During World War II, both of my parents and all three of my uncles served overseas in the United States Armed Forces. Only four of them came home.
Above, from left to right…
Lieutenant Thomas A. Parks, Jr., was born in Georgia.
On March 21st, 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He was twenty years old and his parents’ only child.
After a year of training, the Air Corps pronounced him combat ready and, in the fall of 1943, he began flying a B-17 with the 96th Bomb Group out of a small airbase in England.
On November 29, 1943, halfway through their ninth mission, Lt. Parks and his crew were shot down over Bremen, Germany. All ten airmen survived, were captured, and spent the next eighteen months as prisoners of war.
Lt. Parks arrived back in the United States on the 4th of July, 1945. He used his G.I. Bill benefits to resume his studies at Georgia Tech, and he met…
Lieutenant Evelyn C. Cole, was born in Maine.
On the 8th of July, 1944, she enlisted in the United States Army. She was twenty-two.
Lt. Cole served in France during the Battle of the Bulge with the Army’s 221st General Hospital.
In August of 1945, as her unit was preparing to ship out for the war in the Pacific, they received the news that Japan had surrendered.
After returning to the U.S., Evelyn met and married the bomber pilot from Georgia. Tom and Evelyn raised two sons and a daughter.
Evelyn’s older brother, Tech Sergeant Lawrence M. Cole, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1939. He was nineteen.
On July 26th, 1944, T/Sgt. Cole was serving with the 40th Bomb Group as a B-29 crew chief when his bomber crashed not far from their base at Chakulia, India. Only four of the thirteen crew members survived.
Lawrence Cole perished with eleven of his comrades a half a world away from his boyhood home in Winter Harbor, Maine.
Lawrence and Evelyn’s younger brother, Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd Class Oscar E. Cole joined the United States Navy on the 21st of October, 1942. He was eighteen.
During WWII, he saw combat serving aboard the USS Edison, a Gleaves-class destroyer assigned to the Mediterranean.
In 1945, after the war in Europe ended, the Edison headed for the war in the Pacific. Fortunately, the hostilities ended before they got there. However, Oscar would see Hawaii, Japan, and the Aleutian Islands before returning to America.
After his discharge from the Navy, Oscar came back to Maine and married Alberta Hodgdon. Uncle “Oc” and Aunt “Berta” raised two sons.
Evelyn’s future brother-in-law, Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class William J. Conway, was born in Massachusetts.
On June 2nd, 1944, less than three months after Bill’s parents and younger sister helped him celebrate his seventeenth birthday, Bill enlisted in the United States Navy and headed off to war.
Just to be clear… When my uncle joined the Navy, he was seventeen years old .
The horrific combat experiences Bill endured in the south Pacific during the closing months of the war would trouble him the rest of his life.
After being released from the Navy, Bill returned to Boston, went to college on the G.I. Bill, and married my mother’s younger sister.
Aunt Ella and Uncle Bill raised two daughters and two sons.
We Will Always Remember…
Lawrence Cole died in India. Tom Parks, Evelyn Cole, Oscar Cole, and Bill Conway came home, settled down, and got on with their lives.
When their country called, all five volunteered to go overseas and put themselves in harm’s way in defense of the ideals that have made America great for almost 250 years. They put their young lives on hold, they suffered injury and privation, and Uncle Lawrence, along with over 400,000 other young Americans, gave his life for those ideals.
My brother and sister, our two Cole cousins, our four Conway cousins and our extended families could not be more proud of their service and sacrifice.
On this Veterans’ Day, they, and the ideals for which they fought and died, are in our thoughts.
The greatness of our nation is reflected in the long, solemn, iconic rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.
Those ordered ranks of marble tributes overlooking the Potomac mark the final resting place of citizens of every conceivable stripe… Native Americans, European Americans, and African Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans… Methodists and Mormons, Baptists and Catholics, Lutherans and Jews, Muslims and atheists… Men and women, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat… The Army nurse from Maine and the bomber pilot from Georgia.
Lying side by side, in their repose, they all possess this common nobility; They pledged their lives to defend this country and the democratic ideals that have made America a beacon of freedom for the entire world.
For anyone who has ever worn the uniform of the United States’ armed forces, we remember and honor your service. Our country is forever in your debt.