Gratefully Yours: Remembering the Veterans in My Family by Joan Koerper

I was told he never heard it coming. The bomb careening through the sky over the fields of France, the morning of September 18, 1944 killing William Edward Asman. The man we all affectionately called Big Eddie was Hollywood-handsome, tall, slim, and graceful with a smile that lit up a room. He courted my mother for four years, saving every penny to buy them a home. He would not ask for her hand in marriage until he could carry her over the threshold. They married August 23, 1941. Big Eddie knew his son, Edward Gordon Asman, my half-brother, only fourteen months before he was shipped overseas.

Big Eddie’s photo stood as one of three men in uniform on his mother’s side table. Granny Jenny Bell Asman’s other two sons made it home.

The story that Big Eddie never knew what hit him, and that it was a direct hit, made it palatable to my young ears as Mother and I shared his photos and letters, not yet curled up at the edges, and her stories. The knock on the door. The telegram. How I cried for their loss.

My father, William George Koerper, also served in WWII. A child prodigy and educated performance musician, he was with the USO providing desperately needed R&R, and entertainment, for the troops.

Many men and women in my family have served in the military. More than I can recount here. Their stories came alive in songs, over card tables, in whispers, and flamboyant parties.

We never glorified war, pain, or suffering. Rather, we honored duty and sacrifice.

My father and his siblings vividly remembered the photo of their maternal grandfather, Michael McLaughlin, hanging on the wall of the family home. In it, he stands in a garden, U.S. flag flying behind him, holding the rifle he carried, and decorated with the medals he earned in 1865, fighting in the Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War. He received land in return for his service, and later returned to County Kerry, Ireland, to rest in peace.

Full size portraits of my mother’s only sibling, Gordon Burrell, and his wife, Mary Patricia, a WW II WAC, both in Navy dress uniforms, proudly hung over their living room sofa. They hold the same place of honor today in their daughter’s living room. Their only son, Thomas Burrell, a genius eligible for Mensa, was drafted during the Vietnam War. He returned so emotionally and physically crippled he was lucky to make a living driving a taxi until he succumbed to throat cancer in his forties.

In my brother’s home two photos sit on a marble topped table in the living room. One proudly displays my brother in his Army uniform. Beside it, Big Eddie’s grandson, Navy Captain Leo Edward Asman, an Annapolis graduate and pilot, is pictured beside his grandfather’s grave in France, sixty years later. The honoring continues.

As I grew up I learned, of course, that Big Eddie heard the bomb that killed him. And his death was probably not instantaneous. I’m deeply grateful to my parents and elders for making his story one of swift heroism to my then-innocent ears rather than the terror it really was. Truth is unveiled soon enough.

I still cry for all that was lost, and those memories of all who served silently carried with them.

Blessings and gratitude to you all.

Veterans Day, 2015