Of Growing Up a Military Brat


It was 1965 and the end of our time at Vandenberg Air Force Base after eight years. I was fourteen years old and in the last semester of 9th grade.  My whole life was consumed with my friends, school, teen club dances, movies, roller skating, boyfriends, and (non-coed) sleep overs.  My social circle was, as is normal for most kids, fairly tight – and a mix of officer, non-officer and civil service kids … predominately white, a few blacks and Hispanics.  We had this sort of unspoken game of  “going steady” with others in our group for a while, then switching off to someone else.  I’m sure it was all innocent – especially when playing “spin the bottle” was both exciting and terrifying on many levels. Afraid we would be “spun” and afraid we wouldn’t.  Would we really kiss the person who spun us? Or not and say we did?  Were we dying to kiss that person? Oh, the stress.  I’ve actually kept in touch with a few of that circle to this day – and we all agree – our years at VAFB were simply the best.

I have some very specific memories of those years at Vandenberg….

My dad was transferred there in 1957 following a two-year tour in Hawaii, where he had learned to surf.  Going to Vandenberg was probably the best thing that could have happened to him at that time because he then surfed on the Southern California Coast in it’s infancy.  Many, many of my weekends were spent on beaches from San Onofre in San Diego County to Refugio Beach Park in Santa Barbara county.

I went to elementary school in old army buildings built during World War II until new facilities were built.  Those old buildings were the elementary, junior and high schools all connected by, it seemed, miles of hallways painted light army green, and brown linoleum floors.  If you kept going down the miles of halls, you would come to the base hospital.

Because of the huge influx of new AF personnel into the old, decommissioned WWII Army base called Camp Cook, which was recommissioned as the new Strategic Air Command base, Vandenberg Air Force Base, we all eventually got brand new Capart housing (don’t know why it was called that, but every base has it), schools, commissary, exchange, hospital, theater, churches … and some things stayed in renovated old buildings, like the youth center and skating rink.  Living on a military base was probably the safest place for kids to be raised.  We had the run of the base, a free on-base bus system to get anywhere we needed to go and  no one, especially military personnel, bothered us at the risk of being reported to the base commander.

There were expectations to being an officer’s kid (or even an enlisted or NCO’s kid)  in your behavior and activities as well.  Bad behavior was the epitome of unacceptability and could result in demotion, disciplinary action, removal from living on base and/or on-base privileges, or immediate transfer for the military parent.  I was the consummate description  of a military brat respectful and well-behaved.  Actually, I was too afraid to do anything that might cause problems for my dad – I had older siblings who were already well-versed in doing that.

Those of us who were there at that time in the ’60’s grew up “a lot” together – Vandenberg was the Pacific missile test range.  We witnessed missile launches almost daily – successful ones and unsuccessful ones.  Nothing compares to an off-course Atlas or Titan ICBM being destroyed and having debris falling back on base!  Every time there was a launch, regardless of the time of day, wherever we were, everyone ran outside to watch.  Night launches were even more spectacular and  it never got old.  We grew up together – in 1962 during the Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis all of our fathers were on red alert and at their job stations 24/7 for almost two weeks.days.  It was the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. We did nuclear attack drills instead of fire drills.  We all had evacuation and meet up plans coordinated with our parents in the event of attack.  We knew where the nearest bomb shelters were.

We all grew up together … the day John F Kennedy was assassinated.  November 22, 1963.  2nd period.  Teachers crying.  School closing early and us being sent home.  We grew up – faster than many.  The later assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., when we were older, I am sure, opened up the wounds of that first epic event in our lives.

We grew up together – and watched the Ed Sullivan Show that February evening in 1964 when those gorgeous boys from Liverpool made their debut on TV and in America.  In spite of the reality of the work our dads did, it was a remarkable time to be young and growing up.  We were happy.   I was lucky that my parents embraced my growing up and things we did – they willingly took me and friends to Los Angeles (2 hours away) to the infamous Teen Fair at the Hollywood Palladium.  They took us camping at the beach, tolerated and joined in on enjoying our music and being involved in our activities.  How excited my folks were to come home from the Officer’s Club and teach us kids the new dance they learned … Chubby Checker’s Twist..

Then in 1965 we were transferred from Vandenberg to McClellan AFB in Sacramento.  For a year life was pretty status quo – we get used to starting over and making new friends, us military brats …. At least I started high school with 300 other high school “newbies” – and began a new era – Flower Power, the Summer of Love, my first concerts, serious boyfriends … and Viet Nam.

And on October 25, 1966 my world changed again as my mom and I stood and hugged each other and cried as my dad boarded a military transit flight from Travis AFB bound for Saigon and there began the longest year of my young life.

We were lucky .. he came home … and I loved growing up a military brat …. I’m proud of it!

PS … My dad retired in 1971 – from 28 years of active duty.  He became a surfing instructor at the Sheraton Waikiki and lived the life of a beach boy for fifteen years.  When he and my mom moved back to Northern California to be near the grandkids, he took up downhill skiing at 70 years old.  A year later he was doing timed downhill racing … undaunted … in the Senior division.  When he started running into trees, he took up computers, taught himself, and then volunteered at CalState University, Sacramento, to teach senior citizens how to use computers.  Always a leader … and teacher. He passed away 12 years ago – I still miss him terribly …

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11 thoughts on “Of Growing Up a Military Brat

  1. Mary

    Hi! I just now stumbled onto your Blog. Must agree on the fond memories of living on VAF base during the early 60’s! My father was in the Motor Pool and we lived in Capehart 3. That is where I met my husband. His folks lived on the main base. He would catch the shuttle bus to come see me across the base. I was 15 and he was 17. We married four years later. Life [for us BRATS] was taken for granted, I know I took mine for granted!! We were young, and didn’t have the same stresses that today’s young folk have. We were more focused on who was going “steady” with who! And how right you are about getting to see missiles projected in the air. Always around my Science period, it seemed. So thank you for jogging the memories and Thank you for your Blog!

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      1. Mary

        Hi Itty! My father was stationed there from 1962 to when I graduated from Santa Maria High School in 1965. From there he went to Rough and Ready base while I married my husband in 1966. Do you remember any of your teachers? I had Mr. Bock for Business Math.. I cant remember any of the rest of the teachers unless I look them up in my Missile Inn year book. Don’t know where that year book is–buried somewhere in my attic.

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  2. Joe Cooke Jr

    I truly enjoyed reading your thoughts on growing up at VAFB. My Dad was stationed there when I was 5 in 1958,was there till his retirement in 1966.

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  3. Linda

    Enjoyed reading your blog about growing up at Vandenberg! I too, lived at VAFB when I was young. During ’61-’66. I remember a missile being destroyed and pieces falling all over, with the main engine landing on a mobile home. I have researched, but have not found any information about this event. I remember the the old school buildings and long hospital hallways that I thought went on forever. Looked for the FB Brats page, but came up empty. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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  4. Yvonne Bridges

    I was at VAFB during your years there and have many of the same memories. We lived in Officers Housing and I remember the fun of Trick or Treating up and down the street. I “worked” in the student store ( I guess that is what it was called!) and sold Kit Kats. I remember winning a Mashed Potatoes Dance contest at teen club ( the only time I won a anything for dancing.) We moved to live with my Nana in Atlanta at the end of 8th grade (1964) because my dad, an Intelligence Officer and former “missile trainer” at Vandenberg, was going to Vietnam. I am fortunate that he is still living and is turning 87 this month.

    Thanks for sharing in this blog!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Yvonne! We must have been in the same class! If you are on Facebook there is a group called, simply, “Brats” which is a comprised of VJHS kids from that time .. about 120 of us! Check it out! Those days are still my favorite! Hug your daddy for me!

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  5. Our fathers are so important to us as we form our image of who we are in the world and what kind of treatment we should expect from others. Sounds like yours was one of the best. Did he teach you to surf?

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