Army Strong — One family’s proud tradition of service since the Civil War

Author: Sue Sawyer

Note: As the U.S. Army celebrates its 245th birthday on June 14, soldiers and Army families reflect on the rich legacy of the first established service branch.

Our family rarely talked about military service when I was growing up. It was only after my son joined the Army that I learned it’s been in our DNA since the 19th century.

My great-grandfather, George William Simpson, served in the Civil War. Both of my grandfathers served in World War I. My paternal grandfather, Willie Floyd Simpson, served as a ‘Sapper.’ This is a pioneer or combat engineer, a soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defenses, as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair. Engineering soldiers often worked in darkness in underground tunnels to knock out enemy German underground units.


John Grover JohnsonJohn Grover Johnson

John Robert JohnsonCorporal John Robert Johnson

The Sawyers Wedding DayWedding Day, December 1944


My father, Rudolph Simpson, and two uncles, John Robert and R.G. Johnson, served in World War II. My father did not talk much about his time in the Army, but I knew he had been injured in a non-combat related incident in Paris that earned him a Purple Heart. My parents were high school sweethearts and were married with my father wearing his uniform, in December 1944. My uncle, Army Corporal John Robert Johnson, was a Prisoner of War who was recognized for leading a group of Americans out of the POW camp.

My cousin, Staff Sergeant Rodger Johnson, served as a helicopter machine gunner in Vietnam. In 1967, at the age of 19, he was shot by hostile ground fire while at his helicopter post as door gunner. He recovered, re-enlisted, and continued to serve several tours in Vietnam. Four more cousins and a nephew served during the Gulf War. Their combined time in service totaled more than 75 years.


R.G. JohnsonStaff Sergeant Rodger Gerald Johnson

Staff Sgt. Rodger Johnson on China BeachStaff Sergeant Rodger Johnson

Marcus MathesSergeant Marcus Mathes


Two of my three sons joined the Army. My middle son, Sergeant Marcus Mathes, served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he gave his life for our country at the age of 26. My youngest son, Zach Sawyer, served for nine years in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

I guess you can say…it is in the blood.

SueSue Sawyer with Zach Sawyer

Sue Sawyer supports other survivors as a member of the TAPS Survivor Care Team. She is the surviving mother of Army Sergeant Marcus C. Mathes, and the surviving aunt of Marine veteran Patrick M. Manzi.

Photos courtesy of Sue Sawyer