11 November 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Veterans: a Broader Definition

As family historians and genealogists, I think we all look to those who have served in the military as guides for our research. So often, the records provided through military service are loaded with little genealogical gems that we can mine through to move our research forward. 

But I don't believe that there's a moment that we don't think about the sacrifices, large and small, that those veterans made to fight for what they believed in, to do what they felt was right. As I was creating a post for Facebook and Google+, I realized there was more to the veteran story. I was thinking in terms of chronological history, the wars in which my ancestors fought (that I know of) and I stumbled over something. I'll explain...

I don't have a lot of veterans in my family; it's a family oddity, particularly on my maternal side, that the generations were very long and sat squarely at times when the men were either too young or too old for military service. I do have one ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War (that's proven): Waters Burrows. I know very little about him as a person and don't really know anything about his service or sacrifices other than the fact that he was a Private in a NJ regiment. There are several more of his generation that I haven't proved to my satisfaction, but I believe are veterans just the same: James Sargent and Benjamin Penn.

Then there's the Civil War and my one exception to the military rule: Daniel Beightler.

Photo of Daniel Beightler (1844-1925) courtesy of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana
Daniel fought as a member of the Ohio 66th Volunteer Infantry, being mustered in December 1861 and out in 1865. He was a prisoner of war for about three months, and was on leave for a month in January 1864, just long enough to marry Lura Leatherman. After the war they settled into life in Ohio and went on to have six children. Remarkably, even though he'd been wounded during the war, Daniel lived to be 81 years old.

My father's uncles, Francis, Patrick and John Cosgrove, all fought during WWI. They were English citizens, living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, but they fought bravely to protect their homeland. Francis in particular sacrificed; he was wounded severely, including being exposed to mustard gas, and never fully recovered. Of course, that didn't stop him from marrying and having six children, the youngest of whom was just a year old when he died in 1931. Both Patrick and John lived long lives, though neither one married.

My Dad's youngest uncle and his half brother, both named Vincent Cosgrove, fought during WWII, as did my mother's uncle, Roger Wersel and cousin, Stephen Baer. And as I was thinking about who else I was missing, I suddenly thought about my mother-in-law, Ely Lumilan Lorenzana. 

Ely was born in 1929 on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. In early 1942, just weeks after the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese, she was sent to stay with her father's parents. Shortly after that Ely's father, Teodorico Lumilan who was a minister, was accused of being a Japanese sympathizer and was executed. In very short order, it was discovered that the accuser had done so falsely, and in turn he and his entire family were executed. That was just the beginning.

While Ely's siblings stayed with her mother's family, Ely found herself conscripted into a guerrilla unit to fight against the Japanese. She's shared the story of how she moved from town to town and lived for extended periods in the jungle. She reluctantly told me that she had seen executions; when asked if she herself had ever had to take up arms, she simply said, 'we did what we had to do to survive.' At the end of the war, having lived and fought on the run for two and a half years, Ely was 16. 

Photo of Ely Lumilan (c. 1944-45, second from right, standing) courtesy of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana
What I find remarkable is that a little over a year after the war was over, this photo shows a beautiful young woman who seems to not have a care in the world:

Photo of Ely Lumilan (1946) courtesy of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana
And I'm suddenly thinking of veterans in a very different way. How many of my ancestors had roles in the conflicts fought during their lifetimes? I know there are countless stories of resistance fighters in Europe during both World Wars, just as there were in the Philippines. 

I am so very, very proud of my uncle, Daniel Cosgrove, who served during Vietnam. He carried the responsibility of the family name, Daniel, with him as he fought for his Country in a war that was not a War but that required immense sacrifice on the part of our Nation. And I'm equally proud of his son Daniel Austin,  who continues this tradition as he serves our military today.

The men and women who have worn uniforms in defense of their nations must never be forgotten. Neither should those who sacrificed, in equal measure, to defend their homes and support those wearing the uniforms, for they are veterans in their own right.

We must never forget.

UPDATE (11 Nov 2014) Ely Lorenzana passed away earlier this year. Her sacrifice, and that of too many others to name, will never be forgotten.


  1. That is a very sad story. I'm glad she was able to be happy later on. And I'm glad you remembered her.

  2. It is amazing that so many people have enough resilience to survive wars, both physically and mentally. Ely must have had a buoyant spirit and the capacity to escape guilt, in order to look so beautiful and happy one year after fighting as a teenager in a guerilla unit. It doesn't surprise me that war can also ruin people's entire lives, even if they survive battle, or as you say, even if they stick it out on the home front. Many kinds of veterans, all precious.

  3. Laura,

    You never know when someone will read your blog and post a comment. I am a bit late, but have only recently been introduced to your Blog and am trying to catch up on your earlier blog posts.

    Veterans Day is am important time for us to "REMEMBER". A day set aside for us "not to forget".

    I try to have a blog post for Veterans Day, and I also try to visit cemeteries and take photos for Find-A-Grave for Veterans and post them around Veterans Day.

    I notice that your Daniel was in Vietnam. I was as well in 1967 on board the US Coast Guard Cutter Halfmoon. Yes, the Coast Guard was in Vietnam. We let NYC 4/1/1967 and returned 1/22/1968. I mention this because it's our collective remembering or never forgetting those who served and serve today. I have a number of Vietnam Vet friends whose return was not a positive experience. The difference to me is the WAY we returned from the (non) war. The Halfmoon has a military welcome home from war. My friends were not from other services and weren't welcomed home.

    I am saying this, to help encourage others to remember those who Serve or Served our Country.

    Although my previous 2 direct line generations did not serve in any military, my grandfathers younger brother and his sons did. My Aunt and two of my sister-in-laws served. Each are remembered on Veterans Day.

    Thank you for YOUR stories.



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