Hello there, I’m Charlie Haldeman. I’m the son of Charles Robert. I even have the same name. I don’t have to tell you we’re all named after each other. My oldest son is Charles Robert too… or actually three. Harriet may be the baby, but she’s named after her aunt AND her dad. He was the baby too… so there you go.
As we were sitting down, my cousin Nick noted how you could hear the entire family in the back through the walls here… laughing and talking, while you all were being seated as the prelude played. It was a solemn and somber occassion out here, but back there… it was joyous and uplifting despite the ocassion. That’s what Riley Haldeman would’ve wanted.
Whenever Riley approved of something, you often heard him say ‘Amen.’ So I’ll beging with an often heard verse, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let US rejoice and be glad in it,” to which he would have said ?… (Amen)
A few years ago, Tom Brokaw set out to chronicle what’s become known as the greatest generation. He began to collect his thoughts about the people who came of age during his parent’s youth. Some of you even lived those times too. In the end, he found more than their stories and experiences. He found more of himself too. I hope to do that here as well.
The greatest generation is most commonly associated with World War II. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines. But there were the unsung heroes of that time. Riley Haldeman was among them.
Riley Haldeman was 23 years old in 1941. He was a newlywed… and well on the way to starting the family that we know and are part of today.
Already working on the railroad… he was drafted. He wanted to go. He wanted to do his part in the war effort. The US Navy he said. He made the trip to Tyler for the standard physical. Deferred was the answer back from authorities. He was turned away, not once. Not twice. But three times he once told me. Turns out the railroad needed him at home. He indeed did his part for the war effort and his country. And his family too.
To quote my mother from yesterday, he was the definition and success story of Texarkana in the 20th century. As this community struggled to come to grips and eventually persevere through the great depression. So did he persevere.
When I think Texarkana, I think of him.
Whenever I pass by Rose Hill, I think of him.
As I travel 9th street, I think of him. Whenever I’m in another town and see a shelter or a soup kitchen, I’ll think of the friendship center.
And I’ll think of him.
Whenever I come to a line of cars waiting at a railroad crossing, the drivers frustrated because they don’t like waiting on the train to cross. I’m likely in a hurry too. But I’ll smile because I know that train is keeping our country going. And supporting countless families like mine. As the flashing red lights alternate and the horn blows, I’ll think of him.
Dominoes. Arkansas Razorbacks football. Sleeping all day and working all night. Good solid life advice. Daily Devotionals. Post Toasties. Lawrence Welk. Prayers for all his people. And Vera. I’ll think of him.
I had the fortune of living close by… just 30 miles. I spent many summers and weekends as a child with Nannie and Papa. The story of their 70 year marriage and 6 children has been told time and again. He told stories with a passion. Maybe it’s part of where I learned the love of telling stories. I don’t know. He could make you feel like you were there when it happened. And young people of the room, I have an unlikely story of the tooth fairy you might like to know. I lost a tooth while spending the night with Nannie & Papa. I was very concerned that the tooth fairy might not find me since I wasn’t home. The next morning, I looked under my pillow, and sure enough… nothing was there. But my tooth was indeed gone! Papa came to check… and told me to look again. Maybe I’d missed it. Finally, I found a crisp dollar bill between the bed and the wall. You see, my Papa made sure the tooth fairy knew where to find me.
He was the baby of his family. Lived with his mother and father most of their lives. He spent time in the civilian conservation corps… the “CC Camp” as he’d call it. As a family, and by ourselves… we came to know and love his sisters. I never realized growing up, how rare it is to be so close to your parents’ siblings and their in-laws. It’s very common around here. He made sure of that.
Eventually… he became what my dad recently called the leader of the band. Now Dan Fogleberg’s 70’s hit song was probably not featured on the Lawrence Welk program… but the lyrics seem to fit perfectly. It came on the radio early Tuesday morning as Daddy got in his car to leave the hospital.
“The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old. But his blood runs through my instrument. And his song is in my soul. My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man. I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band”
For me and some others… Riley Haldeman was our Papa. He was the leader of the band. Aside from the happy memories of him… probably the most consistent memory across our time together was…
He lived by example. He wasn’t perfect and never pretended to be. But he attempted to live by example. He was a Christian man who was raised by a mother who still got on her knees to pray. Who read her bible every day. She passed on her attempt to live a good life to her son. His attempt only strengthened by Nannie. Where there is one. There is the other. Leaning on each other in hard times. Celebrating hand-in-hand in easy times.
Living by example. And through that example… his song continues to play on in my soul. But aren’t we all poor attempts to imitate the man. I’m proud as I can be to be a living legacy to Riley Haldeman. And so I say to one of the unsung heroes of that greatest generation, thank you papa. I’ll think of you