Southsider Voice correspondent
There are military families ... and then there are the Cecils. Bill Cecil is part of a pipeline of a dozen servicemen from the Southside spanning five generations.
Cecil has collected certificates of veterans in his family signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He displays those certificates in a case with newspaper clippings and family photos. Cecil enlisted during Vietnam but was never deployed.
“Me and my buddies during Vietnam went down and signed up for the Navy. Of course we really didn’t have a choice as you either signed up or were drafted anyway,” he said with a chuckle.
Part of why he is passionate about honoring veterans is to counter how he and his friends were treated after Vietnam.
“With Vietnam when we came home we were spit on and called baby killers and everything else. Anyone in uniform back in that time (was viewed as a) rotten lowlife.”
The Cecils’ military history dates back to Bill’s great uncle, Chester Wright, who served in World War I. Bill always knew him simply as Uncle Check.
Bill’s father, William Frances Cecil, lived on Lincoln Street and served in World War II. William was in the National Guard when the war broke out and tried to join the Army.
“He went to the Army to enlist and was told to go to the Navy,” Cecil said. “They were packed.”
William served on the USS Casablanca, an escort aircraft carrier with a crew of around 900. The Casablanca served in the Pacific, and William ended the war as a second class sailor.
Bill’s father-in-law, Dallas L. Agan, was a cook stationed stateside during the war. His uncle, Harry F. Peaks, served with the Army and participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Peaks, who lost an eye as a kid, even served in Korea. Other relatives, James, Virgil and Larry Cecil, served in the Navy on the Atlantic side. Bill said he believes James served on a battleship as a gunner and went deaf in one ear during a battle when his earplug fell out.
Albert and Marion Perry are second cousins to Bill. They grew up on Chester Street and fought the Germans in Europe. Albert was a private first class with the 547 Medical Ambulance Company. Marion was a private in the 83rd Thunderbolt Division.
They all survived the wars they were in, but decades later, Keith Carl Gabon was not so lucky. Gabon was friend of Bill’s grandson, Joseph Cecil. Gabon joined the Marines to fight in Iraq but was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2008.
Joseph went to Greenwood High School and played football for the Woodmen. While with the Army in Iraq, he earned the rank of sergeant. Bill says he had two Hummers blown out from under him. Joseph is currently an oil rig operator in Oklahoma City.
Bill’s last relative in the service is Christopher Ziegler, who is at West Point. Ziegler grew up in Fairland and played football for Triton Central.
Cecil said he thinks the concept of honoring veterans has improved from his post-Vietnam days, but he wants people to not view Veterans Day as just another square on the calendar.
“To me, Veterans Day is for anybody who served in the service,” Cecil said. “Whether deceased or still alive, they deserve one day of the year of respect. I don’t think that’s too much.”