Friday, October 4, 2013

BLOGTOBERFEST13 (Day 4) Odyssey to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to remember and honor my father

Odysseys can be journeyed in brief moments of time through the emotions. On Sunday, September 29, 2013, I voyaged into family territories in simultaneous realities of present and past. I grew up an ARMY BRAT on a variety of different military posts.

What is it to be an ARMY BRAT? To be born into a family untethered to a specific locale, relatives, and friends? Where are one’s allegiances to be secured, the way one ties a boat to a dock firmly with a rope?
FT. BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA. We were stationed at Ft. Bragg for two years when I was in the second and third grade. This picture was taken a little while before my Dad headed off to fight in the Vietnam War, and we moved outside the gates of Ft. Bragg to Fayetteville, North Carolina for a year. My older sister Lynn took the photo of us at the parade/marching field. I really loved watching my father march with other soldiers. His voice would often be hoarse in the evening after shouting commands.
ARMY BRATS drift like seagulls touching down here and there, never staying long, bobbing up and down on the oceans rise and fall or feeding momentarily on the shore where the sea foam bubbles at its edges.

So in 1972, when I was fourteen years old, I landed on the base of Ft. Benning, Georgia, one of the largest military reservations in the world. The United States involvement in the Vietnam War was to conclude in the summer of 1973, but in the meantime, I was living with the “hawks” and not the “doves.” There was a clear division in societies of those who supported the war and those who didn’t.  I felt foggy and unclear about the matter. How could any kind of war be good? 

But I was living in the community of those who fought the battles the United States engaged in. I was not allowed to sew a peace sign on jeans in 1972 even though I was “bussed” of the military base to go to school with civilian teenagers. The ARMY BRAT was not an ordinary teenager, or at least I wasn’t.
MY HOME (1972-1976). In 1972, my parents, three brothers, and one sister, moved from the McLean, Washington, DC, area to Ft. Benning, Georgia. We lived on a street nicknamed "Bird Row" because of all the Colonels that lived in white "elephant" houses along its thickly tree-covered area across the street from the golf course. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
We maintained our lives in a shielded patriotic world that was not without its awareness of differing opinions concerning the war. My father had been wounded in Vietnam in 1968, done a stint at the Pentagon and military jobs in the Washington, DC, area before we had gotten orders to report to Ft. Benning.

Now, more than forty years later, I returned to Ft. Benning with my mother, two of my five siblings, and husband to visit three places to honor Edward R. Schowalter--my father--and a Congressional Medal of Honor Holder: 

1)the National Infantry Museum (where all U.S. Medal of Honor Holders are commemorated), 
2) the Fort Benning Cemetery (where my father is buried), 
3) and Schowalter Hall, a school for training military leadership that was dedicated to him.
THE NATIONAL INFANTRY MUSEUM. Pictured here in front of the Infantry Museum are my mother and brother. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
THE MEDAL! One of the main reasons we had gone to visit the National Infantry Museum was to see the section that honored the Congressional Medal of Honor holders because our dad was awarded one for his service in the Korean War in 1952. We grew up with our father wearing this spectacular medal for any important military event. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
PART OF THE STORY.  How poignant it is to see the story I heard my father recount a number of times during the years of our childhood and afterwards whenever visitors insisted on hearing him tell what he did to be awarded this prestigious medal. My father died almost 10 years ago, yet his Korean War story has long since become a part of written history and continues to be told. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
DAD IS RIGHT THERE. My mother has visited the National Infantry Museum  a number of times. I have asked what it means to be an ARMY BRAT. Another important question to ask is what does it mean to be an ARMY WIFE? (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
NOT TOO FAR AWAY FROM THE NATIONAL INFANTRY MUSEUM.  It was quite easy to reach the Fort Benning Cemetery from the Infantry Museum, where my father is buried. It was just a few minutes away. For emotional reasons right now, I just can't post a photo of my father's grave. I will leave that private for the time being. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
SCHOWALTER HALL. What a beautiful day we had to visit these three memorials of my father! Here my mother is walking in front of the building named after my father which was dedicated in December 2012. What a tribute to his leadership skills that this facility for training soldiers leadership was named after my father! (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
PHOTO TRIBUTE TO DAD. Upon entering Schowalter Hall, one can see a row of framed documents and objects with significant photos and citations related to my father's military actions and Medal of Honor. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
After, our eventful day at Ft. Benning, we left its gates and drove back to Auburn, Alabama, where my mother lives, to eat a meal together and discuss our experiences. 

I have not answered the question, WHAT IS IT TO BE AN ARMY BRAT? Aren’t we all changing all the time? What we experienced as children, does that make us who we are today? 

I feel some times that although the Army Brat “me” left the Army years ago when I left for California in 1976, I still have many aspects of the Army Brat in me—is that good, bad, just is? You tell me.

That’s Coffee with Hallelujah. SOUL BLOG with me and share your insights about how our childhoods make us who we are today—or don't! Who are you now because of what you learned and did as a child?


  1. Thank you for posting this Ruth. I grew up being an army brat like you, moving more times then I ever wanted my children to have to move.. Seven schools I went to in one year. I hated having to change to a new school and try to start over making friends. I grew up with no roots, no good friends from childhood and no real good memories to cherish, and was determined to make sure my children had them all. They did...we lived in one home for 27 years and my kids still keep in touch with old friends... But one thing I did learn being an army brat was to have a thick skin and learn, mostly the hard way, to be myself and not give a care to what others thought. I never managed the thick skin very well but did learn to not give a care and be myself..It has made me what I am today. A strong and determined person. For that I am grateful.

    1. Dear Darlene! I love it that we share being ARMY BRATS together. What a difficult time you had--7 schools in one year? Oh! How wonderful that you lived in one place to raise your children.

      You are such a strong, joyful, and creative being! I am so glad we met and our sharing our lives now.

      I don't have a much of a thick skin either but perhaps it is the anchor of creativity that tethers me to this big beautiful Earth.

  2. Ruth - Thank you so much for sharing your story and this amazing tribute to your dad! Truly a hero! Your blog also helped me understand a piece of you better too - thank you. Why yes, our childhoods do have such an impact on who we become - your blog was very touching today (as usual my friend).

    1. Christine, I'm curious as to what piece you understand now about me but know we will talk about that in person. Did you grow up in one place in Texas? Do I have the correct state? Wonder what your childhood did for your development. Would love for you to share some day.

  3. Your story is a tribute to your Dad and your family's dedication to his work. I spent my first 15 years living in Jersey City NJ in a 4 room apartment with my Mom & Dad. No siblings. I had my own room and lots of solitude. Dad worked in Brooklyn and commuted by subway and bus each way. Mom was a nurse in the local hospital. We visited my mom's family in Vermont every summer until we finally moved up there 4 years after my father died. This is the only time I changed schools to a Vermont HS. My NJ high school had a kindergarten and grammar school attached, so I never changed. Pretty stable stuff. Definitely influenced who I am as an adult and my penchant for Vermont summers and living inside my head. Cheers, Ruth.

    1. I love you SEE SEE and all of your good stability and immense creativity! And I miss you when you are gone to Vermont in the summers. We will have to make sure to get together while you are here in Atlanta! Welcome home!

  4. I am so very touched by your story....your mother's story...and of course your father's. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. Rachel! It is so great that you are here and finding out more about you! I have joined your creativity group on Facebook and look forward to finding out more about you.

  5. Omigosh, Ruth! (This is Marti Pounder) Seeing the picture of your house brought back memories of stopping in front of it in the olive drab shuttle bus that would take us to Pacelli. As hard as it was having my Father go to Vietnam 3 times, I can't imaging having any other life growing up. I cherish those memories at Ft. Benning and the sense of community we had. I know what being an Army brat meant for me...the only constant that was ever in my life was change and it prepared me well for the world and propelled me into a relentless search for adventure.

    1. Omigosh Marti! How wonderful for you to share your memories of those long ago Ft. Benning days! Thank you! Did we really have a bus that took us to Pacelli or was that Spencer? Didn't we have to drive to Pacelli in our own cars?

    2. From a Pacelli classmate, Ellyn Forgach, who left this comment to my blog on Facebook: From one Army Brat to another, I appreciated this very much. I have always had trouble answering the question "where are you from?". I don't have lifelong friends from childhood. Resilient - hell yes! Wouldn't change a thing. I feel the world cultures shaped us & made us who we are today. I was determined to give my daughter the 'roots' I never had, however, and she has known Brockport as home for her entire life & has childhood friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. As an adult, I now often think of the toll that military life had on my mother. Never having a home to call her own; no career of her own despite a wealth of potential; having to uproot her 5 children every couple years; few lasting friendships. It couldn't have been easy for her. Anyway, Ruth - great tribute to your dad! I have not been back to Benning since graduation. I did, however, visit Aberdeen Proving Ground several years ago with my brother, stopped at our old elementary school, etc.