Christmas, 1965Posted: December 24, 2021 Filed under: Appreciation, Childhood, Deployment, Friends and Family, Holidays, Making Do, Sacrifice, Spouse Leave a comment
By Mark Vosel
Shout out to the Military spouses!
This was Christmas, 1965, Columbus GA. Pop was in Vietnam, flying the Army’s Flying Crane Helicopter. Christmas was left to Mom. She was able to get both my brother and me the GI JOE Navy Panther Jet. These things were big because GI JOE was big back then (my brother is holding frogman Joe). My little sister is sitting in her Christmas rocker, newly painted with decals applied by my mom.
It was a tough year. One of the Cranes crashed, killing all on board. We didn’t know who it was for 24 hours. There were only a handful of pilots and we all lived in the Columbus, GA area, the town surrounding Ft Benning. Mom had us kneel beside her bed and prayed that we would have the strength to deal with the news. The families affected by this tragic event were ones we shared meals with frequently. The Ia Drang Campaign was conducted during his tour. The number of casualties overwhelmed many Ft Benning families. When my dad returned from Vietnam, my mom burned her black funeral dress. She wore it too many times that year.
Despite the fact that Pop was ‘overseas’, 1965 ended with a magic Christmas for us kids, thanks to Mom’s diligence and love.
My parents are both 91 years old and are living on their cattle farm in rural Alabama near Ft. Rucker. We will all be gathering on Christmas Day once again!
Merry Christmas to all my Brat friends.
WHAT MILITARY TV OR MOVIE CHARACTER REMINDS YOU OF YOUR FATHER OR MOTHER?Posted: March 19, 2021 Filed under: Appreciation, Childhood, Friends and Family, Identity, loss, Pride, Sacrifice, Uncategorized, Veterans | Tags: Military Dads 2 Comments
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.
The Friendship AngelPosted: February 28, 2021 Filed under: Appreciation, Childhood, Friends and Family, History, loss, Posts & Bases, Sacrifice, Values Leave a comment
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