How many schools did you attend growing up as a military brat? Do you remember this as a great adventure or gut-wrenching trauma?
I attended ten public schools for my twelve grades of schooling. Eight of the school changes were during my very formidable years of grades five through nine. Yes, I changed school eight times during the time all the changes of adolescence were happening. For me, it became gut-wrenching after my father retired from the military, and we transitioned to the civilian world. Only by the grace of God can anyone survive such trauma.
I had an unusually difficult period from August 1964 to August 1967. If you are a military brat, I know you can relate.
In August 1964, my father returned from his first tour in South Vietnam. I had just completed the fifth grade at Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Seguin, Texas. I remember my mixed feelings of excitement and fear as dad returned home from his tour of duty. Would I recognize him? Would he know me? Would he even want to be involved in my life anymore?
Mother was all of thirty-one years old when he returned home. I was a grown-up ten years old. Mom was wise. She talked to me and my brother before dad’s arrival. She made sure we understood it would take some adjustment. She wanted us to know not to get under his skin or pester him too much.
I still clearly remember the day we went to the San Antonio International Airport to pick up dad. His flight arrived on time from California. He was wearing his khaki United States Air Force uniform with the stripes of a technical sergeant on the upper sleeves. He was tan, standing military erect and outstretched his arms as he and mother quickly moved to each other, embraced and kissed on the lips for several minutes. He whispered in her ear, and I remember the big smiles. I lip read “I love you” as he held her tight.
After their embrace, he hugged my brother and me separately. It was beautiful to hear him say, “I love you, Jimmie Aaron. I sure missed you.” He said he wanted me to tell him all about what was happening in baseball. He set an appointment with me for Saturday afternoon after lunch. One whole hour with me. He kept his word. I had him for an hour.
We quickly shut down the household at 803 Jefferson Avenue in Seguin, Texas. We took a brief vacation to Jamestown, Ohio to visit dad’s family before returning to relocate to El Paso, Texas where I started another school, my third I three years.
I attended the sixth and the first semester of the seventh grade in El Paso, Texas at Ben Milam School at Biggs Air Force Base. Biggs AFB was home to the 95th Bomb Wing of the USAF. It was a B-52 bomber and KC-135 tanker base. From the school grounds, I would watch US Army draftees march down the long dirt road into the desert as they went through basic training in preparation for going to Vietnam. I could be scary giving there. Sometimes we watched aircraft doing an emergency landing knowing one of our parents could be on the plane. We lived there from August 1964 to February 1966. Biggs Air Force Base was shut down and turned over to the US Army.
The second junior high school I attend was Portsmouth Junior High School in historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My father’s assignment was at Pease AFB, home of the 509th Bomb Wing. The 509th is the unit that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. It was a B-52 and KC-135 base. Frequently parts of the unit were on temporary duty on Guam, which they used as a base to bomb North Vietnam.
The school was a couple of blocks south of downtown Portsmouth, NH on Parrot Ave. Only two blocks away was the historic John Paul Jones Home and three blocks another direction the historic Strawberry Bank. Across Parrot Avenue was the South Mill Pond. From the second and third floor, you could see the Piscataqua River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The St Patrick’s Catholic School that went through 8th grade was on Austin Street two and one-half blocks to the west. The nuns would chase us away from the school if we got off the bus early to look at the Catholic school girls in their cute uniforms of a white blouse, plaid skirt, and knee socks.
My father retired from the USAF the end of April 1967. We moved back to Texas and lived with my mother’s parents for the month of May 1967. Have you ever lived with the extended family? I did while waiting furniture to arrive from the previous posting of my father. It is fun and different.
The fun was having aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as grandparents. The minus was not knowing or being involved in the lives of these close relatives for years. I wondered who are they? Here I had my introduction to country music and living.
I attended Nixon Junior High School (now Nixon-Smiley) for a month. I went from a military influenced school with nearly 300 in the eighth grade to a rural school with 14 in the 8th grade. They just didn’t have new kids transfer in during the school year. Related to over half the class, it was the one place that I felt I did not fit in. A dairy queen across Texas state Highway 80 was my view. I had a 15-mile bus ride to and from school.
When the school year ended, we moved about 50 miles away to Schertz, Texas. There I started the ninth grade at Samuel Clemens High School. It was the year they changed the name from Schertz-Cibilo High School to Samuel Clemens. It was adjacent to Randolph AFB, so I was back in a comfortable military community. By mid-semester, we sold the house and moved two-hundred and fifty miles north to the Dallas area to DeSoto, Texas.
Dad had taken an engineering job with Ling Temco Vought (LTV Aerospace). I started another school. This time it was in a non-military high school. The change was traumatic. I had always been the class president, the student government leader, on the honor roll, and star baseball player. All those roles were filled. No outsider was going to replace someone in their role.
Close friendships formed quickly on military bases and military influenced schools. That did not happen in this Dallas, Texas suburb. It was also the first time I was in a school that wasn’t totally integrated. It was my first non-integrated neighborhood. I had transitioned to the real world wasn’t happy with what I found.
Maybe your experience was similar. I would love to hear your story.
Jimmie Aaron Kepler’s work has appeared in six different Lifeway Christian publications as well as The Baptist Program, Thinking About Suicide.com, Poetry & Prose Magazine, vox poetica, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine and more. His short stories The Cup, Invasion of the Prairie Dogs, Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story, and The Paintings as well as Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection are available on Amazon.com. He is also the author of The Liberator Series. The Rebuilder – Book 1 is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released October 1, 2015. The Mission – Book Two will be available Spring 2016, The Traveller – Book 3 will be available Summer 2016, and The Seer – Book 4 will be available Fall 2016.