Tag Archive: military children



While we were overseas, there was very little to do in life during the evenings. We had our old black & white TV which offered up two channels – in German. There was nothing like watching Hoss from Ponderosa ride up on his horse exclaiming: “Vas is los!”.  And I like how they packed all their commercials at the end, and like sweets, sprinkled a little cartoon between them.

But what really saved us was Armed Forces Radio – and a reel-to-reel tape player that my dad had gotten in Thailand to record missionary spiels on.  In that collection of endlessly boring and droning voices was a tape of Bill Cosby’s earlier shows, the ones he’d done while he was young, and, I guess, touring for the G.I.’s on duty over there.

By this time – the time we’d found the tape – I was suffering from some pretty bad depression.  Shifting from base to base, living on American military bases in a foreign nation; no friends I could count, nobody to know me – or I them, and no time to do it anyway before we’d be separated, yanked apart . . .

I read books, I counted time till “the end” when we would return to Stateside (and I wasn’t the only kid doing this!) – usually bored nearly out of my mind, especially during the winter months when night started earlier – we’d sit and listen to those tapes, their contents unwinding from one reel to another, laughing at Bill Cosby’s outrageous stories of Fat Albert, Suicide Hill, and the Chicken Heart.  How I loved that tape!  It was double sided, and long.  We’d get lost inside those stories, watching the cop’s cuff’s slide off those kids signs, imagining rubber baby wheels gone, and home-built carts with those wheels.

He saved me.

There were times when, despite being 13, I had developed a cynical mind. I’d seen too much already: I knew about sex and gunfire, I had squatted and eaten with the  G.I.’s.  I’d ridden tanks and learned to fire machine guns; I’d learned survival.  I was reading ten to twenty novels a week, and could march 20 kilometers at a time.

I was hurt inside by the loss of my friends, and being stuck in a foreign land.  I had withstood school bomb threats (new to my experience), grown tired of the racism (something I couldn’t understand, but which had recently occurred to me).  My family – a shattered one at best, each individual plodding along as best they could, nobody for someone else.  You were expected to make it on your best bet, your best decision.  Your emotions were up to you, and it was up to you to control them – or at the very least, not express them to anyone . . .

In three years I had gone from an open, happy-go-lucky kind of child (“Gregorius”, my mom had called it) to a silent kid.  I’m sure I appeared sullen some of the time, but it was merely watching, mixed with a growing depression.  I kept on having nightmares all the time – not just the ‘normal’ ones (I had nightmares for 48 years) – but nightmares about what I feared was coming. A returning to something new with everything I had known gone.  The ‘end’ was approaching, our tour was fast running down.  And I knew it.

And I wanted to kill myself before the end.

And I can kinda blame Bill Cosby for reversing that when I’d get desperate,  feeling so bad . . . I’d kinda want to go bury myself in a road and let some tank run over me, take one of those .30 caliber rounds and set it off pointed at my head – do something stupid, something to get rid . . . of me.  End a deepening misery I could not understand nor articulate.  I guess I didn’t know anything was wrong – but felt it.  Hell, I was just a kid.    I suppose Debbie kinda helped me with that, in the end.

But nothing helped like putting that old Bill Cosby tape on and listening, doubling up with laughter again.  Interspersing it with some Armed Forces radio shows (“Suspense”, “The Shadow”, etc) we’d find ourselves coming back to that long reel-to-reel in the end.  It helped settle some of the violence in me that was struggling to come out, easing my on-coming rage issues (both inside and out), helped keep the depression and that tearing sense of loneliness – one that was growing every day – ever since I’d lost my best friend over there even worse . . .

and I had forgotten how to cry anymore.

I had done that when I was 13 – once.

After that it was all kept bottled inside.  For over forty-five years plus.

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Contract Teachers, DoD

The U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools oversees the contract hiring of teachers for teaching the dependent students of American children overseas.  The Department of Defense, a separate U.S. Government agency, operates a school system for the benefit of dependents of U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. Recruitment of teachers for schools at military bases overseas is handled by the Department of Defense, Office of Dependents’ Schools.*

They, in turn, operate the DoDEA, or Department of Defense Education Activity, which was established shortly after the end of World War II.

The problems they faced in logistics undoubtedly were made even more difficult back in the 60’s and 70’s, too – before the days of the internet and cell phone, when it took six weeks for a letter to reach its destination, and then another month and a half back.

The teachers no doubt faced an even greater sense of isolation, and given that their job were to teach these military kids overseas – ones who were always rotating in and out so much you barely got to know their name before the next one would come marching in; where the kids you started with in school were rarely the ones you finished with at the end of the year.

How to teach in a system like that?  One where the children were constantly changing faces and you were constantly changing places just the same as they were?  How to ensure a lesson taught at this school wasn’t the same one that they learned last year – or last week – by a different teacher there?  Unlike the civilian schools, this school system had to be strictly scheduled – everything kept on schedule, not just across a district or board – but throughout the entire military system!

And what to do with a child who came in – tardy or behind in some subject because he had been going to school with some civilian crowd – and now he’s out of sync with the ‘system’?  As a teacher – especially a military one overseas – I’m sure your choices were limited.  You saw but could not speak.  Or spoke but was not heard – or even more likely, just told “shut up or you’ll lose your job.”

I’m certain that kind of thing happened – and who to report to?  The MP’s?  The American ‘authorities’ on base?  What if they were the ones who were guilty; they were covering up?  What then?

And what about the military’s mission?  What then?

Can you be too afraid to speak up on the part of some small child – recognizing the sacrifice you make, he makes – by protecting the “member’s mission”?  Can you simply bite your lip and move on . . . ignoring those bruises as you turn your back on him; not reporting what’s going on . . . because you’ve seen so much of it and no matter what you’ve told . . .

You march in unison with the rest of the teachers there, doing the best you can.  Struggling on.

Sure, there are those ten-percenters; those ones who either do a great job, throwing their passion into it – or else the ones who are just over there for the sense of adventure, or for the strange few, the chance to engage in their passions . . . their rages . . . their desires which would never go over in some of the civilian schools I’ve been in.

How they managed it – teaching us at all – is bewildering.  I managed to change schools over four times one year – a lot more in the years before and following – and somehow the Army always seemed to have a new school ready for me.  No matter when I arrived – I would fit in with the rest of the strangers and the course – just like taking a step in class.  A few times I arrived I would be a few pages ahead or behind, but never very much.

The only place I got screwed up was in math.  And that I can blame on the civilian schools.  They were behind the DoD system when I got to North Carolina, and that really mucked me up from then on out.  Coming back I found myself in the same old “behind” school again – and the problem just got confounded.  No matter where I went after that I was behind in math.  I had gotten stuck in fractions – fraction conversions to decimals had been missed, skipped completely – and none of the teachers had time for me, time to figure out what it was this boy needed, why he got D’s and F’s – when he got straight A’s in so many of his other classes . . .

But I’ve always held a sense of grudging admiration for my overseas teachers.  They had an uphill battle all the time, no doubt!  Minimal resources, the mainland far away – having to rely upon themselves, arrange everything themselves – and maintain this strict kind of schedule, not just across the land but the entire ‘system’ of military dependent teaching . . .

and I’m sure sometimes they watched us – feeling rather sad.  I’m sure sometimes they were told to “shut up” – and that they had no choice.  Just take it, swallow it down  . . . and continue on.  Sacrificing the child for the greater good.

I hope they know I don’t blame them.  Because I know, like they know: it wouldn’t have made any difference.

No difference at all.

The military system.  Well planned, quite mad sometimes . . . and so were the times sometimes.

 

*http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/c16899.htm

A Friend Made; A Friend Lost


I guess we’ll call him “Dee.”  D.B. for short.  Something like that.

During my last year in Germany he became my best friend.

We met at a party my parents were hosting in our third floor apartment with its rectangular concrete balcony – thick walled, meant to withstand bomb blasts.  There were basements and tall concrete stairwells going up for five floors, built by our German hosts for their war and troops back in the 1940’s or so.  It was our enemies housing, meant to withstand our attack, with hidden bunkers beneath.  The most massive one was out at the airport – it was rumored to be seven levels deep, with only the first three open.  The others, it was rumored, were flooded and filled with German booby-traps and gear – including airplanes!  Imagine that – someone going down there now with an ROV, finding those old treasures of war.  The Germans were famous for their devotion to the Third Reich – and the idea of a Fourth so much they may have successfully sealed up those gasketed rooms, making them watertight for generations later . . . putting the airplanes (and their ammo, parts, and gear) with them . . . who knows?  I wish I did.  I wish I could attend an exploration there.  But you’d need the German government’s permission . . . and I doubt their going to give it.  They are for burying the past and that sort of thing.

But I’ll always wonder if those rumors were true.  It’s very hard to find out information regarding that airport – or what’s underneath.  But I know what I saw – and D.B., did too – he often accompanied me.

I first met him at that party – we were careful friends, cautiously extending our hands and shaking one another’s – three firm shakes (like you are supposed to) and releasing your grip.  He was half-Japanese and stood about half a head taller than I; narrow framed, narrow face, black framed military glasses just like his dad.  He wore his hair short, as I did mine – not too short!, mind you – for in the winter we tried to grow it long to cover our ears and the back of our neck to ward off the cold.  But he was different . . . smart, lithe, intelligent, sharp – I admired him.  And I think he must have found something to like about me.

My mom and dad had insisted we meet him and his sister.  Their parents were our ‘friend’s’ parents, and apparently we were going to become friends, too.  Whether we liked it or not.  That’s the way it went with these things.  Sometimes you had to play with a child when you did not want to – always proposed to do with something about somebodies rank and social standing.  Sometimes we just played with them because we felt sorry for them, as we did one kid in Germany.  Nobody liked him but me – and I didn’t even like him much, but I befriended him and tolerated him because he was one of the most disliked friends in Germany, and his name was Jeremy (I think).  The kids at school could not stand him because he was half-German, – but I could stand him, so I took him in.  He had to be my friend.  He had no other.  So we took him in under our wing.

He had been born in Germany (like ‘I’ was) but he had lived there a long time – up until his momma had met his dad, some G.I. down at the local bar.  He’d been taken in like a third shoe – one that didn’t fit the mold and the pattern of the family his dad was demanding at home.  He was a bit like me.

So we took him in and took him ‘home’ every once and awhile, this ‘friend’ of ours – feeling sorry for him though he was cocky as hell and wouldn’t hesitate to ask my mom for a sandwich or two from the fridge – though she kinda felt sorry for him, too, so she helped him: feeding him, tolerating him for my sake.

I didn’t like him, too, but I hung onto him for awhile . . . and then we moved and I met this other ‘friend’, the one I told you about.

D.B.

I guess I became that kind of friend to him in some ways – his best friend, but an inferior one in some ways, though he never said anything to make me feel inferior.  I know he liked me.  Perhaps it was my rough & ready attitude.  Perhaps it was because he also had been abused some by an anxious and expectant Japanese mother and a demanding fatherhood figure.  He dad certainly smacked him around some, including his mom and daughter I heard – but those were only rumors.  I know my friend sometimes came with bruises on his face . . . something I understood (although later it would break my heart to see them.)

He was smart and he was tall and he taught me a lot of things about “being human” – I, a child from the swamps and woods of the deep south – though a lot of that had disappeared as I ‘hid’ myself even further . . .

To this day I wear button up shirts because of him.  Odd the effect a friend can have all your life.  I learned to love him.  He was an athlete – agile, able to jump, whereas I had earned the nickname “Tank” because of my way through the woods and countryside when we had to get moving, or were attacking someone . . .

We hung out a LOT together; went on missions, diverted tanks, road bikes, explored hill, dale, countryside, German villages, midnight raids – you name it.  He delved into the more elegant tactics and taught me some more; I was elegant in my own way, though, and much bolder . . .

I would have done anything for him, man.  Really and absolutely.  I loved him.

And then . . .

He stopped coming over . . . stopped coming out at the owl’s hoot in the morning (something he’d shown me how to do) . . . passing me by without a word on the way to classrooms . . . team meetings, that sort of thing . . .

And then he moved.  I went over there one day, knocked on the door, and a stranger appeared.

It was done.

And the beginning of winter . . .

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* ~ an addition to this ‘story’ . . . obviously ‘switching’ from various “points-of-view” . . . last year I found out via a story my brother told me that I lost this friend due to my dad – my dad had betrayed HIS dad (my friend’s) at work, and when asked “Why?” my dad simply said: “Because I could.”   Yeah – he’s that kind of man, really . . .
     but the thing is – in those last few months, he became suddenly much more ‘distant’ – no longer coming out in the early morning to meet me, no longer answering my call.  Not a word from him during their last few weeks there – he shed me like an old skin, moving on without me – and I loved him more than earth itself.  Such is one’s fate when in the Army, and quite young . . . I was only 12 going on 13 and it hurt . . . and it wouldn’t be long before we would be moving, too – coming back here and to the neighborhood I both missed . . . and yet now feared in some dismal way, suspecting my nightmares would soon be coming true . . .


Fliegerhorst – The Flying Horse Kaserne

 

Fliegerhorst Kaserne – Just So You Know I’m Not Joking

 

“Depants! Depants!” The cries echoed through the ruined bunker. I was only slightly annoyed; this whole game bothered me. Why would some kid want to ‘depants’ another kid? I didn’t understand it. And they never tried to depants me. I would’ve whipped their asses for doing it – even threatening to try was enough to get a hard warning look at my buddies, my fists balled. I wouldn’t run anywhere when it came to a fight though I didn’t like fighting anymore.

The lights where scattered and yellow, hidden behind glass domes protected by armor shields which were supposed to keep them protected in case of a blast. Loose rubble lay here and there in the corridors; this was the ‘abandoned’ side of the bunker complex we were in – there was a firing gallery somewhere, complete with sand banks and lots of bullets us kids would dig out some of the time. However on the ‘other’ side the Army was still using things . . .

It extended 7 levels down, though only three of them were useful. It was said the other ones were flooded by the Germans when the Americans took over the base during the final days of WWII. It was rumored there were German airplanes down there; Junker bombers, Stukkas and tanks. Maybe some of it was usable being underwater for so long, for as the Allies were coming the Germans had stored all their equipment down ‘there’, down in the deepest levels, booby trapped the place, then opened the valves between them and the river – allowing water to rush in. It filled the bunkers up to level with the river sometimes. Which was about three stories down.

You see, supposedly the Germans had this plan. They’d built this base in the basin of a shallow field, digging down (again, supposedly 7 stories down) – and putting an airfield there. When the Allies would send over their bombers, the Germans would flood the base, making it appear as a lake – and the Allies would just fly on, hopefully missing it that way. As the Allies would fly on, they would drain the ‘lake’ (apparently it was just a few feet deep), roll out some fighters to chase the American planes while sending some bombers out on their own. That way they could surprise the Allied pilots on both ends – as they were approaching their targets they could come up from behind – while the bomber had his sight laid on and couldn’t move anything. The bombardier would be the one driving – locked on his path, not straying – not one fraction of a degree one way or another, sighting those bombs in (using the Norton sight, I suppose) – and the fighters could rake them on the way there, or on the way back (when their guns were empty from fighting some fighters over the target area) – and then arriving at their home bases to find that their airports had gotten bombed – depriving them of a place to land, and (hopefully) causing many of them to crash . . . or at least wrecking some landing gear and propellors (no quick turn-around time for them guys!) . . .

Anyway, I’m reckoning that was ‘the plan’, based on what’s been told to me, history lessons that I’ve read, stategic training (as in “what I would do if I was them” – and the Germans always said I’d make a damn fine German as well . . .)

Didn’t matter in the end anyway: their bases got found out; they got bombed to Hellenbach*, and then the Allies just kept going, seizing what assets they could (ever hear of one called “Operation Paperclip”? It was a good one . . . but kinda makes me sick . . .)

 

However, the Allies couldn’t shake the secret from the last man alive who knew about those booby traps and things, and he wouldn’t reveal the intake on the pipe. Pump as they might, the mighty Army (supposedly; this was the tale that was told) – couldn’t pump those lower levels dry. So they sealed them up and left them alone . . .

And they made it a base of their own, complete with spy planes and the like – mostly Mohawks, which were an ugly twin turboprop that looked somewhat similar to the Warthogs of today – flying these big old mothballs (or meatballs, depending on how you were looking at them) – over the paths of our enemy, doing some electronic snooping on them and lots of photographs. (I know; I got to look at quite a lot of them, but for different reasons in a different way.)

The truth of it was, several somebodies probably knew quite a lot about what was ‘down there’ in that hidden darkness, and the military was still using several of the underground bunkers while I was there. This was right underneath the airfield and the hanger wings – a maze of light bubbles, gas tight doors, concrete walls, and an endlessly oppressive atmosphere that seemed to weigh down on you and make you feel safe, both at the same time . . .

It was there that we met some of the time, us kids and some of ‘the guys’. The guys were a couple of G.I.’s.

That’s all I’m going to say for this about now . . .

except that we played in them and they were dark sometimes.

 

The Fliegerhorst Airfield Kaserne (“flying horse” in German, “kaserne” means ‘base’) was important to me. That is where I had my best friend, Donald; and ‘most’ of my memories are from there. “Things” happened there; some of them I am really not quite sure about . . .

We seemed to stay there the ‘longest time’ though we were in “Old Argonner” nearby. (Argonner Kaserne, Hanau (closed in 2008). There was “New Argonner” as well. However we got moved a couple of times, though we all went to the same school. It was the last base we lived on – away from the cluster of other military bases in the area, separated and alone. It was a ‘secret’ military base in some ways – they stored nuclear missiles there, as well as being a base for the Mohawks and spy planes. Us kids were allowed to roam freely and mix around; however, you had to take a shuttle bus away from ‘camp’ to get to the outside world, or else you could ride your bicycle. Riding your bike meant going through Krautland for a long long ways. It was five miles to the nearest base – a long way in German terms, especially for some young kid on a bicycle.

There was public transport – if you had the money. The German buses and trains ran on time – and frequently, I might add. Clean and efficient transportation – if you were going somewhere in Germantown. However, getting onto an American base might be an entirely different matter.

You had to have your I.D. with you at all times – something new to me as a kid: carrying an identification card that said who I was and who I belonged to. (The US Army – it said so right there across the top and with the great big seal they had on it.)

I spent a lot of time alone rambling around by myself at first. For a long time, actually – those first two years, maybe even. It’s hard to grasp. So many of the memories are gone. Flashes of bases and kids . . . a young lover . . . a very deep swimming pool I was in; a merry-go-round (where I met my young lover) . . . cloudy skies and dark bases, endless airports and planes; helicopters thundering overhead . . .

I remember I spent a lot of time out over at (and on) the airport, learning some things. I don’t know what all . . . just ‘things’. I remember walking into the hangers and locker room areas; equipment rooms, storage rooms, G.I.’s taking me by the hand and showing me something or other. These are all ‘recovered’ memories for the most part; I can’t really be sure of them.

But some things I am certain of . . .

For instance, sitting in the co-pilot’s cockpit on a Huey, having a Captain show me ‘the ropes’ – how to engage the machine gun (the little minigun that hangs down in front); explaining to me the purposes of the switches, gyros and things – putting the helmet on me and talking about the Heads Up display (HUD) – how the machine gun would be tracking your movements, and you used the helmet to aim – basically firing wherever you looked or wanted to by simply looking at the object, flipping the cover, and pressing down . . .

It was also explained to me that this was the “co-captian’s” seat; that the pilot would be doing the driving – I might be required to keep my eyes on the dials and things and read some numbers out to him – but other than that I would be shooting the gun . . . if it ever came down to it . . .

I think it was him who explained to me their greatest fear: that us kids would be unarmed, or the Americans so under-armed, undeveloped, and ill prepared that the Soviet forces would be sweeping over us like a crimson wave; a tide of blood, and that any “American” should fight for his republic . . . that that was the reason why we were there . . .

And somewhere down the line it was explained to me that we wouldn’t have time to make an attack. The “Soviets” (actually, the East Germans – but it didn’t matter because they were using Soviet made MIGs) – could be over our base in a matter of minutes; there probably wouldn’t be any kind of warning until the bombs started to go off. If you heard them in time. Chances were you weren’t going to hear anything. The world would end in a great big flash and that would be the end of it – and you – and everybody you had ever known, and everything American made . . .

Atomic bombs were what we had to watch out for, we were told (this was somewhere in survival class). “Look out for the big flash in the sky!” the instructor said over again. “Be ready to duck and hide! At ALL times!” And so I spent a lot of time surreptitiously looking over my shoulder, looking on the horizon – watching for that great big flash that would mean I had to duck and hide if I wanted to stay alive. . .

The rules were rather simple: dive towards a ditch, a low wall; a bank of dirt – put anything you possibly can between you and the oncoming blast. Then get ready to get out of there – but be aware! The wind’s gonna blow in both ways . . . first it’s gonna come with smoke and fire – a virtual blast furnace (and hopefully passing over you . . . meanwhile you are hoping and praying like hell that it doesn’t suck all the oxygen out of the atmosphere – and YOU – if you wanna stay alive) . . . and then the wind is going to reverse, throwing things AT you if you haven’t gotten on the other side of the wall . . . or deeper down into your hiding place. The only thing is: they are going to be burning things and humans on fire. Half of them if not all are going to go blind. The rest may suffer from radiation burns, sickness, death . . maiming, mutilation . . .

Real good kind of trick to play on a 12 year old kid. Get him ready for a war that’s never coming. One in which he’s supposed to be a ‘leader’ of some kind; getting the other kids to gather ’round him – using him like a general would, and him using those kids for . . . whatever. And binding them to him in all kinds of ways; emotionally, rationally, through loyalty, fakery, or betrayal – all in order to “do this mission” of killing some Russians and keeping them (the kids and any Americans we’d find) alive.

To this day I don’t know how or what happened at that time; those times. So much is ‘gone’ out of my mind – a complete blank in some cases, lasting for months and months it seems. Flashes like still photographs; scenes that play out in my head; some of them are unjointed, disconnected – don’t correspond to anything “I” was doing . . . maybe their parts of a dream? If so, it was a dream that went on for a mighty long time – and there again, it’s so disjointed and spread out through time – a little bit took place ‘here’ and a little bit over ‘there’ . . . little hints of something every once and awhile . . .

I have my own theories, of course. One of them (and the simplest, easiest, by Occam’s Razor) is that I simply ‘made it up’ in my mind. That there simply was nothing going on. That I read some facts and made it all up in my mind. But on the other hand there are certain things that I do remember quite well – for I’ve never quite ‘forgotten’ them. The levels beneath the base – why can’t I find anything on the Internet about them? They were there – there’s no doubt about that! And the German’s dug them; of that I’m quite sure. But why no mention in (most**) of “it” (the nukes, the missions, the planes.) Was the Army doing something ‘down there’ that those bunkers – because they were using some of them (for storage if nothing else; I found a comment a former G.I. made about nuclear warheads being stored there) . . . and the CIA was around – I found another document on the Internet that makes mention of Fliegerhorst . . .

Who knows? It was the Cold War and they had a lot of secrets to hide – and a lot of fear on each side – so who knows? Maybe ‘they’ were teaching us kids somewhat how to survive . . . maybe it was an official program; probably not; maybe so . . .

I only recall a few kids ever being there, where I was sometimes. Six or seven at the most; sometimes down to as few as five. (Kids were always rotating out of my ‘group’ of friends, just like I was in their lives due to the military constantly moving families around . . . and I think my dad had a hand in it, too – especially that move from the ‘regular’ kaserne (Old Argonner) over to this new ‘neighborhood’ on this so-called “American Spy Base” of ours . . .

 

Anyway . . . there’s more to come on ‘this base’ and place, one of several I was on. But of all of them . . . this was the hardest in some ways, the best, the worst, and (in some ways) led to the culmination of all my nightmares in the end . . .

 

 

*Helenbach – a wry sounding play on the name of the Georgia made to look like a German village, and “bach” which in German often means “river” and hence was the suffix of many towns . . . and the American slang term: “To hell and back” – which in many senses of the word they were bombed back to.)

**I have found a few references indicating that there were underground facilities there; perhaps more extensive than I thought – including references to the ME jet plane that Hitler was developing . . . as well as a website comment by a G.I. about some nukes that were stored in there; and some data that suggests the CIA had some folks stationed there – perhaps because it was a reconnaissance base on the forward lines of Cold War Europe . . . or who knows? Perhaps it was something more.