The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Sue Herriage thinks nothing of attending a visitation for someone she never knew.
Each time a local soldier dies in action, Herriage is there, sometimes offering condolences; others, just silent support.
“You always think, ‘It could have been mine,’” said Herriage, 74. “I always try to put myself in their shoes.”
This isn’t much of a stretch for Herriage. The Port Arthur woman is known as “Granny Sue” to her 16 grandchildren — five of whom are either veterans or active duty members of the United States military.
Herriage’s grandson James Hansen was overseas during his tenure with the United States Army. Hansen’s cousin, Thomas Ringo, served eight years in the Marine Corps, including time as a recruiter in Jasper. During that time, he recruited his sister, Rachel Marie, who left the Marines as a corporal after four years.
“He told me the things I could do — being able to travel, and the training I would be able to get,” said Marie, 29. “I never even would have given it a second thought until my brother joined.”
Thomas and Marie were joined in the Marines by their cousin Wesley Wilkinson, who also served for eight years. Another cousin, Adam Mendoza, is currently serving in the United States Army.
Marie and her brother and cousins are in good company. The four primary branches of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — are represented by Herriage’s four brothers, all of whom fought in either World War I or World War II. Through a book owned by her oldest brother, Herriage has traced her relatives all the way back to the Civil War era — in which, unsurprisingly, she had relatives who fought.
“Our family is very involved in our military,” she said. “I’m very blessed and honored to have this many grandchildren that would want to serve their country.”
That isn’t to say their patriotism doesn’t often strain her nerves. When Hansen was stationed in Iraq, he was riding in a tanker atop an 18-wheeler when that 18-wheeler collided with a bus. He injured his knee, but was otherwise unscathed.
“We didn’t find out until he came home on leave,” Herriage said. “They were in danger. It seems like as soon as they get through one war, they’re having to get in another one.”
Fortunately, Herriage had the opportunity to visit Hansen in San Diego after his graduation from boot camp. Their reunion was an emotional one, she said.
“We saw him while he was onstage, and he saw us, but we couldn’t say hi,” she said. “After, we just cried and hugged and kissed.”
Between visits, Herriage communicated with her grandchildren in care packages and snail mail. She has kept every one of their letters.
Now, all but Mendoza are out of the military. Ringo and Hansen both live in Silsbee; Wilkinson, in Lumberton. Marie lives in Vidor with her husband and five children. She currently works at a construction company in Beaumont, and is attending school in pursuit of an accounting career.
“The military took the load off me and paid for my college,” Marie said. “I wouldn’t know the things I know now without it.”
Mendoza recently re-enlisted in the Army, but once he leaves, none of Herriage’s grandchildren will remain in the military. But, Herriage said, she still has a multitude of great-grandchildren.
“Who knows?” she said. “Maybe one of them will be in the military.”