The Frank and Bertha Ohlinger Papers from China and Korea
My great-great grandparents: Parents of Gus
I can’t help it: I’m excited about the upcoming Season Premier of Homeland, and what happens to Saul & Carrie and Cody on the run. I’ve been hooked by the scenes of Congressional Hearings. Why?
For those of you who don’t know, I come from a multigenerational agency family. Now confirmed and declassified, I relearned the lay of my childhood – what was spoken and unspoken – through watching the Iran Contra Hearings on television. The toys of my childhood – knickknacks and coins from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and sometimes Nicaragua – became puzzle pieces that snapped together in sharp focus with a father whose job as far as we were concerned was “making money.”
This fact reiterated so often I came to believe it was literally true. I believed that my father drove into Northern Virginia every day in a tie and suit to mint coins. I even told my old-Dominion private school teachers, as we went through the introduction ritual of my daddy’s a lawyer, my daddy’s a doctor, and in my case – woebegone nine year old-child who felt so out of place already – my daddy makes money.
But that was a long time ago, with my father bridging the gap between cloak and dagger anti-communism and modern anti-terrorism. My last memories of the “agency” belong to our travels together in my late-teens to the former iron-curtain as the walls tumbled down. I am a bit nostalgic for those times and a Red Army caravan broken down in Poland, windswept Trabants on the Autobahn, and diplomatic folklore of emergencies on the road to Berlin.
But I do not know the people or culture that comprise the Agency post- 9/11, so I can suspend disbelief and be entertained. When we watch Homeland, my husband and I often talk about who Cody really is – the transformation a person goes through in the darkness. Can you really understand that different person who walks out of the cage, the hole, the torture, the darkness? Who is that changed person who comes back? For this reason, I devoured A House in the Sky. Stayed up until 2 in the morning reading, which is a good bit better than staying up until 2 in the morning drinking.
Reading her descent into darkness and out required a full twenty four hours of trying to piece my world back together again after finishing. She wasn’t naïve, as so many have tried to paint her. She was freelance without true credentials, but she had traveled the world and done freelance reporting both from Baghdad’s red zone and Afghanistan. The only hotzone left for her was Somalia. The intended targets were the NatGeo reporters ahead of her that day. She used the same fixer as they did, stayed at the same hotel, and tried to get the same story that got them awards. I can’t judge her for her decision. It could have been my sister, who happily resides in a narco-terrorist state with her husband and two children.
The world is open, she writes in promotion materials, but it doesn’t promise safety. In Somalia, the hellhole of the world closed its net around her and subjected her to “unspeakable atrocities.” In the aftermath of this book, I realize the hardline fundamentalists are waging a war against women’s bodies. It is no different from the warped sexuality of Christian fundamentalism found in backswept mesas not so far from my present home. But it is all dangerous. It is all hell. And I’ve found through reading her putting her world back together, that – whether the rapes in India or Bangladesh – because don’t believe for a minute this book is not about bodily rape as well as the rape of the soul – that I will judge a religion creates by the world it creates. Unfortunately, hardline Islam can only flourish in violence and hell, and it creates more violence and hell. I really hope the good guys win this one.
Today, it’s been over a year, and I think I can finally post this post. On April 1, 2012 my uncle Frank Ohlinger was flying his Cessna on a police mission in Palau. According to last communications on his return, his GPS went out and they made an emergency water landing.
First, my Uncle: A wandering engineer, he would send updates and messages on his travels, signed “from the edge of the world.” Several year ago he relocated permanently to Palau, invested in several local businesses like the coconut plant, and made Micronesia his home. It is a small place, with barely 14,000 people, a country barely bigger than my small town of Boulder City. But it is a diving paradise, a world heritage site and marine reserve, one of the last places on earth to see an endangered dugong. (A dugong looks much like manatee a manatee, in pictures.)
The day before he disappeared a pirate ship, sailing under a Chinese flag, was spotted poaching giant clams. A firefight ensued, with Frank and two Palauan gendarmes providing air support. Now this day, my Uncle and the two policemen reconnoitered the burnt wreckage. On their return, the GPS failed in a low cloud bank. Night descended. All the people on the islands turned their lights on to try to guide them in. They even drove their cars to the top of hills for light beacons.
The last communication from Frank was that they were going to attempt an emergency water landing. Then silence. The US Coast Guard turned out for three days and even Paul Allen’s ship the Octopus searched, but the Pacific Ocean is a big place and no traces – plane parts, debris, or the people on board – have ever been found. After three days, the Coast Guard left. Then the Octopus, fading away into the distance. My understanding is the islanders keep looking.
It is a special mixture of hope and grief, not quite hope and not quite full commitment to the sadness. You tell yourself that they will find him. Because planes and people don’t simply disappear.
But they do.
That is how I became personally acquainted with Death in Absentia.
Of course, the Family began calling immediately. Lawyers experience a special feeling of helplessness when they get to say something to their loved ones like “We’re going to need a lawyer in Palau.” We did have a few firefights among ourselves.
Normally, when a person passes overseas, the legal steps are to get a local certificate of death, and to take that to the consulate which will issue a “certificate of death abroad.” That certificate allows the family to initiate the probate and estate processes.
When a person goes missing, that can’t happen. The Consulate does not have the authority to declare a death certificate, only to domesticate a foreign one. Since Uncle Frank was a resident of Palau, the family had to initiate a guardianship process in Palau. The first time I did a guardianship here in the States, I learned there are two parts: guardian of the person and guardian of the estate – I.e. the finances. Many guardians are both, sometimes the roles are split between different people – I’ve since even seen an entire guardianship committee set up to care for an ailing parent.
Here the requirement is only a guardian of the estate, because you have no person. Once the guardianship is issued comes the waiting.
The key question everyone wants answered, once they accept their loved one will not come back, is how long? The common law varies. Traditional English common law is seven years, and it took Natalee Holloway’s parents six years to have her declared legally deceased in Alabama where she lived. Here in Nevada it is three years. Some times, if there is overwhelming evidence of calamity, death certificates are issued immediately – such as after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Because we don’t have a plane, or an accident site, for us – both my family and the survivors of the policemen – there is only waiting, and some false hope remaining. We wait as long as the Court says we have to wait. We simply continue to wait.