Up Front: February 2007

Making a name for yourself

As much as I distrust the federal government’s efforts to pry into our affairs, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it. That’s due not only to my lack of confidence in our leaders’ competence at most things, whether it’s running a war or getting the mail delivered, but also to the American people’s uncanny ability to confound the powers that be — and themselves.

It might be an extreme example — well, since it concerns my family, it’s safe to say it is extreme — but try to follow me on this. My daddy’s daddy (1888-1969) was named Ebenezer after his grandfather, who was born in 1835. Though that section of Davidson County is thick with Kinneys, nobody can trace our branch beyond that. The family genealogist speculated Ebenezer the First might have been a foundling, then joked that English royals were known to get rid of their “natural” progeny by sending them abroad. One of my cousins latched onto the quip as gospel. Call him a bastard, he’ll take no offense, considering it only homage to the noble blood coursing through our veins.

But I digress.

Grandpa Kinney — mine, not his — was known as Eb or E.B. When my daddy was born in 1923, he was named E.B. Kinney Jr. I always figured Grandpa, whose middle name was Welborn, wanted a namesake but was kind enough not to saddle his kid with Ebenezer. But since he had dubbed another son Ulies — there was both a Eulyss and a Ulysses among the relations — I must mistrust that was his motive. When my dad enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942, the recruiters wouldn’t buy his explanation that the “E” stood only for “E” and “B” was for “B.” The story goes, the guy in line in front of him’s first name was Edward, the fellow behind him’s last was Braxton, so he swiped both and became Edward Braxton Kinney Jr., the name he bore the rest of his life and the one he’s buried under in the veterans section of Pine Hill Cemetery in Burlington.

But, wait, even in this, they couldn’t get it right. Like all the others, his government-issue headstone lists name, dates of birth and death, conflict, branch of service and unit. My dad never talked much about the military, but I knew he had been an armorer with the 8th Air Force in England. Since his death in 1968, I’d often wondered about this “12th Maintenance Squadron” engraved below his name. Wrong war, it turns out.

During the Second World War — the one on his tombstone — my old man was in the 754th Bombardment Squadron. Called back into service during Korea, he did his part to hurl back the Reds with the 12th Maintenance: He was painting the officers club on an air base in Texas when the brass decided duty called back home, where he had a wife and toddler — little David Franklin Kinney, named after him whom was begotten by Ebenezer I and who beget Ebenezer Welborn aka Eb aka E.B. Kinney Sr. Since ferreting this out a few years ago, I’ve fretted about trying to get it fixed. Maybe I can blame the mistake on a terrorist sleeper cell. After all, it’s embedded.