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Memories of an Army brat

Theresa Duke

Life is a bit funny, and sometimes, in the here and now we wonder how we got here. We’ve been told we should not dwell on the past, but we should not forget it either. Things that take me back into my childhood, are memories of food and playthings—things that are a big part of any child’s life. I don’t remember much about my early years. But, I do remember that while in Okinawa, my brother got caught outside during a typhoon and was hanging on for dear life to the screen door… I remember that I had learned to tie my shoes at around then, and I went to my first sleep over…and I’d left it early. The one thing I remember about TV programs was the opening to the horror shows. What it showed was from the knees down… a Japanese solider from WWII stumbling into the TV station at night, walking around and coming upon a lone station employee– the employee jumped with fright– and that’s where it had cut off. Any other memories from that time period, I need to use pictures and family stories to remind me..
Moving to Berlin on Pan-Am…I do remember the flight being empty, because I got to sleep in the middle aisle; at that age, I don’t know if it was a normal civilian flight or one chartered for the military. When we finally got to Berlin, and our father got us to our apartment, he did have some little gifts for us. I got some comics.  My bedroom was bare– I only had a desk, a nightstand, a bed with a bookcase-type headboard.

This was the first time I didn’t have to share a room with my brother and I was a bit happy with that.

The thing about that little headboard: I kept my radio and a few other items there, like these little glo- in the-dark plaques. I would charge those plaques and any other glow-in-the-dark items I had, just before bed time and then set them up to be my little night light. My radio was  tuned to the only radio station I could understand—AFN. Around my bed time, they would play songs from the 50’s and 60’s.

The thing about living in certain places as a child, is you don’t realize the history of the place, or the importance it played during history. All I knew is that the East Germans had built a wall and that the Allies had to fight to hold on to the west. To me, it really didn’t make much of an impact. I was still going to school, I was still making friends and playing.

The playground had this circular sandbox; I remember me and my friends would dig as far down as we could, and then we would build these little landscapes for our matchbox cars. Then there were the swing set– it was placed right in front of this huge tree, and as kid do, we’d see who could get the highest, then we would see who could jump out of the swing and go the furthest, and if you were brave enough, you would take the swing right in front of the tree and jump. I guess as a kid we were using physics and did not know it. Because, as we learned, if you jumped at a certain point of the arc of the swing, you could get more height and distance (funny how we learn something early in life through play, but when we get older, we forget that we had used the things we were learning in high school as a child.)

There was an ice cream truck, but the difference it was a German-run truck, so we would have to go ask for Deutsch Marks. My favorite ice cream was kind of a soft serve in a cookie type-shell shaped like a clam. We had a convenience store that was run by the PX. I would be sent there, for things like bread, eggs and milk. Yes, one time my dad sent me there to get some cigarettes, and when I couldn’t get them, I got disappointed. So to try to make it up, I attempted to buy him a six pack.
Sticking with the food theme, at the ball fields, there was a snack stand that served different snacks, and what I remember most was the cooking of the hamburgers and the way they tasted. When I am around snack stands like that, I always wish  I could recapture that smell and taste from my childhood, but no such luck. I also remember getting treats that seemed to be uniquely German, such things like Nutella, Capri Sonne juice pouches. When we got back to the states, I was a bit sad that those products had not made it to the states. To this day, I cannot replicate the taste of  Nutella spread on a brotchen; having it on white bread just cannot compare.
The one thing that I was introduced to was the volksfest, a carnival, with the rides, games and food. Bratwurst made in America just can’t compare to those in Germany. The one taste that didn’t stick with me was that of frog’s legs. We went to a volksfest in the French section and some of the stuff was the same, but when it came to the food, well it was all new to me. I remember I was asked if I wanted to try frog’s legs and I did. I think I liked it, but it was a onetime thing, so only the memory of eating them stuck with me, along with my first taste of crepes.  I had  those a couple times and I remember them being sweet.
The mid to late 70’s was kind of a breakout year for certain things, and the big one was soft bubble gum, I think it was either Hubba Bubba or Bubblicious.  I remember going to the little PX store that was located within the main PX complex and buying 4 or 5 packs because it always seemed to be sold out. My parents thought I was old enough to ride the bus to and from the PX, and so I would go every so often. I had a radio that I would carry with me. I had this strap, and one thing I did was to collect key chains and attach them to the strap, I even put the pins I got while in the Webelo’s ( and I still have that sling) and sling it over my shoulder and so when I waited for the bus, I would turn the radio on and listen–no I didn’t have headphones, so everyone got to enjoy the music. I remember sitting at the PX bus stop and these soldiers walked and they made positive comments about me carrying the radio.

So, while Berlin was a walled city in the middle of Soviet controlled lands, life just went on as normal. So normal, that I learned impatient drivers are the same, no matter where in the world you went. Once, I was getting off the school bus, and like we had been told, we had to walk in front of the bus.  One day I was just didn’t do it and bam, a German lady who just didn’t want to wait, slipped around the bus. That was the first and only time I was hit by a car while walking. (I have been in a few accidents while in a car though.) Nothing was broken in that long-ago accident, but unlike in America, I don’t think we sued the driver or got any kind of compensation for the injury.
Now one of the sad things that kind of happened, my dad got promoted (that part was not sad), and with that promotion came new living quarters– a two-story house with our own back yard. The downside was that I went back to sharing a room with my brother, but at least I got the top bunk. So, we had to move to another part of the American controlled part of the city. I had to leave my friends behind, and yes, I saw them at school, but other than, that I had to make new friends. I don’t think I really made new friends. This new housing area didn’t have a playground, so I had to do other things, mostly I just rode my 3-speed bike around the area. Now the thing about this area, was that it was largely a regular German neighborhood, and so really, we didn’t interact with the kids there.

One of the things the military tried to keep things normal for American kids was to have American sports, and so I played baseball. My dad coached T-ball. I was not an outstanding player, but I kept trying, even when we got back to the States. I played a couple years of soccer, and that I was pretty good at that. I played fullback. My coach said I was pretty aggressive at that spot, but since it was not that much of a sport in the States, I never played it again once we left Berlin.

The problem I had as a student is that I kept getting into trouble at school, so I spent a lot of time in the vice-principal’s office. The reason this was a problem for me was that my father was the community health nurse and he worked with the school nurses. He knew when I got into trouble, but I never learned my lesson and kept getting into trouble.

As for the toys in my life, only a few stood out.  One of my hobbies was collecting Smurf figures. As a kid, I did not know that this was at the time a European thing. I remember going to a toy store just to see what new ones they got in. I know I also collected matchbox cars early on, when we moved to the new house, I really didn’t have anyone to play with, so I stopped collecting those.
I remember going shopping with my mom in stores that sold general merchandise.  They would keep their doors open, and when we walked in, there was a strong flow of air, in the summer it was cooled and in winter, it was heated. I don’t remember the grocery stores having that feature. I do know that when we went to a German grocery store, it was a special treat, so we would always bug mom to get things we didn’t get at the commissary.

Now being an army brat was both a blessing and a curse. The curse is  I didn’t have a hometown there was no place with roots that I could go back to. I never made lifelong friends, and the friends I did make, would change every couple years as their parents were reassigned. When asked where I am from, I tell them I grew up as a brat living around the world. The person asking would say that had to be cool, and it was, but I’d explain that I never had that hometown and lifelong friends they have.
The blessing is that I counted myself a citizen of the world. I could adjust to new environments easily, but making friends– that’s another story.
The thing about being in Berlin, my dad would take three weeks of leave and we would travel to new and different places, some that have faded from memory and others just because of what they stood for stand out in my memory. Today, a few of those places just wouldn’t be safe for an American to visit. As a kid some of those places were cool to say, hey I got to go there, but I really didn’t appreciate the significance of these places and would love to go back and revisit, and now with the internet, I can research some of these places and just realize  how special some of these places were.

One thing I learned, when we were getting close to the time for my dad to be reassigned and when he got his new orders, was that new people just didn’t make the effort to get to know you, because you would be leaving shortly. In Berlin, 7thgrade was at Berlin American High school, and that was about the time we were getting ready to leave, so no one outside of a few teachers and the friends I already had, really tried to get to know me, so I kind of went through those few months in school like a ghost.

Leaving one place just as the school year started was a bit hard, but the hardest thing was arriving at school a few months into the school year. Being the new kid was tough, and if your family decided to live off post, it was even harder because friendships had already been formed, so not only were you the new kid, you were an outsider as well. Such is the life of an army brat.

Christmas 1944

Diane Berry

Our Dad would have celebrated his 101 birthday yesterday if he were alive. I had a memory on my heart all day and decided to share.

It was December 1944. Dad was getting ready to go overseas during WWII . He and a large number of fellow military personnel were on a train in New Jersey when the train was held up due to a snow storm. The date was December 22, a few days before Christmas. Since everybody had a little cash on hand, the guys began to play poker to pass the slow moving time! Our Dad did rather well winning $1800.00. that was quite a lot of money in those days…our Dad was only making about $40.00 a month at the time.

He wired about $400.00. back home to save until after the war.

But he took the rest, about $1,400, went into town and bought items to make Christmas bags for EVERY guy on the train. Imagine the impact – guys going to war, not knowing whether they were going to return home, Christmas time, away from family and there was a Christmas surprise for them on Christmas morning.

(I never heard my Dad tell that story…the pastor shared it at his funeral). So very thankful I was raised by a kind and humble man! Merry Christmas everyone. I pray that your Christmas has an unexpected blessing,



Air Evacuation Nursing


image001-2In 1942, during World War II, a new type of nursing—known as air evacuation nursing—was ushered into the U.S. military forces. Medical teams consisting of flight surgeons, enlisted medical technicians, and flight nurses staffed transport aircraft, which were specially rigged to carry injured soldiers from the battlefield to fully equipped hospitals located away from the front. Air evacuation planes—or “air ambulances” as some called them—often landed in hostile territory and did not bear the familiar red cross, so there was always a real danger that the planes could be shot down by enemy forces. Read the rest of this entry »


By Circe Olson Woessner

In Karlsruhe, Germany, when I was a child, there was a street I used to love to walk down. I don’t remember the name–it may have been Hirschstrasse, but sometimes my memory fails me… …It was about two blocks from my apartment on Kriegstrasse and on it was everything I ever needed.

In my memory, I can walk down it even now—I see it in remarkable detail, just as though I were twelve years old again. It was primarily a residential street lined with row houses of limestone and sandstone. As the street neared the city center, the residences gave way to chic boutiques and cafes.

At the top of Hirschstrasse, as I walked down the narrow sidewalk, I would pass the pet store where I bought my first parakeet and subsequent parakeets. I remember the small friendly shopkeepers and that there were fish, rabbits and parakeets– I have no idea if there were cats or dogs or hamsters or anything else– all I remember were the parakeets, which soon became my very beloved Peetie, Petra and Patty— To this day, I can still hear the scrabble of bird feet inside the tiny cardboard box as I carefully carried my precious pet home. I also remember running to the pet store when one of my birds became sick, and the comfortable German lady cupping my stricken parakeet in her hands and shaking her head, clucking sympathetically.

Next to the pet store was the coffin store. In the window there would always be three or four wooden coffins solemnly lined up in front of a background of white linen curtains. I would walk by that store never really realizing that I, too, was mortal. Instead I would shiver deliciously and feel sorry for those who would die– but it never would be me. Read the rest of this entry »

“McCain Institute’s Rebecca Schneider named to Top 99 under 33!”

by Steve Sparks from his blog

Young American Leaders Committed to Service! McCain Institute’s

Rebecca Schneider…


Rebecca Anne Schneider is an Army Brat

The McCain Institute mission statement:

“To advance leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom, and human dignity, in the United States and around the world.”

Rebecca Schneider serves as Chief of Staff to Ambassador Kurt Volker at the McCain Institute for international leadership…  Quote from the website…

“Prior to joining The McCain Institute, she worked in the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service as an International Trade Assistant. She specializes in EU trade policy and foreign trade agreements, particularly regarding the World Trade Organization. The USDA presented her an award in 2010 for reviewing and redrafting commentary on an EU-US trade policy.”


My favorite little girl in our neighborhood of long ago, would say, “Mr. Sparks, Mr. Sparks, Mr. Sparks” at least 3 times!  At just 5 years old Becca talked and talked about her ideas from, “Beanie Babies” to religion and politics.   From the time daughter, Sarah and I picked her up for a ride to or from the Upper Valley Christian School in Leavenworth, Washington the conversation was non-stop…  I watched her grow up with Sarah, and become close family friends.

Becca and Sarah loved the Living Nativity event presented by the Upper Valley Christian School every year during the week of Christmas.  They argued at times about who would play the Angel Gabriel or the animal keeper leading Mary into Bethlehem.  We so enjoyed this annual family Christmas celebration and event with Becca’s parents, Robert and Anne along with many of our neighbors.  Becca now calls me “Steve” after many years of giving her permission to do so.  Her Mom, Anne, reminded her of the importance of addressing adults as Mr. or Ms. all the time…  Now, I enjoy signing off as “Mr. Sparks” when we chat on Facebook to preserve the heartwarming memories of days gone by…

I am so lucky to have been able to stay in close touch with Rebecca over the years.  I am equally proud of her accomplishments.  She is making a huge difference for countless others around the globe and close to home.  Rebecca Schneider is an exemplary professional and a compassionate person destined for great deeds in the future.  Rebecca represents our future and we should all be proud to pass the torch on to her to help America protect human dignity and freedom around the globe.

The “Mr. Sparks” family, including wife, Judy, and childhood friend, Sarah, extend our love and best wishes to Rebecca Schneider!

“Mr. Sparks,” Judy, and Sarah

Remembering the Seven Seas Locker Club

by Kim Medders, US Navy, retired


The Seven Seas Locker Club in downtown San Diego was a huge place off Broadway that took up a city block and never closed. You could go there at anytime, day or night, and get your uniform cleaned, pressed or completely tailored, complete with full zippers on each side of your jumper. Don’t forget to get liberty cuffs along with that. Could get your shoes re-soled and have a complete meal. One of the really cool things you could have done there was to get your neckerchief rolled. They had a machine that would perfectly roll it so you wouldn’t look like a boot. At one time, enlisted sailors were not allowed to have civilian clothes on bases or ships. The “7-Seas” provided a very large locker room so you could change into civies and “blend in” to avoid the Shore Patrol.

To new sailors fresh from boot camp, the Seven Seas was a wonderland of militaria. The Navy and Marine Corps Exchange system was pretty conservative, and would not stock some of the great stuff this store had. In addition to uniform stuff, Boots would go there to get postcards and souvenirs. You had to be careful though, because sometimes you could get talked into getting into trouble. There was this guy in my boot camp company who came back from Recruit liberty with a chest full of ribbons he had bought at the 7-Seas. He said the man who sold them to him said since he was in the Navy, he could wear any ribbons his dad or granddad had earned. This poor fella was sporting WWI, WWII and Korean ribbons. Luckily we were leaving the next day so the Company Commander only chewed his ass a little.

The last time I was in San Diego I went looking for the Seven Seas, but could not find it. I asked and someone said it was long gone, a victim of a changing world and a changing Navy. Admiral Zumwalt probably started its decline when he changed the Navy’s uniform and loosened regulations allowing sailors to wear civilian clothes off base. The exchanges have become more service orientated, and the Navy presence in San Diego has been significantly reduced with the closure of the Navy boot camp there and other downsizing. Still, the Seven Seas Locker Club had been around since WWII and I feel the Navy or the City of San Diego should have made it into a landmark.