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.