Portsmouth Junior High School

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In August 2016 I found myself standing in front of Portsmouth Junior High School (now Portsmouth Middle School) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I attended the school from February 1966 through the end of April 1967 when my father Technical Sergeant Jimmie Kepler retired from the United States Air Force.

While the school added a couple of additions since I had left, if I stood in front of the school it looked exactly the same. Standing there it was as if time had stood still.

Earlier that same day, I had taken a nostalgic tour of the former Pease Air Force Base (now the Pease Air National Guard Base, Pease International Trade Port and Portsmouth International Airport at Pease). As I drove the streets of my adventures as a seventh and eighth grader, I was once again a thirteen years old boy building snow forts, playing baseball, and having his first interest in girls.

You will have as much fun reading as I had remembering and writing about growing up as a military brat. All the events are true. I have changed the names of the boys and girls in my remembrances.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories, Beyond Imagination, The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry & Prose Magazine, and vox poetica. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his literary habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs.


Fourth Grade New Year’s Day Memories from January 1, 1963

USC Mascot Traveler with a Trojan Warrior rider.

The first New Year’s Day that I clearly remember was New Year’s 1963. I was nine years old and a fourth grade at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School on Luke Air Force Base, Glendale, Arizona. I remember the big deal that year about the Rose Bowl Football game. The University of Wisconsin was the Big 10 Conference Champion and ranked #2 in the country. The University of Southern California (USC) was the Athletic Association of Western Universities champion (see note) and ranked #1. This was the first time that the number one and number two teams had ever played each other in a bowl game.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jensen. I had also had her in the third grade which seemed weird at the time to have her get promoted to the next grade along with me. Mrs. Jensen was a USC graduate. She had been a cheerleader way back in the 1930’s. She showed us pictures of her as a cheerleader, but we all thought that had to be her daughter as she could have never been that young. She had been born the same year as President Kennedy. That was 1917.

She asked how many of us had watched the Rose Bowl game. Almost every hand in the classroom was raised. She asked questions about the game. Who won? USC. What was the score? 42-37.

In spite of the score, in the fourth quarter, USC leading, 42-14. That is when many who had started with the game on the telecast turned off their television or changed channels. Even at the Rose Bowl some began filing out.

Then the comeback began. It is what some have called the greatest Rose Bowl in history. USC desperately fought to hang on for a 42-37 victory.

I like what LA Time sports writer Earl Gustkey wrote. He said, “The (Wisconsin) Badgers simply ran out of time against the Trojans, who had run out of gas. They scored 23 unanswered fourth quarter points, but still lost.”

Mrs. Jensen had been at the game that Tuesday. She hurried back the 375 miles to Glendale, Arizona for school on Wednesday. She asked if we knew what Wisconsin’s mascot was. We all yelled Badger. She asked if we knew USC’s mascot. We all said in unison, Trojans. She asked if we knew what the name of the white horse was that carried the Trojan warrior on its back.

There was silence.

We then learned that The horse’s name is Traveler. We found out that when USC scores a touchdown, Traveler gallops around the field as the USC band plays “Conquest.”

I learned many trivial things as a military brat. The story of Traveler has stayed with me. I was the first person Mrs. Jensen asked when she wanted the name of the horse. I didn’t know and the class laughed at me. The stopped laughing after she asked each boy and girl and no one knew the answer.

Note: What is now the Pacific-12 Conference or Pac-12 has had several names in its history – Pacific Coast Conference or PCC, 1915–1959, Athletic Association of Western Universities or AAWU, 1959–68, Pacific-8 or Pac-8 1968–78, Pacific-10 or Pac-10, 1978–2011.

Photo Credit: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Bestweekevr at en.wikipedia

Tumbleweed Forts & Snow Forts

Snow Fort in New Hampshire
Snow Fort in New Hampshire

In January 1966, I was digging foxholes and building forts in the desert near the military quarters my family lived in on Biggs Air Force Base located in El Paso, Texas. My friends and I would dig big holes in the sand and surround our fort with tumbleweeds and other desert vegetation.  Nature camouflaged the fort’s site from prying eyes.

While we were building our prized base, another group of kids would do the same thing building their fortress several hundred yards away in another part the desert. One team would be the American soldiers.

A second team would be the German Soldiers. Pretending it was 1942 and 1943 we would play a dismounted game of “Rat Patrol” where we chased each other around the desert. The goal was to surprise and defeat the bad guys and their leader, General Erwin Rommel.

It would be hot, sandy and lots of fun as we played Army. Many times we took home huge amounts of sand home with us in the cuffs of our turned up blue jeans and in the blue jean pockets. Sometimes we added intrigue using water balloons as hand grenades.

Just a few weeks later in February 1966 my family relocated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Pease Air Force Base. There my role-playing and mischief continued with a new group of friends. Instead of sand, tumbleweeds, and water balloons we graduated to snow forts and an endless supply of snowballs. We would sneak up and destroy the enemy’s creation.

It would be cold, damp and lots of fun as we again played Army. This time we played pretending we were German troops on the Russian front facing the Red Army. It was sometimes confusing as we had trouble understanding how the Russians could be the good guys in this scenario. After all, this was in the middle of the Cold War, and the Russians were the Evil Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, the fun was endless as we would dash in running and throwing snowballs. Sometimes we would ride our sleds and swoosh into action. Growing up a military brat was endless fun. The never-ending supply of kids your age made the fun that much greater.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is an award-winning short story writer, poet, and indie author. He is the creator of the science fiction with faith series, The Liberator’s Helper.

Jimmie is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with minors in English and military science where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army upon graduation. He served as a commissioned officer on active duty for three years and then five years in the US Army Reserves. He earned Master of Religious Education and Master of Arts degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also holds a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Administration. He sold his first magazine article over 35 years ago and has been writing professionally since then. He lives in a north Dallas Texas suburb with his wife and very demanding cat.

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Tumbleweed Snowman

Tumbleweed Snowman

I lived in two desert communities when growing up. The locations were Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.

In the 1950s and 1960s, both areas had little snow and lots of tumbleweeds. The residents tired of the same old snowless Christmas. There was almost no hope of snowfall. Without the snow, there would be no snowman.

Some creative person came up with the idea of building a snowman from tumbleweeds. It was simple. You obtained three. They were abundant in the desert. You placed the largest on the bottom. The middle-sized one went in the middle. The small one made the head. Some people spray painted them white.

Adding a hat, eyes, and mouth to the creation gave it personality. Sometimes we even added an old scarf as well.

A tumbleweed snowman can become a fun holiday tradition for your family. It is easy to create one of these eye-catching figures on your lawn.

My family did this when we lived on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas.

Growing up as a military brat allowed me unusual experiences like a tumbleweed snowman.

If you were a military brat, what holiday traditions did you have?

Christmas – Military Brat Style

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Lionel “Southern Express” Electric Train

The first Christmas I can clearly remember was 1959. I was six years old. My family lived in Glendale, Arizona.

Did I ever go to my paternal grandmother’s for Christmas? No. I never did that I can remember.

Did I ever go to my maternal grandparent’s for Christmas? No. I did not that I can recall. We never exchanged gifts or had Christmas dinner with extended family.

The closest thing I can remember about a visit to relatives was in December 1963. My father was in Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty. Mother, brother, and I went to my mother’s between Christmas and New Years, but not for Christmas.

The first experience I had with an extended family Christmas celebration was when I was dating my wife. In 1972, I went to her parents on Christmas Eve. We had a feast like I had never seen before. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and nieces were there. There weren’t any nephews yet. It was the most wonderful Norman Rockwell type of setting I had ever seen or could ever imagine. I fell in love with her family’s tradition. That’s another story for another time.

Ten years early, this time living on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, I had a wonderful Christmas memory. My family always took a walk through the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. When living on military bases we would knock on neighbor’s doors and sing Jingle Bells, The First Noël, and Silent Night. Magically when we returned home, Santa had always visited.

This year he brought my brother and me an electric train set. Somehow between the time we left and returned the train set was delivered to a table, set up with landscaping, and ready to run. You could turn off the room’s light and see the light from the Lionel Electric Train. The train even had steam come out the smoke stack. It was the best present ever!

I played with that train until I married. The last time I saw it I helped store it in my dad’s attic just before I married. The train traveled many a mile with me to three more duty stations and then to the retirement destination. On my father’s meager pay as a Technical Sergeant of $325 a month plus another $105 a month hazardous duty pay somehow we lived well.

Living in Military Housing

I experienced living in military housing from the 1950’s through the late 1970’s. My experience was two-fold. I lived in non-commissioned officers quarters as a military dependent on three United States Air Force Bases. I also lived in officer’s quarters as an adult serving as a company grade officer on active duty.

If you don’t think military housing is important consider a statistic provided by military.com. Their research shows a fifteen percent higher re-enlistment rate on installations with high-quality and newer housing than locations with lower-quality housing.

I loved living on-base as a dependent and on-post when on active duty. Military housing offers a tight–knit community. Housing is assigned by rank. What that generally means is if you’re a military brat you live in a neighborhood with kids your own age. You have an endless supply of playmates. As a service member, you live in a community of people about the same the same age. You have lots of neighbors that are at the same stage of life that you are. It provides great support for spouses during deployments. You’ll have spouses nearby who are ready to help for your as you get settled into your new environment.

Another plus is maintenance. If something breaks it is fixed at minimal or no cost. When I served at Fort Lewis I just had to go pick up what I needed to fix a leaky faucet.

While you may not have as much privacy as you wish, with your commanding officer and company members living next door or right around the corner, the benefits greatly offset the negatives in my experience. Also, the yards were held to high standards. They were mowed and trimmed weekly or you got in trouble.

The best part as a military brat was the neighborhood kids. I could always find someone with whom to play ball. The facilities on base/post were awesome. Libraries, swimming pools, scouts, dances, and a very safe environment made growing up fun.

Retreat, To the Colors and The Star Spangled Banner

Military brats grow up in a very patriotic environment.

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Jimmie Aaron Kepler, Third Grade Class Photo – 1962

Respect for God, country, and authority are learned at an early age. I’ve listened to many of my fellow military brats shared their childhood experiences.

Theirs were very similar to mine. One tale that always caught my attention concerned the lowering of the flag. At five P.M. or noon when only a half day’s work was scheduled, Retreat and To the Colors was performed over the post or base public address system. The bugle signaled the lowering, folding and securing of the flag of the United States of America for the night.

When the music started, cars stopped. Children playing outdoors would take an intermission from their afternoon’s fun, standing at attention. It was a serious, respectful time.

I learned about the United States flag from my father and as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. My real education came from Mrs. Jensen. She told us about the War of 1812, Fort McHenry, and Francis Scott Key. Mrs. Jensen also taught us how to memorize. We first used the memory techniques she taught us to learn the verses of the Star Spangled Banner.

Her method was simple. On the four chalkboards in our classroom at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School were written the words or lyrics to Key’s anthem.

She had us read the entire verse, word for word. Next, she had a boy in the back of the room come to the chalkboard. She handed him an eraser instructing him to select a word, erase the word and place a line where the word had been.

The class read the Star Spangled Banner again replacing the deleted word. This continued over and over until we had a chalk board with only blank lines and the anthem memorized.

Years later I used the same technique to teach fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade children to memorize Bible verses.

Every time I hear Retreat and To the Colors, I still stand at attention. Scouts and my father taught me about the United States flag. Mrs. Jensen told this military brat the story of the Star Spangled Banner and learned me how to memorize.