HAVERHILL — The 14 veterans in Linda Kinnison’s family span several generations. They have served in wars from Vietnam up through Iraq, and some of Kinnison’s siblings’ children are currently enlisted. So when it came time to pick a theme for the family’s reunion, Kinnison decided she wanted to honor them.
For three months, she tracked down records and photographs dating all the way back to her great great grandfather, Harold Danforth, who was born in 1670 and appears to have been the first in the family to enter the armed forces. Her efforts culminated in a collage and video that she shared with a crowd of about 140 family members and friends at Haverhill’s American Legion Wilbur M. Comeau Post 4.
“I cried a lot of tears while I was putting this together and I’m probably going to break down today. If it wasn’t for the veterans, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Many of the reunion’s attendees were dressed in festive red, white and blue, and early Fourth of July decorations decorated the hall. The group joined Kinnison in singing along with a recording of God Bless America before they sat down to dinner.
In the crowd were six of the family’s 14 former servicemen, who were humble about their time in uniform. Ted Gulledge, Kinnison’s brother-in-law, served in the army for 21 years, but said his “most cherished time” was the stint he spent with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. The infantry division gained notoriety for the role its paratroopers played on D-Day in World War II. For Gulledge, wearing the 101st patch was an honor.
“Those were the best years of my life,” he said.
Still, he emphasized that he was grateful that his military service had a positive impact on his family. From 1976 to 1979, Gulledge was stationed in Germany, and his wife, Evelyn, and their children got to travel all around Europe.
“I want the younger children in the family to realize it’s a pleasure to serve your country, that someone has to do it, and that freedom doesn’t come free,” Gulledge said. “I think it’s awesome (Kinnison and her sisters) organized this event today. There are many of us who have served.”
Across the room, former National Guard member Donald Page reminisced about his time serving in the military closer to home. He received a medal of merit for a rescue mission in Lawrence in 1981, when the Spicket River flooded and endangered many residents.
“I was there and we were riding up and down, helping people, pulling people out of the water,” he said.
His nephews, Ronald Page and Matthew Page, are among the youngest of the servicemen in the family. Matthew, a Navy sailor, is currently deployed. Ronald, a retired Marine, completed two tours in Iraq. Their mother, Wanda Page, said she has felt proud of them and concerned for them in equal measure.
“I’m not a veteran, I’m a mother, and for a mom, you just want to see your kids come home safe,” she said.
Still, Page said she feels gratitude toward her children and for the long line of military men that came before them.
“I am thankful for my family, my strong family. Family gets you through everything. Friends get you through everything,” she said.