Army brats

500 BLOGS TO CELEBRATE!

It’s been almost 5 years since I started my blog, Words on My Mind. I’ve now posted 500 blogs – HOORAY!! At this point, judging by the statistics, I’ve had at least two million people check in.

I used a poem to begin my efforts. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Birth pains were negligible,

A little wine helped,

And some chocolate with nuts.

Since the Baby Blog

Has shot into Cyberspace,

It’s no telling what it

May eventually weigh.

Does anyone know

The Weight of Opinions?

I started the blog to promote my editing business and to sell my historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade. Since then I’ve written 6 additional books (Ebook format) that are also for sale on Amazon. An Army Brat in Libya, Discovering the Victor in Victoria, Colonels Don’t Apologize, Angels in Uniform, Pink Glasses, and Weird Dates and Strange Fates.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

As a consistent chronicler of my interesting life, in notebooks and eventually on computer, I’ve reported my personal history, ups and downs! I had written plenty of tales of growing up as an Army brat, my long career as a newspaper and magazine editor/reporter in Los Angeles, and life as a single woman. Since 2010 I’ve written about living in Bavaria right after World War II, living in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, and residing in the Washington, D.C. area during John Kennedy’s presidency. For the past 50 years (alas, I’m no longer a youngster), I’ve enjoyed experiencing Southern California life.

The fun of getting older is looking back to the hurdles and successes of life and all the people you’ve known or seen in one way or another. I’ve written about most of it. I saw John F. Kennedy twice (when he was a senator and then a president), Robert Kennedy twice, shook hands with Richard Nixon in Libya, and observed Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. These experiences have been chronicled in my blog.

I observed Hollywood stars at Washington National Airport during the March on Washington in 1963. I stood at a window between Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Baldwin (the author), saw Paul Newman, James Garner and Sidney Poitier, and spoke with Charlton Heston. I lived through some of the repercussions from the Suez Crisis in Tripoli in 1956. I enjoyed the fun of a 1958 Mediterranean Cruise courtesy of the US Navy, landing in Athens, Istanbul, Naples, and Gibraltar, to name a few.

Since I knew and had interviewed character actor, Strother Martin, I attended his funeral at Forest Lawn in 1980 and saw Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. I wrote a blog about the experience. Living in SoCal, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with James Whitmore, William Shatner, Peter Strauss, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Stack, Valerie Harper, Kelsey Grammar, Della Reese, and Sally Kellerman, to name a few. While I worked at the phone company in Hollywood, I observed Dean Martin on a motorcycle,  saw Cornel Wilde and Mitzi Gaynor at the Brown Derby, and had a lovely chat with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in Santa Monica. When I edited and wrote a magazine for the Beverly Hills Country Club, I interviewed athletes Rafer Johnson and Jack Kramer (my first tennis racket had his name on it) and TV star Barbara Eden. I’ve written about all these experiences as well as the sometimes crazy times of being single and dating.

One of my most entertaining interviews was with Jules Sylvester, an animal trainer born in Kenya. He was my neighbor for a while and invited me out to see his Komodo dragon (in the Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film “The Freshman”) and all the spiders and insects he trained for all sorts of films (“Snakes on a Plane” not too long ago).

I’ve written about the powerful 1994 LA earthquake, and about my genealogy on my mother’s Motley side, which included John Motley Moorehead, a governor of North Carolina before the Civil War. I’ve told my personal story of surprising my birth father at his office in the Pentagon in 1964. I was too young to remember him when he left to fight in Italy during WWII. Three days after we met and spent time together, he said I was his lucky charm: he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

When I’m not writing my blog, I’m spending time editing books of all types and have written/promoted many of them on my blog. So far, I’ve edited about 130 books in all genres: from historical fiction, memoirs, romance and action adventure, to self-help and children’s books.

I’ve tooted my horn enough. If, dear Reader, you’re intrigued, check out my archives after you read today’s blog. Thank you!

 

 

AN ARMY DAUGHTER’S TALE By Victoria Giraud

Since June is a time to commemorate fathers,   my next two blogs will focus on my fathers.  My mother married two men, both of them Army career officers. One of them, my birth father, went off to war in Italy when I was a toddler. He survived but never returned. Her second marriage, when I was four, lasted longer, but he was emotionally abusive to us all. Oh, Mom, sometimes I wonder what you were thinking! Well, nobody’s perfect! And, obviously, you weren’t thinking, you were in love and your cerebral cortex had nothing to do with it.

What’s a small town girl to do when she falls for a handsome man in a uniform and a West Point grad? Especially when it’s World War II and Pearl Harbor has made it absolutely necessary for the US to get into the war. When you’re in your 20s, the heart wants what the heart wants.

I survived both my fathers. After all, life experience is “fodder” for writers. I learned from them both and I loved them both, despite everything. My stepfather is the subject of the Amazon book on sale called Colonels Don’t Apologize. I’ve posted the cover on this blog and am sharing a teaser below. I used fictional names for my characters, including myself. It gave me a bit of detachment I felt I needed.

Excerpt:               http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

“He may be dying and probably won’t recognize me, but his power is still evident,” Beth confessed to Emily as they drove in her van toward the nursing home. “I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I got so violently sick. He can still affect me.”

 “Do you think he may have gotten Alzheimer’s from all the rotten things he did in his life?” Emily asked.

 “I believe we create our own reality and bring on the physical conditions we need for our soul’s growth,” Beth answered. “It’s interesting that Dad has lost his control over all the things he valued most in life – money, intelligence, his family, his own body.”

“Since we’re talking about theories,” Beth added, “I’ve got another thought concerning that World War II and Korean War generation of American men. I think those extreme situations seriously affected their views on life. They came home with hardened hearts, devious minds, and plenty of sarcasm. But they also knew how to be charming and get their own way. Their wives and children, who were easy targets, suffered the most. These guys didn’t seem to know how to say, ‘I love you,’ much less, ‘I’m sorry.’”

“I feel sorry for him. He’s been through a lot. Perhaps this disease evens up the score. But I hope none of us suffers the same fate.”

 “I don’t believe we will. We were on the receiving end of his brand of child raising, but none of us have chosen the same approach to life.”

 “His suffering kinda makes it easier to forgive him,” Emily added with a mischievous smile. “You know what else is odd? He loves to get hugs and he knows that saying I love you will get a warm response and maybe another hug. He could never say that to any of us when he was well and in possession of all his faculties.”

On Father’s Day, I will introduce my new book: Discovering the Victor in Victoria. That’s the story of finding my birth father 20 years after he left.

I Was an Army Gypsy and Proud of It

I’ve been reminded that my adventures as an Army brat applies to other service brats, like Air Force brats—I knew many of them at Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. Of course, the Air Force started out as the Army Air Force and didn’t become its own service until 1947.

Our Army or Air Force or Navy or Marines fathers all wore uniforms, which had to be starched, ironed, and kept in excellent shape. My mother was expected to keep my dad’s things in perfect order, and she advised me, ruefully, never to let a man take me for granted. In other words, don’t volunteer to iron or you’ll be stuck behind an ironing board forever. Thank God Permanent Press was available when I got married, and my husband had elected to stay only in the Reserve Army (two weeks of uniforms in the summer).

Way before the cheap giant stores we have now, the Army provided the PX (post exchange) a version of department store with mostly quality things at lower prices and the Commissary (nicknamed the Co-misery by some) for reasonably priced food. Prices needed to be low since joining the service, whichever one was chosen, was not designed to make your parents rich.  I still have some record albums (remember those?) from the PX in the early ‘60s that only cost $2.35! And a china cabinet full of nice silver and crystal from the PX I got for wedding presents. I could entertain like my parents, but who uses silver trays and bowls, fancy silverware and crystal except for very special occasions? Or perhaps if you’re part of the British Royal Family!

Entertainment was always a priority in the service; officers and their wives had calling cards and went through all the proper protocol. Officers and enlisted men did not socialize: they each had their own clubs. The clubs weren’t always very special, like the photo below shows. The Class VI store, on the other hand, was available to those, no matter what rank, who were old enough to imbibe alcohol in its various forms. Cocktail parties, dinner parties, special dinners/parties given by a certain command or military group were typical to celebrate holidays, promotions, farewells, etc. Each weeknight, if they didn’t have other social plans, my mother would put on a nice dress and heels and greet my dad with Martinis or Manhattans and sliced raw vegetables (pioneers for eating if not drinking healthy) for cocktail hour, from 5-7 p.m., wherever they were stationed. I can’t remember if he got comfortable first and took off the uniform.

Army Officers Club - Mannheim, Germany - 1960s

 

Army posts offered tennis courts, bowling alleys, shooting ranges, gyms: you name it. There were always movie theaters and movies were very cheap. Because of my thrifty dad, however, I remember my mother making us kids popcorn and putting it into small paper bags to take to the 35-cent or cheaper films. In the summer, there were usually several huge pools to choose from, an easy bike ride away. And when you became a teenager, there was a teenage club with lots of activities.

Rules and regulations were to be obeyed without protest; everything had certain hours, and in military time. My dad wrote me letters military style while I was away at college: paragraphs were numbered and if he was scheduling a pickup or a visit, it would be written as 0800 hours or perhaps 1600 hours, for instance.

If your dad got orders, it was time to leave, no matter how well you liked your home/school/ post. Moving wasn’t ever that easy, but there were Army personnel to pack up your household goods: until the Army got smart eventually and started providing furniture, dishes, bedding and the like at the new military destination, especially in Europe. Personal household items seldom arrived at the new quarters on time or in good shape, but that was to be expected or accepted, even if it ended up on the bottom of the ocean, which did happen, although not to us.  If you were in Army quarters, you were expected to leave them spic and span and they were subject to inspection, and that meant bedsprings, tops of doors, ovens, etc.  Remember the old TV ad for the “White glove test?” Wanting to save money, my dad insisted Mom do the cleaning instead of hiring a cleaning crew.

Army fathers (as I imagine all service fathers) were used to a regimented schedule. When we went on a vacation in the States, we got up at 4 a.m. (0400 hours) and hit the road. I got a laugh from the scene in the movie The Great Santini when the family got in their car to leave in the wee hours. In the 50s we traveled to Tripoli in what some joked was a putt-putt airplane, propeller-driven and loud. It involved several refueling stops and seats were not all facing the front, which made it easy for my sister to throw up on my brother. Military airplanes in the 50s and 60s made stops in places like the Azores, Morocco, England, Scotland, Newfoundland and Labrador (depending upon which direction you were traveling). Once off an airplane, you didn’t get your land legs back for at least a day. Until then your ears buzzed and everything seemed to move, even if you were sitting down.

Traveling by ship was more common in the 40s and 50s. I got my “sea legs” when I was four years old: from New York to Hamburg, Germany, and then by train to Munich.

When an Army father retired, he usually picked someplace near a post or base since he could still use the PX, Commissary, medical facilities and space-available air travel. Many times the retirement choice would be the area of his last post or base. When he’d had enough, my dad and mom chose Texas for the warm climate and the close proximity of Ft. Sam Houston, where, ironically, my mother and I had been briefly during WWII when she’d been married to my natural father. My mother left this world and “retired” for good from Brooke Army Hospital at Ft. Sam Houston.

Military life as a dependent involved a great deal more than I could fit into this story, but it gives a general idea.

Being an Army brat was a great adventure, despite the challenges. Living in exotic places was exciting but best of all were the friends you made and kept, if you chose to. My parents kept up with Army couples all over the world until they died, and I always looked forward to reading all the Christmas cards from everywhere. It’s a tradition I chose to cherish and carry on.

 

 

Friendship

Hands of friendship

“Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold” are the words of a song I learned in Girl Scouts. I’ve remembered those words these many years, just as I’ve kept in touch with friends.

Recently, my friend Kathie asked me if I thought friends were more inclined to stick closer together when they got older, even if they weren’t close when they were younger. What prompted the observation was a reunion. As we age, reunions–high school, college, family, business–seem to multiply and mean more to us.  Kathie was referring specifically to a reunion of mostly Air Force and Army dependents who’d lived and gone to school together in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s and 1960s.

As these once lively “kids” matured, they realized more and more what an unusual experience they’d shared in that exotic place so many years before. Their memories were unique and needed to be shared, especially with others who’d lived those  same experiences. They could all laugh and shake their heads at the oddities of living overseas in North Africa, of all places, and the times they’d enjoyed that brought them together. It’s probably been 20 years since they started holding these reunions. How many people do we know who’ve lived in the Middle East as youngsters?

The unusual thing was that many of them hadn’t known each other well or at all back then since the group was composed of a variety of class years, but the commonality of experience produced unexpected bonds. Even sight unseen, these now mature folks, including me, could forge friendships through Email, letters and phone calls. When they saw each other at reunions, it was even more special. Most were not as svelte as they once were; silver hair was more the norm and sometimes no hair. Not everyone was as rambunctious, but their spirits were still alive and raring to go. Deep inside there was a connection between them all.

Perhaps as we age, we forget about the superficial likes and dislikes of our younger years. Whether we have the same talents or make the same money, live in the same kind of houses, or like the same things doesn’t mean as much. We can see our common humanness and it’s enough that we shared a special time and place. Despite differing religions, philosophies, and lifestyles, aren’t we all one, as human beings?

The picture below is a sampling of the alumni attending the September reunion. We couldn’t all make it but I believe we were there in spirit.

Wheelus Air Force Base High School Alumni - Always young at heart.

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