ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) - The Hunter family tree is heavily decorated: Purple hearts. A Distinguished Service Cross. Public praise from high-ranking commanders.
The legacy of service can be tracked back 150 years, to when David Hunter served as an Illinois infantryman during the Civil War. His son, David Hunter Jr., served in France at the end of World War I in 1918. Five of David Hunter Jr.’s 13 children served in World War II, four of whom - his sons David, John, Joe and Logan Hunter - received the Purple Heart. His daughter Harriett Hunter Johnson was a nurse in the Women’s Army Corps. David Hunter Jr.’s sister Gertrude Hunter McDonald served in the USO. Their children, and the children of those who didn’t serve, went on to fight in Vietnam. Their children served in the post-9/11 military, with some deployed to Afghanistan.
It’s tough to follow. The family, rooted in the Rock River Valley with members now scattered across the U.S., even acknowledged that they probably forgot a distant relative’s service somewhere along the way. They graciously provided a spreadsheet of the family tree containing the record of their service.
“I got confused myself,” said 67-year-old Michael Hunter, a Rockton resident who served as a clerk typist in the Mekong Delta during Vietnam from 1971 to 1973. His father is the late WWII veteran Logan Hunter.
“We’re talking over 20-some people,” Michael Hunter said. “It just keeps going on.”
If you’re not a member of the family - or apparently, even if you are - the exhaustive list of names and service can be convoluted. But what remains clear is the Hunter family’s longstanding love of country and service that has been passed down from generation to generation.
“Civil service has always been in my family; I never had any desire to pursue anything (else),” said 25-year-old Jeffrey Sommer, who left for basic training less than two weeks after graduating from Guilford High School in 2010, followed by active duty, then the National Guard until earlier this year. “It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, and it’s in my family history.”
The family last month reunited to mourn the loss of their relative Gary Hunter, a Rockton resident who died Oct. 22 at age 71 because of heart problems. Gary Hunter served as a military police officer in Puerto Rico during the mid-1960s.
The family credits David Hunter Jr. as the driving force for motivating the family’s service, according to his grandchildren.
“We’re proud of our heritage,” Michael Hunter said. “Grandfather Hunter gave us that heritage.”
David Hunter Jr. received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in France during World War I, first as a lieutenant, then a captain.
In February 1919, Sgt. Maj. Tom Wilkinson - who was in the 101st infantry with David Hunter Jr. - sent a letter to the Rockford Register Gazette, calling him “the gamest man that ever came to France to fight,” and “an unassuming officer” who his comrades thought “was so quiet (he) would never make an officer with a fighting company.”
“I am glad to say that we were mistaken,” Wilkinson wrote. David Hunter Jr. was in charge of an outpost in the Apremont Woods and then went to Chateau Thierry, where he “ran into a bed of machine guns set up in trees.” He was wounded during the Battle of Verdun in 1918.
In the letter, Wilkinson said he took months to compile the information, since he did it behind Hunter’s back in an effort to surprise him with the letter.
In 1922, the year his father died, David Hunter Jr. was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served 38 years.
Michael Hunter said his grandfather was “a real humble guy,” ”a real Audie Murphy-type.”
“He wasn’t the type of person to sit around and brag about it,” he said, “but he probably saw more action than any of us did.”
Michael Hunter’s father, Logan Hunter, was one of the four brothers who received a Purple Heart in April 1945. During World War II, Logan Hunter served as an infantryman in Italy with his brother Joe, where they were both wounded. His brothers John and David were wounded in Germany.
When Michael Hunter came of age in the late 1960s, he enlisted to fight in Vietnam. Before that he was a drinker and a drag racer.
His military turn is what earned the approval of his future father-in-law, Russ Romine, who served in the Korean War in the 1950s. Michael Hunter eventually married Romine’s daughter Val; they’ve been together 46 years.
“The service straightened me out, and I was able to find the wife of my dreams,” Michael Hunter said.
Kris Sommer, Michael Hunter’s cousin, never served, but the Rockford resident raised two servicemen: Jeffrey Sommer and Logan Sommer, both of whom are in the Air Force. Her oldest brother Dwight Johnson served in Vietnam.
She said growing up around service men and women affected her outlook on life.
“It gave you that feeling of respect for the country, for living life, the flag,” she said.
Megan Hunter, Michael Hunter’s 38-year-old daughter, is a missile operations officer stationed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Before joining the Air Force, she was a member of national guards in both Illinois and Missouri.
Megan Hunter said she wanted to join the service when she was in high school as a way to pay for college, “and other reasons.”
“The strong patriotic family definitely helped,” Megan Hunter said. “My dad always mentioned it was very honorable to serve your country; I know he’s very fond of that.”
Source: Rockford Register Star, http://bit.ly/2yR99VK
Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com
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