#52Ancestors: 17 Years Old Orphaned Michael John Flanagan Enlists 9 Days After D-Day

Michael Flanagan US NavyMy 18th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I’m closing the gap at just 4 weeks behind in this series (the challenge is on week 22). I initially blamed my tardiness on being super busy at home, work, and with my volunteer work. However, the extended lapse can be blamed on the recent diagnosis of some critical health issues that had wiped me out for a while (you can read about that on my food blog).

My 18th ancestor is my grandfather Michael John FLANAGAN (1927-1997). I have written about Grandpa quite a bit, but not as part of the 52 Ancestors series. What inspired me to choose and write about him today is today’s marking of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which has (rightly so!) been all over the news the last couple days. This anniversary got me wondering what my grandfathers were doing on D-Day.

I knew both served in WWII, and in the Pacific theater rather than the European one, but where were they serving on June 6th 1944? According to his Navy records, my Robledo grandpa (more on him later) enlisted 9 months prior to D-Day and was serving somewhere in the Pacific. But my Flanagan grandpa had not yet joined the service.

Michael’s Certification of Military Service shows he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on June 15, 1944 — nine days after D-Day. At the age of 17. Just one month into his 17th year.

What made him join as a minor? Why didn’t he wait until he turned 18? Was he afraid he might miss out on the war after hearing about the D-Day invasion and turning of the tide towards victory? Had he been wanting to join for a while, but just finally jumped all of the legal hurdles to enlist as a minor (with the date being just a coincidence)?

Our family always knew that Michael enlisted as a minor. But, I’ve blogged in the past that Michael was an orphan who lived in an orphanage before growing up as a foster child on a farm in upstate New York. He was never adopted — not even by his longtime foster parents.

The story Mom says Grandpa always told his kids is that he had to get his priest to sign and vouch (lying) that Grandpa, the orphan, was 18 years old, not 17 years old. Who knows if a priest would be willing to lie and do this — it’s possible, if the priest felt this was Grandpa’s best opportunity to get good job skills and make a career and life for himself. Particularly since he had such a rough life as a foster child. But Grandpa was the stereotypical Irish B.S.er who spun all kinds of tales, many of which his kids and grand kids believed into adulthood.

Last November, one of my cousins emailed me a copy of the following document, which was stored at his mother’s house. It’s a Letter of Guardianship from the Surrogate Court of Erie County, New York, dated May 31, 1944. It grants legal guardianship of my 17 year old grandfather to his longtime foster father Thomas Buckley. This made no sense to us. Hadn’t Buckley already been appointed legal guardianship?… I guess not. So why bother when Michael was 17 years old?…Michael would be a legal emancipated adult in a year.

The next month at my family’s annual Tamale Day Christmas party, my Uncle Flanagan brought me what military documents he received when Grandpa died back in 1997. In that packet of documents, we found a photocopy of the above, as well as additional documentation, making it clear that this legal guardianship was pursued so that Buckley could sign to allow Michael to enlist in the Navy as a minor.

The priest story was another tall tale from Grandpa. Not really a surprise.

This whole legal guardianship matter makes me quite sad. At 17 years old! Did Buckley think Grandpa was not worth establishing a legal relationship with until it provided a way to get him out of the house earlier than at 18 years old? Why not adopt him? Or did Grandpa not want Thomas and Ma Buckley to become his legal guardians or parents, preferring to remain a ward of the court?

I will never know the answers to these questions. Or for my initial question of why Grandpa decided to enlist at this time, instead of waiting until he reached 18 years of age.

To learn more about Michael’s military service, please read:

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