After decades, Salisbury family members unite

Sharon Hutcheson’s late father’s World War II locker.

Two baby boomers from Salisbury embarked on a journey the last weekend in June that was decades in the making. The destination was Salisbury Park Road in Hague, Va.

It’s where Sharon Hutcheson and her husband spend part of their summer in a quaint Depression-era cottage overlooking the Potomac River where it meets the Chesapeake Bay.  Locally, the area is known as Coles Point, where ospreys are commonplace and internet service is spotty.

The latter mattered not a whit to my brother, Thomas Owen, and me. We traveled 200 miles specifically to meet our cousin, Sharon, for the first time.

The Salisbury Independent previously published my account about an online ancestry registry’s clues that resulted in making a connection with the only child of my late uncle, Owen H. Smith.

His military plane disappeared 74 years ago this month over the Pacific Ocean between Panama and Peru.

Sharon was 9 months old when he went missing, and she told us she was never certain her father had seen or held her. Sharon was 4 or 5 the last time she remembers seeing my mother, her father’s younger sister.

After exchanging emails and speaking by phone in late March, I dug out some World War II-era pictures from a closet. I came upon more than 100 black and white images of Sharon’s family that my late mother had dutifully mounted in photo albums.  

A handful showed Sharon with her father.

I also discovered a cotton handkerchief emblazoned with the U.S. Army Air Corps logo and a three-inch silver pin that was a replica of wings pilots present to loved ones. The pin belonged to my maternal grandmother and was inherited by my mother.

From left, Bill Robinson, Sharon Hutcheson and Thomas Owen Robinson, whose middle name was inspired by Sharon Hutcheson’s father, Owen H. Smith, who died in 1946.

Among the images I unearthed was one from November 1945 of my grandmother wearing her son Owen’s pilot wings pictured alongside Sharon’s mother, who sported a smaller “sweetheart” set of wings.

Sharon already had her late mother’s pin; now she has the larger companion.

When we turned onto Salisbury Park Road in Virginia’s Northern Neck, we could see our cousin waving from her yard. The car rolled to a stop, and the only dry eyes were those of her husband, Chuck.

Carolyn Smith Robinson with her brother, Owen, in a May 1944 photograph.

Needless to say, we brought the old photos and the other keepsakes for Sharon, who kept patting her chest, overwhelmed by the surreal moment.

“Such treasures,” she called them. “Thank you so much for the joy these pictures bring me.”

As we prepared to leave the following day, Sharon mentioned she had her father’s foot locker.  We slipped into a shed behind the cottage and stood there marveling at a family heirloom neither my brother nor I knew existed.

On top it read: Owen H. Smith 1st Lt. 0-820668 with the street address in Jersey City, N.J. where he and my mother grew up. Below the empty trunk’s hasp were similar identifying marks.

An Indiana Jones’ moment, minus the sable fedora.

Seeing that foot locker proved a moving – and fitting – way to conclude our visit.  My brother and I had plenty to talk about on the four-hour ride back home.

“I am … basking in the glow the weekend visit put on my face,” Sharon wrote in a follow-up email. “It was everything I had hoped it would be and more.”

“Copy that,” I suspect 1st Lt. Smith might agree.

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