The soldier who lies in Bodega: Never forgotten
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.