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Thinking of grandfathers on Memorial Day

Posted: May 23, 2014 9:08 a.m.
Updated: May 26, 2014 5:00 a.m.

I didn’t like the military very much while I was growing up. I could chalk that up to being a pre-teen and early teenager during the Vietnam years when -- quite unfortunately -- this country didn’t treat its vets very well. I think I also didn’t deal well with authority figures since I grew up kind of scrawny and was bullied a bit as a kid.

But those are excuses and not the true reasons. There are two that make more sense: ignorance and the loss of a particular family member.

Despite being the grandson of two men who served their country and the nephew of another, I didn’t interact with military personnel very much during my youth. I was a government, not military brat, so it was the sons and daughters of people in my Dad’s diplomatic circles that I got to play with.

Without good military-oriented role models to guide me, I think I may have gotten a somewhat misguided view of that life and -- as humans often do -- feared and distrusted what I didn’t understand.

I think that was exacerbated by the fact that I always blamed the military for taking one of my grandfathers away from me: Col. Jon Price Evans.

Here’s what I know about Jon, pieced together from the memories of what people have told me. It’s completely second and third-hand, so it’s probably somewhat inaccurate and even open to interpretation. You see, I was only 3 years old when he died at the age of 55.

Jon was born on Dec. 14, 1914. That’s indisputable. I’m looking at a photograph of his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery. I think he was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where many others of the Evans family have lived and still may.

I know that he served in the U.S. Army in World War II and Korea. He was an Army doctor, and I know he was stationed in Memphis, Tenn., at one point; that’s where my mother was born.

I know Jon ended up as the commander of the Ft. Carson Army Hospital in 1966 when I was a year and a half old. Ironically, the hospital was rebuilt and renamed in 1986 as Evans Army Community Hospital, not for Jon but for Spec. Four Donald W. Evans Jr. (no relation that I know of), a Vietnam soldier awarded the medal of honor for giving his life while giving medical aid to fellow soldiers.

My mother’s told me her family was stationed in Iran in the 1950s where -- if I understand correctly -- he served as a physician to the Shah of Iran. Yes that Shah. “A dictator, but our dictator,” as some in my family have put it to me. The family was in South Korea while my mother was in high school. I know Jon, and my late grandmother, Dorathea, were stationed in Germany sometime.

And then there’s Thailand; Bangkok, specifically. Around the time my sister was born in 1968, Jon and Dorathea ended up there. Again, if I understand correctly, Jon served as an official physician, this time to the royal Thai family.

The story goes that on Jan. 5, 1969, my grandparents got on a military transport plane of some kind. Sometime during the flight -- I’m not sure exactly when -- something happened that caused the plane to crash. Dorathea suffered two broken legs, if I remember what I’ve been told correctly. Jon, however, cracked his head on a bulkhead of the plane, killing him.

There’s been talk that the plane was sabotaged. I won’t go into reasons why that may be. Let’s just say that there may -- or may not -- be files linked to that side of my family and their activity.

In any case, I was so young at the time, that I barely have any memories of Jon. I knew my grandmother, but she suffered life-long brain damage from an aneurysm in the 1970s. All I knew is that one of my grandfathers served in the Army and he died. Dorathea died in 1999 and is buried at Arlington with him.

I got to know my paternal grandfather, Ira L. Cahn, who I’ve written about before, much better. Born in 1918, he died in October 1988, a little more than two months before his 70th birthday.

Even with Ira, there was a bit of a mixup on my part. I knew he served in the Navy but, because he was the true cook between himself and my grandmother, Bobbie, I always assumed he was a ship’s cook.

Of course, I’ve written before about how he ran The Massapequa (N.Y.) Post for 40 years and started The Levittown  (N.Y.) Eagle before that. He was even president of the New York Press Association for a year.

But it wasn’t until the folks at American Legion Post 195 here in Kershaw County managed to get the national Legion to honor me with a journalism award more than 10 years ago that I learned the truth about Ira and his service to our country.

It turns out he was aboard a ship (I don’t know which one) on D-Day off the coast of Normandy. And he wasn’t cooking. He was a ship’s surgeon, patching up the wounded coming back from the beaches.

I was stunned, and still am today, at the truth. What I now know about him, and what I think I know about Jon -- coupled with interacting with veterans from World War II through today, thanks to the Legion -- has made me appreciate their service and sacrifices more than I ever did as a child and younger man.

So, to Jon and Ira, their wives and children ... to all those who have served and given their lives in service to their country, we salute you and remember.

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