Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Veteran Voices: Understanding the Meaning of Service from a Veteran Child’s Perspective

Ashlee (bottom right) with her mom, dad, and brother at a Veteran’s Day ceremony. (Ashlee Cederholm)

WILLIAMSBURG — Ashlee (Cederholm) Jones recalls many moments from childhood when she was dressed in patriotic colors, coloring welcome home posters on the living room floor. It’s fitting as both Jones’ parents served in the military.

Catherine Cederholm entered the Navy at 18. She served 20 years of active duty as a chief personnelman, in charge of pay and personnel matters for service members and their families. She was directly involved with mobilizing and deploying sailors during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield.

David Cederholm Jr. entered the Navy at 25. He served 16 years on active duty and eight years in the reserves, where he commuted from Indiana to Norfolk. He was a chief aviation structural mechanic, and was an enlisted aircrewman and loadmaster during his career. He served with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and was deployed around the globe.

Ashlee was born at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1991 while her parents were stationed at Norfolk Naval Base. Her brother Zach was born in 1994 at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. After two years in San Diego, the family moved back to Virginia.

“We were probably considered the lucky kids in the big scheme of things — we didn’t move as much as some. When my dad transitioned from active duty to Reserves in 1999 he relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana, for his civilian job. My mom, brother, and I relocated with him a year later in 2000,” Jones says.

Growing up, Jones knew her parents were in the military, but didn’t understand the nuances that went along with service to their country.

“Growing up with military influence I feel like has always given me a different perspective or appreciation. I grew up with parents who would always try to be there for everything, but it wasn’t always possible. There were drill weekends, which meant babysitters. Summers off? They still had to work, which meant camps. There were weights they brought home they couldn’t shake,” Jones says.

David, Ashlee, and Catherine standing behind Jimmy O’Donnell. (Ashlee Jones)

While residing in Indiana, Jones had the opportunity to meet a survivor of the USS Indianapolis sinking.

“Jimmy O’Donnell survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and spent five days in open shark-infested waters. He never thought of himself as a hero, just a survivor of a horrible tragedy. When he spoke, from his wheelchair, I knew he was a hero and like no one I had ever met before,” Jones recalls.

Jones has seen all sides of military life, even the sad parts.

“If you have never been to a military funeral there are hardly words. Burying anyone is hard, but hearing the shots fired from the 21-gun salute and watching the folded flag be handed to the family is too difficult to put words to. When I see and feel this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am lucky to still have both of my parents with me. There has been no greater blessing for me than that through all of it,” Jones said.

Her mother retired from the Navy in 2004, while her father retired from the Navy in 2008.

“As I have gotten older, I understand that we all worked hard for everything we have. The ideals of service to God, family, and country helped shape who I am today. I stand for the National Anthem, I do not care about who is in office or the color of someone’s skin. I stand for the men and women who are risking their lives to protect our freedoms. I have lived abroad and traveled to many countries and I can promise you we have a lot to be grateful for,” Jones said.

With a love of travel due to her parents’ travel throughout their years in the military, Jones recently completed her teenage bucket list.

“As a tween, my bucket list consisted of two things: I wanted to go to Normandy and Pearl Harbor. I have a lust for knowledge and learning for World War ll. I have completed my tween bucket list. I traveled to Normandy on a ferry from England and ported on Gold Beach 65 years after D-Day. There aren’t words to describe being on that beach in the misty rain. We stood there with veterans from the United States, Poland, and France on Omaha Beach and raised the colors of the Allied Forces who fought on that bloody beach. There was silence and tears and memory for the loved lost,” Jones says.

Ashlee, Catherine, David, and Zach Cederholm. (Ashlee Jones)

“In 2018, I traveled to Pearl Harbor where there are still bullet holes in buildings on Hickham Air Force Base and throughout Pearl Harbor from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War ll. The Arizona is still ‘crying’ — the term used to describe the oil that seeps from the wreckage of the ship. I grew up watching ‘Band of Brothers.’ After my European trip, I felt obliged to reach out to see who I could send a letter — yes a letter — to from the remaining survivors, and of the two I sent I received a response with signed copies of letters they had read in 1944,” Jones recalls.

Catherine is now a teacher at New Kent Middle School, where Ashlee continues to help her plan the Veterans Day ceremony at the school. She still swells with pride at the sight of the veterans in attendance.

“As an adult, I celebrate Veterans Day the way I always have. I wear my red, white, and blue. I go to my mom’s school where I still watch the veterans stand for their service song and for the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and National Anthem. I watch the kids proudly show off for their guests. I stand as a military child because in a military family we all make sacrifices for the branch. I stand with pride alongside my parents and always will.”

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