Obituary of Charles Cleburne Rice, Jr.
Charles Cleburne Rice Jr., was born blue, his umbilical cord wrapped nine times around his neck, on May 26th, 1925 in Wetumka, to parents Nila Gladys Stephens Rice and Charles Cleburn Rice Sr. With the strangulation remedied, his grandmother, Flora Mae Rice (later affectionately known as “Mother Rice”) held her only grandchild upside down by his feet as the doctor spanked his bottom until he took his first breath and let out a yell.
He died peacefully on Sept. 22nd, 2023 in Tulsa at the age of 98. In the months prior, he was living his best life in recent memory, thanks in large part to the social connections and good-humored care he found at Aberdeen Heights Assisted Living.
Charles graduated from Cyril High School on his 18th birthday in 1943. He enlisted in the United States Army 20 days later. He lived in Oklahoma City most of his life and married Patsy Jo Hawkins Dec. 22, 1950.
Charles worked 42 years in the oil service industry as a successful salesman and manager but identified most strongly with his role as a soldier. He bore the honor of his service, and the unspoken pain, until death.
Charles was originally slated to train as a pilot in the Army Air Corps after volunteering, but when the Army decided they needed more infantry, he was among a small percentage who were selected for Mechanized Cavalry with The Fighting 69th Reconnaissance Division, whose motto was “Observe and Report”. He received the top score in his class during Armour training at Fort Knox, KY.
In November of 1944, he transferred to England as a Private First Class in the 69th Infantry Division. They battled through the western European Front, traveling through France, Belgium and Germany, where they met the Russian Army at the Elbe River south of Berlin, Germany in April 1945. Charles remained in Germany until April 1946, earning the rank of Sergeant First Class. He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma that fall and remained part of the Army Reserves, where he obtained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, Cavalry Division.
In August of 1950, he was reactivated to serve in the Korean War with the 45th Infantry Division. While in Korea, Charles’ honesty and integrity were so admired, two of his fellow soldiers who landed themselves in trouble with the Army requested he represent them as counsel, even though he was not a formally trained attorney. In May 1952, he returned to the states and reorganized the 158th Field Artillery Battalion headquarters as the Battery Commander in Chickasha. He retired from the United States Army in 1968 as Lieutenant Colonel.
Bonds formed with Charlie’s fellow Army brothers in Europe, Japan and Korea were the closest of his life. His devotion to the 45th Division extended to his civilian life where, as a YMCA Indian Guide dad, he was known as “Big Thunder Hawk”, which was his tribute to the 45th Division’s Golden Thunderbird insignia.
Charles was blessed with good health throughout his life and was still driving and living alone until early 2023 at the age of 97. Singing was a source of joy, and Charles was one of two men in the Aberdeen Heights choir. Before relocating to Tulsa, he was an active member at two Oklahoma City churches: Mayfair Heights, where he sang and played bells in the choir, and later Grace United Methodist.
Charles was always good for a long conversation, thanked you for calling, and said goodbye with an emotional "I love you." He loved talking with his children and grandchildren and recalling his life experiences with his ironclad memory and quick wit. He took care to keep up with the interests and
concerns of each of his loved ones, acknowledge their accomplishments, and offer encouragement. He was particularly proud of grandson Clayton Rice, who is currently serving in the Army Reserves.
Charles was preceded in death by wife Patsy, daughter Linda Patterson; granddaughter Melanie Solis, parents Nila Gladys Stephens Rice and Charles Cleburn Rice Sr.; and many relatives, friends and servicemen.
He is survived by his daughter Laura Bullock of Tulsa; son Richard Rice (Ninwadee) of Chicago; son-in-law Bryan Patterson (Lauri) of Anthony, KS; seven grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a small circle of fellow veterans; his faithful cats, Mother and Squeak; and his community at Aberdeen Heights.
A celebration of Charles’ life will take place at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, October 19, at Elgin Methodist Church, 608 G Street, Elgin, OK 73538, officiated by Rev. Tom Trautman. Charles’ Uncle Bailey was a banker in Elgin and funded the church’s construction in honor of his mother, Ada L. Carson Stephens, who lived in the white house that stands near the church. Charles spent many holidays and summers in Elgin visiting his grandmother.
Interment with his wife Patsy will follow at Fort Sill National Cemetery with military honors at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent in Charles honor to the Wounded Warrior Project at support.woundedwarriorproject.org.
“I believe in fairness, integrity, character, honor, and religion-based decisions which relate to the conduct of our country’s business.”
Charles Cleburne Rice Jr., 45th Infantry Division