Rediscovered history: Cedar Rapids couple studies story of relatives' World War II service

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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the two brothers strolled through property in rural Marion this October, the older sibling shared stories from the time he spent on the farm as a child.

James Aossey recalled how years ago he spent many days at the farmhouse, playing with his cousins who lived there.

Although the farm no longer is in the family’s hands, the pair got permission from the current owner to tour the land. Cedar Rapids resident James, 87, was showing the farm to his younger brother, Kamel Aossey, 72 of Minnetonka, Minn., who recently has taken it upon himself to learn everything he can about a piece of family history of which he was unaware until recently.

In an interview with The Gazette, Kamel said he learned about three of his cousins — William, Emmett and Mike Aossey, the same cousins James played with on that farm in Marion — who fought together during World War II. He had been completely unaware of their service until James had told him about it.

“It kind of struck me that maybe we need to investigate the story and bring out some of the facts,” Kamel said.

Given recent tensions surrounding national immigration policies — particularly surrounding Muslim immigrants — the couple said they believed it was important to tell the three brothers’ story.

“We want to show that, in fact, there were sacrifices made by first-generation sons of immigrants and immigrants themselves,” Kamel said.

The war

Kamel and his wife, Patty, have been learning as much as they can about his family through military documents and family oral histories.

The following information was gathered from a Gazette interview with Emmett — one of the three cousins — as well as from information found by Kamel and Patty taken from official U.S. military documents and from family members, including Ed Aossey, Emmett Aossey’s 70-year-old son.

William, Emmett and Mike are the sons of Sam Aossey, who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon sometime between 1905 and 1910. He had followed his older brother and Kamel’s father, Abdoo. Sam went on to rear eight children on the farm in rural Marion.

William died in Cedar Rapids in 2012, at the age of 92. Emmett and Mike — aged 96 and 94 respectively — are living in Toledo, Ohio. (See FYI box for a selective Aossey family tree.)

Emmett, the third oldest of Sam’s children and born in 1921, was the first to enlist in the U.S. Army in December 1939.

“I didn’t wait for the draft,” he said.

On Dec. 7, 1941 — just a few months short of the end of his enlistment — Emmett was just coming out of the mess hall at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii when it was attacked by Japanese planes on their way to Pearl Harbor. He and other soldiers broke into the armory and began firing at the planes, doing what they could to hold them off.

“They shot the hell out of us,” he said. “The barracks were shot up. It was lucky that just a few people (from the barracks) were injured. It was terrible.”

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Emmett Aossey was assigned to the 42nd Rainbow parachute infantry and eventually shipped off to fight in the Pacific Theater.

The United States joined the war in 1941, the same year Emmett’s older brother, William, was drafted, at age 22, and was assigned to the Sixth Division of the Army.

Kamel said William did not talk about his time in the military during his later years. However, his enlistment records show that William was awarded two Bronze Stars for his involvement in the Battle of Luzon, in New Guinea, the second-largest battle that took place on the Pacific Theater in 1945.

Emmett also was part of the campaign in New Guinea. At one time, he was only one mile away from William, on another island. Emmett said he tried to visit, but didn’t get the opportunity. They would never come close to seeing one another until the end of the war.

The youngest of the three, Mike, was drafted in 1943 at the age of 19. He trained as an aircraft mechanic and acquired more than 170 hours of flight time delivering repaired planes to airfields across Europe, according to his military records.

After the war, the two elder brothers returned home. Mike Aossey signed up for another enlistment with the new U.S. Air Force. He left the service in February 1949.

Ed, Emmett’s son, said he only learned about his father’s experiences when he reached adulthood.

“I didn’t know anything about it growing up,” Ed recalled.

After a trip to Hawaii in the 1970s to see the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Ed said his father has become more talkative about his service. He’s proud to wear his World War II cap again.

“I served my country,” Emmett said to The Gazette. “I survived. That was an awful hard time, but we survived it.”

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