Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

July 31, 2010

Local man discovers father is alive

Wife finds husband’s dad after 42 years

AMERICUS — Dee Dee Dunston Connell discovered some information July 26 that may take others nearly a lifetime to discover; for nearly 42 years, it was believed that her husband’s biological father had died in the Vietnam War. This, as she would later find out within an hour of online research, was not true.

Connell said that her husband had always felt a void in his life because he did not know his biological father.

“Family is a big part of my life,” Connell said, “so it bothered me that he didn’t know much about his father.”

Connell and her husband, James Freeman Connell, married in November 1998, and since then, she has been interested in finding more information about her husband’s side of the family.

James’ father was serving in the Army, and he was stationed in Fort Benning when he met James’ mother. They married in February 1968, and not long after that, his father went to Vietnam. James Freeman was born later that year in December 1968. When James’ father returned from his tour, he was suffering from emotional and physical issues which lead to his divorce in 1969, just one year after his son’s birth. The mother, after receiving an article which stated that Michael Nugent had been killed in the Vietnam War, remarried and moved to Texas with Michael’s and her son. After his stepfather adopted him, her son’s first and last name were legally changed from Michael Freeman Nugent to James Freeman Connell.

After six years living in Pennsylvania, Dee Dee began thinking Michael Nugent may not have been her husband’s father. She found out about the Sons and Daughters of the Wall organization, an organization she said is the only group allowed to come into the park to view the Vietnam War memorial wall while it is closed. Connell thought this was good group for her husband to join.

The name Michael R. Nugent is listed on the memorial wall as the only Michael Nugent that was killed in the Vietnam War.

Connell went to the memorial wall Web page. There, she found more information listed about Michael R. Nugent.

“Something struck me that was not right,” Connell said.

The lady in charge of Sons and Daughters said they could petition and get his name. But, there was not enough proven information yet. There could be Veterans Affairs’ records as proof, but they already did not have much information.

Dee Dee and her cousin, Dawn Graddick, a self-taught genealogist, had been conducting research about their own family, but then their thoughts turned toward finding more information about James Connell’s father.

“If it hadn’t been for the Americus Times-Recorder birth announcements, this would not have been possible,” Dee Dee said.

 Several years ago, someone collected Sumter County birth announcements from 1900-1999 for the Americus Times-Recorder, and Dee Dee found the birth announcement for her husband via the newspaper’s records. With the help of her husband’s birth announcement, Dee Dee was able to find the name of one of her husband’s grandparents from Louisiana, and then she conducted an online search with Google for the name. When she found a hit for the name, she discovered that Nugent’s grandmother had remarried. Dee Dee then came across an obituary from 2000 for the grandmother’s husband. The obituary stated the grandfather was survived by one son, Mike Nugent, and four daughters.

At this point, Dee Dee’s heart stopped. Could it be true that her husband’s father was still alive?

Within an hour that Saturday, Connell had found enough information to lead her to the telephone number through Google of a Michael L. Nugent living in Illinois. As Connell listened, her cousin, Graddick, called the number on her cell phone. When someone answered, Graddick asked, “Are you the son of Lynelle Nugent of Louisiana?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Are you also the son of Flora?” Graddick asked

Again, the reply was “Yes.”

“Were you married to Donna K.?” Graddick asked

“Yes,” was the reply.

After many years, her husband’s father had, in fact, been alive. It turned out that the Michael R. Nugent of the obituary and Dee Dee’s husband’s father, Michael L. Nugent, lived within 35 miles from each other and were the same age. Their birthdays were just three months apart.

“The only difference is the middle name,” Connell said.

She found out that Michael L. Nugent had returned from Vietnam in 1972, and he had indeed looked for his son, but by this time, his wife had already remarried and moved to Texas.

When Dee Dee and her husband moved back to Americus from Pennsylvania, they left some of their packages unpacked, and she believes that the original copy of what had been believed to have been her father-in-law’s obituary is somewhere stored in these packages. Now, she and her husband both know the information about, which they have been seeking for so long.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us both,” Connell said.

James Freeman Connell spoke with his biological father for the first time the evening of July 26. Nugent’s only biological child is James. He and James have already planned a reunion for October in Illinois, and they plan to attend a family reunion in Louisiana next year.

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