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Military Roots Run Deep in USU Families

Canadian POWs being led through Dieppe by German soldiers during WWII.

By Zachary Willis


Many Americans today have family members who once served or are currently serving in the armed forces.  And according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, veterans are more likely than members of the general public to have family connections to the military. In fact, DoD reported in 2016 that nearly 80% of new troops claimed ties to a sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin who wore the uniform. 

Military roots in Uniformed Services University families run very deep.  Dr. Richard Thomas, USU President, a retired Army major general, is a perfect example.  His service covers everything after the Vietnam war.  His father served in Korea and Vietnam.  Several uncles fought in World War II, including a great-uncle who lost his life on Omaha Beach on D-Day.  His grandfather was a World War I veteran, and he now has nephews who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

This Veterans Day we salute all who have served for their courage, commitment and sacrifices. Below are a few stories from members of the USU community about their families’ military legacies:


2nd Lt. Laynee Allemond's family
USU medical student, Air Force 2nd Lt. Laynee Allemond, comes from a long line of service members and veterans. From left to right: Laynee Allemond,
Beth Allemond, Dean Allemond, Jr., Dean Allemond, Sr., Arthur Allemond, Donald Pitre, Delbert Dugas, Bobby Dugas (front left) and Norman Rodrigue
(front right) together in Vietnam, Berton Lyons, and Wallace Dugas (Courtesy photos)

2nd Lt. Laynee Allemond 

First-year medical student, 2nd Lt. Laynee Allemond is a fifth-generation military member.  Her sister, Beth Allemond, has been in the Navy for nine years, and her brother, Dean Allemond, Jr., was a Sailor for four years. Their father, Dean Allemond, Sr., saw Naval service from 1989-1994, and his father, Arthur Allemond, was a Boatswain in the Navy from 1957-1960.  Donald Pitre, 2nd Lt. Allemond’s great uncle, was an Army medic attached to the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah in the 1960s.  Her maternal grandfather and his brother, Delbert and Bobby Dugas, both saw Army service in Vietnam, along with two great-uncles, Norman Rodrigue and Berton Lyons. Allemond’s great-grandfather, Wallace Dugas, spent six years in the Army infantry during WWII.  



Ensign Matthew Kessenich's family
Ensign Matthew Kessenich's family includes Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps veterans. From left to right: Matthew Kessenich, Jerome Kessenich, Robert 
O. Strange, Sr., Robert O. Strange, Jr., Robert O. Strange III, John B. Strange, Sr., John B. Strange, Jr., and Oakley Lamb. (Courtesy photo)

Ensign Matthew Kessenich

Allemond’s classmate, Navy Ensign Matthew Kessenich has multiple generations of veterans in his family as well.  Kessenich’s grandfathers Robert O. Strange, Jr., and Jerome Kessenich served in the Navy and Air Force, respectively, during the Vietnam War.  His great-grandfather, Robert O. Strange, Sr., also served in the Navy, during both WWII and Korea. His maternal great-grandfather, Oakley Lamb, was an Army officer with service during WWII.  Kessenich’s uncle, Robert O. Strange, III, saw duty during Desert Storm as a Naval officer, while his great-uncle, John B. Strange, Sr., a Marine, was a Vietnam veteran. His cousin, John B. Strange, Jr., is also a Marine currently assigned to Quantico.   



Dr. Heather Johnson's family
Ret. Air Force Lt. Col. Heather Johnson, director of USU's Family and Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Program (left), with her husband, Joe Johnson, 
father Dale Miller, and grandfather, Ken Perrin, who served in the Canadian armed forces. Her great-uncle, Ira Smith, was among these Canadian prisoners
of war being led through Dieppe by German soldiers during WWII. He was captive for more than 3 years. (Credit: Heather Johnson; Library and Archives
Canada/C-014171)

Dr. Heather Johnson

Dr. Heather Johnson is a retired Air Force nurse corps officer, USU alumna, and professor and director of the Graduate School of Nursing’s Family and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner programs.  Her husband, Joe Johnson, was an Operations Specialist on the USS Yorktown.  Her father, Dale Miller, was in the Air Force as a painter with the 507 Civil Engineering Squadron, and his brother-in-law, Jim Skelly, her great-uncle, was an Army supply sergeant in the 107th Cavalry in the 1960s. Ira Smith, Johnson’s great-uncle, was a member of the Canadian armed forces and was captured during WWII along with 1,945 other Canadian troops, following the failed raid on the port of Dieppe. He was held as a prisoner-of-war by the Germans for three years. Johnson’s grandfather, Ken Perrin, was a rifleman and WWII veteran of the Canadian armed forces.



Sharon Holland's family
Sharon Holland's military family roots extend from the Revolutionary War to modern day Iraq and Afghanistan. From left to right: Capt. Thomas Callaway,
Peter A. Sossamon, Delbert Oakes, Jr., Deborah Oakes, Dan Oakes, Rachel Oakes, Seth Oakes, Hannah Oakes, Michael Oakes, and Christopher Holland.
(Courtesy photos)

Sharon Holland

The family of Sharon Holland, deputy vice president in USU’s External Affairs office, dates their service back to the Revolutionary War.  Her fifth great grandfather, Johannes “John” Shell, fought in the Battle of Eutaw Springs and the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. Several of her Callaway uncles, including Capt. Thomas Callaway, were among the Overmountain Men who defeated the British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Two of Holland’s great-great grandfathers fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. One, Peter A. Sossamon, was captured by Union troops during the Siege of Vicksburg and later released, and the other, George Washington Sizemore, fought with the Union as a member of the 13th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Her father, Delbert Oakes, joined the Navy in the late 1950s and spent more than 37 years on active duty. During the Vietnam War, he served aboard the USS Oriskany in 1966 during its devastating fire that killed 44 men. Her  stepmother, Deborah Oakes, (late) stepfather, Richard Aubrey, and five siblings, Michael Oakes, Dan Oakes, Hannah Oakes, Seth Oakes, and Rachel Oakes, and also saw military service in the Navy, Army and Air Force, respectively. (Michael, served in both the Navy and the Army). Her siblings were all deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.  Christopher Holland, her stepson, served in the Marine Corps, and was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in Afghanistan in an IED blast in 2013. 


This Veterans Day, to all who have served, both past and present, thank you for your sacrifice, your bravery, the example you set for all citizens, and even more, thank you for our freedom.