I was born the son of a US Army soldier on a US Army post, in a US Army hospital, and lived on various US Army posts in the US and in Germany during my Dad’s 22 year US Army career…I attended nine different schools in my first twelve years of schooling, starting in Germany and ending in Tennessee…I saw things and visited places that most civilian kids only dream about…I grew up with and lived among people of all races, colors and creeds, and experienced cultures other than just American culture, broadening my view of the world…I sat in school classrooms beside children of all colors and religions, black, yellow, brown and white, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu or agnostic, without racism or religious intolerance rearing their ugly heads, ever…and I learned to get along with others, to be adaptable, to be flexible and to fit in wherever we happened to live…being born and raised a US Army Brat truly prepared me for life in so many ways, for which I am eternally thankful…after all these years I still consider myself a Brat, and if I had the the chance to go back and live life over, I wouldn’t change a thing…growing up a US Army Brat truly enriched my life in so many ways…fellow Brats, I think we all have a common story…we all were given a precious gift when we were born to US military parents…be always thankful…🙂

Tim Murph

The Friendship Angel

In October 2020 we had just moved in to the Navy housing in Pearl City, Hawaii, and were eager to explore our new neighborhood. From our miniscule backyard, we could see beautiful, exotic trees in a large grassy common area—and beyond that, we could see a slope with a white “picket” fence enclosing a huge area.

Curious, we went over to see what the picket fence protected. It looked like a dry water catchment basin, and we speculated that during the rainy season, it filled with runoff. We’d had one of these in our neighborhood in Albuquerque, so we knew how they worked. The four-foot high, close-together “pickets” seemed a little bit of overkill for the dry pond but we didn’t give it a second thought.

White pickets seemed more like English countryside than Urban Hawaii.

Over the next days, we spent a lot of time in that particular part of the commons; our dog likeed rooting around under the banyan and mimosa trees. Near the “pond” we came across a small stone bench, angel statue and a broken bird bath.  A metal sign affixed to a cinder block read, “Friends are angels who lift us up when we believe our wings have forgotten to fly. Charlotte Paige Schaefers Jan 18, 1999-Feb 28, 2004.”

Interesting. I wondered about the military spouse who’d made a sign in honor of her friendships during her tour on Oahu. Who were her friends? Where was she now? 

I examined the birdbath, wondering if my husband and I could fix it.

On the museum Facebook, there is an album titled “On Base” where we have photos of memorials and historic markers from different installations. I uploaded a of couple photos of the plaque and the angels captioning it, “I wonder where this spouse is now?”

Within a few minutes of posting the photos, someone commented that I might check the “find a grave” website. Although I knew the marker wasn’t a grave, I googled Charlotte Paige Schaefers. When I clicked on the first link, I was face-to-face with a beautiful blond girl—same birthdate and death date—in Georgia!

Confused, I clicked more links—and a tragic story emerged. 

Charlotte, affectionately known as “Sharkey,” was a loving girl who lived with her parents and big brother in one of the houses nearby. In 2004, she and her friends were playing in the commons and a younger child slipped and fell into the water-filled retaining pond. Charlotte who was a good swimmer, immediately jumped in to rescue him. She drowned while trying to save him—in full view of dozens of neighbors. It happened that fast.

There were dozens of stories on the internet about the event and the subsequent lawsuits and legislation that came afterwards. Apparently for years prior, military families had complained that the unprotected drainage basin was a danger and that something needed to be done—but it wasn’t until after Charlotte’s death that a fence was built and the drains were repaired. 

In 2009, after years of raising awareness and lobbying by Charlotte’s family and friends, HB 881 came into being.  The bill acknowledged that approximately 30 Hawaii residents mainly keiki (children) die annually by drowning—some in retention ponds. The bill mentioned Charlotte by name and laid out standards and regulations to ensure that no more children would drown in the future. 

One of the recommendations was four-foot-high fences.

A couple of weeks after learning about Charlotte’s story, Oahu had a horrific rainstorm. Many parts of Honolulu were flooded. It was so windy and wet that we hunkered down inside and watched the sheets of rain come down. As the smaller depressions in the commons filled with water, I imagined the pond out back growing and swelling into a football field-size lake. 

I replayed the scenario from the 2004 news stories—in my head. Charlotte’s mother was not home; her dad was in the front yard in full view of the pond—he’d just grabbed his shoes and was running out to warn the kids  to not go near the water—but it was too late. I imagined the neighbors wading into the water side-by- side, groping through the muck for Charlotte. They finally found her, but nothing could be done. The doctors estimated she’d drowned with minutes.

Our rainstorm had its own drama—two ten-year-old boys were swept away in a sudden flood in a nearby drainage ditch—but miraculously, both survived, one rescued by a good Samaritan with a lasso. 

Over the next days, I thought about Charlotte and her small memorial in the commons. I wonder if anyone who passed by ever looked at it. It was in pretty good shape, but could use a little TLC. After all, it had been 17 years since the incident.

I wondered over the years how many people were curious enough to google Charlotte’s name and read her story? I may not have, if a museum FB follower hadn’t speculated  that it commemorated a death. 

So, I decided that I would like tend to and update the small memorial for Charlotte’s 17th death anniversary.

Over the weeks, my husband and I rearranged the area and created a new sign to explain the memorial. I bought a pink flower whirligig, because according to one article, Charlotte liked pink. We left the birdbath as it was, but I added a couple of plants. 

Hopefully, later in the year, when the pandemic has abated, we will see lots of kids playing in the commons and parents out walking—maybe someone even sitting on the small stone bench, and learning the story behind the picket fence and the stone angels.

But right now, through this blog, I hope to draw attention to a small girl who put a friend’s safety before her own.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Circe Olson Woessner

Dog Tags

by Michelle Y. Green 

Tonight I found my father’s dog tags.

Months ago, I had purloined the dusty keepsake box from my mother’s house. The tags lay tangled beneath a stash of yellowed newspaper clippings, forgotten tie tacks, a large caliber bullet, and an expired American Express card. What surprised me was that I did not cry.

Stitch-by-stitch I am piecing together the quilt that was my father’s life. Hewn from the coal mining mountains of southeastern Kentucky, he boarded a bus to Tuskegee with three dollars in his pocket. He left there as one of only two colored flyers to be triple- rated—a pilot, navigator, and bombardier. More times than once he said—we had a job to do, so we did it. They called themselves, “The 100 percenters.” Hollywood, Ken Burns, the obituary pages, even this year’s Superbowl have brought to light the legacies of these extraordinary men. But my memories are in the quiet things.

Dad shaved with a straight-edged razor given to him by Daddy John who, covered with coal dust, cut hair on the side. I loved to watch Dad lather his face and carefully cut around the cleft of his chin. And then the best part—the splash of Old Spice.

He spit-shined his shoes every morning. He complained that the seams on the toes of his ribbed socks hurt his feet. But he whistled as he placed each shoe on the wooden shoebox, dabbed the waxy paste from the Kiwi tin, and brushed vigorously until he could see his face on his shoe tops. And then, the crescendo—I got to watch as he affixed his many-colored ribbons and clusters, donned his hat, and left for the day.

I did not cry last night when I found his dog tags, but I have cried many times before that and will again. I am writing his story: “The Devil’s Bargain.” World War II, Korea, and Vietnam took a toll on him, and on us.

In his last days, Dad put me behind the wheel of his Porsche and asked me to take him home to Kentucky one last time. His vanity tag read “SOG 68,” which identified him as a member of the covert Special Operations Group in Vietnam. Each four-man team was so secret, that it was denied by the U.S. government.

I was well equipped. At 16, in his green convertible Jaguar XKE, Dad had taught me to “slide into fifth” on the flight line of Lackland A.F.B. For mere mortals, the trip to Jenkins, Kentucky, was an eight-hour drive from Maryland—especially through the winding mountain roads behind over-loaded coal trucks. But when we got to 81 South, he told me to “sting the gun!” In six hours flat, we could smell coal dust and whispering pines.

We knew there would be nothing left of Holler Number Five, because the state had cleaved his mountain home to make a new highway. What we did not know was that we would witness the ribbon cutting. I looked high into the mountaintop to see a single tire painted in white. It was Daddy John’s custom to paint white tires to decorate the mountainside behind his home.

Dad unburdened himself to me on the trip home. He took the wheel. When the time came, he knew I would write the truth—about the body snatches, the kill counts, the stalking Special Ops Groups, the comrades whose names would never appear on the marble wall back home. It has taken me years of mining memories, combing through personal affects, running the gauntlet of government red tape, and tear-soaked pillows to feel ready. My deepest regret is that, although I hear his voice clearly, he will not be here to read it.