Monday, November 30, 2015

Military Monday - Don't mess with a soldier's mom

One of the great things about doing genealogy is finding stories about your relatives and the people they knew. Sometimes in researching an ancestor, something about a relative of theirs that I'm not directly related to will catch my eye for some reason, and I'll suddenly want to know all about that person. Such was the case last night.

I was going through another email from MyHeritage, sorting through the latest batch of record matches. Most of these were for Robert George Seadin, the first husband of Elsie Craddock, my great-grandmother Edna Craddock's sister. One of the records was the obituary of Elta (Hanifen) Wenger. Elta was the daughter of Daniel Hanifen and Mildred Seadin, Robert's older sister. That would make her Elsie's niece by marriage. The obituary listed a large number of family members as her survivors - her husband, Private First Class Merle Wenger, her parents, her brother and his family, her mother-in-law Mrs. Silvio Castiglioni, grandmother Mrs. Seadin, the names of her aunts and uncles (including Mr. and Mrs. Robert Seadin), her husband's father (listed at the bottom of the list, whereas his ex-wife was at the top), and all of her husband's siblings and their families. Family was obviously a very big deal for this family.

It struck me that Merle's parents were listed so far apart in the obituary, and that his mom was only mentioned (as was usual for the time) as Mrs. Silvio Castiglioni. I wanted to find out her first name, if only to complete Merle's immediate family in my records, so I went hunting. I soon found out that his mom, Irene Lucile Gibson (no relation to yours truly) was married four times! Her first marriage was to Fritz Wenger, and he was apparently the father of all her children. They divorced around 1941, and Irene married Jack Morello. They were married for less than two years when Jack died in March 1942 of endocarditis. Irene married again in December of that year, to Silvio Castiglioni. I also found another marriage record for Irene, in 1947 to a Robert Lomas. In it, her previous marriages were listed as "divorced (1) widowed (2)". I couldn't tell if that meant her first marriage was the divorce and her second ended with her being widowed (which meant she was leaving out a marriage, which I've seen happen several times), or that she was divorced once and widowed twice. I also wanted to find out what became of Silvio, so I went searching. What I found startled me.

I found a death certificate for Silvio, giving his date of death as 2 January 1945. So it seemed her marriage info to Robert Lomas did indeed mean she was divorced once (Fritz Wenger) and widowed twice (Jack Morello and Silvio). But what startled me was the cause of death - "inquest pending - due to shock and hemorrhage". The death was also labeled a homicide. Having Bertha Beilstein's story still fresh in my mind, I wanted to find out exactly what happened. I went to MyHeritage, as their newspaper collection is awesome and easily searchable. I soon found out what led to Silvio's death.

Merle was serving in the US Army at the time, but was home on an extended furlough to get some medical attention. While he was home, he received a phone call from his mother, saying her husband Silvio was beating her, that he had left the house and she was afraid to be alone. He went over to check on her, and then left to get his wife and car. When they returned to his mom's house, the door was locked. Merle shook the knob and asked who was there. Silvio came to the door with a pistol, and pointed it at Merle. Merle went for the gun, and the two fought over it, destroying windows and furniture in the process. The gun fired twice, one bullet hitting Merle in the right foot. Merle was able to get the gun from Silvio, and yelled for his wife and mother to get out of the house. While he checked to make sure they were safe, Silvio ran to his bedroom and came back - with a shotgun. How Merle had the nerve and courage to do this I don't know, but he stood his ground, firing once over Silvio's head, and told him to drop the shotgun. Silvio refused, and started shouting and waving the shotgun wildly. Merle shot Silvio in the side, stopping him. Merle stayed there until police and an ambulance came, and explained to the officers what had happened. Silvio was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later. The incident was still pending the inquest when the death certificate was issued, though I'm surprised no one updated it a few days later when the matter was resolved. A coroner's jury (who knew there was such a thing?) exonerated Merle of blame for the shooting.

I have to say I was very impressed by and proud of Merle for his heroism and bravery. He stepped right in to help his mother, and when a gun was pointed at his face, he didn't back down. He fought on despite personal injury (and he may have still been recovering from whatever malady prompted the extended furlough to begin with), and did what had to be done to protect his family. I don't know anything about his military service and what he did in the army. But I bet the last thing on his mind during his furlough was a life-and-death struggle with his stepfather when he was supposed to be resting and recovering. They say the World War II generation is the "greatest generation", and when I read of stories like this, it proves to me why they have that name - they earned it over and over again.

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