Column: Adventures with Abby

On Veterans Day, social media floods with messages thanking veterans for their service. Smartphones buzz with words of gratitude from friends and family members. 

It is pretty common to know a veteran that you can thank personally — maybe an uncle or a grandfather, a neighbor or friend. 

Between both sides of my family, I have at least six veterans to thank, spanning from the Korean War to the Second Iraq War. 

Each has a story of astounding sacrifice. 

At least, most of them. There is a great-great-Uncle Alden, my father’s namesake, who served in World War II and, according to family legend, drowned while on leave in Hawaii. I have been told there was alcohol involved. I suppose he’s not even technically a veteran because he died during the war.  

Great-great-Uncle Alden aside, four cousins, one grandfather, and one great-uncle by marriage served in wars and survived. 

The Marines stationed Grandpa Wayne “Red” Brodersen outside Tokyo during the Korean War. When I first learned that Red isn’t actually my ginger grandfather’s first name, I remember being disappointed. 

Some of my favorite memories from visiting my relatives in the Midwest are the inevitable trips onto the lake in Grandpa’s pontoon.  As a little girl, I caught my first fish on that boat. It was a tiny sunfish that we put in the pontoon’s livewell so I could admire its shimmering scales until we returned to the dock. Then we released it.

Before all that — before he worked as an airplane mechanic and got married and had my mom and Aunt Missy — he served as a sergeant in the Marines at the tail end of the Korean War. 

Great-Uncle George Blaire also served in Korea. The Army drafted him early in his marriage to my father’s Aunt Bernice. 

I didn’t get to know great-Uncle George until a few years before he died, when my father moved him and great-Aunt Bernice from Seattle to a little house near our home in Pennsylvania. 

Great-Uncle George had grown up in a railroad family — he grew up to be an engineer. That worked to his favor in Korea, where the army put his skills to use running supplies to the front lines. 

As a teenager I paged through his photo album, laughing at pictures of him and his buddies on the beach in their underwear and mourning as I gazed at the pictures he snapped of dead soldiers in an overturned railcar. My great-aunt had written captions to all of the pictures, which is good, because Great-Uncle George couldn’t hear or see very well in his old age. 

Great-Aunt Bernice passed away a couple years ago, and a lonely and heartbroken great-Uncle George passed not long after. Although I can’t thank him for his service in person anymore, I remain grateful. 

Two cousins from each side of my family served during the Second Iraq War — brothers Corey and Andy Pratt on my mother’s side and brothers Justin and Jeremy Bowman on my father’s side of the family. 

Playing Connect Four with Corey and Andy on the floor of their house as my mom, siblings and I visited them and my aunt in the Midwest is one of my first memories of my cousins on my mom’s side. I informed them that they were my favorite cousins—an honor that fluctuated quite a bit when I was a kid—and both teenage boys, not knowing exactly what to do with that information, blushed. 

When they went into the military as adults, my mom kept me informed about where the army stationed them and gave me an age-appropriate version of what they did. I prayed for them. 

Corey served in the airborne infantry division of the Army, rising to the rank of sergeant. His unit cleared buildings and whole cities of hidden enemies. 

Andy, a corporal in a tank division, served two tours. He did presence patrol at first, making the U.S. Army’s presence known to the locals. Then, he did overwatch on high IED routes and later he trained as a sniper.

The army deployed my cousin Justin Bowman to Afghanistan twice, and now he forms new soldiers as an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) drill sergeant.

Jeremy Bowman served in the Marines for five years, and — as any person connected to a Marine knows — there is no such thing as an ex-Marine. The Marines deployed him twice, first to Japan and Australia, and then to Kuwait and Bahrain. 

I don’t have too many memories of Justin and Jeremy from when I was younger — only that they and their father, my Uncle Chuck, shared my father and my love for NASCAR. 

This past summer though, I had the chance to see them again when we all converged in New England to pay homage to our grandparents. Both have gotten married and had several children each since I saw them last. I met their wives and laughed as their kids chased me with water guns. 

From Grampa Red and great-Uncle George in the Korean War to Corey, Andy, Justin and Jeremy in the Second Iraq War, they all taught me one thing — the honor of service and sacrifice. 

Granted, my veteran relatives would be the first to say that they aren’t perfect examples of either service or sacrifice. Here at Liberty, though, we believe that honor means seeing both someone’s best qualities and their worst faults and treating them with dignity regardless.  

At this time of honoring veterans, take the opportunity to thank a veteran, especially those in your family. 

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