A Tribute To Gunner: Remembering September 11, 2001

Not too long ago I met a story.  While walking my dog I stopped to wish a neighbor well with his move.  He waved thanks and kept walking toward his house, and the fellow taping up boxes looked up and beamed.  I thought he was grateful for the coffee approaching in my neighbor’s hand until he exclaimed “Puppy!”  Tall, lean, with a ponytail in back, this fifty-something man walked over, said hi to me, then crouched to say hello to Cappy.  I call this the working hello and I know that the person greeting my dog not only likes dogs but works hard to understand and communicate with them. In this relaxed fall morning a story unfolded.

Dave got his first work dog as a young Vietnam soldier. When this pup was shot literally from underneath him, he was given another to train and work.  “War dogs you don’t get too attached to. They are there to do a job.  You’re eighteen, away from home, and you love them, but you don’t get too attached.”  That’s how Dave became involved with civilian search and rescue teams.

In the 1990′s Dave was employed as a veterinary assistant in an Atlanta Emergency Clinic.  One morning he found a young stray tied to the clinic door, with two broken legs and a ruptured spleen.  The doctors for whom he worked didn’t believe in euthanizing if they felt there was a reasonable chance of saving an animal.  They did their magic, and then it was Dave’s turn to do his.  In caring for this nine month old pup Dave recognized that special blend of courage, smarts, loyalty, and desire to please that search and rescue work requires.  He put in a call to a buddy at the nearby military base and soon the flat-coated black lab graduated third of thirty in the search and rescue training program.

“Gunner was my soul-mate.  He was so special.  There are forty-two people on this earth, walking around today, because he found them.  Special.  We were there after 9/11.  Gunner was amazing.  There was too much noise at the site.  I could only use hand signals.  I’d send Gunner out; at thirty feet he would stop and wait for my command.  I would move my hand.”  At this Dave held out his right arm and, with his index and third fingers extended, he made a small horizontal wave.

“Then Gunner would start his zigzag pattern back toward me, sniffing. That’s how they teach them to search a grid.  When they find someone alive, the dog is trained to jump up and down and make a lot of noise. When they find a body or body part they sit.  We went to search and rescue, and of course you know it turned out to be all recovery.  Gunner would go out, search and sit.  Search and sit. He found 30 intact bodies.  Thirty! Out of 300 that means my Gunner found ten percent of the bodies recovered.  Everything else was an arm here, a hand.”  Dave paused. He retired Gunner after that mission was complete, and they traveled together on Dave’s new job as a mover. Gunner succumbed to cancer in 2008.

”He was my soul mate. The dog to replace him hasn’t been born.”

Here’s to all those brave teams of men and women and dogs, who tirelessly searched for days and days through the rubble of the Towers.

Here’s to all those brave teams yet to be created, who will go out again and again, anytime there is tragedy, risking their lives so others may live, or find peace of mind.

Remembering Nine Eleven

This post was originally published September 11, 2010.

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing the Pentagon’s explosion on his way to work, the other already in the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! His office was just blocks from the World Trade Center! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate as they applied one more coat to my trim. Their radio announced the Shanksville crash and they finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh.   And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos got played and packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.

Rebecca Eulelia Dodson Sayles: Sunday’s Obituary

"Lilly" Rebecca Eulelia Dodson Sayles

Born on 15 August 1856 in Regiment 22 of Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Lillie Dodson was one of ten children:  Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), Edward, and William Rowlett (Bud).  Her parents, James H. and Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson, farmed land just off the Boydton Road south of The City.

Mr. Dodson was a planter and slave owner.  Miss Rowlett moved with her parents from (Chesterfield County, Virginia) and settled on land adjoining the Dodson plantation.  They were united in marriage in (1844) in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Mr. Dodson built the old Dodson home and moved into it when Lillie was three years old, about 1859.  She said she could remember walking across from the “Old House,” climbing over the felled trees, carrying her dolls.  The house had not been completed, and as the War soon started, he never did finish it.

Mr. Dodson gave each of his children a tract of land for a homestead.  He gave the Dodson house and a certain number of acres to the three unmarried daughters, Dora, Molly and Lillie.

…Soon after moving to Virginia with his parents in 1870, Clifton Sayles paid court to Lillie Dodson (a neighbor girl).  Her parents were still living, and twas too soon after “The War between the States: ended; feelings still ran high.  For Clifton’s father, Ira Sayles, had been a Captain in the Federal Army, and Lillie’s brother, Greene Dodson, had been killed while serving in the Confederate Army; consequently Lillie’s parents did not favor the suit, and Clifton married another girl.

This wife, Anna McCullough, died sometime after the census date of 1900, and Clifton again paid court to Miss Lilly, who had remained single.

Clifton Duvall Sayles, born April 11, 1851, in Alfred, N.Y., and Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie) Dodson were united in marriage January 9, 1901 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Born to this union:  Anna Florette, born December 4, 1901.

At the time of her marriage, Lillie traded her share in the home with Ed, for his share, called the “Old House” tract, and she later sold it.  Ed, Dora and Molly remained single and continued to live at the Dodson home until their deaths in the 1920s (at which time the land was bequeathed to the adopted son, George Strickland.)

George …was a real son to them.  He continued to care for and look after them untill their final illnesses and deaths.  He called Ed “Master Ed” and said Aunt Dora and Aunt Molly and called their sister Aunt Lillie.  In appreciation of the love and care George bestowed on (them) Ed Dodson deeded George Ricks Strickland the old Dodson home place.

Around 1920, George Strickland drove a wagon over to the Sayles home and paid court to Florette.  They were married September 28, 1921 in the Baptist parsonage in Chase City, Virginia by the Rev. H. L. Williams.  Four sons were born to this union:  George Sidney, Clifford Ricks, Paul Warren, and Norman Scott.  The family survived the depression by returning to the Dodson farm.

At around the same time, Clifton Sayles died, leaving Lillie a widow;  she moved in with her daughter and nephew to help raise the four boys–and made certain that cookies were a regular part of their diet.

from left: Sidney, George Strickland, Paul, Florette Sayles Strickland, Norman, Clifford, Lillie Dodson Sayles

Source:  Strickland, Anna Florette.  Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family.  Chase City, VA: Handwritten, March 1976.

Surname Saturday: R + Umlaut O + H + RIG = Roahrig

In my research of Kathryn Roahrig Bradford’s family, I came across 8 different spellings which indicated to me that this foreign name included a vowel alien to the English language.  On one side journey I inspected a naturalization document which included the applicant’s signature. ” AHA!” I thought.  There is a German vowel: the umlaut O, the O with two dots over it, the O that sounds like perk or burn.  THAT vowel.  In most cases one would transcribe that letter into English or French with an “o” followed by an “e”, but many, many transcribers have not followed that rule.  Somewhere along the way, my ancestors’ just settled on the spelling R-O-A-H-R-I-G and standardized the family’s name. My ancestors then were probably from an area of Europe that spoke German. That U.S. Federal 1850 census lists Frederick Roahrig as from France; the 1870 census states that he was a native of Alsace.  THAT is the clue.  Alsace is a region of France that borders with Germany, and has been the site of political turmoil for centuries, rocking back and forth between French and German control.  At the time Frederick shows up in Ohio it was considered France.  His family may have spoken French, German or a combination of the languages.

I am exceedingly happy that fellow family historian, Doug Kreis, has shared his Register Reports with me.  THANK YOU AGAIN, DOUG!  For included in his massive projects are obituaries, which have some amazing data sets in aggregate.

Frederick Roahrig’s parents were Jean George and Eve Gerling Roahrig, born in Buhl, Alsace, France at the turn of the 19th century.  They married in Buhl on 31 December 1817 and had six children: Marie Eve, Magdalena, Frederick, George, Salome, and David.  All were born in Buhl before 1835.  I had found Frederick, husband to Elizabeth and father of John in the 1850 census.  Putting this much information together I can conclude that Frederick emigrated from Alsace between 1835 and 1850.

I swept my eyes back over the report again, this time concentrating on obituaries of Frederick, his wife Elizabeth Lapp, and his sister, Magdelena Reiger.  From these three obituaries I pull this data set:

Frederick Roahrig was born in 7 January 1827 in Buhl, Alsace, France.  He came to America with his parents and in a few years married Elizabeth Lapp Roahrig (born 26 August 1832 in Muskingum County) on 6 April 1849 in Muskingum County, Ohio.  Elizabeth died on 4 January 1900 in Muskingum County; Frederick died in Muskingum County on 4 April 1908.  They are both buried in the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church cemetery.

Magdelena Roahrig Reiger was born 22 December 1822 in Buhl, Alsace, France.   She was baptized as an infant and joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hatten in 1837.  She emigrated to America in 1847 and later that year married George Reiger. She died in 31 August 1893 in Muskingum County, Ohio, and was buried in the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church cemetery.

Looking into the history of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Muskingum County, Ohio adds one more important detail: it was founded in 1839 by sixteen, German speaking, Alsatian immigrant families.

For now, my family story flows something like this: Jean George and Eve Gerling Roahrig, fed up with the political turmoil of their region and lured by the relative calm of America, emigrated in 1847, with their living children to America.  They landed at New York and came up the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then continued on westward to the open lands of Ohio.   Or they landed in Philadelphia and moved through Lancaster, Pennsylvania before heading out to the German speaking Ohio communities.  There, in Muskingum County, Ohio they were welcomed by the Lapps and the Zimmers, the Mosers and the Kreis’.  The children married, and had children who prospered.  And I am here, six generations later, to tell their story.

Next week: Sing praises for safe travels–in time.  Ahnentafels that will lead me to five ancestral immigrants!!

Surname Saturday: Roahrig the Immigrant

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

My great-grandmother Kathryn Bradford lived 107 years, long enough to hold my baby girl in her lap for a five generation portrait. I remember childhood visits to Coshocton, Ohio,  where Grandma Katie lived with her son Carlos and his wife Betty.  She seemed incredibly old even then, at a mere 80-something, and my Aunt Betty knew that the slow pace of conversation needed to be broken up by a game or two of softball.  Only a few facts filtered through my child’s hood of life:

  • Katie wasn’t bored viewing life through a TV screen and someday I would understand;
  • a young Katie had spied on her elder sister, Sidna, entertaining a beau in the parlor, and had giggled at their stolen kisses;
  • and Katie Bradford’s maiden name was a tongue twister–Roahrig.

Go ahead.  I dare you repeat that three times fast and not giggle.

I have never met anyone else with that name.  I have not run across articles or histories or songs that include that name.  Roahrig.  What ancestor brought this surname to America?

Surname Saturday: Search 2011!

Roahrig, it is.  The first of 12 names that I will trace this year, back to its place of origin.

I started my name-hunt by visiting my Ancestry generated family tree, and ploughed through the fields of census data.  Within a short while I had uncovered 8 spellings for this surname–Rohrig, Rarick, Rayrick, Roehrig, Roarig, Rearick, Rauhrig and Roahrig–with families residing in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.   I found one path back to 1850 that held particular promise.

A promising line of thought

I had gone backward from Katie to her father and mother, John and Matilda Kline Roahrig of Ohio, and from there I went backward to find John with his parents, Frederick and Elizabeth Lapp in 1870,1860,and 1850, always in Ohio. The 1870 data includes country of origin, and Frederick listed France while Elizabeth and all of their children claimed Ohio.  If this Frederick Roahrig is the grandfather of my Kathryn Roahrig Bradford, then he is also the Immigrant Roahrig .  To gather a bit more about Frederick’s country of origin I returned to the 1880 census, which asked folks to name not only their country of origin was but also their parents’.

Interesting!  Frederick Roahrig states that he and his parents are from Alsace.  Elizabeth states that she is from Ohio, and that her father was from Wurtimberg, Germany, and her mother was from Alsace.

Now it was time for me to verify that this path connects the correct dots from me to the Immigrant.  I expanded my search to include Find A Grave, and was rewarded with confirmation through obituaries and photos!!    Fellow family historian, Doug Kreis, has done some remarkable work, and lucky for me, his research includes the Roahrig family!

Just what sort of name is Roahrig?  German? French? Why did he and his parents immigrate, and what brought them to Adamsville, Muskingham County, Ohio?

I have hunches and a few clues.  Stop back next week to see where they lead.


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