This weekend is Memorial Day. Our flag will fly at my house. This day it a testament to the painful price that is all too often paid for the freedom established by our great Republic. I am lucky. I represent the first generation in my direct family who didn’t have a close family member die in a war. Sadly, I have more distant relatives who perished in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Contrary to how this might appear, mine is not a military family. We have always been American citizen soldiers who laid down their tools and their lives when more important things mattered. This shortened list helps me personally put the price required of our Republic into perspective. In sharing it I am not ignoring important historical conflicts and more distant relatives left unmentioned.
My father served in the American Field Service from the day England declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 until long after the day Germany surrendered. He literally served in every Allied army in WWII except the Russian one and always in all the worst places. From 1940 to 1945 he saw combat almost every day. The US Government did not consider him a war veteran until the late 1990’s on a VA technicality. That official recognition took an Act of Congress.
My paternal grandfather served in the Navy in WWI and in WWII. He enlisted the same day as my father and his older brother in 1939. He died in Jan 1944 saving others on an atoll in the South Pacific before I was ever born.
Members of my family served and died on both sides of the Civil War. A case of cousins fighting cousins and even brothers fighting brothers. There were senior officers on both sides with the name Tench Tilghman. The best remembered is a hero on the Union side for obvious reasons.
Members of my family served in the failed attempt to defend Washington DC in the war of 1812. There’s a national anthem we sing about that. Honestly, they were defending their homes at the time.
Each time I sign my name I remember.
I am named after Tench Tilghman who was the most decorated war hero of the Revolution and the only person ever officially allowed armed into Congress. He personally negotiated and signed the first official treaty for the US Government with a foreign government – The Five Nations.
He and Washington were installed at the same time and place as the first officers in our armed forces before the Declaration of Independence was even signed. During the Revolution Tench rode 58 horses to death (paid for at his own expense) and served as Washington’s chief aid de camp and logician.
When you see a picture of George Washington the man standing to his right is Tench Tilghman. If he hadn’t spoken French well, there would be no United States of America. He delivered news of the surrender of the British at Yorktown to Congress for good reason. He was nominated to be the first Secretary of State but died from malaria contracted at Yorktown at the age of 42 before taking office.
That Tench was my second cousin. I am descended from his father’s brother, Mathew Tilghman, who literally helped James Madison and others craft the Constitution. Mathew did not sign the Declaration of Independence so his Catholic secretary could for Maryland. The nuanced religious detail mattered to all the men in the room. He was raising the army.
Most folk forget the first American War ended in 1783. Please try to put that baker’s dozen of years between 1776 to 1783 into the perspective of a lifetime. Yet from 1783 to 1789 there still was really no American Republic as we know it.
There was and always is a lot to hash out.
It is a testament to what makes the American Republic great that there is nothing special about these outtakes from my personal family history. Many Americans have families that paid and contributed far more. Some of my close friends served in wars that didn’t happen in countries that don’t exist and are even now almost forgotten. That is only recent history…