When Charis Gonyo picks up her violin to play with the North Scott Junior High School Orchestra, she picks up a piece of family history.
Her great-grandfather, John Eugene "Gene" Cross, bought the violin she plays today somewhere in Italy during World War II when he was serving as a machinist in the Navy.
He died about four decades before she was born, but playing his violin has made a connection and brought to light stories about his life and his time in the war that Charis had no knowledge of.
The tale began a year ago when Charis was in seventh grade and decided she wanted to play violin in the orchestra, her mother, Carla Gonyo, said.
At first she borrowed a violin from her aunt, but when her grandmother, Patricia Gonyo of Berlin, Wisconsin, heard that, she remembered the violin that had belonged to her father.
He played before the war, and he bought an instrument in Italy because he missed it.
As Patricia searched among her packed-away things for the violin, she also found a "whole bunch of letters," Carla Gonyo said.
A letter Gene sent to his wife dated March 4, 1945, mentions the violin, saying, "I'd ship my violin home ... if I was sure it would get there safely."
"My left arm is too stiff to play for over a minute or two at a time so it doesn't do me much good to lug it around with me," he wrote.
But lug it around he did.
According to a record of all his ports-of-call, the family believes he bought the instrument in 1944 sometime after he landed in Naples, Italy.
He then carried it with him for the next year, traveling by LST (a landing ship tank or similar variations) to Marseilles, France; to Palermo, Italy; to Tunisia, in northern Africa; to Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean; back to Marseilles (there are several instances of zig-zagging back and forth between cities); to Oran, a coastal city in Nigeria, and, finally, to New York in 1945.
After all the years, the violin needed restoration, and the Gonyos took it to David Pope, who runs a shop out of his Davenport home.
With an older violin, replacing the animal hide-based glue that holds the wood together is a given because as the glue dries and gets brittle, it falls out, Pope said. The strings, pegs and the block of wood that lifts the strings off the surface, also needed to be replaced, he said.
Although Charis has been playing her great-grandfather's violin for about 1½ years now, a concert last month was significant because grandmother Patricia drove down for the performance.
It was the first time she had heard the violin played by anyone but her father, and it was an emotional experience.
In addition, one of the musical selections was "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," reminding them of the sacrifice of war.
Gene was one of five brothers who served during the war. Brother Roland was a Navy pilot who was shot down over the South China Sea but survived nearly a week on a life raft and was rescued. Brother Richard was a pilot for the Army Air Corps, Robert served in the Army at the headquarters of Gen. George Patton and Donald was a Navy radioman who was killed during air-to-air combat training when two allied planes collided.
"Patricia and I held hands as we sat in the audience and just cried as this epic moment all came together," Carla said.
"It (was) thrilling to hear it played finally after all of these years, as though history is coming to life," she said.
Carla values how the violin has brought out family history that otherwise might not have been talked about and, in time, been forgotten.
"If you don't talk about it, how are they (the younger generation) going to know?"
As Patricia said of the violin, "I guess there was a reason I kept it. It was kind of waiting for somebody. I think my dad would be extremely pleased it is being used."