For Veteran’s Day, I was going to highlight my delicious findings of mysterious photographs of an unknown man who served in WWII. And then I thought, my own dad and mom are veterans, why I don’t I talk about that?! And then I remembered something really cool, my quest to be a bonafide member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Back in ’68, my twenty-year-old pops served in the Air Force for a couple of years as an airplane mechanic. A cornbread-fed Indiana guy, he was based in Great Falls, Montana, which is where he met my eighteen-year-old Kansan mom, whose step dad was also in the Air Force and thereby stationed in Great Falls. They were a match made in a movie theater on Sweetest Day and come February or so, I was created and in the best month of the year, November, I arrived.
I like to say that I am destined to be Grrreat because I was born in Great Falls.
My mom enlisted too, only she joined the Army post-divorce when I was about twelve years old and was stationed in Mannheim, Germany for several years.
I think the reasons my parents entered into the military both stemmed from wanting to escape; my dad wanted freedom from grandma’s religion and my mom wanted freedom from defeat. That’s a post for another day or you can read my short story “Three Way” in Ava Chin’s SPLIT: Stories from A Generation Raised on Divorce.
I never wanted to go into the military. I was afraid of that life (I don’t like conflict, especially war).
But my family has come through. Among others, my dad’s stepbrother, Roger served.
In my Ancestry.com searches, I found my grandpa Chambers’ February 1942 draft card, but I don’t know what happened after that. He would have been needed, I imagine. The war was still raging, the Japanese had just invaded Singapore and the Germans were ravaging Eastern Europe. But where’s his military photo; we know he moved around a lot. Did he go overseas? Did he dodge? Yo no se.
These days, I think a lot about what the military is used for beyond what it’s used for.
Here’s a story:
In spite of my fear to serve, I consider myself to be patriotic. In fact, I have a lot of patriotic hopes and dreams in life, and one of them is to be a real-life Daughter of the American Revolution.
What’s that, you ask?
The organization was founded in 1890 with the mission of promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. It’s basically a group of women who do neat stuff together because they can prove a lineal descent from Patriots of the American Revolution.
In high school I was awarded the Kenosha Chapter DAR Citizenship Award. All these years since I humbly received that award at age 16 or 17, I thought that I had been inducted into the DAR and have been proudly saying that, “Yes, I am a Daughter of the American Revolution.” Welp, it turns out, I am NOT! HA! During my ancestry research, I started thinking about my membership and how I could get more involved with the organization, you know, as a member. I couldn’t find my name on the website search, so I called and emailed the DAR to see if I was on the roster and it turns out that I, just like e’rybody else, have to prove that an ancestor fought in The Revolution.
What the Almighty What.
As of now in my ancestry search, I can’t get passed 1864 on my dad’s side and my aunt has gotten a bit further on my mom’s side. Uhhh, when did The Revolutionary War start? Oh, in 1754 with the French and Indian War. SEVENTEEN FIFTY FOUR? It’s hard enough to find records from 1918 for Pete’s Sake.
For shits and giggles, I Googled “Black Soldiers in American Revolution” because, you know, I secretly wanted a non-virusy Congratulations to pop up on my screen announcing a great ancestral juicy find related to ME. Welp, this war and all its 50 million battles mostly took place in the Carolinas, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Georgia. Most of my people come from Kentucky, historically. Who’s was going to Harriet Tubman 350 miles from Kentucky to North Carolina to fight in a war? Technically this means nothing because who’s to say that one of my great greats wasn’t one of the many negroes who either volunteered, were stolen as spoils of war to serve, or ran away from their “homes” to fight free in these battles outside of Kentucky?
However, there’s one thing that might just be in my DAR favor. On my mom’s side, our family originally came from North Carolina. Whoop, whoop! Maybe somebody lifted a musket along the way!
And many black folks did, for all kinds of reasons.
From the DAR site: More than 5,000 African American or mixed descent patriots served in the American Revolution. Military service is credited to those who served in campaigns against the British between 19 April 1775 and 26 November 1783.
So, what was the black folk to do? Fight for the British. And they did, but not because they were lovin’ the British necessarily, but because via war strategy and wanting to win, they said, (in Chris Rock voice),”Hey black guy, come fight for us. We’ll give you freedom!”
In 1778, black guy, Quamino Dolly, did just that. He led the British troops through swamps to capture Savannah from the French and us Amuricans and did a damn good job of it.
I guess while it would be so cool to be related to Quamino Dolly, he’s not getting me into the dang DAR.
And speakin’ of Savannah, y’all. Here’s a history nugget of somethin’ ( which would kill on Comedy Central’s Drunk History), by the way. So after winning the bloody Siege of Savannah, the British stuck a flag in the lovely area and called it their own. When they were packing up to leave, a group of black folks sorta said, “Take us with you!” and the British sorta said, “Sorry, we’re full up, black guys!” and left these poor folks behind. Well, they didn’t really feel like going back to slavery so much, so they went rogue-ish and retreated into the bad-ass swamps of the Savannah River islands where they subsequently operated and lived on their own among the ‘gators n’ such. They were called maroons and there were a few of these hidden maroon encampments in the area. Because they’d fought in the war, the maroons had guns n’ stuff and knew what to do wit’ ’em, and as it turned out, all that free labor they’d put in planting rice and corn paid off ’cause now they could do it for themselves. They did what they needed to to survive. (Yes, this included killing people who messed with them.) Then of course, folks (and you know which folks) started to get scared and worried about what those negroes were doing over up in them swamps alone and don’t they belong to somebody? So, you guessed it. There was a fight and a scooping up of all the field mice and they got bopped on the head. Big time.
It is said that some 20,000 slaves fought in the war to escape slavery.
I’d be honored to related to any one of ’em.
But, this all makes you think about the military and of course, Patrick Henry’s 1775 “Give me liberty or give me death” attribution. What would you chose? What would you do for freedom?
For those that fought, I salute you.