By the Way

On assignment, this character stole a piece of my heart

World War II veteran Charles Rogers, left, spent several hours talking with Sun Herald staff writer Anita Lee for a story about his friendship with Biloxi police Patrolman Chris Keckler, right. Lee found Rogers fascinating and he seemed to enjoy meeting her, too.
World War II veteran Charles Rogers, left, spent several hours talking with Sun Herald staff writer Anita Lee for a story about his friendship with Biloxi police Patrolman Chris Keckler, right. Lee found Rogers fascinating and he seemed to enjoy meeting her, too. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

I just left Charles Rogers, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who is without a doubt one of the most charming men I have ever met.

He needed some pants. His have disappeared from the nursing home where he has been staying. After three trips to the store, I finally picked up the right size and Mr. Rogers does not have to sit around in his pajamas.

One never knows what a journalist’s day will bring.

I should know. I’ve been a reporter for about 30 years and, I have to say, I’ve met some fascinating people and had the opportunity to tell some amazing stories.

The story of Charles Rogers and Biloxi police Patrolman Chris Keckler was no exception. My friend and colleague Justin Mitchell got a tip about the friendship Rogers and Keckler had formed after the officer responded to an emergency medical call and found the veteran in dire straits.

As usual, the story wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded. It took some sorting out. You can find the story here, plus an excellent video by staff photojournalist John Fitzhugh.

Mr. Rogers has lived a life of derring-do. He has so many stories. When he talks, he wanders down this rabbit hole and that, so it takes awhile to extract the tale.

In the process, I have to say I got a little attached to Rogers. He would say things like, “Honey, life will spin you around, I tell you.”

He has a bad heart. His legs below the knee are so swollen from bad circulation, the skin is tight, shiny and purple. Still, he laughs and smiles. He says getting old is not for sissies, but he has no desire to depart this earth.

He advised me to be tough. “If you find a good story,” he told me, “don’t let anybody stop you. Run over them if you have to!” And then he laughed.

I hated to leave. Rogers is alone, except for Keckler. I would like to think I will keep visiting Rogers, but it will be hard to break away when I don’t have a professional reason to visit. The next story is already waiting.

Rogers was pretty confused and upset when I first met him. He’s been through a lot since July, when he and Keckler met. Rogers decided I must be an angel who showed up to sort out everything.

That’s certainly not the case. I was there for a story. He and Keckler both entrusted me with their story. It’s a generous and brave thing to do. Hundreds of people have done the same for me over the years. I still think of many of these folks and wonder what happened to them.

Mr. Rogers, I have to say, is right up there with the most interesting characters I’ve interviewed. I really hope he grows stronger, busts out of that nursing home and lives through a few more adventures.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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