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Veteran Voices

Veteran Voices is a section of FireWatch Magazine that is meant for the Veteran to speak their mind and share what they can with the rest of us. The segment is an effort to understand veterans’ ideas, thoughts, troubles, and successes. Since April is the Month of the Military Child, I thought I would tell you a first-person story about life as a military child. This story is about something other than moving around and the challenges that caused. It’s about growing up with heroes. The biggest hero of my life is my dad, of course, but there were others.

I don’t remember California, the place I was born. My first memories of military life aren’t until kindergarten in Washington State. My dad was in the Army by this time. I remember many of his friends would come to the house to play war games in the garage. They had a large table on an old pool table, and the group would hover over the board, moving troops and ships. The room would be filled with cigarette and cigar smoke. Dad would calmly send me on my way if I attempted to peek into the room.

Later, around the second grade, our family made its way to Germany. We lived off base but would travel onto base for all essentials. I got to know one of Dad’s teammates there. His name was Campbell. I don’t remember his first name; interestingly, neither does my dad. The years have stolen that memory from him. Campbell was a big part of my life. He was a jokester. When we were in the car with him, he would always pretend the brakes had gone out and would yell, “Help, Help me, Mr. Wizard!” I believed in Mr. Wizard, so much so that before one of my dad’s deployments, I insisted we visit the toy store to find Mr. Wizard. We eventually did. Dad claims it took hours of searching up and down the aisles. Mr. Wizard was a monkey, and I knew it when I saw him.

Somewhere around 1978, while on a mission in Africa, Campbell saved my dad’s life. My father was rushed to the hospital with significant injuries. I remember that drive; I remember my mother being worried and scared. I remember seeing my dad in that hospital bed with bandages over his eyes. Things happened so quickly. One day, I was enjoying the life of a second grader, and the next, we were packing up and heading back to the States, where my dad would spend more than a year in Walter Reed Army Hospital. It wasn’t until years later, when I asked my dad, “Whatever happened to Campbell?” that I learned that he had been killed on a mission in South America.

Those injuries were the end of my dad’s military career. He had lost an eye and could no longer serve. We may have been out of the military, but the military was not out of us.

People deal with things in unique ways. My dad always seemed to relive his past through projects. It began with writing his book series, Without Glory, where I learned about Billings, DJ, Doc, Smitty, Gator, Stoney, Clint, Frenchie, Tex, Loverboy, Willie, and Worm. I read about each of their deaths in intimate detail. I learned that many of them saved my dad’s life at least once. What was interesting was that my dad didn’t stop with writing his book. He brought them back to life in the way he knew how. To this day, those men are alive in my dad’s mind and home with the creation of life-size mannequins dressed as he remembers them. The mannequins are the latest iteration of his memories. My favorites are the Ken Dolls my Dad meticulously altered to match the likeness of his friends.

What would I say to these men if I could speak to them? Thank you, of course. Without most of them, I wouldn’t be here today; without Campbell, there would be no Mr. Wizard.

As for Mr. Wizard, he is alive and well to this day.


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