Dear readers, tonight with us is a Special Forces soldier — together with his distant ancestor. They are here to talk about combat and the bonds of men, and how the Army changed in over a century.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
CHARLES DAWSON: I was born in Platteville, Wisconsin, in 1876. My father, Jeremiah, became an attorney after his service for the Union Army in the Rebellion. As a center of lead mining activity in that part of the state, Platteville is a bustling town with much to offer a young man, including a Normal School and a Mining School. Much of my childhood was spent with Father, hiking and riding among the ridges and coulees, hunting rabbit and deer and fishing the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.
JAKE DAWSON: Man, I can’t believe I’m in the same room with my ancestor, the guy who wrote the journal that I’ve been reading. You really fought for Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba?
CHARLES: I believe this mysterious gentleman addressing us asked you a question. Are all 21st century young men so impertinent?
JAKE: Well, hell, are all 19th century young men wearing starched collars like that one? No wonder you’re sitting there, stiff as a board. Relax, Gramps! This is about the coolest thing ever, us being together like this. (To the interviewer.) Okay, I was born in 1990, and grew up in Minocqua, up in northern Wisconsin, where my mom and I moved after she and my dad divorced. He was a congressman, then a college professor. We didn’t get along for a long time, way different political views, but things have been turning around, I think. But anyway, in Minocqua we lived on a lake, so I did my share of fishing and hunting, too. You grow up in small-town Wisconsin, or out in the country, that’s what you do. My Uncle John—he’s my great-uncle, actually, Grampa Dennis’ brother—taught me to hunt and fish. When I was fourteen, we were out on the lake and I got a musky, a big one, about forty pounds.
CHARLES: Indeed? I’ve heard of the musky. On the Mississippi, it was catfish for us, and bluegills. Perhaps trout in some of the streams. My father and I brought in a thirty-pound cat one day.
JAKE: Hey, that’s a nice fish. Got a picture of it?
CHARLES: A what?
Did you have any favorite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
CHARLES: My sister Margaret and I often played jacks, and at school it was hopscotch, and of course we played baseball. My favorite player was Hoss Radbourn, the great pitcher for the Beaneaters.
JAKE: Beaneaters? That’s a minor-league team, right?
CHARLES (indignantly): Of course not. They played in the National League, and at the time of my service in Cuba, they were in the midst of a strong season.
JAKE: Well, baseball’s fun, but I don’t know about this Beaneaters outfit. My team’s the Milwaukee Brewers. Growing up, my sport was wrestling. State champion my junior year at Lakeland Union High, then repeated my senior year, then off to Madison, All-American there before I left for the Army. My best memory? I’d have to say it’s a tie, between winning my second state title and getting a gift from Angie Egan a couple nights after I got back from State in Madison. (He gives Charles a wink.)
CHARLES: A gift? (He frowns, then smiles.) Oh, yes. I, uh, received such a gift myself, upon my return from Cuba. Her name was Leona. Would you like to see a carte de vesite of her?
JAKE: What’s that? (He is handed a sepia-toned piece of cardboard.) Oh, you mean “a picture.” Hey, she’s pretty good-looking, although that dress doesn’t do much for her. (He produces a cell phone, taps three buttons, and shows it to Charles.) This isn’t Angie, but it’s Sam, my wife, who’s even better-looking than Angie, and that’s saying something.
CHARLES: What a remarkable device. How does it—good Lord, she has hardly a stitch of clothing on!
JAKE (laughing): It’s called a bikini, Gramps!
Gentlemen, please! What do you do now?
JAKE: First Lieutenant, United States Army, 5th Special Forces Group.
CHARLES: My service was in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. After my discharge, I returned to my studies at the University of Wisconsin. Upon graduation, I shall enter the School of Law, and then join my father’s firm in Platteville.
JAKE (yawning): That sounds exciting.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
CHARLES (sitting up proudly): With my father’s blessing, and his assistance, I joined the Rough Riders, and served under Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba, helping to free the people from their Spanish oppressors.
JAKE: Hey, I always wanted to ask you something. You guys deployed into a combat zone with what, three weeks of training? Just three weeks?
CHARLES: That was all the time we had, yes.
JAKE (shaking his head): Hell, it’s a miracle any of you made it home alive.
CHARLES: Indeed? What kind of training did you receive, might I ask?
JAKE: Hey, in our Army, you don’t get close to a deployment till you’ve been in for about a year. There’s a lot to learn. And if you’re in SF, like I am, or the 75th Rangers, like I was before SF, well, we’re talking six more months to a year before you go downrange.
CHARLES: My word…
JAKE (shrugging): Well, tell you what, Gramps, in my time we aren’t exactly going up against a bunch of Spanish draftees, that’s for damn sure.
Continue reading “Charles and Jake Dawson (of The Heights of Valor, by David Tindell)” →