The Marine in My Life -- Staff Sergeant Jack McCaskey Kerner
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The Marine in My Life -- Staff Sergeant Jack McCaskey Kerner

A folder on my desktop holds the genealogical research I’ve done on my mother’s family.  She was the youngest of eight girls in a family not far-removed from pioneer status in the hills of western Pennsylvania.  Her father was six years old at the start of the Civil War and died at the beginning of the 20 century, leaving his German immigrant wife to manage the farm and family. Their mother floundered under the need to provide for those girls, and the sisters themselves chose eight very different paths to survival. Their stories are the stuff of novels but they are in danger of being lost through time.  With the exception of one male cousin, I am the last surviving member of a generation – the children of the sisters.  Moreover, I’m the only one who knew 5 of the 8 sisters and all of their children. If I don’t attempt to tell their stories, no one else will be able to do so.

I've always been fascinated by their lives, but have been hesitant to write something that would offend family members.  Now I've decided that a fictionalized version will work -- with enough details changed (and the names, of course ) so that folks won't be finding grandma's dirty laundry being hung about.

And with that thought in mind, I've been exploring old family photos and scanning them into my computer for guidance and inspiration.  Some were taken in my own lifetime, but most go back well over 100 years.  Today's treasure trove of photographs contained several pictures of my half-brother.  He was 21 years older than me, so we didn't have that usual sibling relationship that stems from common experiences growing up. 

In fact, World War II saw to it that we were living half a world apart.  I was under two years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, but my very first clear memory is of Jack bounding up the stairs from the basement door to tell us that he had just enlisted in the Marine Corps.  It was December, 1941, and by the first of the year he was off to basic training, and then (I know now)  he was thrust into the Battle of Guadalcanal.  My mother spent the next three years in daily torment, waiting for letters and praying that no solemn men in uniform would knock on our door.

Then comes another clear memory, this one at the beginning of 1945. The radio and newspapers were full of horror stories of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and we knew that Jack's unit was probably there. But his enlistment was up, and my mother clung to the hope he would be home.  The Iwo Jima battle raged through February and was not declared a victory until March 26th.  Then, on Friday, March 30, 1945, the phone rang. Jack was on his way home.  He made it in time for Easter Sunday, and today's photographs brought that day to life for me.

How thin he was, but still jaunty in his dress blues.  And these two tiny photos are too formal to reveal what a homecoming it was. It was joyful, and overwhelming, and also full of terror for the struggles that lay ahead for the Marine in my life.They are enough, however, to set me once again traveling through these memories to somehow tell my family's stories before they are lost forever.