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The soldier who lies in Bodega: Never forgotten

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 | Posted by

By Andrea Granahan, West County Correspondent

There’s a grave at the top of the slope in Bodega’s cemetery. A tree grows there, shaped by the wind, and something always seems to be in bloom.

When Memorial Day rolls around and we remember our soldiers, the one buried here always comes to mind: Captain Christopher Charles Walter, June 7, 1963 – April 2, 1994.

Walter trained as a Ranger, the Army’s equivalent to a Navy Seal, and became a captain, then went through helicopter training to become a pilot. But while in ROTC he met the love of his life, a stunning blonde soldier named Tiffany Riise.

They went through ranger school together, jumping out of helicopters and such. They had barely returned from their honeymoon when they were deployed to Saudi Arabia in separate units. Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq, and the first Gulf War was brewing.

Walter’s parents, Donna and Charlie Walter, lived in Salmon Creek north of Bodega Bay. The Walter and Riise families came together to worry about their children’s safety.

Tiffany, who had been trained as an intelligence officer, was sent behind enemy lines on a secret mission the day before the U.S. invasion. Walter’s outfit was part of the invasion force.

Normally a very sunny person, his mother quit smiling.

Sonoma County was in an uproar of anti-war protests. At the coast, people met to brainstorm ways to support our troops, no matter how they felt about the politics of the war. People sent the couple letters and items to make their life in the Arabian Desert easier.

On the newlyweds’ first anniversary, their commanding officers arranged a surprise. Each was sent on a mission to the same place and allowed to spend a few hours together before going back to their units.

Eventually the war was over, but Walter and his wife, among the first ones over, were the last to leave. When finally reunited, they met their penpals for a public barbecue on the beach. A Bodega Bay hotel gave them the honeymoon suite.

Shortly after, Tiffany Walter became pregnant and left the Army, convinced that young mothers don’t belong in combat. Walter was sent to Texas to serve as a training officer.

They bought a house, named their son Hank after Walter’s brother, and four months later went to visit friends. They came home with Hank asleep in his carseat to find two men outside their house.

One pulled a gun. Walter hopped out of the car and jumped the man with the gun. Tiffany Walter locked the baby in the car and ran to a neighbor’s house. The second man escaped in a car but returned to shoot Walter.

Tiffany Walter started administering CPR, but told the neighbors to call the police. Relying on her intelligence training, she had seen the license number of the getaway car and could describe the men. They were arrested in a matter of minutes.

Walter died a hero at age 31, and was taken home to Bodega for burial.

His parents were shattered after losing a son who had survived a war. In Texas, they were allowed to speak to the criminals as they were sentenced to life without parole.

“I want you to see me sweat, to know that I am crying and dying inside,” Donna Walter told them. “I want you to glimpse our pain and … understand a little the horrible crime you have committed.”

After grieving and coping with single parenthood,

Tiffany Walter remarried and moved to Southern California. Each year she joins the Walters for Memorial Day services and to hand out a scholarship in his honor at their alma mater, UC Santa Barbara.

The Walters moved to Palm Springs but return frequently to tend their son’s grave. Their daughter-in-law and her family often meet them for a picnic.So if you see the grave with the tree in the Bodega cemetery, you’ll know it holds a soldier who successfully defended his country only to die defending his family.

  • http://mamalovesthebeach.blogspot.com beachmama

    Thank you for this Andrea . . . a fabulous tribute to Chris . . .

  • Lori

    God Bless you and thank you………

  • Dyan Foster

    How brave, sad & tragic ~ next time I go to Bodega my family will leave a rememberance & sign of thank you.~

  • Mike

    Sadly, this is a poorly written article. To say that an ARMY Ranger is the equivalent of a Navy Seal is incorrect on many levels. Also, women cannot attend Ranger school……(which would make it pretty difficult for them to attend Ranger School together).

    • Andrea Granahan

      My source was Chris’ mother. Army Rangers and Navy Seals undergo rough additional training. Am I wrong on that? I thought Rangers were the D-Day heroes, and that equally tough training was required of them. Tiffany and Chris graduated together and the Walters attended and sent us pictures – perhaps it was from separate trainings and they were confused with the wedding going on at the same time. Tiffany was an intelligent agent. They both dropped out of helicopters together at some point. Please do not attack Donna Walter on details. She has suffered enough. If you still have bad feelings you can address them to me.

  • Skippy

    Ave atque vale.

  • Mary Jo Winter

    Beautiful story, Andrea. Very well written and a wonderful tribute to this man and his family.

  • Suzie Rodriguez

    A beautifully-written story…

  • Colin Walter

    I am Chris’ brother. Thanks for publishing his story Andrea. Chris was a really good soldier, husband, father, son and brother and he is missed dearly. Fortunately I live somewhat nearby and get to visit the garden and Bodega Bay pretty often. RIP Brother.

    • Andrea Granahan

      Dear Colin
      I love knowing Chris has a brother nearby. My personal email is navgal@earthlink.net. Rains and work have kept me at the coast so I haven’t yet made a copy of the PD story in print to send to her but will this week. Your Mom and Dad are precious and important people to me. When your brother was killed in Alaska I went to his memorial in Bodega. I can’t imagine the loss your parents have endured. Do you have kids, and are you happy? That would be the greatest joy to them.
      With much affection,

  • Christine Pahmeier

    Thank you for your tribute to Chris, I attended High school in Africa with Chris and you are 100% right. He was a true hero, sunny with a great smile for all and his parents were good to all of us teens. My prayers and gratitude go their way, and I thank you for publishing the heartfelt article. Christine

  • Jason Osburn

    Rest in Peace old friend. I think of you often.

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Andrea Granahan is our Bodega area correspondent.
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