For those of us who lived in the duplexes of the RGH housing area in Seoul Korea, there was a thriving nighttime community of kids who roamed the streets after curfew, but for me, having a yard that was immaculately kept by the gardener was a struggle most people will never know!
Our gardener Mr. Lee kept our yard so immaculate that the one time I managed to sneak out the window to roam around with everybody, I couldn’t help but leave footprints in the flower bed below my window. Jumping out was easy, getting back in was the problem. I had to step in the flower bed in order to lift myself back up into the window. I was certain I had gotten away with it and was looking forward to doing it again as I slipped under the covers and went to sleep.
The next morning, Mr. Lee had a conversation with my father before he left for work and explained that he had found size 11 sneaker prints in HIS flower bed, which indicated that I had surreptitiously left the house in the night through the window!
Needless to say, when my father got home from work that evening I had to deal with him. He made it clear under no circumstances was I going to be climbing out of HIS window in the middle of the night, and if you remember my father, you know that was not an idle threat.
So for the rest of my time in Korea, I was unable to participate in the after-hours RGH nightlife. While I resented Mr Lee telling my father what I was up to at the time, in retrospect he probably helped keep me out of trouble, although that one night that I did get out was glorious!
What was hilarious that night was that our group passed several other groups of kids who were also roaming around too!
Years later I found out from my younger sister Rhonda that she routinely slipped out of the house and roamed around with her friends at night. If I remember correctly, she didn’t have a flower bed under one of her windows since she lived on the corner of the house.
At one point, my father was offered quarters on the main post at Yongson and asked if we wanted to move, but I was adamant about staying in RGH. Even though we were removed from all of the conveniences and facilities on Yongson, RGH allowed kids to do things that you could never get away with on main post because we didn’t have MPs and there was very little traffic other than our fathers coming and going to work. I’m so glad I got to experience Korea living on RGH.
What great memories!
Ramon “Ray” Rhodes
Schooling With Uncle Sam will focus on personal memories–what it was like to work or study in the school system, to live and work in a foreign country or military installation – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories should be about a certain time, event, or experience about school/work/life with DoDEA (or with its predecessor organizations such as DoDDS, USDESEA, DEG, etc.) Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment. All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the museum community free of charge.This is a chance to preserve a unique history and to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity to share a personal look at a world-wide school system serving America’s world-wide interests and assuring that your involvement with it will be recognized. You can submit up to three different pieces for the book.
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