WASHINGTON – How many Rosebuds are fed to the fire every day in Washington, D.C.?
After all, people in the town can be a peripatetic lot. The military or some federal agency sends them there, and they cart their stuff along. Then they are posted somewhere else, and they pack up and move again.
Sometimes, things get left behind.
Things such as the green wooden trunk in the basement of the apartment building on Woodley Road NW. It was old and battered, the sort of thing you might easily overlook. And overlooked it had been, for something close to 60 years.
Jaime Steve found it. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, but he used to live in the building known as 2800 Woodley Road, down the street from the National Zoo. It was there that Jaime became good friends with Ace Rosner, one of the most interesting men I ever met. Ace lost an arm at Anzio during World War II but went on to join the CIA and collect – and race – classic cars, dozens of which he kept in 2800 Woodley's underground garage.
When Ace died at age 94 in 2011, Jaime helped clear out his apartment and disperse his cars. In February, Jaime heard that the apartment's managers wanted some old junk cleared out, including a bunch of stuff everyone assumed was Ace's. Stuff like the battered green footlocker.
“It was all covered in dust,” Jaime said. When he wiped the dust away, he saw a stenciled name: Maj. F.M. Rogers. And when Jaime opened the trunk, he met a remarkable man.
Felix Michael Rogers was a Massachusetts native who enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1942 and retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1978 as a four-star general. Google him and you'll learn that during World War II, Rogers flew a P-51 Mustang called the Beantown Banshee from bases in England, Italy and France.
He was a bona fide flying ace, notching 12 confirmed kills. Rogers looked the part, too, with a killer moustache.
Among the trunk's contents: Rogers's dog tags, a four-leaf clover encased in plastic, a notebook from flight school, a handwritten prayer, a small bottle of whiskey, a razor and strop, and three medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Jaime was able to find contact information for Rogers in Santa Barbara, California, but when Jaime phoned in April, the flying ace's wife, Catherine, said he had passed away just a few weeks earlier at the age of 92 at Walter Reed. She put Jaime in touch with the general's children, two of whom – Stephen Rogers and Ginna Rogers-Gould – live in the Washington, D.C.-area.
Ginna said her parents lived in 2800 Woodley in the early 1950s, then moved when her father was transferred to Madrid as the assistant U.S. air attaché.
“They probably just couldn't take everything they had with them to the overseas posting,” Ginna said. “What I'm guessing is they just asked Ace if they could store a locker there, and then it became forgotten.”
The family had no idea the trunk existed. The small miracle of its appearance just weeks after Rogers' death provided some comfort in their grief.
“When I started to go through it, it just was like it was a gift from heaven,” Ginna said. “It was almost like my dad's hand reaching out to his family and saying: 'Don't forget some of the things I taught you. Don't forget what it is to be an American.' ”
Ginna told Jaime that she was amazed a complete stranger took the trouble to track her family down.
Said Jaime: “My view was, why would anybody do anything different?”
General Rogers will be buried in October at Arlington Cemetery next to his first wife, Virginia. Ginna, of Arnold, Maryland, is working on a biography of her father.
So, a Rosebud rescued from the fire. But there's more: In the Woodley basement Jaime found a second Army-issue trunk.
“It belonged to a fellow who was in the 87th Infantry Division, and he was one of the guys who liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp,” Jaime said.
Inside were photographs of the camp and scrip issued by the SS. The trunk belonged to Lt. Daniel Grear of Riverside, Illinois.
Jaime is trying to find out what became of him.