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."