Many still remember the lighted stars families placed in windows, shining seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to honor family members who were fighting overseas during World War II.
The Padgett family, from Genoa, had six lighted stars. Five brothers were in combat duty and their sister was working administrative duties in Washington, D.C.
Their father, William Padgett, who worked at U.S. Gypsum in Genoa, and his wife Mary had to carry on while six of their eight children were serving, which would not be allowed today.
“I would have been stressed if I was their father and all my kids were all off to war at Christmas time,” said William’s grandson, Jack Nissen. “They were quiet, easy-going, and the nicest people you used to meet.”
Despite six family members not present, the Padgett family household on Superior Street found ways to keep busy.
“We used to have bums going down the railroad track and my family fed them all the time. We had all this food, people knew that, they’d come knocking on the door, and she (Mary) fed them all. It was like Friday nights was chili night, Sunday was chicken, and we had 10 to 14 people at the table every night, including neighbors,” Nissen said.
Fortunately for the Padgett family, unlike the brothers in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” all six siblings survived the war.
The six are Claude “Rip” Padgett, Bernard “Wax” Padgett, and Charles “Abe” Padgett, who served in the U.S. Navy; Chester “Chet” Padgett served in the Army-Air Force; Kenneth “Kenny” Padgett in the Army; and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Padgett (Kruse) in the Navy-Waves, a women’s auxiliary division.
Jack Nissen is the son of the oldest sibling, Christine “Sis” Padgett-Nissen, who did not serve. Jack, born in 1937, remembers seeing the lighted stars while staying with his grandmother. He said the mood was never depressing.
“One year at Christmastime, we were all gathered at Christmas Eve, as we did every year, and there was a knock at the back door. My family went back to answer the door, and she (his grandmother) screamed, and here were two of the boys who came home — Chuck and Kenny were home on Christmas Eve. Kenny had been in Chicago where he had been wounded and they were back in the states at that time, and you can imagine what that Christmas was like — the whole family was there.”
It’s about time
Jack says it’s about time his aunts and uncles were recognized. After the war, they rarely talked about their war experiences and did not make a habit of volunteering for retired veterans’ fraternal organizations.
“I was watching the news and they were talking about three brothers who served in the service, and I thought, ‘by gosh, we have five, and I was just old enough at that time to know what was going on. They were all in combat zones at the same time and all of them were experienced combat veterans.”
Claude Padgett was a radio operator in a mine layer in the Pacific during WWII. He went on to become a 30-year career Navy man, also serving in Korea.
Chester was stationed in England as a radio operator during the German air raids, and was in the right place at the right time during one raid or he could have become the family’s lone casualty.
“He used to sit at the end of a runway in a Jeep. When the Germans started bombing, they turned all the lights off. So a guy asked him to trade one night, and so they traded, and the Germans bombed the base that night and the guy got killed, and my uncle was not there that night,” Jack said.
Charles served as a gunners’ mate on the U.S.S. Richmond. Bernard was in the combat Seabees in both Germany and Japan.
“Wherever there was a problem — a base got bombed or whatever, the Seabees went in and repaired it,” Jack explained. “Many times snipers were shooting at them and bullets were ricocheting off their equipment and things like that.”
Kenneth was wounded in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge and was the only sibling to receive The Purple Heart. During a cease fire, he was shot by a German sniper, whose bullet knocked out eight teeth.
There was one other sibling who did not serve in the military — Bernard’s twin sister, Bernidine “Beans” Padgett-Thompson.
Six were born in Genoa, delivered by next door neighbor Dr. Ed Skitteman, and the oldest two, Christine and Claude, were born in Natural Bridge, Virginia. All eight graduated from Genoa High School.
After the war, Elizabeth moved to Dearborn, Michigan, and her oldest boy of three children was a Marine wounded in Vietnam, but he survived. Elizabeth’s husband became the head of engineering for a major automobile company.
Chester worked for Libbey-Owens-Ford, and Kenneth and Bernard both worked for the Genoa Telephone Company. Kenny’s son, Kenny Jr., also served in Vietnam.
After his 30-year stint, Claude worked in Tennessee as a civilian electrician for the Navy.
Charles Padgett, 89, is the only one of the eight siblings still living today. Charles, who resides on Cherry Street in Genoa, continued after the war as a civilian working for the military. He was employed at the Rossford Depot until it closed, and then the Camp Perry Depot in Port Clinton until it closed, and then had a long career with the U.S. Post Office.
Charles’ son, Mike Padgett, an athletic director and former basketball coach at Central Catholic, said while growing up he rarely heard a word about the war.
“The whole family didn’t talk a whole lot about that kind of stuff. They pretty much kept it to themselves unless you specifically asked them something, and I didn’t ask a lot of questions,” Mike said.
“For me, they were all good aunts and uncles, and it was very fortunate that they all were able to come home. (My father and I) went into completely different type careers, but I think I picked up his work ethic and those types of things.”
Jack Nissen, who Mike calls the family historian, found out when his Uncle Kenneth passed away about two years ago that some family members knew next to nothing about their parent’s military service.
“I did his eulogy, and his grandsons were all in their 20s, and they came up to me and said, ‘We didn’t know anything about this because he didn’t talk about it,’” Nissen said.
Jack Nissen’s mother, Christine, passed away in 1995, and Jack’s father, Lyle Nissen, passed away in 1994. Jack served in the National Guard before becoming a high school basketball and baseball coach at Rogers and Bowsher, principal at Fassett Junior High, and also a college professor before retiring.