(WDVM) — Five members of a Martinsburg, West Virginia woman’s family, including herself, have served in the U.S. military.
Ellen-Kennard Madison is most proud of a dog tag that her grandfather wore around his neck during World War One.
Madison’s family tree casts a large shadow over the American landscape. Her grandfather served as a messenger during World War I; the “War to end all Wars.”
Ellen says her grandfather carried hand-written messages from the front lines to superiors in the rear.
Being a messenger was risky business. Anytime an allied soldier, be they British, Canadian, Australian or American left the relative safety of trenches and headed out across “No Man’s Land,” a stretch of shell-pocked landscape between opposing forces, they ran the risk of being killed or captured.
Germans wanted nothing more than to intercept messages between allied commanders about attacks they were planning.
Madison’s father, John Kennard, didn’t fight during World War II. By the time he joined the Navy there was a greater need for personnel to build airfields, ports and other military facilities in the Pacific Theater.
So Ellen’s father, a Seabee, trained other Seabees who did see action in the South Pacific on Japanese-held islands that were captured by U.S Marines and soldiers. But her son, Marine Sergeant Anthony Kennard, saw action in Iraq.
Madison learned recently that her great-great uncle, Herbert Kennard, served on USS Yosemite during the Spanish-American War.
“My great uncle was a mechanic on ship,” said Madison, but she doesn’t have a personal picture of him.
USS Yosemite was a 6,100 ton auxillary cruiser that was built in Newport News in 1892 and intercepted Spanish ships trying to run a naval blockade.
Ellen Madison enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school in Michigan where the Kinnard family lived.
“After graduation, I went to college for a year, but that wasn’t my bag, so I went to trade school and became a manicurist for a year, and I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to travel, perhaps be an airline stewardess, but my father was afraid of flying so he suggested I join the army. So I signed up and two weeks later I was gone,” said Ellen who believes that was the best decision she ever made.
“I was a personnel records clerk, a 75 Delta,” said Madison who recalled this was before computers. “Everything was type-written, orders etc.”
But Madison used her experience in the U.S. Army to land a job at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. When a job was posted for a utility system operator in the water treatment plant, she applied and got the job.
“There was upward mobility and at the same time affirmative action when I got the job,” said Madison, the only woman in a 15 person department.
“I’ve been her for 25 years and I’m not read to retire yet,” laughed Madison as one of her male colleagues passed by. “I enjoy my job here,” said Madison as she took me on a tour of the water treatment plant.
Among her many duties is making sure the plant filters 250,000 gallons of fresh water daily for use at the VA Medical Center.
Since 1944, the VA Medical Center in Berkeley County has been serving the physical and mental needs of thousands of veterans who live in 22 neighboring counties in the Four-State Area of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.