How Lucky Can One Be?

#52ancestors   Week 11  Theme: Luck


Lyons, LaFon, Army, 1942, Fort Sheridan Ilinois 001
LaFon C. Lyons, 1941

Maybe you had a parent or grandparent like my Dad – one who served in World War II but didn’t like to talk about it.  You wonder what kind of experiences they had that made them want to forget all about it or at least never tell anyone.   My dad, LaFon Lyons, was drafted into the army on 23 April 1941 in Detroit, Michigan where he lived at the time.  He was 23 years old and single.


Just a couple weeks earlier on March 31, 1941, he had been honorably discharged from the Civilian Conservation Corps or  “CCC’s” as they were dubbed.  He left Camp Paradise near Trout Lake, Michigan and was transported home to Mt. Clemens, Michigan just outside of Detroit.  His two-year term of enrollment in the CCC’s was up and he had served a year each as a truck driver and a Crew Leader in the Forestry Dept. at Camp Paradise.  Before this, he served a year (1935-36) in the CCC’s at Camp Mackinac at Rexton MI in the Reforestation Dept.  During this term in 1936, he was sent to the Fort Brady MI hospital when he accidentally cut off two of his toes with an ax.  Luckily they were able to reattach his big toe!

Lyons, LaFon, Army, 1943, Alaska 001I don’t know a lot about his military experiences but I know he was stationed at one time in Fort Sheridan, Illinois as that is where he met my mother.  After training, LaFon was sent to serve in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, mainly Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to ward off the Japanese invasion of the islands.  I know he achieved a Tec 3 or Staff-Sargeant rank and served in the motor pool as a mechanic trying to keep vehicles running in the unbearable cold.  He was in the 701st AAA Gun Battalion.

Lyons, LaFon, Aleutian Is campaign 001

But my story is about how he earned his nickname of “Lucky LaFon!”  My dad was a “talker” and very sociable but he didn’t talk about the war except for one story I remember.  During the battle of Attu in May of 1943, he was shouting orders to the men under his charge when he was shot by the enemy!  This is one time when he was lucky to have his mouth open as the bullet entered his mouth at an angle and nicked a couple teeth and exited his cheek!  If he would have had his mouth closed, he most likely would have been killed.  Lucky for him and lucky for me!  So he earned the nickname “Lucky LaFon” and I heard he was pretty darn lucky at playing poker too on the ship taking them back to Seattle in April of 1944.

All in all, LaFon served four years, one month and 26 days in the Army and was honorably discharged on 18 June of 1945.  By this time, he had married Elma Knihtila while on leave in May of 1944.  He had been stationed at Camp Maxey, Texas after returning to stateside.  Their first child, a son, was born after Elma returned to Bessemer, Michigan to care for her mother in May 1945.  LaFon didn’t get to see his son until the baby was about six weeks old and LaFon was finally discharged from the Army and could begin his new life.

Yes, they called him “Lucky LaFon” but us kids were the lucky ones!  He was a wonderful, loving father and husband and doting grandfather.  He passed away on March 12, 2000 at age 82 but still lives in our hearts.

Lyons, LaFon, grave, 2000, Bessemer, Gogebic MI 001

Mildred Taliaferro: A Strong Woman!

#52ancestors      Week 10:  Strong Woman

In the few years that I have been actively researching our ancestry, I have come across so many strong women.  As I read there stories, I sometimes wondered how did they survive in olden times especially with diseases, wars, bearing children and building a homestead and a life on a piece of land?  It was really had to choose who to write about for this prompt!  After researching the history of Mildred Taliaferro, I knew she was my choice for this week’s prompt!  Although I have no photo of her, I can almost picture the face of a strong, determined woman!

I came across Mildred Taliaferro while researching the James family line as she married Samuel James and they were my fifth great-grandparents.  They were the parents of Spencer James whom I wrote about in the last blog. Spencer James – Prosperity Meant Land!  Now Mildred was especially interesting as she brings me into another whole line to explore – the Taliaferro family of Virginia!  Mildred was born about 1726 and there is strong evidence that she is the daughter of John Taliaferro of Snow Creek (1687-1744) and Mary Catlett (1692-1771).  She was born on the Snow Creek Plantation.  Mildred’s mother, Mary Catlett, also opens up another whole new lineage to explore!  It seems the James’, Taliaferro’s and Catlett families were intertwined in many ways and generations!

Mildred’s husband, Samuel James, was the son of Capt. John James Sr. (1707-1778) and Anne Sebastain (1710-1778).  Samuel and Mildred married about 1740 in Orange County, Virginia.  Early records from 1753 have Mildred and Samuel living in the St. Thomas Parish of Orange County, Virginia.  Samuel was actually the overseer of the Snow Creek Plantation in Orange County owned by Mildred’s father, John Taliaferro.  As an overseer, Samuel was hired to serve as a general manager of routine farming operations.  We can assume that Samuel was generally knowledgeable in the fields of agriculture, planting, harvesting, and husbandry and in the care and management of servants, slaves, and other laborers.   He worked long hours preparing daily tasks, seeing to the security of all property, tending to the needs of the workers, making nightly rounds and maintaining the directives of the owner.

While Samuel was busy with his job taking all day and some of the night, Mildred was left to take care of their seven children, their farm, and household duties by herself.  This could not have been easy!   Then things got even harder for Mildred.  At age 32, Samuel must have been ill as he proceeded to make out his will on 14 Dec of 1754!  Two months later he died on 27 Feb 1755 leaving Mildred Taliaferro James and seven children.  The cause of death is unknown.  Their children ranged in age with James “Jimmy” James the oldest at 13 years old, Betty James at 10 years, Catlett James at 8 years, Thomas Stephen James at age 7, Spencer James (my 4th great grandfather) at age 6, John James at age 3, and little Mildred James at age 1.

In his will, Samuel left his property to his wife Mildred, but, his brother Thomas was designated as the guardian of his children if Mildred died or remarried.  This did not seem to be unusual as I have found other wills that appointed guardians of young children even if the wife was surviving the husband.  Thomas James, as guardian, was entrusted to protect the interest of the children and divide Samuel’s estate among them when they came of age.  If Mildred did remarry, her new husband could not lay claim to the children’s portion of her estate.

However, Mildred did not remarry.  She devoted herself to providing for herself and her children.  Not an easy task in the 1700s when women were thought of “second class” citizens and many of them could not even own property or participate in political or business affairs.  It wasn’t like she could just go out and get a career and hire someone to take care of the children!  She did the best she could for the children as evidenced by what she did for her son John.  On 28 Mar 1765, she apprenticed her son John James to Hezekiah Brown for five years to learn the carpenter and joiner trade.  These were uncertain times for Mildred and for the colonies as the fight for independence was imminent.

In 1782, her son, Cpl. Thomas Stephen James died in Smyth County, Virginia at about age 34.  He had married Mary Ann “Polly” Pickett in 1769 and served in the Revolutionary War in 1778 in Hazen’s Regiment of Continental Troops.  Perhaps he died from injuries sustained during his service but the true cause of death is unknown.  So sad for Mildred to lose her son at an early age like she lost her husband.  Although times were not easy for Mildred, by 1783 she owned three houses, six cattle and one slave with her slave being exempt according to Orange County personal Property returns for 1783.  Two years later, in 1785, the State Enumerations listed her as head of the family with three white souls, one dwelling and two other buildings.

Her son Catlett James also served his country in the Revolutionary War and never married.  Sadly, he also died rather young at about age 41 on 22 May 1788.  The year before his death, he had drawn a pension from the State of Virginia for his services and in 1787, he had bought land in Orange County.  Mildred inherited that land and in 1791, she petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for the delinquent payments on the Revolutionary pension of her son Catlett and eventually her request was granted.  She received the pension for caring for Catlett during the last days of his illness.  “The petition of Mildred James humbly showeth that her son Catlett James was a pensioner residing in the County of Orange.  That the said Catlett was entirely supported by your Petitioner from the 29th day of December 1786 till 22nd day of May 1788 when the said Catlett James departed this life…”  (Virginia Revolutionary War State Pension).

Because Mildren had to raise her children by herself after losing her husband at a young age and she did manage to do fairly well for herself and her children despite many obstacles, I consider her a very strong, determined woman!  She had her share of sorrow in losing two sons during her lifetime but didn’t ever give up.  Mildred made her own will on 28 Oct 1802, leaving her property to some of her children and grandchildren and she died 25 April 1803 in Orange County at about age 76.  In her will, she mentions daughter, Betty Smith, son James, granddaughter Milly James and leaves her land to daughter Milly Atkins in equal part with her brothers.   Even in the end, all she did was for her children.


  • Trimble, David B, Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia, Austin, Texas: D. B. Trimble, c1992; Pages 10-16.
  • Bassett, John Spencer, ed., The Southern Plantation Overseer as Revealed in His Letters, 1925.
  • Find A Grave, database and images (; memorial page for Samuel James, Memorial No.: 190225311
  • Marshall, Wigfield, Pioneer Families of Franklin County, Virginia, Berryville, VA. Chesapeake Book Co., 1964: Orange County, Virginia, Tithables.
  • Heads of Family, Virginia, 1790.
  • Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large…of Virginia (Philadelphia: Thomas Desiler, 1823). Vol. 13, p. 322; Petition #2532, Virginia State Archives.
  • Virginia Revolutionary War State Pension, published by Virginia Genealogical Society: James, Catlett; File 213: Orange Co., 23 Apr 1792, Court Order to pay Mildred James pension due her on account of Catlett James, dec’d, signed by James Taylor.
  • Virginia Revolutionary War Muster Rolls, Petition #2532; Virginia State Archives; Orange County, Virginia, Deed Bk. 19, p. 162.
  • Orange County, Virginia, Deed Bk. 13, p. 497: Deed Bk. 24, P. 109; Will Bk. 4, p. 74.