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Long History Of Military Service Runs Deep In Graham Gano’s Family
This story appeared in Friday’s Free Lance-Star
Graham Gano was in disbelief.
He and his wife, Brittany, were standing just yards from the memorial to John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery in late July when four familiar letters silently screamed out to him.
Knowing his family’s military history, Gano thought there was a slight chance he’d see the name of a relative during their walk through the cemetery. The thought is fairly incredible; with more than 300,000 graves on the 624-acre plot of land, the names are all a blur when making a casual glance from any of the grounds’ paved roadways.
But there, in section five, site 40, was the headstone of Roy Alexander Gano, a highly decorated vice admiral of the Navy who fought in World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.
They walked up to the marker, a nearly 3-by-4-foot stone perched in select ground, and took a photo. Later, Gano, the Washington Redskins’ kicker, called his father, Mark, himself a veteran of the Navy, to relay the story, and through their research they determined that the man known to his friends and colleagues as “Red” was indeed a distant relative.
“I was pretty excited about it,” Gano said.
The Gano family’s military roots span more than a half-dozen wars of American involvement and dozens, if not hundreds, of battles. Mark, a retired master chief petty officer after nearly 30 years, was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
Mark Gano’s grandfather Raymond fought in the Pacific in World War II, while his uncle Dick fought in Okinawa, and a maternal uncle, Harry Ambrose, served under Gen. George Patton.
Raymond’s maternal grandfather, named Fritz, fought for Mosby’s Raiders during the Civil War. Richard Gano was a Confederate general from Texas – and on the maternal side there was a Gen. Burbidge, who fought for the Union.
The Gano who fought in the War of 1812 was the grandson of James Gano. And the brother of James Gano was John Gano, a confidant of George Washington’s during the Revolutionary War.
“The Navy,” Mark said, “is kind of in our family.”
Born in Arbroath, Scotland, Gano, 24, knew nothing but military life while growing up. His family moved several times while growing up – first to Newfoundland, Canada, then back to Scotland, and then to Augsburg, Germany, before returning to the United States in 1995, when Gano was just 8.
Gano’s brother, Daniel, was a sergeant in the Marines for more than six years. His half brothers, Allan and Stewart, were also in the Marines, with Stewart, a sergeant, serving a tour in Iraq with more than 220 combat patrols.
It was the path Gano figured he’d also take after high school. Instead, he found he had a talent for kicking, and after a senior season in which he was named to the USA Today all-America team, he accepted a scholarship offer to play football at Florida State.
“We did our best to say he had a talent and his family had paid the price,” Mark said. “We had served for quite a long while, and we wanted him to use the talent that God gave him.”
Even Stewart sided with Gano, making him aware of the rare opportunity that he was afforded.
“You have an opportunity to go to college, and I’d be very proud of you if you went to go play football,” Stewart told his brother. “I’m going to fight to defend the country, and I’d love to watch you play.”
It was during Gano’s junior year at Florida State that Stewart was deployed to Iraq. The two kept in touch by email, practically their only method of communication. Gano would send him DVDs of the Florida State games; Stewart would respond with photos of him holding a Florida State flag in the desert, including a picturesque view of him in front of the Euphrates River.
But there were other emails that Graham printed out and still keeps in a folder – the ones that began with “I’m supposed to be going on some type of mission” and ended with “I just want to tell you I love you and everything’s going to be all right.”
“I mean, I can’t even explain how proud I am of him to go over there and fight for me,” Gano said. “I take that personally. It takes a real man to do that.”
All of Gano’s brothers are retired from the military. There are no more DVDs of games being sent overseas; in fact, when Gano was honored prior to his last Florida State home game, Stewart walked out onto the field with the family in his Marine uniform – something Gano said was the real reason there was an ovation from the crowd that day.
In remembrance of Sept. 11, Gano’s family attended the Redskins’ game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field.
It’s those little things that Gano, though his upbringing, is much more appreciative of.
“My dad, in the wars and whatever, being out on the ships, his job was just as important as anyone else’s,” Gano said. “My brother would go out and fight for our freedom. I don’t think I can fully grasp how honorable it was for them to do that. I’m very appreciative. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”