The question was asked by someone earlier on the page about what TV show or movie do you think portrays brat life well? Most people answered “none”, and I understand that. I haven’t seen any that strike me as being realistic and representative of my experience, but if you were to ask me what TV show or movie portrays my father in a way that is familiar, I would have to say the movie “A Soldier Story” made in 1984 starring Harold E. Rollins Jr.
The main character is an African-American JAG Captain named Davenport. The story takes place during World War II when Davenport is sent to a backwoods Louisiana Army post to investigate the murder of a Black senior NCO in an all-Black Chemical Corps unit. Not withstanding the fact that my father was a Chemical Corps officer, and that Rollins looks a lot like him, the movie is well made and the story is compelling. It has an all-star cast of Black actors that includes Adolf Cesar and Denzel Washington in one of his first roles.
Notably, my father joined the Army after integration, but he was still a rare commodity as a Black officer in the late 1950s. Throughout my life, there were never more than a handful of Black senior officers wherever we were stationed [if any], so my father understood that he carried the burden of being the representative of the entire Black “race” on his shoulders no matter what he did, and he made sure that we his kids understood how our behavior would be judged by those same standards. He would often say to me when I did something wrong outside of our quarters, you can’t do that because you are my son and you represent me!
In the movie, Captain Davenport is a sophisticated, tough-as-nails, straight shooter with an impeccable sense of style and the self-assurance of a man who is keenly aware of his place in the world. Rollins’ character is so much like my father you would think the producers based Captain Davenport on him. Davenport’s mannerisms and the way he carries himself are mirror images of the amazing man I grew up with.
When the movie came out in 1984 [four years after my father retired] I got to watch it with him, and after it ended, I turned to him and said, now I understand why you are the man you are. He smiled and said, that Captain Davenport was really something else wasn’t he. My father was a man of few words, but those few were his stamp of approval for what he had just seen, and more importantly lived through during his 23 years in the Army.
My father is gone now and I’ve watched the movie at least half a dozen times since he passed away and each time I see it I get choked up, but no doubt in a good way.
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
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.