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    Ties of service: the unexpected brotherhood between two military families

    Ties of service: the Edmonson and Jackson brothers

    Photo By Rebecca Nappi | Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson II, Brian Jackson and Col. Eric Jackson unite after...... read more read more



    Story by Rebecca Nappi 

    U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command

    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A young Soldier decided to continue his father’s legacy of serving in the U.S. Army and began his officer training through the college ROTC program. He joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., where he met a stunning young woman in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She would later become interested in helping the Nation through medical care. The two college students fell in love, graduated, and soon after married as their nursing and military careers were set to take off.

    While this may seem like a classic college sweetheart love story, this is not the beginning for just one military couple, but two. It is not just the love story of one Soldier but two brothers-in-arms, Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson II and Col. Eric Jackson. While they lived parallel lives, these two Soldiers would later learn that after 50 years apart they shared more than just similar lives of service. They were brothers.

    The Edmonson Family Ties

    While serving in Germany, a young, African American U.S. Army Soldier, Robert L. Edmonson met a woman named Margaret from Vienna, Austria. The two fell in love, but Edmonson was quickly sent back to the United States for his next duty station. They knew Margaret would never be able to join Edmonson unless they were married. However, this was the 1950s in America, a time when interracial marriage was not only considered a social taboo but was illegal.

    Seeing that life together would need to start abroad, Robert Edmonson left the Army. After researching which military units were stationed in Germany, Robert Edmonson reenlisted with the Army on the caveat that he would only return if he was placed with one of these units. That request was granted, Robert Edmonson returned to Germany and the two married in 1958, a significant year in the fight for marriage equality. Back home in the States, Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to a year in prison for their interracial nuptials.

    It wasn’t until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that interracial marriage bans were unconstitutional. A few months following this pivotal decision, a German woman gave birth to a baby boy and placed him up for adoption after her former boyfriend, an African American Soldier, was redeployed to the states.

    The Edmonsons had been attempting to have children of their own and were looking for a different way to grow their family. In 1968, the couple was introduced to the then 6-month-old baby boy whose name also happened to be Robert. It was fate. From that moment, a lifelong bond between the new parents and their child, Robert L. Edmonson II, was born.

    “It’s amazing to think I was born as a result of the Army,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said. “My birth mother and father met while he was assigned in Germany and then later I’d be adopted by another Soldier and an Austrian mother.”

    Raised with the Army values at the forefront, the Edmonsons created a home filled with love, integrity, respect and selflessness, instilling an affinity for service within their son.

    “I had a terrific upbringing raised by an Army family who served for 20 years,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said. “They provided for me as best they could, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

    Maj. Gen. Edmonson went on to join the military, completing multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and earning numerous honors including the Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.

    “My father’s service in the military had a lot to do with why I chose to serve,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said. “He used the Army as a way to uplift himself and his family.”

    Even with all the accolades and changes in rank, the overwhelming sense of pride and love Robert Edmonson had for his son is apparent in the many family photos Maj. Gen. Edmonson has from his life with his adoptive parents. In a treasured photo, Robert Edmonson beams with happiness as he shows off his ‘Proud Ranger Dad’ t-shirt with the son that fate brought to him.

    The Jackson Family Ties

    In 1967, after being stationed in Germany, Edward L. Jackson was redeployed to Texas, where he met his wife Barbara. Soon after, they had a son named Brian and began their journey as a military family, moving around the world.

    While the Edmonsons were officially adopting their baby boy, the Jackson family was preparing to be sent to Germany for their next duty station. It was there that Edward Jackson bumped into a person from his past who had the surprise of a lifetime for him.

    “By chance, my dad happened to run into this former girlfriend with my brother, Brian, and she started crying,” Col. Eric Jackson said. “It was at that point she told my dad that ‘your son looks like our son.’”

    After finding out he had another son, Edward Jackson tried to find the baby boy to create the opportunity for his children to meet as brothers, but he was never able to locate him.

    The Jacksons continued to grow their family, with Barbara Jackson giving birth in Germany to Eric Jackson two years later. The brothers were raised with Army values in mind, showing discipline and personal courage throughout their childhood, knowing that a third piece of their brotherhood was out there somewhere.

    “Our dad always told us that we had another brother,” Brian Jackson said. “Throughout our lives I would be walking down the street wondering could ‘he be my brother,’ someone who looked like me and my dad but with German ancestry.”

    After their father passed in 2007, the brothers took up the exploration for their third brother. In 2010, Col. Eric Jackson was stationed in Germany and even enlisted the help of his neighbors to assist him in looking through German records for any information.

    “Of course he was looking in the wrong location,” said Col. Jackson’s wife, Tonya Jackson. “He was unsuccessful, but he was still hopeful that one day they’d get to meet.”

    The Connection

    Knowing that both Maj. Gen. Edmonson and his wife, Ellen, were adopted, their eldest son, Robert Edmonson III, began inquiring about his ancestral background. This curiosity provoked Robert Edmonson III to take a DNA test in his quest to learn more about his family’s heritage.

    The results of this test would bring these military families together at last. The Edmonson family found that their eldest son had a DNA match with two DNA profiles of a cousin and an uncle, both with the last name Jackson.

    “The match had an interesting last name because the woman who arranged my adoption said my biological father’s name was Edward Jackson,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said.

    With such a common name, the Edmonson family was never able to find the Jacksons through searches of their own, but this DNA test provided the final link.

    “I then went into sleuth mode and started going on all the different search engines looking for connections and it just came together so quickly,” Ellen Edmonson said. “Within 24 hours, I was able to find Brian and Eric’s father’s obituary and some pictures of the brothers.”

    After finding social media profiles of members of the Jackson family, Ellen Edmonson said she was shocked to see how many similarities were so glaringly obvious between the two families.

    “I would see pictures pop up of Eric in uniform,” Ellen Edmonson said. “Another would show him and his wife dressed in our same fraternity and sorority apparel. Something else showed we’d been stationed at Fort Bragg (North Carolina) at the same time. As I started to see all the similarities, I was just overwhelmed and kept asking, ‘God what are you doing?’”

    Maj. Gen. Edmonson had been traveling for work while his wife quickly pieced together the familial connections. Wanting to wait until he was home, Ellen Edmonson anxiously awaited his arrival to tell him the shocking news of how close his biological family really was.

    “For the first time in our three decades of marriage she said, ‘Robert, I need you to sit down,’” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said. “She told me she had found my biological family and the rest is now history.”

    With both his mother and father having passed years ago, Maj. Gen. Edmonson sought consent from his extended family both at home and abroad to ensure they were onboard with reaching out to the Jacksons. Not wanting to cause any distress for the Jackson family, he waited almost a year to reach out to his likely brothers, attempting to avoid the strain of the pandemic and changes in duty stations.

    “I was shocked, to be honest, because the reality of knowing I was adopted and understanding for many years that I probably had a biological family out there, and it had all come together now,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said. “It was true. I do have extended family out there.”

    Maj. Gen. Edmonson reached out to Col. Jackson with a message that would change both of their lives. In his message, Maj. Gen. Edmonson shared a bit of his backstory. How he was adopted in Germany, that his birth father’s name was Edward Jackson and how he came to find his family through his son’s DNA test. He left the door open for Col. Jackson to decide whether he’d want to discuss what he believed may be their familial ties together.

    “When I first found out that my brother is Maj. Gen. Edmonson, my first reaction was shock,” Col. Jackson said. “But then I felt blessed. Blessed that my father had a successful military career, that I’ve had a successful career, and then to find out my brother was a major general in the Army, it’s just amazing.”

    Col. Jackson called Maj. Gen. Edmonson and quickly brought Brian on the line for all three to virtually meet. It was then that the three brothers started laying the foundation for a new kind of brotherhood and began planning for their families to meet.

    “We had a three-way conversation and at every point that I responded to Robert, I said ‘Yes, Sir’ because that’s the Army. Colonels call generals Sir,” Col. Jackson said. “By the end of the conversation though, Robert, my brother, told me to please stop calling him Sir.”

    In a text conversation that would seem construed by Nostradamus, Col. Jackson received a message in December of 2020 that would predict this family revelation. Six months before Col. Jackson received that enlightening message from Maj. Gen. Edmonson, he had a conversation with one of his former Soldiers who had also served in one of Maj. Gen. Edmonson’s brigades.

    “He asked me a question out of the blue, ‘Do you know Maj. Gen. Edmonson?’ Because you guys remind me of each other in so many ways,” Col. Jackson said. “I just laughed it off and said ‘Yes, we’re fraternity brothers and we’re paratroopers and we’re in the Army,’ and I just kind of chalked it up to that. I had no idea what his prophetic words would mean six months later.”

    Their Fathers’ Sons

    After many virtual meetings, the two families decided to meet in person for the first time on October 8, 2021. The Edmonsons traveled from their current duty station of Aberdeen Proving Ground to the Jackson’s home on Fort Knox, Kentucky. Their brother, Brian, and the Jackson’s mother, Barbara, joined the group from Houston, Texas.

    Barbara Jackson said she was elated to be a part of this reunion where her sons were finally able to meet the brother they had been searching for all along.

    “We’re just going to love to have him in the family,” Barbara Jackson said. “It’s the missing piece we know now makes us complete.”

    It wasn’t long after meeting that the group started to see similarities between each other and their upbringings. Both Jacksons’ and Edmonson’s fathers were Vietnam War Veterans, non-commissioned officers with 20 years of service in the U.S. Army, and had multiple tours to Germany.

    "The brother that we've always been looking for was finally known to us and we’d get a chance to bond as brothers, not just as brothers-in-arms, but as brothers that share the same DNA, and that share the same Army story," Col. Jackson said.

    The similarities in Maj. Gen. Edmonson and Col. Jackson’s lives are astounding. They joined the same fraternities, and dated women from the same sororities, and they both earned their bachelor’s degrees, a milestone neither of their fathers were able to accomplish. They pursued the same careers and they both married right after college. Their eldest sons even have the same birthday.

    “We just have so many things in common, it’s like we were living parallel lives,” Tonya Jackson said. “Over the years we’ve moved to different places and have made many friends. Through it all, military spouses are very resilient, but there’s nothing like family, and now I have a sister-in-law.”

    Maj. Gen. Edmonson and Col. Jackson even served together when they were both captains in the 82nd Airborne Division. Col. Jackson, the junior captain at the time, says that he had looked up to his then-unknown older brother as a role model.

    “I’ve always been the baby of the family, so I’m okay with him outranking me, but I do have more years of service, so check one for the baby brother,” Col. Jackson said.

    Meeting the brother you’ve been looking for your entire life could make anyone nervous and meeting the family you never even knew existed could make anyone overwhelmed, but the meeting of the families melded together generations of service to this Nation.

    “I’ll say that some commonalities across military families extend across generations, and what we’re beginning to see, that even though we’ve only just met, the ways in which we were brought up, the values that our parents, and our fathers in particular, instilled in us are similar,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said.

    This won’t be the last gathering for the Edmonson and Jackson families, but this initial weekend of getting to know each other will hold a special place for all involved as they continue to grow together.

    “If I could sum it up in one word, that one word would be love and if I could put a banner on it, it would be brotherly love,” Col. Jackson said. “If you spend 15 plus years looking for someone and you find them, it’s just the best meeting.”

    While both fathers have passed before the brother’s long-awaited meet-up, all those present agreed this was also a heavenly reunion.

    “I know that Robert L. and Edward L. are up in heaven, looking down on us, just happy that we finally got this moment,” Maj. Gen. Edmonson said.

    The Edmonson and Jackson families show us how the ties of family and brotherhood don’t only run blood-deep but are weaved together by the love of those who raised us, the strength of those who joined us along the way, and the hope and joy of the moments yet to come.

    In Loving Memory of Robert L. Edmonson, Margaret K. Edmonson and Edward L. Jackson.



    Date Taken: 11.01.2021
    Date Posted: 11.02.2021 07:59
    Story ID: 408496

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