Inspiration often comes when you least expect it.
Take Tekamah woman Karen Jackson for example. Recent news reports on the tearing down of statues led the commentator to lament that history should be taught, not erased.
“I asked myself, ‘What am I doing to teach history?’” she said. “That’s where all this started.”
What followed was an ongoing journey to develop a display showing the military involvement of all of her husband, Mark’s, Eckley relatives. Mark’s mother, Marialice, whom Karen never knew, was an only child, the daughter of Louis “Wick” and Alta Eckley.
“It’s a gift,” Mark said. “She wanted me to know who my relatives are and what these people did for the country.
“But it’s more than that. This could be anybody’s family. We don’t have the freedoms we have in this country without the people who are willing to defend them.”
When the Chamber of Commerce announced a decoration contest for the Fourth of July, “That put some urgency to it.”
In 17 days a display was put together showing over 70 relatives who served in the military as far back as could be found.
And that’s saying something. According to their family research, Eckleys have been in North America since 1683 at the founding of the Pennsylvania colony.
Mark said it took many conversations with relatives across the country, on the phone, on Facebook and via e-mail, gathering information, like dates and branches of service. Invaluable assistance also was received from Burt County Veterans Service Officer Penny Warren and the staff at Burt County Museum in doing their research.
Karen also leaned heavily on her own Eckley genealogy research which has been going on for nearly a decade.
The display was titled, “The Eckley Family Helped Define the Land of the Free.” It features four-inch square markers emblazoned with an American flag where appropriate, the name of the relative, the state where they joined, the branch in which they served as well as the familial relationship and a picture of the soldier, sailor, Marine or airman. One the back are some extra details.
The first documented relative to take up arms was Peter Eckley, who in 1755 or so, served as a scout for Gen. Edward Braddock, commander of imperial British forces in the New World during the French and Indian War. Another relative, Peter’s brother George Eckley, was killed at Fort Duquesne, the site of present day Pittsburgh, Pa., during the same war.
The display also noted Thomas Eckley, Mark’s sixth great-grand-uncle who was the only patriot ever jailed in connection with the Boston Tea Party and who was later killed in action fighting the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the seminal battles of the Revolutionary War.
The display is generally sectioned by periods of war and continues through the present. Included with the Civil War vets is Mark’s great-great-grandfather William Eckley, who volunteered for the Union from Pennsylvania, as did three of his brothers.
The most current are Mark’s nephew Michael Braniff who was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2011 after serving two tours in Iraq and Blair man James Hawkins, a cousin, who was recently transferred by the U.S. Army from Iraq to Germany after receiving a promotion.
The Jacksons have hosted several family members and other area residents who wanted to see the display and get a little better acquainted with some of the people who have preserved the country’s freedoms.
“At the start, I was just going to do this once. But I’ve had so much encouragement from so many people, I just might put it up every year,” Karen said, “and pass on the history.”