Never Forgotten: 5 Stories of Veterans Whose Family Legacies Live On

Family History
26 October 2021
by Ancestry® Team

Since the country’s founding, tens of millions of Americans have served their country during wartime. Some, like the unidentified World War I serviceman buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, were buried in anonymity.

But others, like the ancestors of many Ancestry® customers, live on in the records and memories of their families. Here are five of their inspiring stories.

Michael Valente, WWI Hero and Community Pillar

Michael Valente was born in Italy and came to the U.S. in 1913 with only $30 in his pocket. He joined the New York Guard around 1916 and shortly after, when the country entered World War I, his regiment was nationalized and became part of the U.S. Army.

He was deployed to France, where on September 29, 1918, while his men were taking heavy machine gun fire from the Germans, Michael ran through an open field towards the gun fire. He silenced two machine gun nests and attacked a trench, eventually taking twenty-one prisoners.

Soldier Michael Valente displays medals he earned for his service
Medal of Honor Winner Michael Valente (courtesty of Kathryn Madalena)

For his brave actions, which contributed greatly to the breaking of the massive German defensive position known as the Hindernburg Line, Michael wa sawarded the Medal of Honorthe only recipient of the medal in World War I of Italian origin.

Ancestry® customer Kathryn Madalena never met her great-grandfather Michael Valente. But Michael had raised her father, his grandson; and he lovingly shared stories of Michael’s Medal of Honor-winning heroism on the battlefield and leadership in the community back in New York.

Barney F. Hajiro, 442nd Regiment Volunteer and Decorated Hero

Ancestry® customer Glenn Hajiro’s father, Barney F. Hajiro, spent his childhood on a Maui plantation, where his parents lived and worked. He was a very good athlete with dreams of being in the Olympics one day. He was also a very bright student with scholarship offers to attend high school.

But as the second-oldest of nine children, his family expected Barney to work to support the family. So he dropped out of school after 8th grade and went on to work various jobs on Maui.

Eventually Barney made his way to Oahu, where he took on a series of jobs. He had found one as a stevedore (or longshoreman), which paid decent wages when, in December of 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Signed photo of Private First Class Barney F. Harjiro
Medal of Honor winner Barney F. Hajiro (courtesy of Glenn Hajiro)

In the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing, Barney was drafted into the U.S. Army, performing menial tasks as part of an engineering battalion. In March of 1943, he volunteered to be part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd RCT was the most-decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history and consisting almost entirely of second-generation Japanese American soldiers.

On October 29, 1944, during the famous rescue of the “Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains of France, Barney single-handedly destroyed two German machine gun emplacements.

This was after many instances of repeatedly distinguishing himself in battle. Ten days prior, on October 19, 1944, Barney had exposed himself to enemy fire. Three days after that, he and a fellow soldier had ambushed 18 German soldiers.

For his incredible acts of heroism, Barney was recommended for the Medal of Honor in October of 1944. He also received the World War II Victory Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Kathleen Hilbrandt, Congressional Gold Medal Awardee

Kathleen Hilbrandt, or Aunt Kay to Ancestry® customer Linda Hilbrandt, was part of a highly competitive program known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Only 1,830 women of the more than 25,000 who applied were accepted to the program. Recruits had to complete the same training courses as male pilots in the Army Air Corps.

Kay Hilbrandt in her uniform
Kathleen “Kay” Hilbrandt, Congressional Gold Medal Awardee (courtesy of Linda Hilbrandt)

Days on the airfield were long (about 12 hours). Half the day was spent actually flying and the other half was spent learning things like Morse code, physics, military law, navigation, aircraft mechanics, and more.

By the time they graduated, the female pilots had logged 560 hours of ground school and 210 hours of flight training. Once trained, they were stationed one of 122 airbases across the U.S. They largely ferried planes, delivering over 12,000 aircraft from factories to airbases.

But the pilots also tested newly overhauled aircraft and towed targets for gunners in the air and on the ground to take part in practice exercises for shooting down planes.

The program ended in 1944. About 33 years later, after a long struggle, they were awarded veteran status. In 2009, President Obama awarded the surviving members, including Kathleen Hilbrandt, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Isaac Rothwell, Member of the 3rd USCT during the Civil War

Isaac Rothwell was the third great-grandfather of Ancestry® customer Michelle Marsden. He served in the 3rd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War.

Isaac’s brothers, Alfred and Samuel, were in the same regiment as was he. His brother Alfred died in a famous battle at Fort Wagner, in South Carolina.

Artist's depiction of battle
Storming Fort Wagner (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Isaac was tentmates with a soldier by the name of George Potts. George and Isaac’s children married each other and eventually became Michelle’s second great-grandparents. So Michelle’s family had not only one African American Civil War veteran ancestor but four.

Alfredo Cid, Mexican American WWII War Hero

Alfredo Cid, or “Fred” as he was known in the U.S. Army, was born in 1922, to Pedro Cid and Alfonsa Hurtado of Zacatecas, Mexico.

Alfredo was born in Bayard, Nebraska. At the time, his father was working as a ranch hand on a Nebraska chicken farm.

Although his grandnephew and Ancestry® customer Raul Fernandez does not know much about Alfredo’s early life, he does know from records that on January 15, 1943, Alfredo enlisted in the U.S. Army. He joined the 101st Airborne and became a member of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, an air assault unit.

In September 1943 the 502nd (also known as “The Deuce”), traveled to England to prepare for D-Day, participating in three major military operations: the Battle of Normandy, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge.

On December 28, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, Alfredo Cid was killed. His foxhole was hit by an 88 mm gun, a weapon capable of taking down aircraft.

Alfredo Cid in his uniform
Alfredo Cid (courtesy of Raul Fernandez)

Alfredo’s body was flown back to the United States and then returned to the land of his family’s ancestors, to be buried at the Panteon de Dolores in Jerez, Zacatecas. He was one of an estimated 500,000 Latino soldiers to serve in World War II.

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Customer stories were voluntarily submitted by actual Ancestry® customers. Ancestry does not endorse these stories and has not verified them for historical or factual accuracy. The following customers were part of Ancestry TV spots and were compensated for their participation in those spots: Kathryn Madalena, Glenn Hajiro, and Michelle Marsden.