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Donna Betson doesn’t know of a life without a connection to the U.S. Army.
“I’m an Army brat, Army wife, Army mom,” she said. “I’ve got them all covered.”
Following three generations of the Army has instilled a love of country and family in Betson. Along the walls, bookshelves and tables inside her Vine Grove home are photographs, books, eagle statuettes, quilts, vintage military hats and helmets and other memorabilia collected throughout many years of travel and experience.
Most of the items have a personal story. Some were made by hand from Army friends. Several of the framed images have signatures and notes written on the back from those friends.
“Usually (military families) don’t own a home until they retire,” Betson said. “We get very possessive of our possessions.
“Everything around here has sentimental value,” she said. “The personal things that we have, there’s quite a few of them that I could take down and they’re all signed on the back from friends when we’ve left a place where they all signed. You look back at that and remember those memories so vividly and the friendships that you have.”
Betson said she keeps in touch with some of those friends through Facebook and sends Christmas cards and letters each year.
“It’s amazing how many of our circle of friends’ kids are in the service now,” she said.
The concept is full-circle within her own family, too. Her husband, Bill Betson, and their son, Andrew Betson, were Armor officers and are graduates and past instructors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Donna said Andrew has met and made friends with the sons of some of Bill’s friends.
Army wives weren’t known to work during Donna’s father’s era, but she said some women began working in her generation. Typically if they worked, they did something that could be taken with them if they relocated.
“It’s a partnership,” she said. “It’s his career. I were there to support him and to also support my military family.”
Donna currently leads the local Wreaths Across America program and serves as a member of the Vine Grove City Council.
Donna had four uncles and a brother who was in the Army and has two brothers-in-law who are Navy veterans.
Her father was enlisted.
“I made 17 moves with my dad and ended up doing 17 moves with my husband,” she said. “When dad was in, we would stay with friends when they were clearing corridors and stuff like that or when you first got someplace. It seemed like there was always someone there that you knew that you had been with before.”
Donna’s father, Paul Evans, was from Kentucky and twice was stationed at Fort Knox. Betson graduated from Fort Knox High School.
“This is home,” she said. “This is where I wanted to come back and live. My husband, who is from Philadelphia, graciously said, ‘I’ll take you back there.’”
Bill spent 29 years as an Armor officer, serving in Germany and the U.S. He finished at the Pentagon where he was in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I kind of always wanted to be in the Army so I was very happy to have the opportunity to go to West Point,” Bill said. “Being in the Army and being around the Army was my life and my wife’s life, too, so together I think we’ve served the nation reasonably well. I don’t feel like I’m owed anything.”
Andrew lives in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and is a student at the United States Army Command and General Staff College. He said growing up surrounded by the Army lifestyle influenced his decision to join. He was born in West Point at a time when his father was teaching there.
“I grew up in it,” he said. “I was surrounded by the Army and military community my whole life. Growing up, I was enamored by big things — tanks, uniforms and other things. I saw the nobility of service. I saw it as an opportunity to serve my country and do something bigger than myself.”
On Veterans Day, Andrew sends a note to his dad, thanking him for his service. He advises everyone else to not only think about veterans, but current soldiers and their families, too.
“Remember, we’ve got soldiers in harm’s way right now that are out serving their country because they believe in this thing called the United States,’’ he said. “It’s also very important to think about the families of those who have served and think about the service and sacrifices of them as well.”
Anna Taylor can be reached at 270-505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.