Life in a military family gave us many rich experiences, making all the moves worthwhile.
I was always proud to be an Army Brat, even more so today than back then. As a dependent I had many privileges that many American children did not. I am not referring only to the privileges of PX, Commissary and such, but of that to experience places which I, as a child of a civilian, might not have seen.
Like most Military families, we were not rich, but Mom and Dad knew how to stretch a dollar. Today, when I talk to a friend or co-worker about my childhood, I sometimes receive an envious glance when I truthfully can say “I spent my summers on the Mediterranean.”
In 1972, dad was assigned to the ASA at Gablingen Kaserne, near Augsburg, Germany. Wherever we were stationed, Mom and Dad became involved in the community, beauty, and historical background for whatever time we had there.
Augsburg was no different as almost immediately, we began our adventures on weekend excursions and camping trips. We toured Neuschwanstein Castle, Garmisch, the Bavarian Alps, and my parents even thought it was important that we saw the horrors of Dachau.
Our first summer there, we loaded up our 1966 Rambler station wagon with our tent and camping supplies, and began what would be our yearly migration south to Italy. We always traveled in caravan, with buddies from dad’s Group along with their families. We would travel the Alps, through Austria and Switzerland.
Coming down the other side of the mountains, the road was very steep and we would have to pull off along the side of the road and let the brakes cool down. Those old cars couldn’t take the constant rubbing of the brake pads!
Sometimes we would camp for the night at the bottom of the alps and had a spectacular view when we awoke in the morning! One such evening after camp had been established, we began the preparations for dinner. We noticed a bus pull in and a large amount of children disembarked.
There were a few adults with them, and they all were dressed in the regions’ traditional costume. The mean and boys wore lederhosen and the women and girls wore their Drindle dresses. With keen insight (and the fact they began singing) we realized they were a traveling troupe of children who performed throughout the area.
They were actors, singers, musicians, and dancers. One young man, about the age of 15, came over to our campsite and asked us (in broken English) if they could put on their show for us. “We noticed you are Americans, and we want to thank you for what you do for us.”
So, sitting there in the glow of the campfire, at the base of the Bavarian Alps we had the honor of being the guests of these wonderful children—bringing us laughter, music and dance-such a rich part of the Bavarian culture.
Several times we stop and take the cable car to the top of the Zuchspitz, where my dad and his buddy Tom Finnell climbed to the highest point. There is a marker on the top, in the shape of a cross to mark this point, and through my child’s mind, I began to imagine that it was a cross symbolizing a death that had occurred by someone falling. Tom’s daughter Connie was my best friend at that time, and she and I were terrified they were going to slip on the snow and ice and fall right to the bottom!
I hid my eyes beneath my jacket and clenched my fists, while mom, with our trusty Pentax took pictures from the window of the lodge where we watched. They made it to the top together, and celebrated-looking like two members of the North Pole expedition with nothing but icy and snow blowing around them. When they had safely returned to the lodge we had lunch and began our cable car ride back down the mountain.
We would travel through Italy, making stops in Florence, where I viewed Michaelangelo’s beautiful art work. We saw the statues-Venus DiMilo, Medusa, and of course, David. We stopped in Venice, where we rode in a gondola through the flooded streets and under the Rialto Bridge.
We stopped in Pisa, where we would climb to the top of the Leaning Tower and take in the breathtaking view of the beautiful countryside, which is impossible today due to safety issues of the tower. I did not only learn a lot of history, mythology and art, I saw it and learned to appreciate the beauty of it all.
We would end our trek in the campground Mar De Sol, on the Mediterranean Sea. The campground was near Camp Darby, Italy, which was convenient for replenishing supplies and other needs that came up-like the time I became ill after drinking the water and needed medical attention!
Our tents were set up in a little group and we would laze in the warm Italian sun for the next week or so, swimming in the Mediterranean, walking to the canteen, (an 8 year old could buy a bottle of wine!) and singing silly songs around the campsite. After we kids went to bed, the adults would talk and laugh around the campfire long into the night. We would all fall asleep to the sounds of their laughter.
My younger brother, Alan, had a rubber boat raft he would float around in, and often fall asleep. One afternoon as my parents were enjoying a swim, Alan began to float off. The waves were fortunately keeping him close to shore, but he had drifted to the opposite end of the beach. As my parents were in the water, it was faster for me (I was up on the blanket) to run down to get him, so mom yelled to me to go after him.
However, there was a reason I was on the blanket and not in the water myself that day. The crabs had chosen to come up onto the sand to sun themselves, and I wanted no part of them.
I hollered back to my mom “The crabs will pinch me, I don’t want to go!” Dad had already started after Alan, and Mom came up out of the water and came after me. Needless to say, it was hard to sit down the rest of that day. My toes were intact however, and yes, my brother was okay too.
We enjoyed our life in Germany, building many wonderful memories, and seeing many places and things that I wish I could have shown my three children. Sometimes I feel guilty that I couldn’t give my kids the same life as I had growing up because I married a civilian, but I wouldn’t trade my life now, as I wouldn’t trade my life then.
Yes, I was raised a child of privilege. Not of money, but the privilege of being a daughter of the United States Army.