Videos of soldiers arriving home unexpectedly to surprise their families are popular on the internet. I confess, I never tire of watching them. A recent example was during the most recent State of the Union address when the President recognized the sacrifice members of our military make by surprising Amy Williams and her two children with a visit from their father, Sergeant Townsend Williams.
It’s hard, even for a “service brat” like me, to put myself in their shoes—the family’s at home or the soldier’s. Today, depending on their branch of service and their type of skill, a soldier or sailor could be away from his family for six months to a year. That’s a lot of missed tooth fairy coin leaving, skinned knee kissing, and girl scout cookie selling opportunities.
Thankfully, the military provides several resources for families and the wives and mothers come together to support each other.
In 2011, a museum opened to salute military families whether they have a family member serving today or they grew up in the singular life-style of an army, air force, or navy brat.
The Museum of the American Military Family in Tijeras, New Mexico, is a small jewel of a museum just east of Albuquerque. Through its mission to showcase and honor “those who also served,” the Museum acts as a repository for military family stories and photographs. Exhibits curated by the director Dr. Circe Woessner are on display or traveling and cover among other topics, a military family’s sacrifice and service, schooling under Uncle Sam, and GI Jokes—the lighter side of military life.
Another way to gain appreciation about experience of military families is to read their stories. Bernard Lee, an Atlanta based author wrote a book about his experience, A Look Back in Time: Memoir of a Military Kid in the Fifties (volumes one and two). He says his story is that of a “normal boy, in a normal family, in a world of normal people, places, things and experiences.” But as he and I both know, normal for a military family is only normal when compared with other military families.
In the foreword, Bernadine Duncan writes, “Normal for Young Bernard was moving to military bases across the country, meeting new friends and families, joining new churches, enrolling in different schools, experiencing the unique beauty of different states and cultures, and then leaving it all behind to begin the process again…lucky them.”
My family was lucky, too, in the post-war 1950s and 1960s, we remained united, joining my father on his deployments, spending years in Italy, Germany, and Portugal, and living in eight states from California to Wisconsin, to Florida. We attended more than a dozen schools and had to face the dreaded “new kid” in class each time. Still, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, I don’t have deep roots, like many friends I came to know over the years, but I am a stronger, more self-reliant person, and I have a better appreciation for the variety of the landscape and the differences and commonalities between cultures across the globe.
Read more about Bernard and the Museum: