My Life as an Army Brat—And Beyond

The very first professional picture taken of me was sitting on a pony, dressed as a cowboy, in McAlester, Oklahoma. The second professional photograph is of me dressed in an Army uniform with Sergeant’s stripes to match my dad’s. Thus began my life as an Army Brat.

My sister was born in 1949 at the Army hospital on Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. From there, we went to live in Killeen, Texas as my dad was stationed at Ft. Hood. He had served in WWII as an Army Ranger, left the Army, then re-joined and won the Bronze Star with a V for valor, in combat. 

My first real “Army Brat” memory is of the USS Callen, which took my mother, sister and I to join my dad in Pirmasens, Germany. After a brief time we moved to Vogelweh, near Kaiserslautern and my dad worked as a surgical tech at Landstul Army Regional Hospital, the Army’s 2nd general hospital. Only Walter Reed is bigger.

I loved Vogelweh. we were there 3 years and it’s where I went to first grade. From there, 2nd grade at Avenue D. in Killeen, Texas. as we were back at Ft. Hood, but only for a short time. Dad had put in for Ft. Chaffee near Ft. Smith,  Arkansas, only an hour from our hometown of Quinton, Okahoma.

My third through sixth grades were at South Ft. Smith Elementary and I was a proud member of the Boys Club. I spent my weekends either there or at my grandparents in Oklahoma. In 1959, orders came in for a return trip to Landstuhl. I was excited—I loved Germany.

We headed for New York and boarded the USNS Upshur for Bremerhaven. I remember my mother became very ill and was operated on at sea, but soon recovered. We took the train to Landstuhl and got temporary quarters on “the hill” near the hospital.

A few months later, we were in permanent quarters at a brand new building, #1174, Apt. L. It was white brick, lots of glass and a balcony overlooking a forest. Although on the third floor, it was the nicest home we had ever lived in and we loved it. We shared Christmases with our Gasthaus owner friends from nearby Atzel.  Lani and Louis Leithauser, and their kids, who were like family to us. Dad had met them during the war and we were close from our first Germany tour of duty.

I made friends, who would be in my mind all my life. Allan Kennedy, Dennis Markey, Jack Meyer, Jayme (Denson) Ballard, Judy Crandall and more. My first girlfriend, square dances, heartbreaks, trips to Paris, the Alps, Luxembourg to visit a family friend’s grave from WWII and so many other things which would affect me forever.

The best teacher who ever taught me, Sy Hakim, taught me in the 8th and 9th grades at LAMC and the worst, unamed here, taught science. I fondly remember Miss Cooper, Mr. Stotz, Miss Dinwiddie and so many classmates.

Orders came in the summer of 1962 to New Jersey.

NEW JERSEY? Are you kidding me?

We were Southwest/Cental U.S. New Jersey seemed a world away. We flew from Frankfurt, Germany to McGuire Air Force Base and took a cab over to Ft. Dix, next door. We were unhappy as could be. From a beautiful three bedroom, two bath apartment in the beautiful hilly forests of Landstuhl, to the flat, crowded  streets and towns of New Jersey. I went to Northern Burlington County Regional High School, and struggled. Missing friends and Germany.

During the summer before my senior year, I talked my parents into letting me return to Quinton, Oklahoma and live with my grandparents, Ed & Alpha Bishop and graduating. Happiness filled me again. Graduated, started college at Eastern OK in Wilburton, but missed the traveling and structure of military life.

I wanted to join the Navy.

I had always wanted to be a SCUBA diver, and the military was all I really knew. I joined and was assigned to the USS Mattapopni (AO-41) and had two WestPac Tours, 14 months in the combat zone and made it to Diving School in San Diego in 1968.

As a 2nd class diver, I was sent to the USS Takelma, ATF 113 in Pearl Harbor, and sailed another WestPac Tour. I loved it, but after four years active duty and too many people always telling me what to do, (and those 18 years as an Army brat) it was time to become a civilian.

My sister stayed military. She worked Civil Service at Ft. Dix after high school, then married a young Lieutenant, who retired after 23 years as a LTC. She spent a total of 12 years in our beloved Germany. Donna and Carl Holden now reside in New Port Richie, Florida.

I wanted to be on the radio, so I went to Career Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, DC and off I went. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, and the past 30 years in the Oklahoma City area, mainly playing country music.

My dad passed away in 1975 and my mother (Eva McIntosh) resides in a nursing home in nearby Moore, OK suffering from Alzheimers. She was the consummate Army wife and the neighborhood kids’ favorite Mom.

Several years ago, 2001, I got in touch with my schoolmates from Landstuhl and we met at my house for a fantastic reunion and remain in touch via e-mail with occasional visits. I wouldn’t take anything for the memories, nor for the life experience from a childhood of a traveling Army Brat.

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5 Comments
  1. Joe, this is a great synopsis of a very diverse life. I can relate to the SCUBA diving . . . while I did not have the desire to join the Navy to pursue my interest, in the late 1960s and early 1970s I read practically every book on SCUBA diving, submarines and related topics.

    I suffered from severe sinus problems as far back as I can remember, so that probably stopped me from taking a class. I was tempted one summer at Fort Knox to take a diving class, but the $75 fee (probably close to $450 or more in today’s dollars) meant cutting a LOT of extra lawns and saving everything I made including my allowance.

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    • Sorry about the diving Vann. It is a most wonderful experience, my son became qualified and we dove off Cozumel and had the time of our lives. I still love it and I still fondly, very fondly, remember my days as an Army Brat. Simply the best. I have now lived in the OKC area for 30 years. Wow…….all my life, 3 years was the longest ecer spent in one place. I miss that, but too old to move and too old to ride bikes into the Valley at Landtuhl, Germay and into town to schwimbad  or up to Nanstien castle. Luckily I still have picture and my junior high friends who keep in touch. Allan Kennedy will be here in october, from Virginia. Nice. Thanks for the website.

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  2. Did you know a miss Patty Smith While you were living on base at 2nd general hospital?

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    • Sorry, I am not familiar with that name/ but will look int the yearbook. I will ask the old LAMC gang when we get together in 2012. Looking at the old yearbook from 1961-62 is such a blast and havinng six classmates, we can recognize almost all the kids. I got to go back in 1977 and tour the base as well as hiking the Valley once again. I loved those three years and what a treat to still be in touch with a half dozen of the people most important to me as a teenager.

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  3. Joe! I lived in building 1174 at Vogelweh from 1956 until 1959. Sorry I missed you! I’m now in Norfolk, VA

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