Remembering a forgotten hero

All About Ben
By Ben Robinson

With Veteran’s Day Sunday, my thoughts could not help but turn to the only member of my family — at least as far back as I know — who ever died in the service.

We’ve had several who served, including my father, who used to repeat the military training chants when he and I walked up our driveway when I was a kid. (Apparently the drill instructor would shout “You had a good home but you left,” and the soldiers would shout back, “You’re right!”)
I also have seen photos of my uncle Farris from when he was in the service. But the one photo that stuck with me most was the one of my uncle J.B. Robinson, who died while serving the country during peacetime.

I’m not sure why my grandmother chose to use just initials to name two of her nine children. I thought that perhaps she was running out of names, but J.B. was the oldest. The other child with initials was my father, B.F.
The story I’ve always heard was that when my father was born — the eighth of nine children — a lady who had taught some of the other kids in school suggested that he be named “Benjamin Franklin.” But J.B., who was serving in the army at the time, wanted his new brother to be named “Buck Foster.”
My grandmother compromised and simply called her new son, “B.F.”
Years later when I was born, my father chose “Benjamin Franklin” as my name. I’m glad, because with a name like “Buck Foster Robinson,” I would have almost had to have had a used car lot.

By the way, my older brother Thom received his name from a gentleman I’ve heard my father refer to as “Uncle Thom Lark,” who wasn’t actually an uncle, but my father respected him very much. Apparently, “Uncle Thom” provided guidance and assisted my father as a young man, after my grandfather had passed away when my father was in the ninth grade.

Thom’s middle name is Arthur, after my grandfather, my father’s father.
Either way, as the oldest child, J.B. was the first one to marry. He married Effie Mae Brooks of Liberty. She apparently came from a well-respected family, and they were very happy during their brief marriage.

But as often happens, that happiness was very brief. Effie Mae died giving birth to her and J.B.’s only child. The baby died as well and was placed in the coffin with its mother.

I can only imagine the kind of heartbreak J.B. was going through, losing his wife and unborn child at the same time. Had it happened later, there would have been more medical assistance available, and perhaps both lives could have been saved.

Years later I spoke with Effie Mae’s little sister, who hinted that she and J.B. had provided comfort to each other, and probably would have wed had he lived long enough. Who knows?

Seeking comfort for his broken heart, J.B. enlisted in the Army. He was serving on a ship somewhere near San Francisco a year later when he became ill.
My grandmother kept the telegrams sent to her — I guess that’s all she had left from her oldest son. Each telegram reported that J.B. was gravely ill. The final one had the same date as the day he died.

Again, I can only imagine the sorrow my grandmother experienced with her first-born dying in a place that seemed half-a-world away. She didn.t mention J.B. much when I was a child, but his photo remained on a table in her hallway until the day she died.

The uncles I knew were funny people, so I assume J.B. would have been much like them. I remember some story my uncle Farris told about he and J.B. creating a noise on the farm where the family sharecropped, and my grandfather being drawn outside to investigate. But the details are sketchy. I wish I had started jotting down notes on family stories a long time ago. I suppose someday I will want reminders of tales from today, and find myself wishing I had made notes.

Either way, all families across the state have made sacrifices for this country, and I hope everyone took time this week to honor all those who have served to preserve our freedom.