We Salute You: Military Service Is a Family Tradition for These Americans
Many of us have heard family stories about someone—maybe a grandparent, or a more distant relative—who served in the military at some point in American history. Maybe we’ve heard a story about a cousin who landed on the beaches at Normandy or an in-law who fought in the jungles of Vietnam.
In some families, military service is much more than an echo of history. It’s a tradition threaded through generation after generation, as alive and thriving as ever.
Pausing to celebrate Memorial Day, and our country’s fallen service members are honored at ceremonies nationwide, TakePart spoke with four service members—veterans who have left the service and others actively serving—who trace military service back generations in their families and are looking ahead to the service of the next.
From Castle Guards to Combat Around the World
Chuck Putman wasn’t surprised when his father traced their family history all the way back to ancestors who were castle guards in ancient England.
“Every generation since has served in a military capacity,” said Putman, who recently retired from the U.S. Army after serving numerous combat tours.
His great-grandfather was an infantryman in World War I. His grandfather was a Navy soldier in World War II. And his dad? Naval Reserve during Vietnam.
But family history isn’t the reason he chose to serve: “I simply used it to start my life...and examine the world from larger than a small-town U.S.A. perspective,” he said.
His wife, Tammy Myers-Putman, works for the Deptartment of the Army in the Civil Service, helping victims of natural disasters.
“My father was in Korea, my stepfather in Vietnam,” she said. Two of her uncles served in World War II. She totally supported Chuck’s decision to serve, despite the dangers.
They’d been friends since they were just 16, she says, and she was “very proud to become his wife."
The couple isn’t raising kids, but their nephew Alex recently called them for advice as he considered joining the Air Force.
“It honestly has been something he has wanted to do from the time he was a child, and I support him 100 percent. I gave him a pile of advice already,” Putman said, about “focusing his attention on the task at hand and taking advantage of every educational benefit, both military and civilian, along the way.”
Uncles for Uncle Sam
Gary Holder grew up hearing stories about his uncles who served.
“My Uncle Larry Walden’s story of the Navy and all his adventures had a significant role in me joining the military,” he said.
“Growing up, I would always hear how proud everyone was of Larry Walden for making a career of the Navy. I remember my mother talking about the benefits associated with retiring from the military and how everyone loved Larry.”
When his time came, Holder spoke with a Navy recruiter but opted to join the Army. He’s glad he served and “would be honored if my children joined a branch of service. I have two daughters in college and frequently talk to them about joining the Reserves or National Guard. It will help pay for college while allowing you the opportunity to serve this great nation of ours.”
Cassandra Partee has served in the Army for 11 years, her husband has served for six, and they can’t imagine life any other way.
“I have been blessed to be in a very patriotic family,” Partee said. Two of her three brothers currently serve in the Army, as did their dad, who recently retired as a command sergeant major. Cousins and uncles have served as well.
She remembers “growing up and watching my father and my uncle participate in so many ceremonies, and seeing all the soldiers on the parade field standing there with such discipline.” She knew they went through pain and never showed a moment of it.
“Since I was a child I wanted to be a part of that, and now that I am I can tell you that it is extremely painful, but I wouldn’t change anything about what I have experienced,” she said. “Serving in the military has helped me become a better person.”
Her long, storied tradition is likely to continue. “I have two children that seem to mimic all that their father and I do,” Partee said. “So I have no doubt that they might consider joining the service later on in life.”
Despite the dangers and the months they’d spend apart, she is ready to support them all the way.
An American Dream to Serve
Both of Daniel Sudler’s grandfathers proudly served, as did a great uncle. His brother saw battle as a Special Forces sniper and now serves in the National Guard. Daniel? He joined the Marine Corps and served as a machine gunner in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He chose to serve, as so many men in his family did, because of “our deep appreciation for what this country has done for us,” he said. “I come from Jews from Newark, New Jersey, and Irish from Brooklyn. And we’ve done well for ourselves because this country has been good to us. We are the American dream.”
At age 30, he doesn’t have kids just yet. But if the day comes, he will support his family’s next generation’s choice to serve.
“Nowadays, when we join the military,” he said, people ask why. “Back in my grandfather’s day, it was ‘Why not?’ ”