I have always regarded a move as the beginning of a new adventure. My family traveled a bit when I was very young and we lived in the midwest for a while. Living in a new place was always exciting. So, when Butch and I set out for Texas in June of 1962, headed off to a new life in the military, I was looking forward to learning new things.
We had dumped Zelda out of necessity. We knew she would never make it to Texas so we traded her for a brand new Ford Fairlane at the Ford dealership in Dahlonega. The last we heard, she had been sold to a local moonshiner and was careening around the mountain roads to the tune of “Thunder Road.” With her T-Bird engine, she was well suited for the role.
We packed all our worldly possessions into the car and a small trailer, said our good-byes to family, and headed westward on U.S. Highway 78. This was before interstate highways and our trip was not easy. But we were together and we always had fun. Butch’s dad had given us a movie camera and we faithfully took movies of everything. Butch was a history buff and I think we stopped at almost every historical marker between Atlanta and Killeen, Texas.
Three days later we pulled into a motel in Killeen, exhausted but glad to finally arrive at our destination. Little did we know that motel would be our home for almost two months. There was a housing shortage in Killeen and a 12-month waiting list for on-post housing. At least we had a kitchenette and a pool. Butch headed out the next morning to report to his unit. He came home that night as excited as I had ever seen him, telling me all about his tank platoon, the personnel, and what he would be doing for the next two years.
Let me interject here that I think Butch was born to be an Army officer. The military was his heart and soul.It took me a long time to realize that, in his job, Army came first and everything else second. I wasn’t really, truly happy until I finally accepted that — and was proud of him for it.
So when he returned the second day and said he would be “in the field” (gone)for the next two weeks, I was not a happy camper.
The good thing was, the wives stuck together, headed up by the company commander’s wife, and activities were planned to keep us busy.
In August, we finally secured a small apartment and were just settling in when Butch informed me we would be spending the next eight weeks at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was part of his basic training in Armor and, in a few days, off we went in our little Ford Fairlane, headed northeast to Kentucky.
Fortunately, there was a place for us (and all the students) at Knox, in a huge building called “Newgarden” … a place where the elevator sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. I think we were on the fifth or sixth floor. The efficiency apartments were very “efficient” with a Murphy bed that came down out of the wall and a kitchen, with stove, sink and fridge all lined up in a row, hidden behind a sliding screen.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad, and all the couples were in the same boat (and the same rank) so we suffered through it, laughing when we could, all waiting for the “school” to be over so we could return to our respective home bases.
Our Kentucky adventure allowed us to visit some of the horse farms in Lexington, probably the highlight of our short stay there. But trouble was on the horizon.
As we were driving back to Fort Hood (I remember we were crossing the Mississippi River), Butch suddenly turned up the radio. It was President Kennedy informing us about the missile stand-off with Russia — the Cuban Missile Crisis — and Butch sped up, knowing something would be up. He was right. Later that week, they starting moving the entire First Armored Division from Fort Hood to … somewhere … where they would stay until December.
He left about the middle of October and I had no idea where he was going. There was no communication. I suddenly learned what this military life was really like. I was, again, not happy.
Fortunately, my next door neighbor was a teacher and told me of the teacher shortage in Killeen. Talking to her principal was probably the shortest interview I had ever experienced and I was hired on the spot. I was now a second grade teacher at Pershing Park Elementary School. Things were looking up.
But my husband was still a thousand miles (or more) away. I couldn’t even tell him the good news. And so, I learned even more about the military life. It was not fun.
Next time, living in Europe.
Judy Kilgore is the religion editor for The Citizen.