By Marcus Fisk
Nearly everyone has had encounters with notable persons, celebrities, or those of greatness or fame. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet and talk with President Carter, President (then Major) Zia-al-haq of Pakistan who ate dinner at our home, chat with former Cleveland Indian pitcher Bob Feller, with Elizabeth Taylor in the Bahamas airport customs line, and spend about ten minutes with Peter O’Toole on the set of ‘Stuntmen’ (He had served in the Royal Navy, so we had lots in common). Rear Admiral John D. Bulkley spent a week on my ship. He was the PT Boat skipper who spirited General Douglas MacArthur off Corregidor, dodged Japanese patrols, and safely delivered him to Australia. As a young Naval Academy Midshipman, I even tried to pick up Dorothy Hamill at the World Arena in Colorado Springs during Christmas Leave 1975. I had no clue who she was — I just thought she was cute!
However, all these pale in comparison to meeting Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Any man my age will likely agree. Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys, had no equals. On his television show he fought bad guys, rode a cool horse named Trigger, his sidekick Pat Brady drove around in his jeep ‘Nellybelle’ and Roy and Dale would round up rustlers, ne’er-do-wells, bandits, and the like. He was our hero.
We were stationed in Gelnhausen, Germany near the then-East German border and on Saturday mornings, most prepubescent dependents would go to the Post Theater for the Saturday Matinee at 10:00 am. The films included a cartoon, a serial, and a feature. Moreover, the features WE (my buddies and me) LOVED – were the Roy Rogers movies. Nothing like a western to provide a touch of back home.
The 3rd Armored Division had had a celebrity soldier back in 1958 – SGT Elvis Presley. But when dad came home one day and told me that one of the new soldiers in his command was a John “Sandy” Rogers – an adopted son of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans – I was in awe.
His fellow soldiers liked Rogers and so when Rogers was promoted to Specialist 4 (E-4), they took him to the movies and then out into town to drink and toast his newly attained rank. Rogers was unaccustomed to drinking. After returning to the barracks late that November night in 1965, John ‘Sandy’ Rogers became very sick and died in his bunk having choked on his vomit. As his commanding officer, my dad had to write the Rogers of the unfortunate death of their son. He explained to them that John was a good tanker, a good soldier, and a good kid, and they could be reassured they had raised a fine young man. The Rogers responded in kind, thanking my dad for his letter and kind words, and said that in the event we were ever in their area, to please come visit.
Barely six months later were transferred and it was on a cross-country trip en route to Thailand that we saw signs for ‘Roy Rogers’ Apple Valley Inn” in Victorville, CA We stopped in front of the main complex with a huge stagecoach out front. The six of us walked into the lobby and there stuffed for eternity was Trigger, also in the lobby. Dad went up to the front desk to leave a message for Mr. and Mrs. Rogers saying that he was there in the event they wanted to discuss their son John with him. The manager assured him the message would get to the Rogers. Then dad inquired about room rates. When the manager informed him that a room for six (2 adults and 4 children)- would be $200 a night, dad blanched (this was 1966), then asked what other hotels were in the area and let the Rogers know where we were staying. The manager told dad to wait and went to the back. A minute later he emerged and said, “Mr. Rogers said that you will be staying in the Guest Cottage courtesy of the Rogers and that you Major Fisk and Mrs. Fisk should join them for dinner at 8PM in the dining room.”
After unloading our car, we moved into the ‘Guest Cottage.’ It was huge, rambling, stone and wood, with western décor, three bedrooms, a fireplace, a swimming pool, and luxuries of luxuries – a color TV set. Clearly, we were in heaven.
Mom and dad went off to dinner to meet Roy and Dale, and we kids gathered in front of the color TV and saturated ourselves with this new wonder. About 9:00 pm the room phone rang. It was mom checking in. She then said, “If you put on something presentable and comb your hair, you and your sister can join us for dessert.”
WOW!!! Unbelievable!!! Dee Dee and I dressed, washed our faces, combed our hair and walked over into the main building. As we entered the dining room, I stopped to ask the Maitre D if they knew where our parents were sitting. He smiled and ushered us into a private dining room where my dad and mom sat smiling. I looked to my left and at the head of the table sat ROY ROGERS! To my right at the other end was Dale Evans! Dad introduced my sister and me to the Rogers, and we all shook hands. A waiter asked us what we wanted for dessert. I ordered chocolate ice cream. To this day, I cannot remember what Dee Dee ordered because it is still a blur to me. I just remember that these two people were so totally warm, sincere, and pleasant, and both of them engaged us in conversation like we were their own kids. After a polite 15 minutes of dessert conversation, I could feel the adults wanted to continue their discussion so I asked if we could be excused. I shook Dale Evans’ hand. Then I turned to Roy Rogers, offered my hand and said, “It has been a real pleasure meeting you, sir. Thank you for dessert.” Then Roy Rogers said, “You’re welcome and happy trails.”
My sister and I virtually floated back to our room on a high I had never experienced. Few events in life can compare to being 11 years old and that magical night with the ”King of the Cowboys.’
Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, pick-up soccer player, playwright. He and his wife Pamela are former residents of Alexandria and currently live in Connecticut where the own a B&B.