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  • Writer's pictureTom Vachet

The Story of My Fathers

Photo of my father
William Francois Vachet

My grandfather, Thomas LeRoy Vachet, was born in the small farming community of Vincennes, Indiana in 1883. His father, Pierre “Peter” Vachet was thirty years old at the time. His mother was Marie Victoir Richard. Tom’s father, Pierre Vachet, and mother, Estelle Boyd, divorced as the result of Pierre’s alcoholism. Pierre passed away in a Daughters of Charity Hospital. When Tom turned thirteen in 1896, his mother married Abraham Lincoln Harbison a Knox County, Indiana farmer. He was known to be a hard man. Shortly thereafter, Tom ran away from home carrying a bedroll and a few personal belongings. He then proceeded to walk over 1,000 miles to Texas where he found work on the famous King Ranch, founded by riverboat Captain Richard King following the end of the Civil War.

Tom took to ranch life, becoming an adept horseman, and learning the ins and outs of the longhorn cattle business. But ranch life at the turn of the century Texas was not to be his calling. A few years later Tom became a Deputy Sheriff, then a Texas Ranger. Sixteen years following his departure from Indiana Tom returned to his hometown where he found work with the railroad as an agent and weight master. Despite a limited education, he also worked as a part time school teacher.

Tom was active with his church, St Francis Xavier, the “Old Cathedral”, which began its existence as a Jesuit Mission in 1702. Although he never shared his ancient family history, he was familiar with the French language and the dialect peculiar to French Louisiana. He and my grandmother also enjoyed serving French cuisine, and was known for his fricassee recipe, a typical savory and spicy French stew containing a combination of game meats and vegetables, shared at many a church picnic. He was also known for his home-made elderberry wine made from the fruit he picked on the nearby Cathlinette Prairie.

Later in life Tom found employment with the US Postal Service as a Front Counter Clerk. At the outset of WWII in December 1941 his children were coming of age. The oldest, my uncle Maurice Edward enlisted in the US Army. My father, William Francois, enlisted in the Army the following June 1942 along with five of his high school buddies. In June 1946, at the age of 18 their younger brother John Norman, enlisted in the US Navy Merchant Marines. Maurice fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and across Europe to the Battle of the Bulge. John was lost during the battle for Okinawa. His body was never recovered. My father fought through the Pacific chain, ending his service as part of the occupation forces in Japan. Their sister, Mary Frances, became a civilian telephone switchboard operator.

At the end of the war my grandfather encouraged his two remaining sons to join him at the Post Office. Both accepted, and three of my father’s friends who survived the war also accepted positions. All five worked together for thirty years. My dad, along with the same three friends with whom he had enlisted, would walk across the street to the local American Legion Hall after work and sit at the bar to have drinks together. They sat in the exact same seats for the remainer of their lives. My father continued to carry on that tradition up until his passing at the age of 92 in 2013. He was the last one standing.

One of the few things my father left me was a small cardboard box given to him from his father’s stepbrother, William Harbison who had dabbled in family genealogy. In it contained a shuffle of papers, documents, and photographs. He had given me the box many years earlier, but I had never opened it. Upon his death, it seemed the time was right for me to see what secrets the box contained. Little did I know how the contents would change my life in so many dramatic ways. This blog provides me the opportunity to share the extraordinary experience of unraveling a mystery while exploring and discovering my family heritage. I hope you will join me in sharing my experience. And I hope others may become inspired to do the same. It is the first of others to follow in "Story of “My Fathers”.

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