Submitted by Rhonda Thacker
In nineteen years of researching my family tree, I have discovered numerous interesting stories, some happy and some sad.
While studying my maternal grandmother’s Willard family of Stuart, Virginia, I heard about her nephew, Gean “Green” Willard. Gean was born in Ararat, Virginia, to George and Susie Willard. He died in War World II and was buried in France. This was basically all that his surviving family knew.
Gean’s brother, Howard, told me that he remembered two men in uniforms coming to their home and bringing a folded US flag to his mama. With little to go on, I started my search. I started with Gean’s army records. He was killed on May 27, 1946. The war ended in 1945. He was on a POW recovery mission when he gave his life for his country. He was buried in Epinal, France.
I then discovered a marriage record for Gean and Helen Goins. All Gean’s family that knew about the marriage were deceased. Therefore, his nephews thought that he was never married. But Gean and Helen were married on December 27, 1945.
In June of this year, Gean’s nephew, Mickey Willard of Mt. Airy, N.C., and I found Helen’s phone number. We called and went to find her in Claudeville, Va. On our first visit, Helen was not at home. I left her a note with our numbers. I wrote the note on the back of a copy of her marriage certificate. We were privileged to meet Helen G. Hooker the next day. She is a beautiful, sweet, caring lady who is ninety-five years young. She welcomed the chance to tell us her and Gean’s story.
She and Gean were only married for three weeks when he was called back to active duty. In the last letter she received from him, Gean was “very, very depressed.” The day after the letter, Helen received a telegram telling her that Gean had died, with no explanation of the his cause of death.
She stated that she had worried for seventy-four years that Gean might have killed himself. She also had wondered many times what kind of place he was buried in and whether he had a marker. She was overjoyed to see the record that he was killed in action rather than from suicide. Her eyes sparkled as she looked at a picture of Gean’s grave with a beautiful white cross.
This remarkable woman still speaks of Gean’s parents and family with love. She recalls going to frolics with them and hearing Gean’s mama, Susie, playing the banjo. She said they were good to her and treated her like a daughter. She visited with them often after Gean’s death. When she received Gean’s death benefits, she unselfishly gave the money to Gean’s parents.
Helen is a truly generous and caring young lady. Mickey and I thanked Helen for her kindness and sharing her life story with us.
Genealogy is not just about birth and death dates. It is the warm feeling of gratitude when God allows you to meet wonderful people like Helen Goins Willard Hooker. When I told Helen that Gean was a blessed man to have had her for his wife she said that she would now sleep more peacefully. She also helped me to realize that true love stories NEVER have endings.