The Fenlon Brothers: Family, Patriots

There’s a Northern Michigan family you may have never heard of, but you should know them.

Seven Cheboygan brothers joined the military during World War II, risking so much for our freedom.

And now there’s an effort to recognize their service.

In this Special Report, Kevin Essebaggers and Corey Adkins introduce us to the Fenlon Brothers: Family, Patriots.

“For better or worse, they were known very well.”

In a lonely field in Cheboygan County sits an old school house whose sibling students went on to make a big difference. And there’s this home, where a family’s patriotic roots were planted.

Archie, Edward, Johnny, Frank, Leonard, Patrick, Ray and Robert. The Fenlon boys, and their two older sisters Lillian and Mary Angela were born between 1905 and 1922. Their great niece Danielle Shea says they left quite an impression on their home town of Cheboygan.

“They actually made up their own high school basketball team, they all made up a baseball team. They were all very athletic,” Danielle tells us. “They would take on anybody they wanted to.”

Their athletic skills eventually led them to the Washington, DC area, playing as a family team, appropriately named the Fenlon Brothers. Young men from Northern Michigan, close-knit and thriving away from home. Then America was attacked.

“All eight enlisted after Pearl Harbor, and seven out of the eight actually got called up to different areas of our forces. Two of them went to the Navy, two to the Air Force and three went into the Army,” says Danielle. 

The Fenlon brothers, all of them, volunteering to fight for freedom when their country needed them most. All but Frank were called to service.

 “When the time came, they all said, my time to go,” says nephew Dick Page.

“I think within the family it was just a given. Ma and Pa were always very patriotic people. If America was in trouble, that’s what you were going to do,” explains Danielle.

“When you have seven, and I say again, seven in one family go in, you can’t do more than that,” says Dick.

You can see the issue with having so many from one family in the service during war… What if everything went wrong? A grim possibility.

“One by one they’re being sent off. One by one by one,” says Danielle. “Archie was an MP in Arizona, Bud was in the northern states at an Air Force base helping guide airplanes and mechanics, Patrick was the one who probably saw the most combat. He was part of the 486th bomb group. He flew 35 missions and got a cluster of awards for them for bombing Germany. Bob and Ray, which are the twins, each ended up in Germany and crossed each other by a mile and missed each other. One was in in the 4th infantry at the Battle of the Bulge, and the surrender of Germany and Paris,” explains Danielle.

Amazingly, every last one of the Fenlon brothers experienced the end of the war, all ending their service in one piece. Something their mother back in Cheboygan prayed for, constantly.

“My grandmother just kept praying for her kids, going to church every day. And not one of them got a scratch. It kind of works, I guess,” explains Dick.

But for all the Fenlon family has done in Cheboygan and risked for their country, there’s nothing to memorialize their lives. The family tried to get this bridge near the original family homestead named after the Fenlons back in the 1980s, and were denied. Danielle is trying again.

“Just to recognize these men, these seven men, which is the highest number in Michigan and matches the highest number in the country. And they’re all from here,” says Danielle.

Two months ago, she started a petition you can sign on change.org, and she says state Senator Wayne Schmidt’s office is helping apply for the memorial with the county road commission. Finally, some progress to honor what could be one of Northern Michigan’s most patriotic families.

“Just a little sign, the Fenlon Brothers Bridge, seven went, seven came home, something just to remember what they did for their country, what they did for the country, and what they did for the county I don’t think should be forgotten,” says Danielle.