13 November 2008

Lest we forget...

How long the Army can take to do things. Like pay it's troops. I looked everywhere for this yesterday...It's a day late for Veterans Day but at least I'm not three years late. This is a receipt for final payout to a Continental Army soldier, Roger Smith. It looks like Mr Smith served through 1780 (the end of hostilities) and was finally paid what he was owed by congress in 1783. This was typical and many veterans never were compensated or reimbursed by congress for expenses. The more things change...

By the way, these pay out slips are everywhere. Not more than a hundred bucks or so and I think an incredible piece of history for the price - - not to mention amazing water marks. This water mark is a wooded fence in a semi circle just centered at the bottom. You might be able to make it out if you click on the image to enlarge it.

11 November 2008

Veterans Day

The two-oh-one file. When my old man came home carrying this --I knew it was time to pack and wait for the Mayflower truck. This is a day civilians wear a red poppy and wonder what the military must be like. But you know.

Civilians look at us behind the barb wire and MP guarded gates around the world and think we live in a prison. As a Brat, I looked out the gate to the civilian world of pawn shops, tattoo parlors, stereo warehouses and used car lots and wondered how miserable their lives must be. A career based on earning a buck selling to us....at 30% APR.

I know two brats read this. I'll keep at it until you stop.

07 November 2008

Brat Books & Basic Training

The point of this was to give advice about being a Brat...And since I discovered I still had a lot to learn and was in no place to hand out advice...I decided to quit. I've quit a lot of things in my life. In fact, I tried to quit the Army. I called my father after two weeks of Basic Training and told him I had made a big mistake and was getting out. He told me he would support me in anything I decided to do but asked that I listen to him for just a moment.

He told me, "You've never finished anything in your life. You've started a helluva lot of things but you never complete them." He recited a list: Skydiving, hang gliding, rock climbing, sailing, rifle team, police cadet, Cub Scouts, Webelos, Boy Scouts, drums, bass guitar, surfing, archery, Judo, wrestling, horse back riding... After the list he sighed, "You know, basic training is nothing compared to Outward Bound." He hit me where it hurt. I'd like to say I was so ashamed that I grabbed something from deep inside and told him, "Forget it. I'm gonna stick this out." But I'd be lying.

The next morning I approached my Drill Sergeant. An American Indian, the man suffered an injury in the cycle prior to mine that made it impossible for him to turn his neck. He was still out on sick leave when the  picture of my class was taken. He had to turn his entire body to look in any direction. Or, at you. He was looking away from me when I told him I had thought long and hard about it and had decided I wanted a General Discharge. He slowly turned his entire body to me, looked down and said, "You red faced maggot...In order for me... to give you a General Discharge... I'd have to write up paperwork on your fucking ass and since I don't have the fucking time for something that fucking stupid I suggest you get your fucking ass back in the formation."

A few things: I was called red faced maggot because my face was sunburned. All the time. He used "fuck" like it like poetry. Lastly, he and not my father, kept me in the Army. I am grateful to him and wish he was in my picture.  By the way, that's me in the third row, second from the left. The only one looking away from the camera. I remember a car going by just before the picture was taken and all I could think of was how I wanted to be in that car... going anywhere.

These books are interesting. The first one is  "Military Brats" by Mary Edwards Wertsch and  published in 1991.  I have shared this book with numerous brats:  The President of the Union League Club of Chicago. An insurance underwriter. A naval officer's daughter I was secretly in love with. My father. It's not a tough read. By that, I mean it's engaging and fast. What was tough about it, for me, was learning why I was the way I was. So much of this book felt like a punch to the gut. And, for the very first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. Not to a place or town or country. But to people just like me. That's the power of this book. Get it. Read it. Make notes. Here are some of mine penned in the back of my copy:

Always second guessing


What's the point? We're gonna move anyway

I've got nothing to lose 'cause I've lost it all before

Always an outsider

Afraid of gut instincts

Short fuse

Doomed to failure

Sense of being watched

Afraid to ask for what I want

Not certain of who I am

Always have options

Desire for father's approval

The next book was written in 1970 by Dr. Victor Gonzalez. I don't think you could find it easily. Not that you'd want to. I've probably read Wertsch's book at least ten  times and bounced around it umpteen. I've started "Psychiatry and the Army Brat" I don't know how many times and I just can't get through it. It might be me but I think it's a thunderous bore. 

While I spent four years in the Army - -I spent 18 years as an Army Brat. And while I'll always be a soldier, I think my life as a Brat is the more interesting one.

04 June 2008

Eating lunch alone

Part of moving...the biggest part...is making friends. It's hard to show up mid term in a high school. Darn hard. Understand this: These people are afraid of what they don't know...and that is you. Every Brat knows what it's like to eat lunch alone. Out of shyness, we try to come off like we want to eat alone. And that's when it starts. The misconception by other students that we're full of ourselves. Here's a clue for them. We'll eat with anyone! Anyone! That ain't being full of yourself. That's just not knowing what to do.

You can do one of three things:

1-Make no effort and continue to eat alone. The results? You'll grow up being very comfortable eating alone. This appears to be, from what I've read, only second to fear of public speaking. I'm very comfortable speaking in public and eating alone. So, you know what I did.

2-Eat with anyone who comes along and joins you at the lunch table. I did this as well. Not that I had any choice. You will then meet those unfortunates no one else will eat with. This only gets very bad for you.

3-Grab your courage and introduce yourself to people who look somewhat normal. First time I did it -- I was shot down. I crawled back in my cave and wonder of wonders, I tried again. Met the most wonderful kids in the world. We're still friends. And I'm old.

You want life time friends? Hang it out there. You wanna meet wack jobs hitting 12 on the koo-koo meter, they'll come to you. You wanna be comfortable eating alone...do nothing. But you're a Brat. I know you. You'll never do nothing.

"If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you've got to go deeper." David Lynch, From the book, "Catching The Big Fish" Where was this guy when I was growing up?

02 June 2008


When I look back at the pictures on this blog - - I don't know who I am. My father or myself. The only people I recognise are my sisters. They seem to be connected to who they are. Why is that?

I know it's me and my father. But I'm reminded of Matthew Brady tin types of the Civil War. We seem to be distant and alone. Just a figure or face. Long gone and lost in history. I just don't see myself or my father as we were or are.

All along my intent was to help you. The Brat. To share with you my experiences and wisdom. But I'm still lost. So little of it makes any sense to me. I thought I would have it nailed down by now.

I guess it takes time. A lot of time. Especially when there's never anyone you can share this life with. Even when there is...we don't. Or can't. Much easier to tell the good stories and laugh about them. Cry about them. But never reach down and pull up that thing that scares you.

01 June 2008

The Mediocre Six

HHC XVIII Airborne Corps at Ft Bragg. I'm second from the right. The peace time Army. All volunteer as well. A horrible time it was. For the Army that is. Not for us. This picture was taken after I had been kicked out of Special Forces Phase Selection. 88 were in my SF class and only three made it to the green beret. All prior enlistment NCOs. I never really had what it takes. I certainly don't now.

Four of us were infantry in this picture. The other two were clerical types. Not that it matters. We were all REMFs. It was about this time that I started thinking seriously about being a soldier. A little late but there was rumor of war in Europe. We were all being trained for W.W. III. The idea was the Soviets would invade West Germany. We would be parachuted in and most of us would never exit the aircraft. We would be shot down long before ever reaching the drop zone. That's what we were told.

I tried to imagine who would kill me. Some 19 year old from the Ukraine or Estonia. With no more interest in killing me than I had in killing him. All of us children. All of us, wound up in our training and hot for medals and bobbles. The Combat Infantry Badge or the CIB was the one to have. Combat Jump Wings. Little star on the parachute indicating you jumped onto a hot DZ. Very rare. A Bronze Star for just showing up. Or with a V clasp if you did something truly heroic but not heroic enough for the Silver Star. All of it cheap metal and ribbon. Napoleon said men would die for mere bobbles. He got that one right.

But these serious thoughts were almost always pushed away with mind numbing duties interrupted by jumping out of planes and visiting Hay's Street in Fayettville. Hookers and their pimps were a lot more dangerous than the Warsaw Pact soldier ever turned out to be. For the first time I saw a part of the Army I had been kept from. The Pawn Shops and Stereo Stores with 33% APR. The Pop a Top Lounge, Flaming Mug, Seven Dwarfs and Susie Wong clubs where "Coke" girls shared time with you while they sipped a soft drink you paid three bucks for. Outside, the professionals walked the street and asked if you wanted a "date."

All of those experiences are like a patina no Brasso could ever polish up.

27 May 2008

The Magnificent 13

Ft Bragg. 1966. My father's A Team just before deployment to Vietnam. Three men did not return. In memory of their sacrifice. I don't know what else to say. Only, that I look at their faces and remember when they were alive. At a party in my living room with the theme from "The Magnificent Seven" blaring from the stereo as they drank beer and smoked cigarettes . How I wanted to be like them.

07 May 2008

American Imperialist Aggressor

Here's the old man in Panmunjeom in 1971. I though it wise to post this in case he's able to get out of his wheel chair and kick my ass. You never know with these guys. This was a good five years before the "Poplar Tree Incident" where...Well, I'll let my Dad tell it, "The nasty felons of the north attacked our guys with axes and murdered them." So it says on the back of this photo.

Panmunjeom is a serious place. Was then and still is. Even when your father is not in a shooting war they can be assigned to some very dangerous places. You can just see on the bottom left of the picure an extra magazine stuffed down the back of the holster. I assume it's a .45 but he was known to carry a Browning 9mm Hi Powered automatic as well.

This photo is how I remember my father. Starched fatigues with his beloved Topcon Super RE (known as the Super D in the states). After I was 12, he built a darkroom in every house we lived in. He hooked up speakers and would spend hours in there sloshing paper in Dektol and listening to Astrud Gilberto and Ahmad Jamal. I guess it beat reading in the bathroom.

06 May 2008

Funny Dad - - but not at home.

He'd kill me if he knew I was doing this. But he's going thru Chemo so he's not gonna be kicking any one's ass. Especially mine. These were taken in South Korea around 1971. He was with the 2nd Infantry Division. That's a woman's Red Cross uniform and I can't even begin to think -- of what this -- was all about. Except as a grown man I look at these picture and laugh out loud. I wish he did this for us every once in a while. But I guess he's doing it for us now.


My grandparents in Paris while my grandfather was chief announcer for Armed Forces Network Europe. Sometimes these photographs alone are worth the lost friends, constant moving and postings to less glamorous assignments. I loved moving until I hit 14 or so. Before then, my bags were the first packed. "Get me on the road and outta here." I still love to travel and have vivid memories of our moves.

After 14, there's a real issue with leaving. You're still excited about the new place and your Dad's job but you're leaving real friends this time. Relationships with people you'll never forget.

But you see things differently as a Brat. You're in a new place. With an ocean or mountains or cowboys or hippies. And you see everything in a new way. I can stand in a London drug store for hours just looking at the product packaging. I'll look into cars parked on the street in Paris just to see what "they" keep on their dash. Because Brats are not from anywhere - -we're open to anything. I didn't blink when I was offered monkey meat in Panama.

Travel molded me into who I am. Accepting of all cultures, I always know there's two sides. For me, that alone is worth the loss of friends.

30 April 2008

Quarters on Bragg - 1978

Ft Bragg in 1978. Me on the left. I can't remember the guy on the right. We lived in these WWII barracks just next to Pope AFB. I would stand on the top of the fire escape ladder and read Richard III aloud to the guys below drinking beer. "What glorious summer this son of York..."

The latrine had six toilets without any partitions. Something that took a while to get over. A Staff Sergeant, who I would never think about twice as a Brat, was God. He could make my life a misery. Same with the mail clerk and mess hall sergeant. These were people you didn't screw around with.

I felt like I had fallen from some sort of grace as a college freshman to these circumstances. I do not recommend it to any Brat. However, I'm damned glad I did it.

Quarters on Bragg - 1965

Ft Bragg in the Spring of 1965. That's my little sister. Our experience was somewhat unique from other Brats in that my sister was deaf. And it took a while for the doctors to figure that one out.

The quarters were on Sunchon Street. I have memories of running behind platoons while they did their PT. Singing cadence songs in fatigue pants, boots and white tee shirts. The beautiful sound of the boots striking a beat on the pavement - - all in time with the cadence. What a blast.

My family was kicked off post (we don't call it a base) that summer since my father was in Vietnam. That was the procedure then.

10 years later I was an enlisted man running in formation through this area. And I was not having a blast. I looked behind me and sure enough - -two kids were running behind us with ear to ear grins. I thought, "I hope they don't do what I did. Enlist. At least go in as an officer."

28 April 2008

My Father - - The Army Brat

First row on your far left. My paternal grandfather in WWII. WO-2. Assistant to the 77th Infantry Division G-4. Taken somewhere in the Phillipines circa 1945. Famous for being a great scrounger. Also the guy who figured out gasoline was lighter than water. While everyone wondered how to get gasoline drums to shore, he just kicked them off the ship. They floated.

Reduction in Force after the war saw him reduced in rank to Master Sergeant. A big man of Norwegian descent, he stayed in the Army and was Chief Announcer of the Armed Forces Radio Network in Europe. He retired a Sergeant Major.

I remember a soft spoken man who never swore. Self educated and a three pack a day smoker. Consequently, he had a beautiful deep voice that lingered in the air like smoke. It was thick and stuck to your clothes. Like so many of his time he was a lover of good clothing. I have a tie of his as well as a French beret. He couldn't nail two boards together if his life depended on it. Not a handy man at all. But in 1976, he sent me a encyclopedia of the world's wine and a Zippo my father gave him for his birthday.

Do we skip a generation from our fathers? Except for the swearing I am my Grandfather...less four inches or so. On my first post I mention the desire for an Army Brat of WWII to give me advice and show me the way. Oddly, I forgot that my own father was that man. A Brat himself who spent his childhood growing up with a father at war and moving with his father's career afterwards. Maybe he was giving me lessons - - and I didn't even know it.

27 April 2008

Comrades in Arms

My father, on the far right, thought the world of the two NCOs standing to his left. He called them real heroes. And while my father was not the warmest man...this picture is about as close as I've seen him with other men.

I remember when he bought a car on a used lot in Fayetteville. A typical used car salesman threw his arm around my father's shoulder upon closing the deal and congratulated my Dad on his choice of vehicle. Dad replied, "Get your fucking arm off me."

I grew up thinking he didn't have many friends. It was only when I was in the Army and ran into some of his NCOs that I found out he had many. In fact, he seemed to be a popular guy. Funny, smart and caring of his men. Also, very effective at what he did in Vietnam. I could have done without some of the stories - - they were not pretty.

I learned he led another life away from home. A life he enjoyed more than the one he spent with his family. It help me understand him and my life growing up under his roof. He was gone a lot. The TDY king. Comfortable with his men and vocation and utterly lost with his family.

26 April 2008

Ft Bliss Birthday Party

Ft Bliss, TX in the early '60s. I'm in there somewhere. I should be. It's my birthday party. While understanding this was a different time I'd like to point out some of the good things about growing up in the Army. One, you get a ton of toys and have parties like this because you're parents feel so guilty. Had I known then what I know now...I'd have pushed for more.

Two, you grow up in a diverse neighborhood. There was an ethnic mix and as a kid you couldn't be picky about your friends. You were in and you were out. You didn't split hairs about a kid who was darker than you and they didn't care you looked like you stepped out of a Hitler Youth poster.

I wish I knew where everyone in this picture was. That we at least exchanged Xmas cards. But that's the down side to this life. You move on. And if I went back to Ft Bliss no one I knew would be there. Most likely these quarters were replaced years ago. One can only hope.

Had I known, I would have picked a couple of "popular" sports or hobbies and stuck with them. Those activities can help keep the moving consistent. Whether it's band, cheer leading or football. You're usually able to go back into that activity no matter where you go.

I say "popular" because I chose activities not so popular. Sailing, skydiving, rock climbing and Judo were unique to locations or unique to instruction. I did them all at one assignment and never did them at another. My sister chose pottery and horseback riding but she always was the smart one.

22 April 2008

"So, what does your Dad do?"

The business of the Army is killing people. Whether you pull the trigger or support those that do. I read that only one out of ten who served in Vietnam actually participated in combat. Of that 10%, there were those who refused to kill. Combat troops, usually drafted, who made the moral decision not to put another human being in their sights and pull the trigger.

Then there were the professionals. The picture of my father was taken somewhere in the Central Highlands in 1966. It is hard for a father to come home and hug his children when he is either:

Learning how to kill people
Killing people
Teaching others how to kill people

I met some caring and loving fathers who killed people in Vietnam. They were always Air Force pilots. Distance from killing seemed to have helped them. Infantrymen do not have this luxury.
I would compare my father with those Air Force officers without really understanding how the war shaped them. It was only when I joined the Infantry that I began to understand.

18 April 2008

My Great Santini

"Do you know something I know, Mama? He loves the Marine Corps more than he loves us. He's supposed to, son. That's his duty. His job. All men are like that. No, said Ben harshly. It's different. Do you think Dupree Johnson's daddy loved his gas station more than his family? Or Robbie Chambers' daddy loved his doughnut shop more than his wife or kids?"
Pat Conroy, The Great Santini

If you're Brat and you've never read The Great Santini I urge you to find this book. You will learn so much about yourself and why things happen the way they do.

I knew the Army came first. What I didn't know was how far down the list I was. After I grew up, that sense of coming in second to last played a big part in my relationships with women. If I didn't feel like I was the most important person in their lives - - I moved on. In short, I was just like my father.

17 April 2008

The Enemy

I know a lot of Army Brats can be pretty gung ho. Real patriotic and they cry at a flag raising. I'm not like that for one reason. I served in the Army for four years. In the Infantry as a paratrooper. I returned to my childhood home (one of them), Ft Bragg and was exposed to an Army I knew nothing about as a dependent. It was a real eye opener.

The picture above is a water color of a NVA attack against a US camp. It's dated 1968. Some people refer to it as "Commie Art." I'm quite fond of it and would like to own more. I like this water color because it tells another side of the story. It's very gung ho and patriotic. It's damned evocative as well. Notice their enemy? That's right. You can't see them. My Dad. Your brother. Her son. Just tents and wire.

We did the same exact thing to our enemy. Made them faceless with names we couldn't pronounce and food we would never eat - -although we did come around to the food. I read somewhere a woman in North Vietnam asked her husband who was going off to fight in the south..."Is this war more important than our love?" It always helps to understand your enemy. It also helps to know they're not that different from us. At least when it comes to the important stuff.

16 April 2008

Being a Brat

12 moves and four high schools. I don't have to write anything more if you are or were a Brat. You know what I mean. I'm not whining. I'm not contemplating my navel. I hope to pass onto others what it's like growing up with a father who was a career soldier during a war. The war was Vietnam. A long time ago. A war a lot of people want to forget. It will be a part of me until the day I die.

If you're an Army Brat and your father or (I never thought I'd see the day) your mother is fighting in Iraq - - You can be sure it will be seared into your memory. This war will change you and your family forever.

I wish someone who had been an Army Brat during WWII or Korea had stumbled across me in this picture when I was eight years old. They would have sat me down and said, "You know, I wish I knew then what I know now. So, I'm gonna tell you how it is growing up a Brat. Take notes. You're gonna need 'em."