COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt

Keeping an Eye on One Another

Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
GRAPHIC: Coming of Age

The admiral and the colonel became close over the years, their friendship rooted in their shared experience of World War II. Charles McDowell, 83, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy who had first served in the Army, led a platoon near the Remagen Bridge on the Rhine. Joe M. Tyler, a retired Air Force colonel, flew P-51 Mustangs in the same European theater.

They both enjoyed gardening. They both delighted in making wisecracks about each other's politics (McDowell was Republican; Tyler a Democrat.) But most of all, their relationship was rooted in suburban life on their street.

Just two doors apart on Croton Drive in the Waynewood neighborhood of Fort Hunt, they attended each other's cocktail parties and barbecues. They gave each other surplus tomatoes. They called one another when a furnace acted up. Their wives also became close.

They relied on each other for many years, the admiral and the colonel, until they began to rely on each other to make sure the other was still alive. It started after Tyler's wife, Annette, passed in November 2005 at age 90, leaving Tyler alone.

"He was the last other old person on the block. I said, 'Joe, you've got to call me every day to let me know you're all right,'" McDowell said. "I'd go down to see him because he was lonesome."

On Wednesday nights, after McDowell finished up his duties as head of the kitchen committee at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, he would wrap up a meal from the church dinner and drop it off for his friend.

Then came the call each of them dreaded: Tyler had taken a fall. He had been wheeling his garbage out the night before and slipped on the sidewalk. He managed to limp indoors on his own. But by the next morning, he could not move.

"He called me about six o'clock in the morning and said he'd had a fall, and he asked me come down and help him get dressed before the ambulance showed up," McDowell recalls.

Thankfully, nothing was broken, and Tyler returned home. The calls resumed. A few months later, Tyler died at age 90. McDowell went to his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, impressed that his friend's war record rated a flyover.

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