It has been a long-running joke in the Daily Globe newsroom that I’m either related to, went to school with or just plain know everyone there is to know in this town I’ve called home for most of my life.
It’s a pretty far-fetched joke, but my nieces and nephews who have joined me out and about might agree. With a wave here or some friendly chit-chat there, I’ve been told more than once by the kids that, “You know everybody!”
Between the people I’ve met through work and those I remember from the hallowed halls of Worthington High School, Worthington Area Junior High and West Elementary, it amounts to a lot of people.
That brings me to my family.
A while back, I was talking with my parents about Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight and the weekly interviews I’ve been doing with veterans. My dad was but a child during World War II, but he completed a tour of duty in the Army during peace time.
Now, my dad has a lot of relatives. Oh, he only has one brother and one sister, but both of his parents were from large families. Grandpa Henry was one of eight children, while Grandma Hattie was one of 12. Between the lot of them, my dad has 50 first cousins.
You may think that’s not very many, but there’s a good reason for it. There were three Buntjer kids that married three Aielts kids for, you guessed it, three sets of double relation! My grandparents were one of the Buntjer-Aielts combinations. Aielts, by the way, is spelled three different ways among the 12 siblings and now, their offspring.
Anyway, getting back to the 50 cousins. I was curious about our family’s role in World War II. Mostly, with our German heritage, I wanted to know if we had family that fought against the Americans.
It appears as though we didn’t, thank goodness! Our German ancestors were among those who fled the country for a better life in America.
My dad did, however, have nine of those 50 first cousins serve in the United States military during World War II.
That’s when the story grew interesting.
Of the nine, three are still living … Fritz and David Aielts, and Wilber Jacobs. I haven’t heard their stories of World War II, but I’d sure like to.
And then there are the other six … all of whom I expect had fascinating tales as well. They included Ray Buntjer; Merle Buntjer – he was shot in the arm in the war; Leo Buntjer; Marv Aielts – he lost his leg in battle; and brothers George and Ray Habben – the two that were taken as German Prisoners of War and survived the hell of a prison camp in Africa.
If there’s one thing I’ve realized during these past two months of World War II veteran interviews, it’s that we should be recording and sharing their stories before it’s too late.
It’s too late for me to interview most of my family members who battled for this great country of ours. I sure would have liked to hear their stories.