David Rencher, Ed Donakey, and Rick and Pam Sayre staffed a Preserve the Pensions booth at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Institute of Land Warfare Global Force Symposium and Exposition in the Von Braun Conference Center in Huntsville, Alabama, 15-17 March.
Huntsville is home to several major Army activities—the U.S. Army Materiel Command, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, U.S. Army Contracting Command, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Marshall Space Center, and supporting activities. On display were a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, numerous tactical equipment displays, new weapons, and many other life-size versions of Tonka toys for soldiers. Plenty of generals, from one-star to four, wandered the exhibit hall with purpose. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Rick Sayre renewed old acquaintances and made new ones as he explained the purpose of our booth. We were, as the manager of exhibits and sponsorships for the show said, “Probably the most unique booth here, with no weapons” or Army support services to sell.
So, why were we there? We introduced our War of 1812 soldiers to their counterparts of 204 years later. We explained the importance of honoring past soldiers by raising funds to preserve and digitize the records of their service and soldiers’ or widows’ pensions. Everyone from generals to high school ROTC students politely listened and learned, and most reached into their pockets to contribute. Several came back the second or third days of the exposition to report they had looked at our website overnight. Others said they would help because their spouses or their parents are genealogists and would expect them to donate.
These historical documents illicit an emotional response – from all of us.
One attendee offhandedly remarked that she had no American military ancestors because her grandparents had come over from maybe Hungary, but she knew absolutely nothing about them. In a slow moment at the booth, Pam asked her mother’s name, a rather unusual one, and quickly did a search of the 1940 census online at Ancestry. We gave her the names of her grandparents, their places of birth in Romania, and their address in 1940 Chicago. At first she was skeptical that it was the right family. When told that the man had been a gardener, she paused, then said, “That’s right. That IS them. My mother said her father was a gardener and he brought flowers home when they needed food.” With tears in her eyes, she walked away.
She came back the next day, though, and wanted to know more, mistakenly believing we had found her 1940 family on the Fold3 website with the 1812 pensions. We sat patiently then, and helped her meet her family online at Ancestry.com. She told everyone she worked with to come by and donate to Preserve the Pensions.
We weren’t able to help anyone find a War of 1812 ancestor, because it requires working back in time from yourself, and most people didn’t have the requisite knowledge of their own family tree to do so. But almost everyone who stopped by the booth was thoroughly touched and impressed with this project.
We took in $1,310. Matched by FGS, that became $2,620, and doubled again by Ancestry, the grand total was $5,240. We’d say the soldiers of 2016 really “get” what we’re doing for the soldiers of 1812. And they truly “get” Preserve the Pensions. Our thanks to the AUSA community.
Report submitted by Pam Sayre.