Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Posts tagged 'VeteransStories'

Tag Archives: VeteransStories

Three Homes in Three Years

    Before my high school sweetheart entered the Air Force almost fifty years ago, I had never been on a military installation. I didn’t know once I married him when he got to tech school after basic training, we would both have a military identification card. Mine was orange to signify I was a dependent. His card was green. Each card had the photo of the person who was authorized to carry and use it to gain access to installations and their amenities.  

     Back in 1972, the active-duty person was identified by their social security number, as were their dependents. Any activity the member or someone in the family did was connected to that number including on-base traffic tickets. I can still recite his today even though I haven’t been married to him since 1980. In 2011, with identity theft becoming a problem, the US military ceased using social security numbers and instituted a numerical system specific to each service branch.

     A military installation is a microcosm within a fence. A valid ID gets you into it through the guarded gates. Besides all the buildings and roadways that make it a unique place with a specific purpose for the US government’s use, there is a social center for the personnel and their families. That includes the Exchange (large department store); Commissary (grocery store); O Club for officers which consists of a restaurant and bar; NCO Club for enlisted personnel; child-care center; beauty shop; bank; hospital; security police offices; law offices; library; fire stations; movie theater; swimming pool and maybe a bowling alley and/or golf course. I’m sure I forgot some things.

      Also within the confines of the fence is base housing which to qualify for a military person has to have enough time in service and a family. Officers’ and enlisted housing are separated, but dependent children of both share the same schools. Sometimes housing is located away from the installation and is more like a subdivision of patio homes or quadruplexes. Individual yards are often fenced, and there are plenty of small children and pets. 

     In 1974, my ex received orders for a three-year accompanied tour to Lakenheath AFB, England. We only had one child at the time, so that meant he would report there on a specified date, and then he would have to rent a suitable home for us before the Air Force would cut our orders to join him. It wasn’t a quick process, but the government footed the bill. 

     When I got the news he had rented a brick house with two large bedrooms, an attached garage, and fenced yards on Thetford Road, in Brandon, Suffolk County, I was elated. Then I learned that it had been empty for a time, and wondered why. The crux was that the coal stove in the kitchen heated the hot water radiators in other rooms. The landlord would only rent the house to someone who knew how to feed the stove methodically during the day, bank it at night and not mind the mess of coal and ashes. My ex had no experience doing such, but he knew I did.

     I should interject the average low temperature during an English winter is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the summer high averages 70. Heat is necessary, but not like in the Finger Lakes area of New York State where I grew up with a large wood stove in residence.

     I loved that coal stove. During the winter I always had a hot kettle of water at the ready. I made soups and stews on it and I got so I used the oven as well, especially for pot roast. Our son had learned to walk while waiting to go live with Daddy, and he experienced “hot” very quickly, so stayed away from that side of the small kitchen.

     Our daughter was born at the Lakenheath AFB hospital in December 1974, which meant we became eligible for base housing. Thus, we only lived in Brandon for a year. I didn’t want to leave the house “on the economy” or the friendly town, but it meant an increase in the paycheck so, we moved into “substandard base housing.” 

     Moving while in the military is expected. It is also quite simple. A date gets set; the movers arrive, pack everything for you, and deposit it at the new address. You do have to do your own unpacking and decorating. I wouldn’t want it any other way, especially when it comes to arranging my kitchen cupboards. 

     “Substandard” meant we would live in a row house built in the 1930s at RAF Feltwell, Norfolk County. The rooms were small, the neighbors attached by thin walls, and no amenities. We had to drive seven and a half miles to Lakenheath AFB for those. 

     The following year we moved to “standard” housing in Thetford, Norfolk County. This home was much newer, had in-floor hot water heat, three bedrooms, a garage, and a fully fenced back yard. I enjoyed walking into town with our children in a large wheeled English pram (baby carriage.) The Little River Ouse runs through a park we frequented and my son loved to watch the fisherman. Still, all major shopping and other appointments happened on base, 12 miles away. My ex had coworkers living in the same subdivision, so they would share rides, and I often had a car at my disposal to do errands at Lakenheath. I didn’t find driving on the left side of the road a problem.

     We returned to the states in 1977 but my memories of our time in the UK seem like it was much more recently. I would like to revisit the area with my grandson so he can see where his Mom was born and spent her first two years. I would point out the 700-year old buildings that are still in use and make sure there is time to visit the coast which I didn’t do when I lived there.

     Have you traveled or lived someplace you would like to visit again? Have you had the opportunity to use an experience from your childhood, like a wood stove, to enhance a happening in your adult life? Please share your comments below.

                                                   ***

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 until 1979. She stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of some of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly, you can do so on her Facebook page; Sue Carmichael Spitulnik

I Sacrificed My Roots

    

In the fall of 1971 as the Vietnam war was winding down my long time boyfriend enlisted in the Air Force to avoid being drafted. Seven months after I graduated from high school, I left my hometown to marry him after he finished boot camp. The husbands of the two couples who attended our wedding at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi were his classmates who he had known for mere days. There was no one from either of our families present. He was the oldest of six children who had known too much responsibility and I was the youngest of four girls who had known little. We were excited to be starting a new adventure together thinking we were escaping the ho-hum of the small town we grew up in.

We learned quickly that military life was unlike what we were used to. There were many rules to be followed by the service member; no calling in sick, wear the uniform with precise requirements of creases and boot shine, learn how to budget on little pay, don’t even ask to have a holiday off, live and work where you were told to, and sometimes end up working in a job field different than the one the recruiter promised you. We were young and giddy, we didn’t recognize these rules as sacrifices of our freedom, it was just how things worked. For him, he had a job with good benefits, and for me; I was getting to “see the world.”

Now it’s almost 50 years later and I have realized when I left home, the familiarity of family and friends went with me. I lost, sacrificed, a personal connection to the daily lives of my sisters and their families and my school chums and their siblings. Had I stayed near my hometown I would have maintained a closeness to my nieces and nephews. I would have known one of my classmates became a local businessman able to pay for the town’s new playground and own a golf course. I would have known the neighbor’s little brother ended up working for the state and has been able to retire comfortably at age 55. Instead, I met lots of people who I have no connection to today. The exception being one girlfriend that is a letter writer who keeps the communication alive. I’m attempting to regain friendships with people I grew up with via Facebook. It isn’t all that satisfying nor successful.

My life as a military wife expanded my horizons like I didn’t know was possible, but I sacrificed my roots to live in a bigger puddle of experience. I can’t change the past, but I can go to my veterans’ writing group and discuss what I have learned. They will understand because they sacrificed their roots too, or in one lady’s case, she feels she has lost familiarity with her child to the service.

Diane’s son is a 10-year Marine and now a Major. She tearfully shared with me she doesn’t know her son anymore. Her memory of him is an immature, but driven college student and now he is a man and she didn’t witness the growth because he was “off in the service.”  She continued to tell me when they Facetime and she asks what he is doing at work, his answer is, “You know Mom, military stuff.” The sad fact is Mom doesn’t know. She doesn’t know when he switches girlfriends or where he might be stationed in two years. She doesn’t know when he buys a new car or has a toothache and he doesn’t think to tell her. She tells him she would like to set up a ZOOM chat with him and his sister and he says he has to deal with his men first. She has fallen on the list of importance for him. It hurts her and he doesn’t realize it because his focus is elsewhere. She feels like she has lost him and longs to see his face more often. I expect some sons stay in touch better, but this is her story.  (Name changed for privacy.)

The Rochester Veterans Writing Group book, United in Service, United in Sacrifice is now available on Amazon. The writing group is proud the project is finished, of their service, and of being able to share their experiences to maintain a record and help non-military folk understand the sacrifices some made so others didn’t have to.

In the book I didn’t use a pen name, so look for Sue Spitulnik’s essay. Included in the back are prompts you are welcome to use to help you start a personal notebook or writing group.

 

What Amazon says: Scan through packets of old letters, undiscovered until 2012. They reveal a World War II love-story that lasted a lifetime. Ride with Kurt and thousands of other scared young G.I.’s in the boat they called “the steel coffin,” as their convoy zig-zags across a heaving ocean and U-boats hunt for and torpedo some of the ships around them. Flee with Jake and his buddy down through the frozen mountains of North Korea with hoards of the Chinese “People’s Army” in hot pursuit. In the wee hours of an inky-black night, climb the compound guard towers with Vaughn, a mug of coffee in each fist, as he brings comfort and a kind word to the frightened young look-outs at Dak To Special Forces Base in Vietnam. Learn how to survive being “waterboarded, Air Force-style.” At 2 AM, stand at attention with Tim at Dover Air Force Base, as grieving loved ones wait for the arrival of their dead from Iraq. From World War II, Korea and Vietnam, through the Cold War to the Mid-East conflicts of today, the authors of the Rochester, NY, Veterans Writers’ Group bring you these and many other stories. Some are shocking, some are humorous, all of them are gripping. They will give you a new perspective on the service and sacrifice of our military, and especially their families—and what it means for the rest of us.

In the comments please tell about something you have given up, sacrificed, for the good of others.

If you would like to contact me personally, you can do so through my blog Susansleggs.com.