Go Back to School With Uncle Sam


Two great books from the MAMF Press


INTERVIEW WITH MILITARY BRATS REGISTRY FOUNDER MARC CURTIS

Photo courtesy Marc Curtis

By Circe Olson Woessner

I’ve been friends with Marc Curtis for many years. Like many brat friendships, ours is a virtual one—we’ve never met, although we e-mail, text, phone and message frequently. We follow each other on social media and have collaborated on several  projects, to include several Operation Footlocker, some podcasts, and the museum’s upcoming exhibit, “Host Nation Hospitality.” It’s a bit tricky to coordinate our schedules to talk in real time—Marc’s time zone is 18 hours ahead of mine, but we make it work. 

I recently interviewed Marc via e-mail. 

CW: You’ve had an interesting life. You’ve been a filmmaker, you’ve worked in tourism, you’re an entrepreneur, a teacher, and now you live permanently in China. Tell us about your brathood and early career.

MC: “Permanently” Is an odd word for a Military Brat. I’ve always had the intention of returning to the USA, but the timing hasn’t been right. I do like my life here. It’s friendly, peaceful (aka: no political arguments) and very affordable. I have wonderful friends here, both expat and Chinese. 

Yokohama, 1955, photo: Marc Curtis

I was born at the Presidio of San Francisco, what I consider to (have been) the most beautiful Army post In the Country.

When I was 3.5 years old, we moved to Yokohama, Japan (1954). I still remember some of the trip aboard the Simon B. Buckner troop ship, and the arrival in Japan. The sights, smells, and different appearance of the people caught my attention. We rode in an Army staff car from Yokohama port to the Navy base. My dad pointed out someone hauling “honey buckets” along the road. I have that picture in my aging brain. Fortunately, my dad took many photos while we were there, and that caused me to remember many events and places that we visited. 

From there, we returned on the Edmund Patrick troop ship to San Francisco. We settled in the Bay Area for three years while dad was the Army recruiter. In 1958, we moved to El Paso,Texas, and lived off-base for 1.5 years and then on base at Ft Bliss. That was the first time I entered a school where everyone was a Brat, and understood me, and welcomed me. Those friendships left a lasting impression and was the catalyst for starting the Military Brats Registry. So far, I have located 15 of my 30 classmates from 1960-61 and met four of them in person. 

“The Military-Brats Registry sprang from Marc Curtis’ 30-year search to find his friends from the fourth grade at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. After spending hundreds of dollars and countless hours online searching various Internet databases in vain, Marc finally decided to create a virtual “home” where military brats could connect with their childhood friends and classmates.”

 (PRWEB) APRIL 26, 2002*

CW: What is Military Brats Registry’s main purpose? 

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MC: The main purpose is to bring people together. I knew that other Brats must also want to locate their long-lost friends. As Baby-boomers we didn’t have the Internet. No email, no web, no Facebook. 

CW: Before you created Military Brats Registry, what did you know about brats?

MC: I hadn’t given It much thought. Then, I was going through a divorce and started searching the self-help section at a bookstore. There was a bright red book that grabbed my attention. The title was “Military Brat: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress” by Mary Edwards Wertsch. I found myself in the pages of that book, and finally understood why I am who I am. 

CW: I consider you to be one of the Who’s Who’s among famous brats, ranking up there with other brat “household” names. How and where did you meet Mary Edwards Wertsch, Donna Musil, and Joe Condrill? What collaborations have you done with them? 

MC: I don’t remember when or where my first meeting with Mary Edwards Wertsch happened. She was a primary speaker at two Brat cruises that I sponsored, and a seminar in Phoenix. I met Donna at the 1999 Homecoming event In Dallas that Joe Condrill promoted. I helped her obtain music rights for her film, “Brats: Our Journey Home” and appeared in that film and promoted it heavily through my website. 

CW: Let’s talk about Operation Footlocker: I know that there is documentation about its history on your website and we have a copy in our museum archive, but please tell our readers a bit about how it came to be and what the rationale was behind creating it. What did the team hope to accomplish with Operation Footlocker? 

MC: Operation Footlocker began on the Compuserve and AOL groups. Mary suggested a mobile Brat monument, and everyone liked the idea. To me it’s more of a mobile museum and brings wonderful memories when it’s displayed at Brat conventions and local meetings. I hope it can be presented at more events in the future.

CW: What are you most proud of regarding Operation Footlocker?

MC: I think it’s great that people donated the footlockers, and so many have donated their items to fill them.

CW: Do you think your brat childhood influenced your choices to become a risk taker— an entrepreneur— and move half-way across the world? 

Photo from the Military Brats Registry website

MC: Moving half-way across the world was easy for me. I had traveled to 45 countries shooting video for news reports and always enjoyed new places. I’m sure that bug infested me beginning with that first move to Japan in 1954.  I became fascinated by China after a trip to Hong Kong in 1997. I began traveling four times a year to soak in the culture and attempt to partner in business. Each time I left, I had the feeling I would eventually come here to live for one or two years. In 2022, it will be 11 years living here. 

Photo courtesy of Marc Curtis

One reason I have stayed here is more personal. A friend of mine who I met occasionally for language exchange was sent to Vietnam by one of her fashion customers. The last time we communicated, she said she would be back in about three days. But the customer turned out to be a major drug dealer. She was handed a package by the customer’s associates. It contained 3kg of heroin. The police rushed in and she was arrested. The penalty for this was death, but I had gone to Vietnam for the sentencing hearing. The judges notice an American sitting in the courtroom with her family. The woman associate was given the death penalty, but Janny was given a life sentence. I made several trips to Hanoi to assure her that I support her. Her family is poor and can’t pay the $165,000 to pay for her release. The full story is at http://SaveJanny.org

“A Nomad… A Gypsy… A Military Brat. Travel is the only “Home” I know.”

Marc Curtis

CW: Moving to a foreign country without a US military base as “home” makes this overseas assignment different than your childhood overseas postings. Have you assimilated into the culture, or are most of your friends Americans living abroad? 

MC: I have assimilated as much as possible, though my Mandarin Chinese language needs serious improvement! Most of my friends are Chinese who enjoy learning English, or just being friends with an “outsider.” Growing up we spent more time living off-base. I learned how to “fit in” quickly so it wasn’t that difficult to fit in China, though the first year was quite an adjustment.

CW: The last I heard; you were involved in the Chinese wine industry. When I think of wine production, I don’t readily think about China. What’s going on in the wine trade there? What should we know? 

MC: During my third trip to Shanghai in 2006, I was at a restaurant where they offered some local wines. I didn’t know China made wine, so I bought a bottle, took one sip, and spit it out. But my curiosity took over, having tasted some of the best wines around the world during my travels. So, I asked around and discovered the best Chinese wine was from Grace Vineyards in Shanxi province. I bought two bottles and took them back to the States where I shared them with an expert. We both were amazed! On my next trip, I visited the winery and tasted everything they had. I looked for winery tours, but there weren’t any. I discovered that [the domain] ChinaWineTours.com was available, so I grabbed it. 

Then I promoted it with press releases and was interviewed by magazines, newspapers, TV, and radio stations around the world. The first question was always “There’s wine in China?”  The second was “leaded or unleaded?” Over the years, Chinese wines became recognized. There are some incredible wineries now, mainly in the Ningxia region. 

Photo courtesy of Marc Curtis

CW: You were living in China during the the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic… What was that like? What’s it like there now? 

MC: We were locked down for two weeks. One person from a house could go buy groceries, but couldn’t enter the market. They had to tell the employees at the doorway what they wanted, and wait for them to be delivered. The person was allowed to be outside for a maximum of two hours. The government has done an amazing job of keeping the virus in check. If even one person tests positive in a city, the city is cordoned off and everyone gets tested. Imagine a city of 16 million residents and everyone is tested over a two-week period! My city has four to five million people and has only had one case in the past two years. I feel quite safe here. 

CW: What is one unexpected thing you have learned about living in China? 

MC: It’s not the heavy-handed approach by the government that I expected. There is an amazing freedom, and the people are quite happy. I don’t like the censorship though, and the blocking of news from outside.

CW: Our museum has amassed quite a collection of military family-focused books—one of them is your 2009 book titled, Growing Up Military: Every Brat Has a Story. It’s a collection of essays by different military brats. How did you reach out to people to ask them to contribute a story and how did you select which stories to print?

MC: I sent an email newsletter asking for stories because I knew there were so many Brats with incredible experiences around the USA and the world. All the stories submitted were interesting, so it wasn’t hard to choose the ones to include.

CW: As an editor, how far do you think you should go to edit an author’s contribution? What do you owe the author and the reader? 

MC: I’ve changed my opinion on this since the 2009 book. I had left the stories largely unedited so the personality of the contributor could be seen. If I do a sequel, I’ll edit grammar and spelling more, and add a little sentence structure. But– I still want people to tell their stories their way.

“The emails I receive on an almost daily basis from people who have connected with their friends through the registry are tremendously rewarding. The stories often bring tears to my eyes and give me a real insight into what it is like not having a place you can call home.”

 (PRWEB) APRIL 26, 2002*

CW: Why is it important to gather stories from military family members, especially the brats? 

MC: We live(d) a very different life from our civilian friends. It’s hard for someone who grew up in one town and still lives there to understand why we’re so different mentally and emotionally. These stories help people understand us a little more.

CW: What did you learn from the book experience? 

MC: It isn’t easy! But it’s quite fulfilling.

CW: Any new projects in the works?

MC: I just published a screenplay that I’m hoping someone will pick up for the big screen, Netflix, HBO, or any other. It’s a wild west story. Titled “Booker” it’s about a freed slave in 1868 who attempts to clear his name for a crime he didn’t commit.

I’ve been working on a book titled “Zhuhai 202: Tonight, I want to die with you.” It’s an action-packed true-life story. But, it has been in the works since 2012 and will probably take several more years to complete. 

CW: Both sound fascinating–I look forward to learning more about your projects! Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!

For more information about Marc, his writing projects and life abroad, check out his blog at marccurtis.com.

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Military Brats Registry is more than just a searchable database. There are podcast interviews, blog posts and memories by other military brats and a store selling brat merchandise. Click the link to visit ithttps://www.militarybrat.com

*https://www.prweb.com/releases/2002/04/prweb37551.htm