May 2014

How I'm Keeping Our Family's Military History Alive With My Children

How I’m Keeping Our Family’s Military History Alive With My Children

This weekend, we mark Memorial Day, the time set aside by our nation to remember the sacrifice which has made us great.  But in the din of baseball games and barbecues (which, don’t get me wrong, our family loves, too) sometimes the past takes a backseat to the party. says, “Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance; a day when Americans went to cemeteries and placed flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It was a day to remember ancestors, family members, and loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But now, too many people “celebrate” the day without more than a casual thought to the purpose and meaning of the day. How do we honor the 1.8 million that gave their life for America since 1775? How do we thank them for their sacrifice?”

My son is about to turn 9. All four of his great grandfathers served their country honorably in World War II.  All four were lucky enough to come home alive, to raise families, and live long lives, during which they largely shied away from telling the stories of their wartime experiences. I understand why, and I respect it.  But now, two generations later, far fewer families are personally feeling the impact of having a loved one serve in the military.  My son knows almost no one who has served, or is serving, in the armed forces.  Too much of the sacrifice is on television, behind glass, in a library book, tucked away in a closet.

joeuniform1Which is exactly from where my in-laws pulled this cleanly pressed, decorated uniform that belonged to my husband’s paternal grandfather.   There are surely thousands much like it in closets across the country.  More probably have been lost or given away.  But they all once belonged to a soldier, a sailor, a marine, and others in the various branches of the military.

Click here for Information on the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.

Click here for Information on the Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.

Most likely, the wearer is gone.  And unfortunately, as in the case of my grandfather-in-law, even their official military records may also be gone (his were among the millions lost in a fire at a records facility before electronic records were kept.)

I sensed a drift in my generation, and even more in my son’s, slowly away from an understanding of and appreciation for the harsh realities of war, towards lives lived in peacefulness that someone else, far away, had earned.  It was as if war was almost fiction.  A very compelling, but nearly hard to believe story.  Except it isn’t.

To learn more about the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. click here

To learn more about the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. click here

Men and women actually wore those uniforms.  Families actually sent their sons and daughters and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters off, never knowing if or when they would see them alive. (And of course, families still go through this now.)

I want my children to deeply understand and truly appreciate the sacrifice, as much as anyone who grows up nearly entirely in peace can.  If I’m being honest, I feel I need to understand better myself.

So when my in-laws downsized homes, and asked if we wanted Joe Thompson’s Army dress uniform, I said we absolutely did.

Now I want to share one small way we’re turning it into a living lesson for my son (and one day, my daughter), my husband and me.

One by one,  my boy is choosing a ribbon, medal, patch, or pin on Grandpa Joe’s jacket, and researching it.

Research in Progress

Research in Progress

We use the Pentagon’s Institute of Heraldry site as much as possible, but also supplement with other military information sites.  We read about the exact title of each decoration, what year it was issued by the government, and what qualified the wearer to don it.


We’ve learned that this red, rainbow colored ribbon is a World War II Victory Medal.  A brightly colored symbol that would have allowed Joe to instantly recognize a fellow veteran as one of the 16 million (16 MILLION) who served in that war. If you had asked me before we started researching, I would have never correctly guessed there were 16 million.  Somehow my regular classroom history lessons failed to teach me that.  (No, I’m not blaming my teachers.  I’m blaming myself, and plain old human nature.)worldwarIIfountain

Somehow, it hasn’t been until I felt that I needed to impress this family history on my children that I was truly capable of learning it myself.  I guess that is one of the little known gifts of parenting.

We are learning that Joe earned a Bronze Star, although we will likely never know why, and that it was General George C. Marshall who wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, because ten years prior to that the government had begun awarding the Air Medal to those who distinguished themselves in aerial combat, and the General felt his ground troops, who were doing such difficult and deadly work, needed the morale boost of being honored, too.

Somehow, in his almost-fourth-grade handwriting, these stories, this history comes brilliantly alive.  It matters.  They are, in steadily improving penmanship, made our own.

My children and I never got to meet Great Grandpa Joe, or ask him to tell any of his stories.  We never got to meet Great Grandpa Ed Benesh, either, and it’s likely he would have refused to tell his story even if we had asked, but I understand it bears a striking resemblance to the movie, Saving Private Ryan.

We cannot ask them now.  But, I can assure you, Ed’s uniform is next.

And Great Grandpa Les Cummins after that.  And Great Grandpa George Roenker after that.

One by one, pin by pin, medal by medal, we will learn, and write, and remember.


So this Memorial Day, I give thanks that my children and I and their father all live in this, the greatest country that Earth has ever known, and that we live in relative peace, all because of those who wore the uniform, and continue to wear one to this very day.


And I am proud of my son.  Though God willing he will likely never know the feeling of burying a loved one in a flag-draped coffin, he at least will be able to tell the stories – because he will know them by heart – of the people in his own past who were.




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I’ve corrupted my Dad.
A while back, he was at my house helping me on a project. We finished up and he left. About 10 seconds later, he called.
“Anne, there’s a bunch of kitchen cabinet door samples out on the curb. Do you want ’em?” he asked.
“Heck yeah I want ’em!”
(He has not been doing this his whole life… What can I say? 😉
The samples were sitting outside a small kitchen design shop right around the corner from my house. They were discontinued so the owner was throwing them out.
Dad asked if it would be ok if we took them. The owner kind of gave him that look (you know the look, right? I bet you’ve gotten it yourself before) and said he didn’t mind.
20140514-144437.jpgThere were about 15 or so and they were heavier than I thought but Dad took every last one.

I knew right away – they’d be perfect for a project I had in mind.

Our fridge is stainless steel and I don’t like the mess of taping stuff on it so that leaves me with no good place to hang the kids’ school papers and art work.

20140514-144742.jpgI got out my HomeRight Finish Max paint sprayer and took a couple cabinet doors outside. This was my first time using the sprayer, and I found it easy.

IMG_8493I used the viscosity cup and realized very quickly that the primer and paint I was using was WAY too thick. (You fill the cup with your paint. If it takes longer than X number of seconds to empty, it’s too thick. The little chart is right on the directions. )

No biggie. I thinned both with water and was ready to rock and roll.





I used water based primer and regular old white semi-gloss latex.

(I also did a little bench at the same time.  That’s probably one of my best tips.  Gather up a group of stuff you want to paint, and spray them all at the same time. It’s NO more work than spraying one thing, and you’re already going to be cleaning up, so get as much bang for your painting buck as you can!)

IMG_2729 IMG_2730

Easy peasy. The sprayer was easy to use and I didn’t even mind the cleanup – everything washed up easily.

IMG_2731 IMG_2732 IMG_2733

You can also see that I had a large piece of cardboard under my things. If you’re doing small pieces, definitely try this. You can grab the cardboard and turn everything easily so you can be sure to spray from all angles. If you have enough extension cord to walk around, that’s fine, but I didn’t so this was a big help.


I picked up these metal bulldog clips from the office supply store, and with my drill, added a pilot hole to each sample where I wanted my papers to hang.

I decided to spray my clips to match my boards.IMG_2738

Then I screwed one clip right into the door on each sample so it was nice and secure.  Once the paint was dry, I flipped the samples over, secured the doors shut, and added picture wire for hanging. I used a little black craft paint to put my children’s names on them.cabinetdoorsDIY

I am thrilled with how these turned out!

They are part of a kitchen wall re-do, that also includes my Pottery Barn office organizer, a little DIY embroidery hoop art, some sticker charts, and up high, a yard sale wall shelf with rotating display space.

If you don’t have access to kitchen cabinet door samples (although I have to believe if you contact a retailer, they might hook you up), you could easily recreate the look with some plywood and a little decorative trim.


This was a very inexpensive project that solved a problem for us while maintaining the aesthetic I want in a space we use ALL the time – isn’t that just the best?

discardeddoorscollageNow the kids love to have their special piece of art or good school paper hung in a place of honor.
I’m so glad I taught my Dad not to pass up the potential you can find on the side of the road! Thanks, Dad!

(And thanks HomeRight! They provided me with the sprayer. All opinions and comments are mine.)






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Hi friends!
Memorial Day is quickly closing in. It’s time to summer-ize your front door!
Seaside decor just screams summer to me, so I decided to make a wreath with a nod to the nautical.
Honestly, I wanted a cool vintage life preserver to hang as a wreath, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for at a reasonable price. So I created my own.
To make this wreath, you’ll need a few simple crafting items:

wreathsuppliesFoam wreath form (mine is about 16″) $7 at Walmart
Basic letter stencils $3 at Walmart
Acrylic Paint $2 (if your door will be very exposed to the elements, use an appropriate paint)
Paint applicator (sponge or brush. I used a sponge brush I had)
White opaque Duck Tape $3 at Walmart
Rope or cord of your choice. I used red paracord $2 at Walmart

This could not be easier. If you say you are an “uncreative” person (which I don’t really think exist, I think people are just too busy to tap into their creativity) THIS is the project for you. No creativity required! Just buy the materials, and follow the directions. Here’s how I made my “life preserver” wreath.wrappingwreath

1. Starting on the back of the wreath form, wrap the white Duck Tape around your wreath. Keep overlapping the tape, keeping it as smooth as possible on the front, until the whole form is covered. The tape is very sticky, and I had no problems getting it to adhere to the foam.

stencilwreath2. Using the letter stencils, paint the wording of your choice on the “preserver”
Make sure to let the paint on one letter dry before moving on to the next letter. It is not easy to get smeared paint off the Duck Tape.

Trick for getting the letters centered: write out the letters who want to use. Count, finding the center letter. Start from there and work your way out on either side. Don’t forget to count spaces the same as letters.

wreathwithcord3. Wrap 4 lengths of your cord or rope around the preserver in four spots to give it a good, nautical look.  Add on more long piece on top for hanging. Use pieces of Duck Tape to secure them in the back.


That’s all there is to it.
These would make adorable gifts if you’re going to visit someone at a beach house or lake cabin this summer.
I’d love to see if you make one of your own!


PS – This is not an actual lifesaving device. Don’t throw it to a drowning person. It won’t help them, and you’ll be sad you lost your front door work of art. :-)

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