Did you know that the second Sunday in June is children’s day? According to nationaldaycalendar.com, “The second Sunday in June is known as National Children’s Day in the United States. A day to honor the children in our lives, National Children’s Day is a time to slow down our fast-paced lives, turn off the tech and refocus on the important things.”
NO-NOTICE ESSAY CONTEST!!! Write a short essay about your wonderful (still small or grown up) military child…First five entries will get a Patch from Brat Seal!!!! We will post the stories on our blogs and FB—we will have a nice goodie box for first prize.
Ready, set go! All submissions to us NLT June 13!!!
General Smith tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window. Two Spanish fighter jets had come along side our U.S. Army executive jet, and I could see a couple more outside his window across the aisle. It was the spring of 1985, and we were headed for a USEUCOM meeting at 17th Air Force Headquarters on Torrejon Air Base near Madrid.
It had been a quiet flight from the Army Air Base at HqUSAREUR in Heidelberg, so I had been dozing most of the way, as had my boss sitting nearby. We were the only passengers, so had run out of conversation long before we reached the Pyrenees.
General Smith had been informed by the pilot that the Spanish military was conducting a state ceremony rehearsal and had given permission for the jets to practice their escort duties. When we taxied to a stop on the runway at Torrejon, a contingent of military personnel rolled a red carpet to our gangplank and an honor guard flying U.S. and Spanish colors led by a distinguished civilian and a Spanish general out to greet us. They and General Smith exchanged salutes and handshakes, and together the two generals and I, with a Spanish civilian escort, trooped the line of a battalion of infantry soldiers, then paused for a twenty-one howitzer salute and the playing of two national anthems by a military band.
Back at the tarmac, two U.S. State Department limousines drove from behind the line to where we awaited them. A senior member of the U.S. Embassy staff stepped smartly out of the lead car and opened the doors for us to board. He joined us , and the other car followed us to the Air Force Headquarters building. All along the way, I could see security guards – Spanish, American, and civilian. American flags were flying at nearly every intersection.
Four days later, this whole ceremony would be repeated, this time in full-dress uniform and top hat, because President Reagan was making a state visit to Madrid, and Ike and I just happened to be a convenient air-borne arrival to serve as a live rehearsal cast.
Needless to say, for our trip back to the tarmac next afternoon, we rode in an Air Force sedan with a driver, courtesy of the Torrejon Base Commander. But we both enjoyed our taste of what it’s like to arrive in Presidential style.
–Allen Dale Olson
Although she was never saluted, never received a service ribbon, a promotion, nor honored at a Hail-and-Farewell, she was the reason all these things did happen to my dad. Even after being warned about dating a “Fly Boy,” my mom married my dad but only after she waited a year for him to return from Korea. She not only married my dad, she sacrificed her dreams for him, our family and his career.
I don’t remember a lot about when my dad left for Viet Nam, but I do remember my mom trying to make life for my brothers and I as normal as possible while he was gone. When he returned, we moved to Germany and that, I remember! I think my mom wanted our life in Germany to be as NOT normal, meaning different than life in the US, as possible. She wanted us to experience all that living in a foreign country could offer. Mom made sure we tried to speak the language, ate local food, attended cultural events and travelled as often as possible.
When we returned to the United States, dad went back to school for a graduate degree and it seemed we moved every summer for a few years. During our elementary school years, mom became our “first teacher.” Not knowing where we were going to school, mom insisted we spent time every summer preparing for the following school year by completing grade-level workbooks. Some of my fondest memories are my mom taking us to the library every Saturday morning with a large stack of books. She would let my brothers and I each choose a few books to check out for the week and the following Saturday we would return those books and check out more.
With all of our PCSs (Permanent Changes of Station), it was mom’s job to supervise the packing and unpacking. She had moving day down to a science. She had her clipboard ready when the moving truck pulled up and had told each of us kids our jobs for the day. I remember our jobs included putting stickers on boxes, labelling contents with a marker, and making sure the movers had water and snacks. When we arrived at our new base, she acted as the traffic cop making sure all the boxes got to the proper room. As an adult, I have moved quite a few times myself, but my moves never went as smoothly as when my mom was in charge.
In addition to orchestrating all the moves, doing all the shopping, cooking all the meals, cleaning the house and overseeing my brothers and my schoolwork, mom was also very involved in the Officers Wives’ Club in all the bases we were stationed. I remember when we were stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, the general’s wife had my mom constantly involved in one project after another. Mom never said “No” when asked to help, especially if the project benefitted children.
by Debby Stinemetz Caulfield
When I was fourteen, I moved into the Marine Barracks and fell in love with many handsome Marines. My father was the commanding officer of the Marine Barracks, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Our quarters were literally one end of the barracks. On the other side of my bedroom wall was “the head” where I could hear the Marines showering at reveille. Our front yard was the parade ground and our backyard was the servicing area for the mess and laundry. There was also a brig. There was no better place for a coming-of-age young woman to be where opportunities for flirting abounded, if kept out of the Colonel’s watchful eye. My younger brother and sister developed friendships with the off duty Marines too, riding skateboards together down the back service road.
Sometimes our Marine friends moved away and we never heard of them again. But some came back in the form of bad news as our father would tell us at the dinner table that our friend Lurch or Tom or Bob had been killed in action in Vietnam. It wasn’t just the Marines at our barracks home who were dying. My father, being the senior Marine in Maine, was tasked with officially notifying the families of Marines killed in Vietnam. I’d wait for my father to come home and see the emotion on his face, as he’d tell of fathers fainting in his arms or mothers screaming inconsolably.
We moved out of the Marine Barracks and my father moved to Vietnam. We continued to get more stories of Marines dying as my father shared his experiences as the commanding officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in Danang.
Before I was 18 years old and started developing any political sense and ideology about wars, I had become keenly aware that war and service to country is about death. This is what I think about on Memorial Day.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
The COVID-19 Pandemic has touched all of our lives in some way, but has being raised in a military environment prepared us for this situation? Military Brats Lora Beldon, Diane Harper, and Misty Corrales sat down, socially distanced of course, to talk about how the military has influenced their art and how the pandemic is currently impacting their lives.
Lora Beldon is an artist, art teacher and curator. She is the founder of Military Kid Art Project. Her art is autoethnographic, conceptual mixed media drawings which are story-oriented. Her art documents Military Brat life. Lora’s father is a retired career Marine.
Diane Harper is an art instructor and studio artist. Her primary medium is collage and mixed media. She works with the memories of growing up in a military childhood, and because those thoughts are not linear, feels that collage lends itself well to expressing how memories come. Diane’s father was a US Army forensic photographer.
After a brief introduction, a more directed conversation followed:
QUESTION: How does military family subject matter appear in your work? Why do you use it in your work? What are some of the recurring themes?
MISTY: I’ll start. My novel doesn’t focus specifically on the military, but it does focus on things that military families go through all the time. That’s the loss of a parent, and also moving and starting your life over from scratch and trying to fit in. That’s who my main character is–the new kid in town. Every single military brat has been that at least once in their life, and there’s always that one person at their new place who picks up strays.
The book is about those kind of relationships that you build and how fast friendships can grow.
I also show the strength of the family. One of the things you see a lot in young adult novels is that the kids are obviously so much smarter than the adults, and my characters are not doing that. They rely on their parents. They know there is a situation, and they’re the ones kind of handling it, but they’re not saying “oh, let’s not let Dad know.” The novel really highlights the different kinds of family relationships – the ones that are really tight knit, the latchkey, the ambivalent. When I was growing up, it seemed that there was always that one family that always had dinner together, picked up the strays and anyone in the neighborhood whose family didn’t really care one way or the other, or the latchkey kid.
My novel is also a frame story, because life doesn’t just happen, as Diane mentioned before, linearly.
LORA: Something that I read about your book, and correct me if I’m wrong, was that you thought of the idea a long time ago.
MISTY: I did. When I was at London Central High School, which was a DODDS school, I got the inspiration for the story. It took me 30 years to actually figure out how to write it. I wrote the outline for it in a notebook. This notebook was so important to me that I always knew where it was. I moved many times after I graduated high school, even after I turned in my ID. But, I always knew where that notebook was. When I finally decided that it was time to write the story, I found it in five minutes. Of course, I have no idea where it is, now, because I’ve written the story.
I kind of hate that I’ve lost that notebook because I knew where it was for so long. It seems that it was always waiting for me to use it, but now it’s gone. It’s kind of like, as a military kid growing up, you knew where your shot record was, even if you couldn’t find anything else.
LORA: So, would you say that the theme of moving, which is probably the biggest theme running through military family lives, is a reoccurring theme for you?
MISTY: I don’t know if it is going to be. I’ve only published one novel, and I am trying to come up with the sequel for it. I’ve always had this fascination with the frame story where your life is one story on the outside, and there are all these other stories that make it up. It’s a very challenging format in which to write!
LORA: Diane, how about you ? How do you use military family subject matter in your work?
DIANE: Well, when my father was told in the hospital that he needed to go on hospice care for mantle cell lymphoma. My dad had a moment of clarity in this kind of chemo fog that he had for so long. We were alone and he said, “I need you to do me a huge favor and I hate to put this on you. I need you to keep all of my photographs as well as the family photographs and archive for the family.” He said, “I know it’s a big job.”
He had probably tens of thousands of negatives. I had to take all the family photographs once my mother died four years later and catalog them, and it took me probably five years more after my mother’s death to start that process.
I also found documents and transport papers from the Soviet Union that made it possible for us to ride the duty train from Berlin to the West. There was just this vast amount of information that came from our life as a military family that needed to be worked with. I was grieving and I couldn’t put all the pieces together; about what my life meant, what it meant to be part of a military family, what my father was all about, and how he saw us because his photographs of us were so different than what he did at his job with crime photos.
You mentioned different lenses, Misty. It’s almost been my life’s work to find out how he saw us through his own lens, and it’s been pretty profound for me.
LORA: Do you think that this is the underlying thing that we as military brats and artists bring to our work from the military family experience? Is there something that we’re trying to define or explore?
I think what we’re doing–correct me if I’m wrong–is attempting to write/paint history about military brats. In the past the only thing that everyone could go out and purchase about brat history was Mary Edwards Wertsch’s book with the 80 interviews. And then Donna Musil’s documentary. That was the beginning of documentation of our cultural history. The connection to big topics and patterns. Military brats as a study is a fairly new topic. We’re still making sense of the sub-culture.
DIANE: That’s what it seems like, and the thing that layers into mine is that I had a French mother. My grandparents went through World War II. My mother was a child in occupied France on the border of Germany and France. My uncle still lives in Luxembourg. I have family scattered all over the world, but we don’t really have much contact with each other. So, part of what I’m unraveling is my very close relationship with my French grandparents, and how their wartime experience was passed onto my mother and then passed on to me. There are all these layers, and I think that’s why collage really speaks to me, because it’s a layering process. I think what we all are looking for is identity, when our entire community is gone basically.
You know, it’s funny. Brats who spent time overseas pinpoint it as the best part of their lives.
The trouble with that is that we can’t go back to our communities because they don’t exist anymore. They’ve been torn down or they’re occupied now by civilian families. They look different. There’s not a gate. There’s nothing military left over there for us to pinpoint that that’s where we grew up. Going home for us is a little bit more difficult than for an American family who never left the US. How are we different from other kids? And how are we the same? Being a brat really is a different life.
It seems to be more important as you get older because you get that sense of wanting to go home, but you can’t figure out where that is.
LORA: So, I don’t know about you two, but I lost my job, everything in my life changed recently because of Coronavirus. Going on unemployment, waiting things out. I literally had just finished my fundraiser for scholarships for Military Kid Art Project workshops. I was getting ready to launch the permanent art space. Before that I had been doing all this traveling. I really wanted to make an effort to see if I could get something started locally in Richmond, VA that would be a base camp. A place military families/brats could come back to year after year. What if there was a place to go back to for the rest of your life? Classes have been put on hold.
MISTY: If you decide to make plans, Uncle Sam will find a way to change them for you! I really enjoyed what you’ve done on line recently.
LORA: The quarantine has been good for my art practice. I’ve been making something every day with my hands. I’m pushing myself to try things I’ve never tried before. Like small things, and very quick things. I decided to do an experiment and make myself make things that only took 30 minutes. It was really hard. It was like I wanted the work to be more problematic, harder. I had to cut things off. Practically slap my own hand and say NO! you’re not doing that! That adds 15 more minutes. The work has turned out lighter and I think more fun.
That sort of leads me to the next question, which is: has the coronavirus entered your daily life? And, influenced your artwork?
MISTY: I’m actually still employed full-time. I work my day job as a mortgage underwriter, so, while I’m not at the office anymore, I’m working from home, which I adore as a general practice. I’ve not been impacted that much. I still work the same number of hours. The big difference is that I don’t have the evening commitments that I had or the feeling like I need to go outside to just go “do something.”
I live in Alabama. I went to the grocery store today. It was a regular Saturday, just like any other and you wouldn’t know that there was something going on if the shelves were fully stocked and people weren’t wearing masks. There were so people in the stores!
I kind of feel like I’m being left out of this massive thing that everyone in the world is going through because of where I live and what I do. When I do venture out to get my groceries every two weeks as opposed to every week like normal, I don’t feel like I see it. Because I’m working all the time, I don’t have that same shared experience that everyone else is having. So, in many ways, I almost feel like I’m on the outside looking in on this pandemic situation and I don’t feel a part of it.
I’m not sure how that’s going to impact my creative work. I do mostly writing. I also do things like tarot reading. I’m trying not to do those right now because there are so many people who are impacted financially that I don’t want to take a commission from somebody if someone is willing to pay for that service. I would rather some other artist who makes a living doing this, take that commission.
LORA: How do you deal with shopping? Are you going out to shop, or ordering things and having them delivered? If you go out do you wear a mask?
MISTY: I don’t do the gloves because I don’t feel they really help. Basically. When I come home, the first thing I do is I wash my hands and when we get to the car, we actually put on Purell to sanitize our hands. Then as soon as we put finished groceries away, we sanitize our hands, you know, basically whenever you think about it, sanitize. My hands are getting chapped from all this extra washing. I do wear a face mask. I would say about 50% of the people here in Alabama are wearing them, but I don’t really like what we’re doing.
Some of the groups that I would normally meet with face-to-face at my job, they do the zoom meetings or Discord chat. So, we’re still having encounters socially, but before you went into an office and now you’re just online.
LORA: I’ve been trying to think about what’s going to happen, you know with Military Kid Art Project, when everything gets lifted. I just don’t see people sending their children to buildings where groups of kids would sit around together, when they probably have things in place now because of the coronavirus; I can’t imagine things normalizing any time soon. I see the teaching side of business as a wash this summer and perhaps starting up again in the fall. We’ll definitely have to change some policies, how far apart people work and not sharing materials among other things.
DIANE: From my standpoint with COVID, it really has impacted me in a big way as far as making art. Before the distancing happened, I was employed at a hospital. I still am employed there. But now I’m on furlough and my problem is that even though I’m scared to death of this virus, and even though I have my own issues with being a kid in military hospitals growing up and all that entailed, I really have this kind of need to be of service that I think came from the military values. My whole family feels that way. They all want to be helpful, and I see that in even what you were saying, Misty.
That’s kind of a military value to me, where the team and the group and the Squadron or the entire service, we are all one and we have to act as a team. What’s good for one member is good for all members. It’s kind of that all-in-the-same-boat thing that we grew up with even though we weren’t close to our immediate families. We had our military families and we were very close to those military families in those tight communities.
Now I’m not working and I have an older husband who at 68 has diabetes and some other comorbidities and I have moderate asthma, so I’m glad I’m not in the front line, but I feel bad about not being on the Frontline. And so, in some ways, I just have a hard time getting going because I feel like I should be out there, and what I’m doing is protecting my husband and myself, but that doesn’t feel the same as being out there on the front line. I’m doing the only thing can do, which is delivering food for shut-ins, and bringing goodies over to the hospital and meeting somebody at the curb. But I just feel like, all of a sudden, the art took kind of a second place, plus I’m a process artist, which means I show up to the work and then it begins, I don’t have plans in place. It’s hard to be in that creative mode when I’m in survival mode.
So that’s kind of a problem that I’ve been having and I think my friends who are artistic are split down the middle on that one. Some of them are just not making any art at all and then others are just being super productive. I don’t know where that’s all going to land for me, but it’s been a bit of a struggle to keep my morale up. You know, it’s just feeling cut off from that fight. When I was talking about COVID in the very beginning, I used terms that a friend of mine who’s very astute said, “You sound like a soldier, you know going into battle or something.” I said, “Well that is kind of what it is.”
LORA: The reason I wanted us to get together and talk is because I thought a lot of what I hear on TV these days sounds very similar to the average military family experience. I think the average military kid experiences these feelings every two to three years. I would move in middle of the school year, or it could be at the end of the school year, either way it would take four months before I would meet anyone. If we moved at the beginning of summer then forget it. I would often spend the entire summer alone. Mom would put me in different activities like art, swimming, and tennis, but they were all isolated. Team sports were always harder to enter in the middle of the school year. Almost impossible. Plus, I’m an introvert. So, to me, coronavirus sequestering feels normal.
MISTY: You may remember back in late 1985, 86 when Reagan decided to send bombers from Lakenheath to Libya. I lived in England during that time, and it was one of the few times where I felt like I lived in a hostile country. And these are one of our closest allies! But all of the sudden, the people of that country were livid. I mean, it was to the point where behind the scenes– and I didn’t find this out until many years later–the military was thinking about shipping dependents home because that’s how hostile the situation was in England. Now, I went to a 5-day boarding school. So, basically Monday morning, the bus would bring us to school and then Friday evening, we would get back on the bus and go back home to Greenham Common. For five days of the week I lived at London Central, which was at High Wycombe, and on the weekends, I lived at Greenham Common. Well there was a period because of that for about four to six weeks, we didn’t go home. We were confined to quarters (the base) for the entire time and we respected why we should do it.
Well, of course, on the first day they said we could go downtown, we obviously did. It was scary. We got followed from the moment we entered town. Normally we would walk back to the base, but this time we took a cab.
We didn’t argue with the commander. He said stay on base, and we all said “yes, sir.” No one tried to sneak off base to see what might happen. We all understood that this was for our safety. It was because the only way they could protect us was if we stayed on base. That meant we weren’t allowed to go home because going home meant driving those buses off base and truly subjecting ourselves to anything that happened between the school and were our family lived. We respected his authority and obeyed the order. I don’t think that some civilians really get that. Sometimes you have to do things for the greater good even if they inconvenience you.
So, I kind of feel guilty whenever I go to a store, but at the same time, I’m going to a grocery store and buying the essential things that I need to have, rather than making somebody else do it. But I’m not trying to break down the doors at Michael’s. You know that people do that? They’re literally rushing the doors of places that are offering curbside delivery out of, you know, convenience for people.
I do feel that places like Michaels are essential right now. People need something to do. Right now, if somebody is sitting at home painting some piece of whatever that’s never going to see the light of day, and it’s keeping them calm for 20 minutes, that’s important. I think having access to Michael’s is essential.
People just want to go places and they are feeling stir crazy. I get it. But I mean, like I said, the moment they told us we could go downtown, we flew out that gate– we didn’t even stop to think. “Okay, maybe just because they said it’s okay, we should wait a few days.”
Sometimes you must make a sacrifice for the greater good and take a little bit of an inconvenient hitch, and it’s okay. You have to understand that it’s not always about you, and it’s important to respect that you work things together as a team and keepeverybody safer.
LORA: Diane, how has the military lifestyle prepared you for the coronavirus?
DIANE: I do actually remember us going to Berlin before we left Europe from our station. My dad was in his uniform when we went to the border and we stood on an observation deck. We were followed, by the way, to make sure we got off before the East side. This was in 1976. We got off at Checkpoint Charlie, at the wall area and climbed up to the observation deck to take pictures from the West side where we could see over the wall. Well, my brother took pictures, but his camera lens paper cleaner floated up, caught wind, then floated over the wall. My dad grabbed us and said, “We have to leave right now. Now, now, now!” We had to go find a way out of there heading anywhere West because they were still patrolling the length of the Wall at that point with armed soldiers everywhere. I was thinking, oh my God just a little piece of lens paper the size of a three by five card could spark an international incident with my father who could have been a special agent in their minds.
The other thing I was thinking about was we were in Germany during the Baader-Meinhof gang, aka the “Red Army Faction” as they were otherwise known, when they were bombing American and civilian sites.
They bombed the IG Farben building near my brother’s high school and my dad was called to the scene to investigate. I knew this bombing was a really big deal with horrible consequences.
We got to the point where the commanders were saying that all the military kids had to be home by a certain time with mandatory curfews. We endured quite a bit of that kind of shelter-in-place mentality at the time with curfews and lots of new orders until it was safe and I don’t remember questioning them.
I do remember from my childhood having a lot of anxiety and nail-biting. I know my entire family bit their nails. I’ve read pieces about military kids and nail biting from anxiety. I think we grow up with a lot of anxiety, even though we don’t identify it as much as that because we’re just following orders, but I think that, as a kid, you don’t really know why you’re following orders other than you have to and that’s what’s expected.
LORA: With my over 20 years of working with military kids, and this is something many people don’t like to hear… and I’m going to preface this with, there are absolutely wonderful things about military brat life. There are good and bad things. This Corona experience reminds me a lot of military family life. You know, military parents are deployed so many times, into dangerous situations. Me working with military brats, I’m fully aware whose parents are deployed into a war zone at any given time. These kids are holding it together really well. They’re especially holding it together really well for their parents.
But when they’re with us, they’re using verbiage and talking about things that they will not talk about within their family because they don’t want to cause any more tension than already exists, within their family, within their home. So when they’re around peers that have grown up similarly, they feel free to talk about their normal, you know, the military brat normal, which is “Dad’s been deployed for almost a year now, it’s his 4th time”, and “Yes, he’s in this area and they are seeing and hearing explosions while talking on Skype.” Kids are fully aware of the danger that the parent is in, and they feel that stuff.
I also know as we’re going out during COVID time and shopping, we’re wearing masks and we’re putting ourselves in those situations. There’s this needed aspect of suspended belief or denial. You’re thinking: “Okay. I need to feed myself and my family. I have to believe I’m not going to get the Corona Virus. I’m going to come home. I’m gonna wash my hands.” But you also have to think, “I’m sure that people that got it probably thought the same thing, doing the same thing.” So, there seems to be a disbelief or suspended belief. I think that’s what military families also have to do in essence, during war time, when a loved one is deployed. Which, by the way is still going on. So current brats and military families that have a deployed parent are double hit at the moment. They’re wondering, how do I kiss them, say goodbye, wave to the ship as it’s pulling out of port? You hope for the best and you try hard not to think about the worst. What I am also saying, is I believe civilians can learn a lot from military families in these trying times.
DIANE: Clenching teeth. There’s only so much pushing that down you can do, and it does come to the surface in your dreams. I think military children, at least in my experience, have been taught how to see a situation, to analyze it and figure out what they’re supposed to do. The best coping skill I ever got was being new to a situation, sussing it out and then deciding. ‘Okay. This is where I fit in or I need to be with these people or I need to get to know this person.’ We learned what was expected of us, and then quickly adapted to that model. So, you knew on one hand that it wasn’t alright, but you had your main adults telling you it was all right, and it was going to be alright. We didn’t have the Internet. All we had was the evening news and maybe those shorts before Tarzan. Plus, we got our news filtered through Stars and Stripes to our Armed Forces Network. Everything our parents were telling us, we heard it, but it might not have felt true, but we couldn’t say anything about that. I think for me, it manifested in anxiety and that’s the biting of the nails and knowing that there’s this undercurrent of tension going on. The adults in the room were not telling you what was going on. At the same time, I don’t know that I’d want to know everything that was going on. I think military kids are really good at watching and observing and figuring things out. We just don’t know what to do with it because nobody’s going to corroborate it except our friends. That’s why the friendships were so important. I think military kids are pretty good at figuring things out for themselves. Military kids are amazing.
LORA: I agree.
The conversation reflected a great deal on how the military environment trains military brats to listen to what is being said, and watch what is being done for guidance on how to respond. It is not just our artwork which is influenced by the environment, it is how we respond to unfamiliar circumstances. This is something that stays with us our entire lives.
Lora Beldon is on Instagram and Facebook. Look for Military Kid Art Project as well as Lora Beldon, Art. Lora’s web site is http://www.LoraBeldon.com
Misty Corrales can be found on Facebook as Spell Me by Cat Francis. Her novel, Spell Me the Truth, is available on Amazon.com.
Diane Harper is Diane Harper Art on Instagram. You can find her on Facebook under Diane Harper Fine Art.
My mom met and married my dad in 1954 between the time he joined the army and got out and when he went back in the army in 1955 after I was born (in Orlando, Florida). Shortly after a brother and sister coming along and moving to three more states Alabama, Texas, and South Dakota, Dad got orders for Munich, Germany. Before Mom and we kids could move there, though, Dad had to go ahead of us and spend six or seven months there until military housing became available. During that time period, Dad moved us to a small town called Apopka down near Orlando so that Mom could be near family. Mom didn’t drive and was more comfortable knowing she had family nearby who she could also rely on for transportation when she needed it.
Anyway, time went by and also the six or seven months and Mom and her three doorsteps (she referred to us when we were little as her three doorsteps) were on a military air transportation plane leaving Philadelphia across the Atlantic Ocean for Munich. Brother, sister, and I all three started elementary school in Munich. After Dad’s time was up in Munich, we (the whole family this time) left Bremerhaven, Germany on a military transport ship heading for Brooklyn, New York. Took nine days! I was eight years old then, so Mom was 28 (20 years difference in our ages).
From that time on, we moved all over the country and during that time Dad serving in Vietnam twice and Korea again (which incidentally brought Mom and us three kids back to Orlando each time). When he retired in 1973 after spending a year in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, we moved to where I am now…the Mississippi coast. I was only 17 then, and now looking back, I wonder how so much adventure could be packed into so little time. My dad made a lot of sacrifices, and my mom was behind him every step of the way. Her sacrifices were as great as his. Times were not easy for an enlisted man and his wife trying to stretch a dollar. So, just like all other military families, I suppose I could write a book about my childhood journey. Mom is gone now, so is Dad and also their other two “doorsteps”, but it is comfortable just knowing their legacies will always carry on.
My mother came from a tobacco farm in the hills of Kentucky with a High School education. She was a clean slate and had to learn everything. Her first meal to my Dad at Lackland was a hamburger, raw it turned out. My dad choked it down while she cried. He left and came back with a cook book.
She learned, moving, packing going overseas, having us kids. However she became my Superhero at Offutt. Dad had left to go to Germany to find us housing for our next PCS so she and my younger brother and I were staying in a small cheap apartment that had a pool. I invited my friends from Wherry housing, two brothers and my best friend a Black teenager. We changed into our swim suits and jumped in. A young girl about our age leaped out and ran off.
Later that evening the manager came by and told me that all guests had to be approved in advance. I was puzzled, not so my mother, rising up like a grizzly protecting her cubs she stalked over to the manager and told him in no uncertain terms that we were going to invite whoever we wanted be they black, brown, or purple! Furthermore if he tried to pull any of this racist crap on us she’d be happy to call the Base Legal Office, as she picked up the phone, She said, “I’d be happy to put not only this run-down apartment off limits but every property the owner has be it housing, entertainment, or retail”. “So what will it be?” As she brandished the phone. The manager apologized and backed away. My friends and I enjoyed the pool almost every day.
The final steps in joining my Dad overseas strained my superhero. She had to sell the car, arrange for us to get to the airport, send the rest of our stuff overseas. My Dad has arranged our flight, but God laughs at well-made plans.
The flight from Omaha to Chicago was fine. However, there was a strike in London so our flight to Philly and then to London and Frankfurt was out. The help desk arranged us to fly Lufthansa from New York to Frankfurt, and we had to change airports in NY. My mother, clearly at the end of her rope turned to me and cried, “John, What’s a Lufthansa!!” She had visions of WWI biplanes. I explained what it was, gathered up Davey, and our luggage and followed her. We arrived at JFK late, she sent me off on a food run, I found one hot dog stand, bought his last two hot dogs and predictably she went without, we two boys inhaled the dogs. The plane ride was yet more stress for her, we all were separated.
They woke us up for breakfast, my brother is a terrible traveler, worse at waking up, after being fed OJ, he promptly threw up all over the man and the empty seat next to him. As it was a full flight the gentleman, a well-dressed German was stuck smelling OJ and hot dog My mom silently chuckled that she wasn’t next to Davey for once.
Surprisingly, Dad was there waiting for us despite the air mixup.
As Dad drove us to our new house on the autobahn, we just stared, seriously jet-lagged. Once home, he proudly showed off our washer and drier, after informing that the drainage tube needed to go into the bathtub, he showed mom his large pile of dirty clothes and headed out to work. Davey hit the sack, Mom started on Dad’s laundry, putting the hose in the bathtub, I tried to get my room in order. Soon we heard a frenzied banging on our door, both Mom and I rushed to it only to find ourselves wading in dirty water. The hose had of course flipped out of the bathtub without being secured, something my Dad forgot to mention. Our Landlord was screaming “Was ist los!” Apparently he was in the bathroom when the water started dripping on his head.
Not the best first meeting for my Mom but she managed, like always, she managed.
John Paul Jones