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By Ken Trainor
Dan Gash Jr., a self-described history buff, stands by the Scoville Park War Memorial and shakes his head. "I drove by these plaques for 30 years without looking at them."
Then two years ago, his youngest got a call from one of her friends who was hanging out at the memorial after visiting the library. Did she know there were three men named Gash listed there?
She passed the message on to her dad, who finally came over to take a look at the bronze plaques affixed to granite, listing 2,446 names. Among them were Harold R., Herbert H. and Lawrence P. Gash, Dan's great-uncles, his grandfather's brothers.
Dan's great-grandfather, Henry, who worked for the local electric company, moved the family from the city to 1120 S. Scoville Ave. in 1910. George, the oldest of four sons (and Dan's grandfather) was already married with children and living in Chicago when the United States entered World War I. He and his three brothers all went to register for the draft on the same day, but George was passed over because he had a family.
"I have the paperwork," Dan says.
Strangely, George was required to register again for World War II despite being 55 years old by then. Not surprisingly, he was passed over again, but Dan's father, born in 1920, was drafted and ended up in Patton's Third Army. He arrived just after the Battle of the Bulge, but was just in time to witness the liberation of the death camps.
Dan, now 64, was drafted in 1970, the Vietnam era. "I had number 20 in the lottery," he recalls. Ten days later, a letter appeared in his mailbox. He opened it with his father. The letter stipulated a six-year obligation — drafted for two, followed by four years in the reserves. His dad pulled out his draft notice from 1942, which stipulated the duration of the war, plus one year.
"Consider yourself lucky," Dan Sr. told him.
He did a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, which continued a remarkable succession of Gashes serving in the military, going all the way back to the French and Indian War. The family, which arrived in America in 1650, ended up in Maryland. After the Revolutionary War, soldiers were compensated with land warrants. They settled in Kentucky (then a western extension of Maryland) and several members of the family subsequently served in the War of 1812.
The family later migrated to Macomb, Ill., becoming one of the town's founding families. Dan's great-great-grandfather, George, and his brother, Henry, served in the Civil War, along with 35 other Gashes (Union and Confederacy). Some of them freed slaves.
Dan, whose home on Paulina Street (since 1976) forms the western boundary of the Wright Historic District, has been reconstructing the family tree.
"You can find all kinds of things, census records, land deeds. It's all on Ancestry.com," he says. He knows, for instance, that his great-grandfather, Henry, born in 1865, was accepted into West Point. Dan has the acceptance letter, but he's not 100 percent sure his forebear actually went. The family moved to Monmouth in 1888 and later to Chicago.
This self-employed food broker, specializing in organic and natural products, who proudly wears his VFW pin, also doesn't know much about the three uncles listed on the war memorial. All three died relatively young, one in the 1930s, another in the '40s and the third in the '50s.
He remembers hearing that Harold and Herbert were assigned to the same unit. One was missing for two weeks and later found in one of the trenches. They were so hungry that when they found some flour, they made pancakes with contaminated water. He thinks that contributed to their health problems later. Dan also thinks Lawrence, the first to die, was probably gassed.
"The stories were passed down," Gash recalls. "We heard them when we were kids, but you don't pay attention until there's no one there to ask."
To avoid having that happen again, Dan has brought his son Ryan, 26, also a graduate of OPRF High School, to the monument. This is the first time Ryan has ever really looked at the plaques.
Dan points out the many multiples — 5 Halls, 5 Gordons, 3 Gillespies, 4 Grants, 5 Carons, etc. — and wonders how many other local families have relatives listed on this plaque.
He hopes some will come forward and attend the dedication of the restored monument, which takes place on Sunday, Nov. 7. He plans to be there.
"They did a great job," he observes, giving the memorial a good once-over.