Ft. Sam Houston

A MILITARY BRAT’S LIFESTYLE

My brother Darby was born in Ft. Knox and later did his basic officer training there.

My brother Darby was born in Ft. Knox and later did his basic officer training there.

Because the U.S. has been in so many wars lately, we’re always looking at stories on TV or  reading about the troops. The Los Angeles Times did a story yesterday about life for Marines and their families on Camp Pendleton in Southern California.  It doesn’t take much to remind me of my upbringing as an Army gypsy and what military wives had to put up with to keep their husbands pleased and their families together. Army (or Air Force or Navy or Marines) fathers all wore uniforms and these 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, 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?

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 together: they each had their own clubs. 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 groups 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 don’t remember if he got comfortable first and took off the uniform.

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 present home and school. Moving wasn’t ever that easy, but there were Army personnel to pack up your household goods: until the Army got smart eventually and starting providing furniture, dishes, bedding and the like at the new military destination, especially Europe. Personal household items didn’t always arrive at the new quarters, or arrive on time or in good shape, but that was to be accepted, even if it ended up on the bottom of the ocean, which did happen, although not to us.

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 very noisy. 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 (and that was when you were traveling east). 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 mom and dad 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 birth father. My mother left this world from Ft. Sam Houston.

My brother Darby is sworn into Army service by my dad, right after college graduation.

My brother Darby is sworn into Army service by my dad right after college graduation from the University of Virginia

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.

In Remembrance of Memorial Day by Victoria Giraud

Memorial Day reminds me of cemeteries and the fact I’m a proud Army brat. I’ve been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and watched as a trained soldier walked his special pace back and forth in front of the memorial. It’s a very moving ceremony and reminds me even more of my connection to the US Military. Because of modern technology, the Vietnam War unknown soldier has been identified using DNA. It seems unlikely now that there will be another unknown soldier.

 

Tomb of the Unknown - 1943 photo

Interestingly, I discovered this web photo was taken in 1943, the year of my birth!

The following is information from the official website: The Tomb of the Unknowns, near the center of Arlington National Cemetery, is one of Arlington’s most popular tourist sites.

The Tomb contains the remains of unknown American soldiers from World War I and II, the Korean Conflict and (until 1998) Vietnam War. Each was presented with the Medal of Honor at the time of interment and the medals, as well as the flags which covered their caskets, are on display at the Memorial Ampitheater directly to the rear of the Tomb.

The Tomb is guarded 24-hours-per-day and 365-days-per year by specially trained members of the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard).

The Memorial Amphitheater has been the scene of the funerals of some prominent Americans (such as General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing) as well as the site of both Memorial Day and Veterans Days celebrations.

My birth father, Brigadier General V.W. Hobson is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; the stepfather who raised me, Colonel A.D. Williams, is buried in a military cemetery close to Provo, Utah. My mother, who died too young at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, was first laid to rest in the Ft. Sam Houston cemetery in Texas and over 20 years later buried on top of my dad in Utah. Both fathers had military funerals.

There were no guns for my mother’s funeral but lots of tears and laughter as we remembered her. Fittingly, because of her love of music, the famous jazz musician Duke Ellington died on the day of her Texas funeral. My sister and I had our own private ceremony when we decided her coffin needed to be moved so that her grave would at least be close to family. After all, an Army wife is used to moving without being asked her opinion. I thought it was fitting that she was on top this time. As a matter of fact, she would have had a good laugh. Military wives learn early on to see humor almost everywhere.

Here’s to all those who have died for the good old USA, all those still protecting us, which now includes plenty of women, and to all the wives and families who support our military.

 

 

A FAREWELL CHRISTMAS – ‘72

The early ‘70s were carefree times for me. The Giraud family was living in a brand new spacious home in the northwest edge of Los Angeles. My husband had a good job as a civil engineer with Los Angeles County, and I was absorbed in raising two very young children.

Heidi at 3 in her Christmas hand-knit outfit and go-go boots

My parents had retired from the hectic Army life, settled in San Antonio, Texas, and invited us to have a family Christmas together.  We all gathered: my younger sister, who had joined the Mormon Church and was getting ready to go on a Mormon mission in Switzerland, and my brother, who was attending the University of Virginia.

It was my little family’s first visit to see my folks’ new home in San Antonio. After all the years traveling the world, thanks to the Army, and living in temporary homes, Mom and Dad had settled down to a retirement of sorts. Dad was working for USAA (United Services Automobile Agency) handling investments. My mother taught exercise classes until her physical challenges forced her to stop.

They had built their dream home on 1/8 acre filled with oak trees in a lovely and expensive area, thanks to my dad’s thrifty ways and his investments. It was a new experience for them living in warm Texas climate where my mother could enjoy the yearlong sun on a large deck surrounded by the three wings of their one-story rambling home. My father had acquired expensive tastes over the years and had saved his money to buy the best furniture he could afford and insisted on peg-wood floors in the living room and separate dining room.

My mother’s sewing talents were put to work creating the difficult and time-consuming Empire shades for the many narrow contemporary windows that faced the street. She ended up making all the drapes and window treatments in the house and was proud of her achievements. It would be her last major sewing project.

From Mom’s letters, I discovered that Texas was rife with bugs of all kinds. People who could afford it had pest service every few months to rid their homes of roaches and huge water bugs, for instance. In the summer, the cicadas that lived in the oaks on the property made their shrill sounds. Scorpions, which could give a nasty sting, were rampant. The home’s builder informed me gleefully that while a concrete pad for a new home was curing, the moisture attracted hundreds of scorpions.

I was fascinated with Texas history and when we were there, we drove by the historic Alamo and got a look at the famous River Walk that wound through downtown San Antonio, close to the Alamo. We visited Ft. Sam Houston, named after a Texas hero, saw live deer, rabbits, and ducks, and checked out the miniature train and sky ride in Brackenridge Park.

My sister Joan Tupper and Heidi petting a deer at Ft. Sam Houston

My dad, who could be difficult if things didn’t go his way, was on his best behavior. The only rough spots during our Christmas visit were my son’s teething woes, which Mom solved with a finger dipped in bourbon (an old Southern remedy), and a bout of flu for me during our last few days there. I think the flu strain that year was named after me: the Victoria flu!

We took a slightly different southern route on our way home to L.A. and ended up stuck overnight in a snowstorm in the appropriately named Alpine, Texas. Seeing snow is always a treat to Southern Californians who don’t have to put up with it every winter. It was the area where the famous movie “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean had been filmed.

I have fond and sentimental memories of that Christmas that even the flu hadn’t squelched. I remember Mom had used her magical creative talents to sew a shirt and a dress in a loud red print for my husband and my daughter. Looking back, I am delighted that Mom had an opportunity to be a grandmother for a few years before she passed. My sister, who later had five children, didn’t have the wonderful privilege of sharing her children with Mom as a doting grandmother.

As my mother-in-law said when Mom died in 1974, “A mother always dies too young.”

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