Sometimes there’s more to old family stories

During the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day earlier this month, President Donald Trump did a 15-minute television interview with FOX News’ Laura Ingraham with rows of crosses of fallen American World War II soldiers in the background.

As I watched that interview, I couldn’t help remembering an old family photo of my great-grandmother, Natalia (Hernandez) Venzor, and other family members visiting the grave of private Daniel Venzor, her son and my great-uncle, who was killed in combat during World War I and buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France (Plot H, Row 30, Grave 1) in one of those long rows of crosses.

My father, Daniel Arthur Williams, born less than two years later in 1920, was named after my late great-uncle.

My great-grandmother’s family — a mix of Basque sheepherders and Native people — came from the Chihuahua region of Mexico to El Paso, Texas just before the turn of the 20th century. Fearing for their lives, my family fled the same small village where Pancho Villa lived after they got into some kind of conflict with him when he was just a hometown hoodlum, long before he became the famous Mexican general. After a few short years, most of the family moved again to the Santa Barbara area.

My great-uncle volunteered for the army and served in the 26th Division, 103rd Infantry Regiment during World War I. His unit fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of Argonne Forest, a major part of the final Allied offensive on the Western Front in World War I, and the largest battle in U.S. military history involving 1.2 million American soldiers.

In the battle 26,000 Americans were killed and 28,000 Germans lost their lives, too. The battle raged for 47 days, from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918. And here’s where my great-uncle’s story gets more than a little poignant.

While German forces began to withdraw in early November as World War I was ending, the hostilities on that part of the Western Front continued until the very moment the Armistice, signed at 5:45 a.m., took effect at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918. And here’s the heart-breaking thing — my great-uncle was killed Nov. 11, 2018 — sometime during the first 11 hours of the very day the hostilities ceased.

We often hear how terrible it must be to have a family member be the final casualty in a war, and that’s not too far from something my ancestors had to bravely face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy, because ultimately I recognize this as so much more than simply a sad, old Gold Star family story.

I believe it’s actually the quintessential American story we should never, ever forget, especially during these days when immigrants face such fierce disdain.

It’s really the story of how a child of immigrants in a new land discovers patriotism for his new country, volunteers as a teenager to fight in a war halfway around the world and eventually makes the same ultimate sacrifice as those other children whose families have been here for generations — my great-uncle was simply the first native-born son on one side of my family who answered the nation’s call and lost his life in the process.

Frankly, I see this as one of America’s greatest stories, repeated over and over and over how many countless times throughout our nation’s history?

It’s the true American story about the spirit, resolve and dedication of a nation of immigrants whose families came as strangers to a strange land and made it their own. It’s the story that reveals the true source of America’s profound greatness from the Founding Fathers on — its people.

Of course, I write this with sincere apologies to America’s Native people, our First Nation. We should never forget them or their trials, tribulations and contributions whenever we think of America’s history.

As I honor and share my great-uncle’s legacy with you today, I ask you to join me in praying may God bless America and all Americans regardless of their origin, all our soldiers who have fallen in all our nation’s wars — those who paid the high and stinging cost of our freedom — and all the brave men and women serving today as the threatening clouds of yet another war halfway around the world again darken the horizon.

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