by Elaine Jones
“The Army didn’t issue you a family” is a refrain often heard by Army families. Today, as always, Army families struggle to build a hearth, somehow managing under less-than-ideal circumstances.
As a young military wife in the 1960s, it seemed as soon as we settled into a place, orders came for us to move to a new base. Orders came with many mixed emotions. The most traumatic one for me was the fact I was moving further away from family and leaving behind the few new friends I had been able to make. My first military friend was a girl who had recently come from Germany as a military wife. She spoke no English except for her dog’s name, “Stinky” and I spoke no German. We often pooled our food supply, which always became scarce near the end of the month. Payday was once a month and if you became short of money, hopefully, you had something you could pawn for a few dollars to help you make it to payday or you shared with a friend. With shared soup and lots of hand movements, she learned English, and I gained a longtime friend.
One unique experience from that sojourn living in a trailer park was when we asked the only single male soldier occupant, who happened to be home that day, if he would take one of the women who was in labor to the hospital because she had been unable to reach her husband. He agreed, if another woman would go with them. The rest of us women agreed to look after her other children until her husband could be located. Along the way to the hospital, the baby arrived, and it was rumored the young soldier was most unhappy at having to clean up his car. At the beginning of the next month, his trailer was vacated. The rest of us assumed he didn’t want a repeat trip with another pregnant woman and it appeared as if every woman in the trailer park was pregnant.
Army family circa 1966 (Image credit: Author’s archive)
Military pay was low which made a move a financial hardship. Seldom was base housing available, especially for lower rank personnel. Many civilians didn’t want to rent their property to military families. Much of the blame for that could have been contributed to the military families because often when they moved, they often left the property in less-than-desirable conditions.
As the Vietnam War intensified, there was increased military buildup at Ft. Benning, Ga. which was our next move. The civilians were renting anything that had four walls and a roof. It was our luck to find a large old house in downtown Columbus that had been divided up into many different apartments. The drawback was we had to share one bathroom with three other families. “Nasty” wouldn’t have come close to describing those conditions.
A large pickle jar served me well for nighttime bathroom calls. A few months after my first baby was born, we found a small apartment in what had been the owner’s car garage. It was not well insulated, with one small gas heater for heat. Georgia does have some cold weather! Eventually, we moved into a duplex apartment until my husband was shipped to Vietnam.
Now, what do I do for a home? Packing up my two babies, I moved to Spring Lake, NC to be closer to my family. This time I had a better house to live in, but the war news made it a miserable existence.
After a year, it was time to move again. We found better housing accommodations in Kentucky, and it was there that I experienced my first ghost encounter. Years later I was told a young Air Force wife who had rented the same house had a very similar experience with the ghost.
The war was still active which required much time in training therefore, home life was stressful. In about another year’s time, we were transferred to Louisiana. Housing again was scarce, and you had to settle for anything available. Daily life was just survival. It wasn’t long before we were flying to Germany.
There was sufficient time during that deployment for me to have my third child but within seventeen months orders came again for Vietnam. I resettled back in Spring Lake. It was Christmas time, and our furniture hadn’t arrived back in the states. For a table, we had a cardboard box with a thin piece of plywood on top. Our beds were borrowed air mattresses, what clothes we had, we brought in luggage from Germany and a sad, sparsely trimmed Christmas tree looked even smaller in an otherwise empty room. This was home. For another year, I was basically a single mother raising three children under a dark cloud of fear if I’d become a widow statistic.
You always send one person off to war, but it is a very different one who returns. Home just doesn’t turn out to be what you envisioned. You play a role and wait for the next set of orders. You realize that setting up a house doesn’t make a home.
Later someone asked my daughter where she was from and she replied, “Do you mean where I was born or where I have lived”.
Where was home?
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.