Earlier this year, Ross Walker Jr. received a letter from Germany with incredible news.
He called a reporter. “This poor old guy is probably the victim of another scam,” she thought.
It turns out that Mr. Walker had a story better than she could have imagined - a story with history, love and family…
On that first afternoon, Ross Walker Jr. sat in his easy chair in the living room of his small, neat apartment on the 5th floor of Edwin Towers, a Charlotte Housing Authority building for seniors on the edge of Uptown Charlotte
A black and white picture of a young, handsome soldier in uniform was propped up on the couch behind him. Beside it were photos of a woman bearing a strong resemblance to him.
Mr. Walker unfolded the letter he had received a few days earlier in a package from Germany, along with the photos. By then, he had nearly memorized the letter.
Mr. Walker’s story unfolds over the hours I spend with him over the next weeks and months. Every time, a new chapter.
He was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital, an all-black facility that stood where Bank of America Stadium stands today.
Mr. Walker is 88. His life is also a history of the city. When we drive through Uptown, Mr. Walker points out places he remembers.
“And this here, right there, when I was a kid, you know that was the end for me,” he says, pointing to places where he would shine shoes.
He’d get 15 cents if he was lucky.
When he finished 9th grade, Mr. Walker decided it was time to see more of the world.
“I decided I was a man, so I left and went to Washington, D.C. I took a train on the backside. We called that hoboing.”
He was 17 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He joined the Army as soon as he could. After some training in England, he was sent to France.
He talks a lot about the role of segregation during the war, especially during training. He remembers white soldiers having better equipment than black soldiers. He’s not bitter; that’s just the way it was.
After serving in France and Luxembourg, Mr. Walker was stationed in Germany at the end of the war, near Nuremberg. That’s where he met a woman named Maria.
"She was sweet, she was real sweet. She topped them all. So beautiful, so beautiful. I think she was the beautifullest lady in all of Germany.”
I asked if Maria was white or black. He seemed surprised at the question. “Oh, no, she was German,” he says. The racial dynamic shifted in Europe after the war. He says the American uniform garnered power, no matter what race you were.
In Germany, Mr. Walker’s job was divvying out supplies to soldiers and German civilians. He gave Maria and her family whatever he could.
“She never wanted for nothing, especially food.”
He says later Maria caught him going with another woman and broke up with him. He had no idea she was pregnant at the time.
Sixty-six years later, a letter arrives at Edwin Towers. It was from a Mr. Raimund Briechle. He works with an organization called GI Trace that helps Europeans locate and get in touch with their American GI fathers from World War II. He writs on behalf of Mrs. Elvira Breu Rypacek. This is how Mr. Walker learns that she is his daughter.
He reads Elvira was born outside of Nuremburg in March of 1946. And then he remembers her mother, Maria, the beautiful blonde he had been in love with over 65 years before.
We arranged for Mr. Walker to talk to his daughter on the phone the first time at WFAE’s studio.
UNC Charlotte professor Angela Jakeway translates for them.
“Good morning, how are you. My name is Ross Walker. I am the father of this young lady and I am anxious to speak with her, and I’m very, very excited about this opportunity, and I want to thank God that he made it possible,” he says.
Jakeway translates to German.
Walkers hears his daughter speak for the first time. Then Jakeway tells him what she said:
“Hi, this is Elvira, and I’m so, so nervous about this all, and I’m very emotional about that, I’m so happy about that moment, that we can talk to each for the first time.”
Elvira explains that she had tried for years on her own to find the man her mother had talked about, but even with the picture of him and his name, she never succeed until Raimund helped her.
“So, all her life, since she can think back actually, she always missed having her father,” Jakeway tells Walker, “and knowing something about her father, and all her life, she wanted to find out, how does my father look, how would it be to talk with my father. And this actually was kind of pushing her the whole life to say this is my goal. I would like to talk to him, I would like to hear his voice. I hope I will reach that goal before my father may have left to another place.”
Mr. Walker and his daughter catch up on details of their lives. Elvira is married. She never had kids but she’s close to her stepchildren.
Mr. Walker tells her about her sister, Rochelle, who lives in Charlotte, too.
Elvira says her mother Maria died in 1992, and she tried to find him then to tell him the news.
There was one important conversation they both wanted, needed to have.
“When is she coming home?” Walker asks.
Elvira didn’t know she had a home in Charlotte.
“She does have a home in Charlotte, her and her husband have a home in Charlotte,” Walker says, “because her daddy is in Charlotte.
Mr. Walkers wants to be sure he see Elvira “before I leave this land.”
She says she’s coming. Walker is excited.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Thank you Jesus.”
Elvira says she wants to hold her father tight in her arms.
And recently, she got to do just that. Elvira and her husband Robert flew to Charlotte, and Mr. Walker was waiting for them in the airport.
Mr. Walker and his daughter Elvira spent several weeks getting to know each other and trying to make up for 66 lost years. He hopes to see her again, this time in Germany.