Tahoe man reunited with son after 28 years
When Charles George Henry heard his son was trying to find him he couldn’t speak. “You’ll never guess who is talking to mom right now,” Judy Coleman told her brother over the phone. “It’s ‘Little Butch’.”
The announcement hit the big ex-Marine hard.
“I got his number, hung up and sat down and cried,” Henry said recalling the day he found his son. “I used to watch reunion shows, like on Ricki Lake, and think of him. I’d cry with everybody else. I was always thinking about him.”
The last time Henry, 53, saw his son, Charles Stephen Henry, the boy was barely 9 months old. His wife and ‘Little Butch’ were living with his mother in California when he left to serve his second tour of duty in Vietnam.
When Henry returned to the United States he found the San Diego district attorney’s office investigating him for desertion. His wife had left California with his son, and unknown to Henry, his unborn daughter, and returned to her mother’s home in Rock Hill, S.C. From there she sued him for desertion. The district attorney, realizing the charges were false after seeing Henry’s Marine orders, wanted to press charges against his wife, but Henry refused.
Henry’s wife disappeared never telling him that he had a daughter or that she eventually left both children with her mother in Rock Hill when they were still very young. The children’s maternal grandmother officially adopted the children several years later giving them the last name of Bledsoe. Henry’s son became Charles Stephen Henry Bledsoe, a change that made it even harder for Henry to find him.
Twenty-eight years passed before Henry picked up the phone on Jan. 31 to hear his sister’s words. During those years he held on to memories – his son’s birth and the day he took his 8-1/2 month-old son to the San Diego Zoo just before leaving for his second tour of duty. He also donated time and money to charities for children always thinking of his son.
Betty Dutcher, Henry’s mother, kept the only items her son’s wife left behind when she disappeared with her grandson – a photograph and a silver piggy bank.
Gathered at the South Lake Tahoe lodge Dutcher manages, the family recounted their different stories of the last 28 years. Henry a large, gruff looking man, wiped away tears as he heard his son talk about his childhood and the search that brought them together. Not only did Henry regain a son, he found out about the daughter he never knew he had and four grandchildren.
The day before his dad’s birthday, Charles Bledsoe said he made a decision. He was going to try again to find his father. With the encouragement of his wife, Melissa, Bledsoe called USA Search. The fee was $70, a lot for a young couple with one child and another on the way. Bledsoe gave them the only information he had – his father’s name, birth date, place of birth, and last known duty station in the Marines.
They came back with an old address in Fort Rock, Ore., a small town in Oregon’s southern low-desert region. Bledsoe called the county sheriff’s office. He found out the town had about 10 residents with two businesses, a tavern and a general store.
As a meat cutter’s apprentice, Bledsoe figured everyone had to buy groceries.
“I called the grocery store and asked about a Charles Henry,” Bledsoe explained. To his surprise he discovered he was talking to a cousin. The woman on the other end of the line told him to hold on while she got his grandmother’s telephone number.
Dutcher didn’t hear her private line ringing while she minded the front desk at the Lone Pine Lodge on Stateline Avenue. Bledsoe kept trying and finally his grandmother picked up later that evening.
“I like to fell through the floor,” Betty said gazing fondly at the grandson she lost, and two of her great-grandchildren, 18-month-old Grace, and 2-month-old Paul Jacob.
After the initial phone calls, Henry called his trucking company, his second career after the Marines, and said he needed to get to Orlando, Fla. to see his son. Twenty-five days later he was there, meeting his son at a busy intersection of two main roads.
“I didn’t want him to get lost in the neighborhoods so I told him I’d meet him at this street corner. It’s not the best part of town and here I was at 8 p.m. standing there on the corner outside a strip joint waiting for a turquoise truck. I saw him about a half a block away and a I ran up and jumped up on the truck,” Bledsoe said, still excited by the memory. “I said, ‘Hey,’ because I didn’t know what else to say.”
Both men admitted they were nervous about how the other would react, but said the bond was instantaneous.
“It was a good feeling,” Henry said.
“We just hit it off right that day,” Bledsoe echoed.
Bledsoe quit his job in Orlando, packed up his family and moved to South Lake Tahoe last weekend to be near his father.
“I’d rather be with my family and working together,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe and his family will be living in a duplex owned by his aunt. He wants to find a job in the grocery business and eventually go to a truck driving school. Dutcher said the truck behind the lodge will be his as soon as he finishes.
“I’m going to go into the family business,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe’s sister still lives in Rock Hill, and is reluctant to meet her father.
“We’ll both work on her,” Bledsoe said. “And if she won’t come to us we’ll go to her.”
Both men said they hold no grudges against the woman who kept them apart.
“I don’t hold it against her. I just wish the last 28 years hadn’t happened,” Henry said.
“We could sit here and think about the past forever and a day,” Bledsoe said. “I think it’s important we start from here building new memories.”
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