Texas man remembers eight veterans from same family

NEWARK -- Seventeen-year-old Charles Braun quit high school in 1944 and surprised no one with what he did next.

His father, Lt. Col. Joseph F. Braun Sr., was a career military man who fought in World War I, and Charles and his six brothers spent most of their youths on military bases.

His two older brothers, James and Frank, had already enlisted to fight World War II.

So, Charles joined the Air Force.

Then, his younger brother, Harry, signed up.

Then, his brother Joseph Jr.

Then, his brother Donald.

Then, his brother Richard.

From 1917 to 1970, the eight Braun men accumulated 146 years of active-duty military service in the Air Force, Army and Marines. At least one Braun man stepped into the battlefields of World War I and World War II, the foxholes of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam.

Somehow, everyone always came home.

"Seems kind of like a miracle now," said Charles Braun, 86, who lives in Newark, a small city northwest of Fort Worth. "But we were all really proud to go and fight for our country. Family tradition is what it amounted to, I guess."

That's a tradition too rich to be forgotten. Braun is methodically documenting his family's service, hunting down official military records on his father and brothers, their assignments and the medals, stripes and ribbons they earned.

He displays the awards in shadow boxes that bear each family member's nameplate.

He is building the same boxes for a granddaughter and nephew who later boosted the family's military service to 154 years. And he is still gathering documentation on a second nephew who served.

Braun, whose own military career spanned 26 years until he retired as an Air Force master sergeant, is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4443.

In December, he traveled to Austin to display his shadow boxes for a national VFW commander. His arranges the boxes among miniature American flags.

Eventually, he would like to submit the display to an archive for safekeeping.

"Once I'm gone, I'm afraid they are just going to get scattered to the wind, and that's no good," Braun said.

"Meet the Brauns"

The Brauns' service to their country has drawn attention over the years. The family's picture appeared in a March 1951 issue of Life of the Soldier and the Airmen with a story titled "Brauns in Blues."

"Meet the Brauns - all seven of them!" the story reads. "It's not unusual these days for a family to have three or four members in Army or Air Force Service, but the Brauns top this."

The Braun boys grew up on military bases, spending most of their time "running around and agitating each other," Braun said. But after they made military commitments, time together became rare and precious.

"We were practically separated all the time," Braun said. "One would come home and before he got there another would be transferred out somewhere else. That's just kind of the way it went, and you just hoped everyone was doing OK."

Braun's service took him to the Republic of Panama during World War II, where he patrolled for Japanese submarines.

He did aircraft maintenance on B-29 bombers during the Korean War and, during Vietnam, flew in the back seat of a 0-1 Bird Dog looking for targets on the ground.

Although some brothers fought in the same conflicts, they never actually served together, he said.

The deaths of the five Sullivan brothers from Iowa after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Juneau at Guadalcanal during World War II weighed on everyone's mind.

The Brauns' mother, Bertha Mae, did the most worrying. During World War II, families of U.S. servicemen displayed Blue Star Flags, with each star representing a family member at war.

Mrs. Braun had so many loved ones serving that she needed two banners to hang in the window.

"They didn't make the flags big enough for all the stars she needed," he said.

As with most military mothers, her greatest fear was an unexpected knock at the door.

"Drove my mother a little crazy for a little while because a lot of us were on active duty serving overseas at the same time," Braun said. "She got a lot of gray hairs wondering if we were all OK. When she heard from us, she said, 'Well, we made it through another day.' "

His father, whose military career lasted 33 years, simply told his sons that he was proud of them.

Veterans Day special

Braun started on his shadow box about five years ago. As he was finishing, it occurred to him that his father and brothers deserved the same.

"I got to thinking, 'Gee, my dad doesn't have one with all the time that he served,' " Braun said. "My brothers, too. So I started getting the official military records and started going through for what they were authorized to wear or what they were awarded."

Braun has finished shadow boxes for all but two brothers. Gathering the documentation from the Department of Defense takes time; governmental gears turn slowly when it comes to information.

He bought the medals and stripes from the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.

Accuracy is important. Braun keeps all the information he has gathered neatly stacked in blue folders with each family's member name on them.

"I wanted to make sure I didn't have anyone with a medal they weren't authorized to wear," Braun said. "I wanted the documents to back it up."

Four decades have passed since Braun retired from the military. His mother, father and three brothers have died. Those who are still alive have settled in Texas, Washington and Colorado, and overseas in Italy.

The brothers stay in contact on their computers using Skype.

Braun chats with them from his Newark home, where an American flag waves in the front yard. A "Support Our Troops" decal adorns the front door.

Veterans Day has special significance to his family.

"It means a lot to me. It's kind of hard to put it into words," he said. "But I am very proud of my dad and all my brothers for serving. It's just an honor to give that much time fighting for your country."

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689

Twitter: @albranch1