I have always had the greatest respect for the men and women who currently serve, or have served, our country in the military.
In November 2005, Ray Souder, Director of our local Veterans Services Commission, and Cliff Rosenberger came to a county commissioners meeting and asked a simple question: “Why don’t we have one county memorial that recognizes everyone who has ever served in the military?”
No one had a good answer to their question. There were numerous memorials throughout the county recognizing military service, but none that honored every veteran from Clinton County.
After the meeting, I walked over to Ray’s office. We talked about the question: We talked about the possibility of building such a memorial.
Together, we had more questions than answers, but on that day, there in Ray’s office, we committed to starting the project. We committed to recruiting a group of like-minded people. We committed to getting the project completed.
Three years later, it was finished. On Veterans Day 2008, we dedicated the Clinton County Veterans Memorial on the northeast corner of the courthouse square.
As a group, we acknowledged that all of our veterans, despite the branch of military they might have enlisted in, despite where they served and despite when they served, whenever they wrote a letter and mailed it, that letter ended up in a mailbox somewhere in Clinton County.
Engraved into the black granite of our memorial are letters that were written during the Civil War up to the current war in the Middle East. Ghosted onto the granite is the actual handwriting of many veterans who wrote those letters. There is also original artwork on the wall that depicts events that occurred during conflicts over the past 250 years.
Until recently, I had not considered my family to be a “Military Family.”
However, last week was an emotional time for us as we watched our oldest granddaughter, Amanda, leave for basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago.
She’s a tough kid. I’m confident that in eight weeks she’ll have basic training behind her, and she’ll officially be a sailor in the U.S. Navy. Although it’s scary to think about my little granddaughter going through the rigors of basic training, we are proud of her decision — extremely proud of her.
The Riley family does not have a long tradition of generation-after-generation serving in the military, but we have had some outstanding military service in our history.
I had to look back to the Revolutionary War to find ancestors who fought for our independence. Going back to find records of soldiers from western Virginia and eastern Kentucky is difficult because of the lack of documentation.
Several years ago, my Uncle Bill Riley researched our family ancestry and found that my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Riley, fought in the Battle of Brandywine Creek in northern Delaware. Nearly three years later he fought and was taken prisoner in the battle for Charleston. He was then held aboard one of the infamous prisoner of war ships until the surrender of Cornwallis and the end of the war.
My great-grandmother, Susan Baker, had a great-great-great-grandfather, Captain John Renta Baker, who was in the Battle of Kings Mountain near the North/South Carolina boarder. President Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying that this battle saw, “The turn of the tide of success” of the Revolutionary War.
That battle occurred on October 7, 1780. It was the first major patriot victory since the British took control of Charleston, South Carolina, which is where Daniel Riley was captured.
It’s clear that some Riley relatives were in key battles in the Revolutionary War, but since then, other than a few uncles, I have had no direct relatives in the military; that is until nearly 30-years ago.
That is when my son, Josh, decided to join the Army. It was a good decision. A few years later, my son, Danny, decided to follow in his big brother’s footsteps. Instead of joining the Army. Danny joined the U.S. Coast Guard. A few years later, our son Justin enlisted in the Marines. All three of our boys had some amazing adventures during their military service.
A few years later, during a veterans program at the Murphy Theatre, as the orchestra played a medley of military theme songs, we were asked to stand if we had served, or if we had a family member who had served in one of the military branches.
Debbie and I stood during three of the five military theme songs. With Amanda in basic training for the Navy, we will have another direct family member in the military. Now, we’ll also stand whenever they play “Anchors Aweigh.”
If one of our other grandchildren should happen to join the Air Force, we’ll be five-for-five. That would give us bragging rights that are rare for any family.
Yes, we are now proudly a military family.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.