors of mine who served in our armed forces. And in the past couple of years, we have discovered that our military ancestry goes as far back as the American Revolution, the war that broke off the tyrannical chains of Britain, and set up the country we live in today. In that war, my five times Great Grandfather, Thomas Hemphill, was an officer in the North Carolina militia, part of the famed Over-Mountain Men. He was a Lieutenant when he led his men into battle at King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. It was at this battle that an entire wing of British General Cornwallis’ army was surrounded and captured, helping to turn the tide of the Revolution in the South. Lieutenant Hemphill would eventually be promoted to Captain before the war’s end.
When it comes to the American Civil War, I know of at least two ancestors who fought in the Confederate army during the war. While it is not popular to honor Confederate soldiers on American Memorial Day, I do so because these men fought for the same reasons that all American soldiers have fought: the defense of their homes and families. On my Mother’s side of the family, my three or four times Great Uncle, Henry P. Brendle, fought as a part of Thomas’ Legion, a Confederate unit in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee/Western North Carolina, and was comprised entirely of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers. They fought in several major engagements in the mountains, and a portion of this force was even involved in the fighting in the Shenandoah Valley, and at Monocacy, in 1864. After the war, Henry Brendle returned home to start over.
On my Father’s side of the family, my three times Great Grandfather, Elijah W. Marlowe, served in Company A of the 49th North Carolina Troops. This unit first saw action at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, and was also present at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, before spending most of 1863 in North Carolina to help with troubles in the state. They returned to Virginia in 1864, and took part in the vicious battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. What was left of the regiment was virtually destroyed at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and surrendered just a few men at Appomattox eleven days later. Elijah Marlowe was apparently captured twice, before being paroled at Point Lookout in June of 1865. He returned home to start his life anew.
The Second World War saw thousands upon thousands of families send their families off to fight. My family was no exception. On my Dad’s side of the family, my Grandfather, Joseph Hancock, and three of his brothers (Leroy, Howard, and Adolphus Hancock Jr.) served in the war. My Grandfather and Howard served in Europe, while Leroy and “Junior,” as Adolphus was called, served in the Pacific. Another of my Grandfather’s brothers, Sherman Hancock, served in Japan during the occupation following the end of hostilities. All saw the horrors of war in their most brutal form, as they fought to virtually save the world from the Axis powers, and make the world safe for democracy. My Grandfather would go on to serve in Korea as well.
Vietnam saw its own share of horrors, and those men who served there have never been given credit for the sacrifices they made. My Uncle Conrad served in that war at the beginning, but was not there to see the horror that it became. My Uncle Joe was also in that war, though I was unaware of this until recently.
Of course, not all of my family who has served in the military has seen war. But that does not mean their service was any less appreciative. On my Mother’s side, my Grandfather, Clifford Payne, served in the Navy during the 1950s. He always jokes about “having served in the Cold War,” but in a sense, he is not joking. If American and Russia had gone to war, men like him would have served in a conflict far more brutal and unforgiving as any way previously fought. We are grateful to them for serving in a time of such unrest.
And today, that service to our country has not waned. My fourth cousin, Joel Evans, is currently an officer in the United States Army. We are grateful to Joel for his continual service to our country, and pray that he will remain safe.
If there is any of my family I have missed, it is hard to keep track of everybody who has served in our armed forces, both in war and in peacetime. But know that your contribution is still on my mind. And to all of those who have served, and are currently serving in the United States military, thank you all for your service to our country. It is your sacrifice that is keeping our country safe. May God continue to watch over you, and keep you safe from harm.