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Noble: Carrying on a family tradition

Let’s time travel together, first to Connecticut in 1776. The American Revolution begins. Members of the Seely family take opposing sides. Obadiah, family patriarch, is a staunch loyalist. He is a prominent citizen in Stamford and he and his son Seth provide munitions and material support to the British and their Tory allies.

Eli is Obadiah’s cousin, and my sixth great-grandfather. A man of much more modest means, he is a father, farmer, and a man of faith. Eli, along with his wife, Sarah, and several other families establish the First Congregational Church of Darien, which endures to this day.

Born in 1701, Eli is 75 years old when he joins the Connecticut militia in 1776. Eight years later the Treaty of Paris is signed in 1783, signifying the end of the American Revolution. Lt. Eli Seely dies soon after. He was an American for eight months.



Thirty years after Eli’s death, William Henry Noble, my second great-uncle is born. A Yale Law School graduate, he is a successful businessman in Bridgeport when Americans clash over the institution of slavery, and another war on American soil commences.

He volunteers to serve in the Connecticut militia, and assumes command of the 17th Infantry Regiment, joins General Hooker’s Army of the Potomac and marches on Chancellorsville. His horse is shot out from under him, and he takes a bullet through the arm. After recuperating, he rejoins his unit for the bloody battle at Gettysburg, memorialized in the photograph, “A Harvest of Death.”



The toll in American lives is staggering — more than 7,000 fatalities and 33,000 casualties. Following victory at Gettysburg, the 17th marches south, but William is ambushed by a Rebel band and sent to the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

Following the war, William works to secure pensions for Union soldiers. Although a Democrat, and therefore expected to be sympathetic to the southern cause, Gen. William Henry Noble instead prioritizes the Union and keeps intact the republic Seely fought to establish.

Pearse Edward Nolan is the son of Irish immigrants and my father. Raised in New York City and educated exclusively in Catholic schools, he flunks the lesson on turn the other cheek. He is a street brawler his entire life, so perhaps a natural soldier. He serves in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Each conflict is a defense of the liberal, democratic world order the United States is instrumental in crafting. Lt. Colonel Nolan’s American roots do not run as deep as Seely’s or Noble’s, but he is no less committed to the nation’s survival and its success.

Iraqi forces invade neighboring Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. I am a second lieutenant and seven months into my first assignment at a training base in New Mexico. Almost immediately, U.S. forces begin deploying to the Middle East. Training units like mine do not deploy. Therefore, unbeknownst to my officer-in-charge, I call the headquarters weekly and remind them I am a volunteer for deployment. Eventually they relent and send me to King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia, the Air Force’s northernmost forward operating location.

Upon my return from the Gulf War, a member of my unit quips, “We would have all volunteered had we known it would be so easy.” Although I did not know what to expect, I did not expect it to be easy.

As the observance of Veterans Day draws near, I reflect on the lessons of my ancestors’ and my service. Eli’s service serves as a stark reminder that the American Revolution divided communities and families, not only rhetorically, but lethally. Seely leaves a legacy: descendants, a house of worship and a democratic republic.

Rarely do fundamental values conflict. In the rare event this happens, choosing one over another is agonizing. Noble’s loyalty to a political party conflicted with his duty to country. He set aside party allegiance to serve something more important — the unity of the nation.

Nolan demonstrated that regardless of pedigree, no one has a claim on being more American based on the arrival of their ancestors.

Joining the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Texas was one of the most consequential decisions in my life; I would not be who or where I am today otherwise.

I salute the more than 1.3 million active duty and 800,000 reserve forces serving today and my sister and brother veterans, about 19 million Americans, or roughly 10 percent of the population, who carry on the proud tradition of service to our nation.


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