A family tree with lots of branches and a rich history 

  • Mark Morris lays out items belonging to his grandfather, Eugene Call, during a call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Second cousins Vicki Greco (left) of San Diego, Calif., and Vicky Menard of Claremont meet each other for the first time during a Call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • A photo of Eugene Call (center) is seen during the Call family reunion in Hopkinton on Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Mark Morris lays out items belonging to his grandfather, Eugene Call, during a call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Relatives of Eugene Call, some meeting in person for the first time, gather for a family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Rick Daigle (right) of Leominster, Mass., laughs with Eugene Call Jr. (center) and Laura Call during a Call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • A relative of Eugene Call flips through a scrapbook showing wartime photos of the World War II veteran and an image of the Purple Heart medal. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Relatives of Eugene Call, including grandson Mark Morris (left) and great-nephew Eugene Call Jr. (center), share photographs during a Call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • All blood relatives of Eugene Call, Tim Morris (left to right), Mitchell Call, Molly Gould, Eugene Call Jr., Vivki Greco, Mark Morris and Jeremy Call (front), pose for a photo during a family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Mark Morris holds a wallet and driver's license belonging to his grandfather, Eugene Call, during a call family reunion at Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 6/6/2017 12:06:09 AM

Don’t get caught up in the bloodline. At least, not yet.

Instead, move straight to the far-less-confusing bottom line. That’s where we learn that a man named Eugene Call, buried in Henniker, was killed in Germany near the end of World War II.

He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, given to those killed or wounded in battle. From there, Rick Daigle of Leominster, Mass., who married into the family, ended up with the medal two years ago.

From there, Daigle, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, knew what he had to do: get the Purple Heart into the right hands. The hands of someone actually related to Call through blood. And the closer the connection, the better.

So Daigle contacted an organization that brings families and Purple Hearts together, and, voila, Call’s grandson, Mark Morris, now has the Purple Heart framed and hanging in his living room ... in San Diego.

Morris and his West Coast siblings joined the New Hampshire relatives this past weekend for a barbecue at Elm Brook Park in Contoocook.

This was a reunion of family members, many of whom did not even know the others existed. Daigle cooked the hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken. That was appropriate, since Daigle cooked up the plan in the first place.

“I feel great about it,” Daigle, 84, told me. “I feel I have had my 15 seconds of fame for bringing these 30 people together who never knew each other. I don’t mean to slap myself on the back, but it’s a hell of a feeling.”

Purple Hearts get lost. So do family ties. And when that happens, Maj. Zach Fike of Vermont often gets involved. He founded Purple Hearts Reunited five years ago, and since then has returned more than 300 of these symbolic beauties nationwide.

He possesses giant stature to the Call clan, and not merely because he’s 6-foot-6.

“Over time, some of these medals get misplaced,” Fike told me at the barbecue. “They’re being found in old abandoned homes, vehicles, furniture. Metal detector enthusiasts are finding them in the ground. Some of them are sold, traded, collected, like baseball cards, so we get three to five medals a week sent to us.”

Daigle found Fike, who runs his scavenger-hunt operation while also on active Army duty.

So now, you may be wondering, is Daigle’s connection to Eugene Call?

I’ll try to simplify. Stay with me.

Call remarried after his divorce, then served in a tank battalion in Europe. His first wife; their 8-year-old son, David; and her new husband moved from Missouri to San Diego. David was given his stepfather’s surname, Morris.

Call was killed at age 32, along with seven others during a fierce German offensive. His resulting Purple Heart was given to his second wife, Virginia Call, who had settled in Henniker and who was the mother of Daigle’s wife of 63 years.

In short, the medal went from Virginia Call, who died in 2004, to Daigle’s wife, who died two years ago. That left Daigle with the Purple Heart, not Call’s son, David Morris, whose move west as an 8-year-old and whose different last name had turned him into the invisible man.

David Morris died in 2004, leaving behind four children, who were Call’s grandchildren.

Once Daigle found the medal, his instincts told him someone else, a yet-to-be-determined relative, deserved it.

And he was right.

“I went through my wife’s things, got rid of her clothes after five months and found the Purple Heart,” Daigle told me. “It has the guy’s name on the back of the Purple Heart, and I said I have to do something with it.”

Enter Fike, who used the internet and found documentation that grouped the surnames Morris and Call together, unlocking the door to a story that began in 1945. Ancestry.Com and Facebook also helped.

Calls and Morrises and others were found on both coasts. There were grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren and great-nephews and great-nieces and nephews and nieces and cousins.

With Fike directing traffic, he learned that Alan Farrar of Chester, Vt., was related to Call (“My mother was Eugene’s niece.” In case you’re interested).

That started a chain reaction of cross-country phone calls, leading to the presentation of a duplicate Purple Heart to Eugene Call Jr., Call’s great-nephew, at the Newport VFW last year.

Then, three days later, Fike flew to San Diego and presented the four grandchildren with Call’s actual Purple Heart, earned after his death on March 2, 1945.

“I got in touch with (Maj. Fike),” Daigle said, “and he took over, and this is where we’re at.”

Planning for the barbecue began eight months ago. It was held under a pavilion, with potato salad, potato chips, watermelon, beer and unseasonably cool temperatures amid lots of family warmth.

While Daigle cooked, others met for the first time. They looked at photos, marveled at the resemblance between Call and grandchildren, studied Call’s belt buckle and wallet, and compared San Diego and New Hampshire winters, always mindful that they had been brought together by a man who once fought the Nazis.

And died because of it.

There was grandson Mark Morris, who said, “It was great to get the Purple Heart, and to find out about all the family was a big bonus.”

There was granddaughter Vicki Greco, who said, “I got the call on a Saturday morning, before my niece’s softball game. We didn’t even know our last name was Call until we got passports.”

There was Farrar, who said, “My mother spent a lot of time with Eugene. I knew he was killed in the war, but that’s all I knew.”

And there was another grandson, Tim Morris, who told me, “This is not a typical story you hear every day. I’m having fun seeing you try to understand it all.”

I had trouble with that. The bottom line, though, was quite clear.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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