Michigan family serves at home, abroad and as Legionnaires

Barbara Lawrence Doerr met Jack more than 60 years ago - she had been a cadet nurse who graduated when World War II was winding down. He’d been a flight engineer on a B-17 for the Army. Both were kept stateside. He fixed the planes that had been sent home for repair at Langley Field in Virginia; Barbara did her best to help the soldiers sent home heal in Battle Creek, Mich. They married in 1952, bringing together two Michigan families who had roots in the first beginnings of the American Legion’s history.

But they were far from the first to serve in their respective clans. The Lawrence-Doerr family has ancestors who served in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II.

Jack’s great-grandfather, George Harmon Waldo, served the Union during the Civil War. Jack’s grandfather, George Charles Waldo served in the Spanish American War through the National Guard. His 15 years of active commission and service led him to WWI, where he commanded an advanced guard in France that studied trench warfare as part of the Red Arrow Division, the acclaimed 32nd Division made up of soldiers from Wisconsin and Michigan. During the war, he was promoted to colonel. After he returned, he helped start the American Legion in Michigan.

Both of the Waldos are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Barbara’s father, Harlan Sayles Lawrence, served in the Navy during WWI on the USS Caprice. He was halfway across the ocean when the war ended, so they turned around and came home. Back in Bronson, Mich., he became a charter member of the American Legion’s Alderman-Luce post. He died very young - less than 40 years old. Because of the family’s close ties to the Legion, the post became a place of joy for Barbara’s family, where they’d have meals and share conversation.

In fact, her father’s death played a role in her career choice. Her mother wanted each of her three daughters to have a career, a profession, “in case anything happened later in life,” Barbara said. “We would have something to fall back on.”

And aside from the 10 years she took to raise her children, she continued to work as a nurse, even taking a course in obstetrics from the University of Chicago. Jack went on to run a searchlight rental business and join his local American Legion post. Both treasure their families’ roles in American history.

“I think it’s wonderful. I really do. I think it’s wonderful to have such a legacy,” she said. “I think everyone should serve in some way if they can.”

But taking arms in the military isn’t the only way to do this for the Doerrs. For instance, Jack’s mother, to whom Barbara devotes her studies in genealogy and sharing the family’s history of service, was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution for decades, and was “so patriotic.” (Barbara followed in her footsteps, as a 60-year member of the DAR.)

“I think it’s very important to serve your country in some way,” Barbara said.