Sunday, May 10, 2009

Honoring Their Service and Their Lives

My family is full of veterans.  My dad, my grandpa, and many of my uncles are veterans.

But my story today is going to focus on the uncle I never knew because his life was taken away all too soon - My Uncle Gene.

Eugene William Doerflinger was born on May 13, 1935 in Santa Monica, California to Max and Margaret "Sis" Doerflinger.  He was the newly wed couple's firstborn, and the new family had a bright future ahead of them.

Eugene would become the first of six children born to Max and Margaret.  The kids were spread out in ages though, with the last child, my mom, being born in 1959.

Eugene decided to join the Army, and he proudly served his country for three year
s.  I am so fortunate enough to have all the letters that were sent to him from home and sent from him to home.  Despite being in Africa, he rarely discussed military life, opting to instead ask about his baby sister (my mom) or talk about a new food that he had tried.

Below is the front and back of the ID card of Eugene that he used when he was stationed in Ethiopia.

(He is certainly a good looking man, ain't he?)

Once Eugene was out of the Army, he settled back at home in Santa Monica, CA and his relationship with his girlfriend began to get serious.  He finally confided in a close family friend, Jack, that he was ready to ask her to marry him.

Before he popped the question, he wrote a letter to his Aunt in Seattle, WA - telling her to prepare to travel down to California for the wedding.  He talked about how his sister, Janice, would be a bride's maid, about how his sister, Diane would be the flower girl, and a house that he was looking at.  The excitement in his words in evident.

The next day, he got a quick pep talk from his best friend, Jack, and headed off to pick up his girlfriend.  He decided to take her to a beautiful spot in the hills to pop her the question.  While they were traveling on a high, winding road, the car crashed and tumbled over the side of the hill.  While his girlfriend survived, Eugene did not.  The date was the 15 Feb 1961.

Everyone says that my grandparents were never the same after that.  They say that my grandparents were forever heartbroken and incomplete, missing that bright love for life that they once had.  But who could blame them - loosing a child would certainly change you.

My mom has always said that despite the fact that she doesn't really remember him much, that she has always felt connected to him.  If I was a boy, I would've been named Eugene.


Amy (WeTree) said...

You're right, he was handsome. Quite a heartbreaking story.

Dorene from Ohio said...

How sad! I too have a beloved Uncle Gene who was in the military!
Thank you for sharing this touching story.

Judith Richards Shubert said...

Very well written tribute to your uncle, Elyse. You have such a treasure in the letters the wrote home. A handsome young man. I appreciate his service to our country.