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


DUTY ON A COLD WINTER NIGHT

By Kent Scott

It was January 19, 1959.

My twenty third birthday, or would be at 10:37 PM. I had assumed the duty and was standing watch on the midnight to 0800 shift at the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The temperature was ten below outside. Here on the inside at my guard desk was a ceramic electric heater. I was scorching my ass on one side and freezing it off on the other. I would have to tour the outside in a little while—I was thankful for the detachment’s only cold weather parka hanging in the corner. It was too big for me and I was bigger than most of the Marines in the detachment. The mittens that came with it were the kind that if you wore them, you couldn’t get to your weapon if you needed it. I didn’t wear them very often. I did the Un-Marine like thing. I kept my hand in the parka’s pocket. I had a plan in my head. With a sharp knife and needle and thread, I’d modify the right hand mitten so you could grip and fire a 38 Smith and Weston. Later I did the modification. On this watch, in this lonely place, it was not unusual for my mind to drift and start reviewing the events of my life. I’d stood this watch many times after I arrived in Kabul on New Year’s Day 1958.

I was a Corporal E-3 then and made Sergeant E-4 last May 1, 1958, on my Dad’s birthday. I could have been proud of making Sergeant in 22 1/2 months except for one fact. The yard stick by which I measured my success, my twin brother, now Sergeant Beldon K. Scott, already had been a Sergeant 9 months when I made it. His enlistment date came one week after mine. I secretly kept score on the accomplishments I deemed important. I had him down three to nothing until he got promoted. I beat him on the rifle range by one point in boot camp and won a five dollar bet. Not important to him—up to one year after I’d graduated boot camp no one had broken my record running the MCRD obstacle course. My feeling of self importance was really boosted when I was meritoriously promoted to Corporal in 10 1/2 months—one month before he made it. I was in shock. I was in awe. No one made Sergeant in 13 1/2 months in the Marine Corps. I found out about his amazing accomplishment in the most direct way.

I had gone over to Main Side to take a test to see if I qualified for the Naval Academy. I didn’t. I missed one math problem too many. The testing was done in a building across the street from the 7th Motor Transport barracks where he lived. I’d visited there a few times and knew one of the Marines that was a part of his unit. I’d gone through boot camp with him. Bro Keith’s squad bay was on the second floor so I went up there with the intention of seeing him and visiting. Well blow me down, there was Bro with Sergeant chevrons on his collars and cap. He was doing what Sergeants do. He was falling the troops out for the noon formation. He prepared to march the troops to the mess hall for chow. He acknowledged me with a nod and a smile and went on outside to take care of his Sergeant business. It was the last time I saw him until I was released from Marine Corps almost three years later. I was just standing there with an astonished-dumb look on my face, when Don Keim, the Marine I’d gone through boot camp with told me what happened.

According to Don, seven of the 7th Motor Transport Marines decided to go beer drinking at Ma’s outside the rear gate. In this group was brother Keith and a big thick-necked, heavy-muscled Corporal from Chicago who was supposed to be really bad. His name was something that ended with ‘ski. So ‘Ski is all I know to call him. It seems, according to Keim, after a few, Corporal ‘Ski started insulting and playing the better of Bro Keith. If I had been there I could have told him how this was going to play out. The only thing quicker than Bro’s fists was his wit. If you started trading insults with him—you were going to lose. Pfc. Don Keim didn’t have to tell me, I knew. Corporal ‘Ski lost his cool and said something to the effect of, “Scott, I’m coming over there and kick your smart mouthed Missouri hillbilly ass.”

It wasn’t a fatal mistake, but it was mistake. According to Don Keim who was there, Bro whipped him really fast and left him with swollen eyes and a big pregnant lip. Monday morning when the Company’s tough old Gunny Sergeant saw Corporal ‘Ski, he made inquiry and found out what and how it happened. He was really impressed with Bro Keith. He put him up for meritorious Corporal and he made it. Two months later, the Gunny put him up for meritorious Sergeant. Bro impressed the review board and got promoted. I’ll have to tell you,

I was both proud and jealous of my brother. My internal self defense mechanism took over. In my mind I took credit for his success. I was responsible for Bro becoming tougher than a weather cured hard oak board. I was the reason he became a skilled fighter and scrapper, the main reason he got promoted. I had been his sparing partner his entire life. Oh my god, how the time does fly by. I’ve got to don that parka, and go outside. I’ve got to “walk my post in a military manner, keeping on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing”, on this cold winter night. The 2nd of the 11 General Orders for those on a guard post.


GRANDPARENTS APPRECIATION ESSAY CONTEST: Cheryl Avila

My Grandfather’s Hands

by Cheryl Avila

There were many up sides to growing up as an Army brat, but one downside is the infrequency with which we were able to visit our grandparents. My two older brothers and I usually visited our grandparents during summer moves. Once the movers packed up our stuff, our family would load up in our car and spend two weeks to a month driving to our next duty station. The road trip usually involved spending at least a few days with one of the two pairs of grandparents. Since we moved every 2-3 years, and we alternated which set of grandparents we would visit, I would guess that I had seen each set of grandparents at most five or six times during my childhood.

Even though I did not have quantity of time with my mom’s dad, we did have quality time. My mom was an only child and me and my brothers were his only grandchildren. The thing that I remember the fondest about my grandpa was how he seemed to “light up” when we visited. Whatever my grandpa was busy doing when we weren’t there seemed to stop when we visited. When we were there, we were the center of his world.

group photo

My grandpa was a carpenter, a fisherman and a soldier. Well into his 30s, he enlisted during World War II and served as an infantryman in Germany. More than what he did to provide for his family financially, my grandfather was kind, compassionate and adored his grandchildren. He loved to hunt and loved his hunting dogs. When we would visit he would take us to the marina to go out on his boat, the Karl-Ray named after my brothers, or to the strawberry fields to pick strawberries, or he would have us “help” him with a project he was building. My grandfather was in a perpetual state of motion. There was always another chore to be accomplished or project that needed to be completed.

Another indelible memory was my grandfather’s hands. His hands felt as if he was wearing thick, leather gloves at all times. The skin on my grandfather’s hands was rugged and firm from years of hard labor. I remember as a very young girl being fascinated with the feel of my grandfather’s hands. Although his hands were tough and strong, he held my small hand gently, like he was holding a baby bird. The best description of my grandpa would be tough on the outside and soft on the inside. Kind of like fresh German brotchen right of the oven.

The handful of times we spent with my grandfather would have a huge impact on me, even to the point of effecting my ultimate career decisions. My grandpa had an eighth-grade education and is one of the smartest people I know. He seemed to be able to build anything with the most basic tools. When I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, my grandfather who was well into his eighties at the time, drove from California to Texas to attend to my college graduation. One day during his visit he took me aside and said, “Now that you have a piece of paper that says you know mathematics, I would like you to answer some math questions for me. Your mom wants me to build her a gazebo. How much wood do, I need? How many nails? How much paint? What angles should I cut the wood and how do I know if the angles are correct? How do I make sure my cuts are square (90 degrees)?” He went on to explain that a piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper. It is what you do  with your education that is important.

I was in ROTC through college and upon graduation, I was stationed in Germany. While there my grandfather passed away. Our unit was on a training exercise when I received the Red Cross message informing me of his death. I remember the company commander saying after he gave me the message, “You can take a few minutes if you need it, but we really need you back at your job as soon as possible.” Although his comments seemed callous in the moment, after taking some time to cry, I did dry my tears and returned to finish my job. I believe that is what my grandfather would have thought was important.  I also chose to leave the Army. I fulfilled my commitment and was ready to use my degree to help others. I went on to get graduate degrees in Education and having been doing the important work of education ever since. I think my grandfather would be proud of his granddaughter.