BETHLEHEM TWP, NJ - Bethlehem Township’s Bill Cordes shared a joyful Saturday morning breakfast reunion with his brother Bob Wilson, who was given up for adoption nearly 80 years ago.
“I was so nervous this morning I couldn’t put my shoes on,” said Cordes, 87. “I’m so relaxed now. It feels like we’ve always been together.”
The oldest of three boys, Cordes grew up on his family’s Bethlehem Township farm. His mother, Lillian, gave up her youngest son, Robert, for adoption when the boy was 4 months old. Cordes was 7.
“Times were hard,” explained Dana Cordes, Bill’s granddaughter. “She couldn’t afford another child.”
The separation always weighed on the family, said Dana Cordes, who promised her great-grandmother she would do all she could to reunite the brothers.
Bill Cordes would go on to fight in the Korean War. His other brother, Charles Stauffer, died in an accident in 1951, something Bill would learn through a local newspaper article when he was overseas.
“He’s had a really hard life,” Dana Cordes said. “There were a lot of tragedies."
Cordes’s sister, Heather Cordes, started researching the family tree on Ancestry.com as part of a class project a few years ago. But it was Dana Cordes who really took to the search.
“My sister would stay up all hours of the night trying to piece our family together,” said Heather Cordes.
Dana Cordes located Wilson in Arizona a few years ago after doing a DNA test and submitting the results to the Ancestry.com database. She reached out to him through the online site, but received no reply.
Then this past Christmas, she received another DNA hit, this time from Wilson’s son, who she reached out to again. Her cousin got back to her right away.
“He said ‘I can’t believe this, my father’s been searching for him his entire life,’” Cordes said.
The families corresponded over Christmas, making plans to reconnect just after the holiday. Then COVID-19 enveloped the country, delaying the reunion, Cordes said.
“These two are the splitting image of each other,” said Cordes as the two men told war stories to a crowd gathered at a neighbor’s farm on Oct. 10.
Bill Cordes wore a cap identifying him as a Korean War veteran, while Wilson donned a golf t-shirt and shorts.
The two stood in front of a 1974 farm tractor that Wilson’s grandson, Mason Cordes, had recently restored, posing for photographs. It had been the one his grandfather farmed with until it fell into disrepair.
“When I heard about this reunion, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get it done,” said Mason Cordes.
The families planned to visit the Cordes family gravesite in Bloomsbury, then Bill Cordes intended to retrace his daily walk home from school with Wilson, where their mother was a teacher.
“I’m so happy for him to have this opportunity,” said Dana Cordes, watching the brothers interact. “It just goes to show, it’s never too late.”