Huachuca Books available now! Five compact books from Tumbleweed Forts days

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The five books of the Huachuca Books series are episodes excerpted and adapted for younger readers from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

Most of the stories are about growing up in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where Frank’s soldier father was sent to experiment with drones in the early 1960s.

The Huachuca Books are (1) Ride West to Fort Huachuca, (2) Water Rescue at the Desert Oasis, (3) Huachuca Drones into the Atomic Cloud, (4) The New Girl Chases Dust Devils, and (5) The Big Dig for Canyon Gold. The titles identify each book’s most important episode. Every book stands on its own, but each also connects to the others by following the same family and friends over several years.

Each book is about 130 pages long, with the slightly larger 14-point type helpful to many younger readers – and others. If you’d like all the stories of the Huachuca Books in one book, your might try the original Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat. Tumbleweed Forts is about 400 pages, with the relatively common 12-point type size.

All the books soon will be available at the Sierra Vista Public Library. They’re also for sale at Each Huachuca Book is just under $10. Tumbleweed Forts, with all the stories, is $16.99.

Ride West to Fort Huachuca

Water Rescue at the Desert Oasis

Huachuca Drones into the Atomic Cloud

The New Girl Chases Dust Devils

The Big Dig for Canyon Gold

* * *

Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat

The Huachuca Books are about the many happy surprises a boy can find in a desert fort full of life. The stories also reveal how an Army brat clings to a sense of home when his address keeps changing and his father is ordered away.

Fort Huachuca was the fifth Army post of Frank’s childhood, and the first post he never wanted to leave. Here at age ten, he was best friends with Flavio, who saved his life from deep waters and helped him hunt for Huachuca Canyon gold. Here too, Frank took a liking to Emily, a captain’s daughter who chased dust devils and spelled well.

As his father tested drones and his mother kept the family together, Frank discovered that the friendships and vastness of Fort Huachuca made it the perfect playground. Then in 1963, when his father received orders for Vietnam and told the family it was time to move again, Frank was so alarmed that he wrote President Kennedy to ask that the orders be canceled.

If you’ve read Tumbleweed Forts, you’ve already read the stories in the new Huachuca Books. But if you know a youngster or even an oldster who’d like the stories in a shorter form, you might recommend the Huachuca Books.

Fort Huachuca race for the flag

Flavio Garcia and I walked our bikes up the Smith Avenue hill, past General Myer School on the left. It was mid-June 1961 in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, a perfect sunny day for looking around.

When we reached Winrow Road, we saw a white-gloved MP holding up regular traffic. Army jeeps, trucks, tanks, and 155mm howitzers – big artillery guns – were moving through the intersection in a convoy headed to the West Range. This was maneuvers week for the National Guard out of Phoenix, and they were testing some big weapons.

To get around the traffic jam, Flavio and I jumped on our bikes and took a shortcut between Post Chapel No. 1 and Whitside School.

Biking west on Rhea Avenue, we passed seven old wooden buildings on our right. They had long wooden porches and second-floor balconies. The buildings used to be barracks. The second building was the post library now. The others had become Army offices. They all still looked like barracks to me.

Flavio and I quickly made our way around the accounting office to Augur Avenue. Here were more old buildings on our right and, to our left, the open parade field. We sped up here on the long straightaway, going west past the old guardhouse and post bakery.

Nearly halfway down Augur Avenue, I yelled to Flavio, “I’ll race you to the flagpole!”

I didn’t know why I said that. Of the two of us, Flavio was the real athlete. He was skinny, and so was I, but he was stronger and faster than most boys our age. I knew it and I knew he knew it.

Both of us stood up on our pedals and revved for speed. The flagpole was on the other side of the parade field. It wasn’t far. To get there, we had two turns and less than 600 yards of street. We accelerated. Flavio zipped ahead, and I tried hard to keep up. My legs already hurt at the first turn, a left onto Adair Avenue, a short street. We were at the southwest end of the parade field. Flavio was two bicycle lengths ahead of me. I told myself I had to get going.

Flavio looked back. I pedaled harder, and my thighs and calves hurt even more. I kept at it and noticed that, in just sixty or seventy yards, I was closing in on him. At the second left, turning northeast from Adair, he seemed to be sprinting and yet I caught up. I was passing him! This was on Colonels Row. With the parade field still on our left, we hustled past the mansions on our right.

Two hundred and fifty yards to go, and I was a bicycle length ahead of Flavio. I knew he probably was letting me go ahead, and I knew he probably knew I knew, but I enjoyed first place for the moment.

With 150 yards to go, I was two bicycle lengths ahead. Then Flavio made his move. He was catching up. I pushed the pedals with all the energy I had, but he was gaining on my right. The flagpole looked within reach now, just ahead and slightly to the left, its stars and stripes fluttering at the southeast edge of the Parade Field. With thirty yards to go, Flavio trailed but was speeding up to me. We both were pedaling like the cartoon Road Runner when we crossed the invisible finish line.

“A tie!” Flavio yelled.

Here we were, laughing and exhausted, circling to a stop between the flagpole and General Uhrhane’s house. It was a friendly tie.

* * *
A Colonels Row June 13 IMG_8666(Photo of Colonels Row from 2022)

The soldier, the signals, and the solder

('Solder' is pronounced 'sodder.')

When he was twelve years old, Tom Warner played with his first crystal radio set in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Then he got serious about electronics. When he was fourteen, he built a Hartley oscillator and connected it to a modulator.

His six-watt radio signal carried across the Lehigh River to the other side of Easton.

“That made me a radio broadcaster,” he told us, his four sons. From his bedroom radio station, he played all the popular records of the time – the music of Bing Crosby, the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, and other big bands. Friends and even strangers phoned the Warner house, and he put their requests on the air.

Decades later, at Warners’ quarters in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Dad still worked on radios. As a Signal Corps master sergeant in the early 1960s, radio-guided drones were his job. But even at home, he toyed with one electronics project after another.

With a volt-ohmmeter and a soldering iron at his side, he’d work hours into the night installing tiny components around vacuum tubes on metal frames. His soldering iron looked like an oversize pen at the end of a thick electric cord.

The solder wire, a mixture of soft lead and tin, rolled off a spool when Dad needed it. Smoke rose as his red-hot iron melted the solder to join capacitors, resistors, and other components to their circuits, and to piece together what seemed like hundreds of little wires.

I couldn’t imagine how Dad read the complicated instructions and kept track of all those parts, but I could see the intense concentration on his face. It was a quiet, hazy atmosphere.

To me, the smell of hot solder was the smell of a man thinking.

* * *

Tom Warner Black tower Sensor Lab Fort Huachuca 1962

Photo: Master Sgt. Thomas Warner at the Sensor Lab next to the Black Tower in Fort Huachuca, 1962

Christmas in Fort Huachuca 1962: War story of GIs and buzz bombs

19 Warner bros George Mark Frank Carl Christmas 1962

From 'Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat'

On Christmas Eve, while Dad was painting black roads on his new train set, I asked him for another look at the silver dollars he brought back from the Nevada atomic test.

“I want a closer look," I said. "I might draw a picture of them. You said we could see the silver dollars whenever we wanted.”

“I did say that,” Dad said. He put down the paintbrush and headed down the hall. I hurried after him. My brothers, who knew what I was up to, followed along to Mom and Dad’s bedroom.

Dad opened his closet and pushed his hanging uniforms aside, revealing his 30-30 Marlin, his .22 Winchester and, in front of the rifles, his footlocker.

He opened the footlocker. There was the puzzle box, which he carried to the dining room table.

“This is the Japanese puzzle box your Uncle Carl sent me from Japan in 1951, not long before he was shot down over Korea,” Dad told my brothers and me. “His C-119 cargo plane was based in Japan.

“The box is small, but it’s a pretty safe place to keep things. It’s not easy to open. It doesn’t have a lock, and that’s because the whole box is a lock.”

He turned the box this way and that, shifting the side slats here and there. Then he lifted off the Mount Fuji lid. When he set the box down, we saw the four silver dollars and other mementoes we discovered when Dad was away.

“Here are your silver dollars,” he said, dropping them in my hand.

“That box is neat,” I said, still looking inside. “And what is this?”

I stacked the four coins on the table and pointed to the paper dollar, the real reason I wanted Dad to open the box. I wanted him to tell us about the dollar bill.

“This dollar?” He took it out and stretched it between his hands. “This is something I carried around Europe the last three years of World War II.”

Mom sat down with us.

“Every time my battalion moved to a new location, I’d take the dollar out of my wallet and write down the town’s name,” Dad said.

“Those towns – Harze, Malmedy, Mulartshutte – when were you there?” Carl asked.

“That was December 1944 and January of ’45. We were in Belgium and Germany in the Battle of the Bulge. It was the biggest battle fought by the U.S. Army in World War II.”

“You were in the battle?” I asked.

“Yep. It was that big.”

“What happened there?”

Mom stood up.

“Maybe we don’t need war stories the night before Christmas,” she said. “It’s bedtime, boys. And Tom, don't you have a little town and a big mountain to finish?”

“You’re right, Georgiana,” Dad said. “But let me tell our boys about one night of the war. This was a quiet night, but not really too quiet. It was Christmas 1944, about a week into the big battle. Everyone in my battalion was tired and cold. We stopped at a farm in Belgium, near a village called Harze, and the farmer let a bunch of us sleep that night in the hayloft of his stone barn.

“I was in a sleeping bag, the kind that shut with a long zipper. There were cows on the floor below us. Their body heat helped keep us warm.

“Late that night, the Germans were shooting V-1s, the buzz bombs, over us. They were trying to knock out our supply depots of ammo and gas in Antwerp and Liege. Each one of these little rockets buzzed over like a drone until the engine shut off. Then it dropped, made no noise for five or ten seconds, and boom, it hit the ground and exploded.

“It was funny to listen. In the middle of the night, you could hear all these guys in the hayloft snoring away. But when a V-1 engine went quiet, they’d all stop snoring. And when the bomb blew up, we’d all start snoring again like nothing happened.”

We laughed at Dad’s story. We tried to imagine a chorus of snores interrupted by a bomb, then the snores coming back.

“After the boom, Dad, you felt safe again because the bomb didn’t hit you,” Mark said. “Is that right?”

“That’s right.”

“Did any of the buzz bombs blow up near you?” Mark asked.

“One came close,” Dad said. “It dropped along the road. The explosion knocked over one of our trucks and a trailer, but nobody got hurt. We were lucky that night.”

Mark studied Dad’s old dollar bill. He found the name, Harze. That was where Dad slept under the buzz bombs.

“You know, Dad, sometimes I hear you snore at night,” Mark said.

“What do you think that means?”

“No bombs exploding?”

Dad smiled.

“Yeah, that might be it.”

“Now get to bed, boys,” Mom said. “It’s almost Christmas. Thank God for silent nights.”

As we headed to bed, Dad put the dollar bill back in the puzzle box, and he noticed the four big coins were still on the table.

“Frank, how about these silver dollars?” he called to me. “Didn’t you want to see them?”

“I saw them, thanks,” I said. “I’ll take another look some other day. Merry Christmas, Mom! And Merry Christmas, Sergeant Warner!”

In the morning, Dad’s train set looked like a real town, with houses, shops, lights, and people, and even a church with a steeple. Two locomotives, both puffing smoke, pulled coal cars, freight cars, and passenger cars in and out of the little town.

The mountain was complete. Overnight, it grew hundreds of trees and shrubs, and its tunnels now had stone-trimmed portals to make the openings look more like real tunnels. Dad’s annual miracle was done.

I had asked for a small hand-cranked movie projector for Christmas, and I was so happy to get it. Now I could show old eight-millimeter films of Laurel and Hardy, Betty Boop, and Popeye.

Christmas was one of the few times of the year that Dad joined us for church. Instead of helping us get ready, he put on a civilian suit and walked out the door with us.

Inside Post Chapel No. 1, I studied the little Nativity scene as Father Lustig told us about the birth of Jesus. I thought, look at all these grownups so happy a baby was born.

* * *

In the photo, from left: George, Mark, Frank and Carl Warner. Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Christmas 1962.

Ride West to Fort Huachuca - Huachuca Book 1

BLOG BOOK ride 1

Ride West to Fort Huachuca begins in a burning airplane. It’s late 1960, and after two years in Heidelberg, Germany, Master Sergeant Tom Warner and family are flying back to America.

The story is told by Frank, one of four sons of the sergeant and Georgiana Warner. The family’s journey is the first episode of the heartwarming and often funny coming-of-age story of a boy discovering the desert, finding new friends and settling into a new home.

It’s the autobiography of an Army brat, a soldier’s son who already has lived in four Army posts. He must adapt quickly to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and he must be ready to move again at any time.

Interwoven into the adventures are reminders of American life in the early 1960s: Elvis Presley’s return from the Army, Eisenhower’s last months as president, Kennedy’s election, TV Westerns, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Frank’s father, part of the Signal Corps, has been ordered to Fort Huachuca to experiment with the Army’s flying drones in the desert’s open spaces. An engine fire interrupts the Warners’ plane flight from Germany. Once they reach the States, they take a car out Route 66 to Arizona.

Within six months, Frank and his brothers change schools four times. Carl, Mark, George, and he are forced to adjust and learn the new rules of unfamiliar classrooms full of unfamiliar faces. Frank soon makes friends with Flavio Garcia and Terry Cook.

Frank and his brothers explore the desert. They visit nearby Tombstone. They build tumbleweed forts. And when they hear the legend of lost gold in Huachuca Canyon, they hike the canyon and keep their eyes open for treasure.

Ride West to Fort Huachuca is the first installment of the five-part Huachuca Books series, which adapts episodes from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

Water Rescue at the Desert Oasis - Huachuca Book 2

BLOG BOOK splash 2

In Water Rescue at the Desert Oasis, Frank and his friend Flavio resume the search for gold in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Both boys are sons of Army sergeants. As they hike into Huachuca Canyon, an Apache acorn-gatherer warns, “Gold makes people crazy.”

At home, Frank’s brother Mark and neighbor Peter conduct a dazzling electrical experiment that knocks out the house lights. On Halloween night, Frank and his brothers Carl and Mark take their trick-or-treating to dozens of homes in the fort. At a spooky drainage ditch, Frank witnesses the mysterious Ghost of the Post.

At the Golden Bell community picnic near Tombstone, Frank leaps into a lake and discovers the water is much too deep for him. He can’t swim, but is anyone around to help?

Water Rescue at the Desert Oasis is the second installment of the five-part Huachuca Books series, which adapts episodes from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

Huachuca Drones into the Atomic Cloud - Huachuca Book 3

BLOG BOOK atom 3

Huachuca Drones into the Atomic Cloud moves from young Frank Warner’s home in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to the Nevada Test Site, and back again to the fort in 1962.

Frank’s father, a master sergeant who is developing drones for the Army, takes a group of Fort Huachuca soldiers to Nevada to fly three drones through the radioactive cloud of an atomic bomb test.

Back at school in the fort, Frank uses classroom excitement over John Glenn’s Mercury space flight to distract his fourth-grade teacher from grading the homework he has failed to complete. The trick works one day. Soon Frank is in big trouble.

In winter, Mom’s late-night dishwashing keeps the Warners' water running when all the neighbors’ pipes freeze. Months later, in Little League baseball, Frank steps up to the plate for a chance at final-inning heroics.

Huachuca Drones is the third installment of the five-part Huachuca Books series, which adapts episodes from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

The New Girl Chases Dust Devils - Huachuca Book 4

HORIZ SIZED dust alt 4

A new face joins Frank’s circle of fifth-grade friends in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Emily is the new girl in class. The first time Frank sees her, she’s running after a swirling cloud called a dust devil. As it turns out, Emily dances and spells well too.

The New Girl Chases Dust Devils also follows other unusual events in Frank’s life. His three-year-old brother George crashes the family car. Frank's best friend Flavio has a heart operation that leaves a big scar. Classmate Diane reveals the pain that prejudice inflicts.

At Tombstone’s annual Helldorado celebration, Frank and his older brother Carl play trumpets in Mr. Brown’s marching band. They march past the OK Corral before judges decide which band to name best of the parade.

And in early 1963, just as Frank feels settled into the best place he’s ever lived, the Army orders Frank’s father to go to Vietnam, and the whole family soon may have to leave Fort Huachuca.

The New Girl Chases Dust Devils is the fourth installment of the five-part Huachuca Books series, which adapts episodes from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

The Big Dig for Canyon Gold - Huachuca Book 5

BLOG BOOK gold 5

For two years, young Frank Warner has heard about the lost gold in Huachuca Canyon, Arizona. Now, in early 1963, a serious project begins to dig up the treasure. The whole story is in The Big Dig for Canyon Gold.

Army Private Robert Jones, who says he saw stacks of gold bars in an underground cave back in 1941, sends in an earth-moving team. The crew gets help from Silas Newton, who claims to have special gold-detecting tools from a crashed flying saucer.

Also in The Big Dig for Canyon Gold, actor Gregory Peck comes to Fort Huachuca to make a motion picture. Frank visits the movie set outside the post hospital, where he watches the film crew drop a dummy from a water tower. The scene is for the movie Captain Newman, M.D.

In a letter, Frank asks President Kennedy to cancel the Army’s orders to send Frank’s father to Vietnam. The orders would take Sergeant Warner away for a year and force the rest of the family to move East. Awaiting Kennedy’s reply, Frank says goodbye to Flavio, Emily, Terry, Skeeter, and his other friends.

The Big Dig for Canyon Gold is the final installment of the five-part Huachuca Books series, which adapts episodes from Frank Warner’s 2021 memoir, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.

John Glenn over Fort Huachuca, February 20, 1962

Glenns Fort Huachuca 3bw

The rocket was ready now. Steam was bubbling down its stainless steel shell as the fuel tanks warmed up.

“That Atlas is big,” Carl said. “It’s a lot bigger than the rocket they used for Shepard and Grissom.”

“The old rocket was the Redstone,” Dad said.

“I knew that,” said Carl.

Mercury Control counted down the last seconds to John Glenn’s blastoff. “T minus ten seconds, counting, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero, ignition. Liftoff!”

We watched the Atlas rise, accelerating into space on a big, bright flame. About a minute in, Cronkite sounded thrilled on TV. “It looks like a good flight so far. Oh, go, baby!” We watched the television picture until there was nothing to see but a white dot atop a thin trail of smoke.

“Pilot John Glenn is reporting all systems go,” said the voice of Mercury Control.

“He’s doing fine,” Dad said.

Mom had our lunches lined up on the dining room table. Dad took his first. He gave Mom a kiss and ran out to his ride, one of his carpool buddies.

“All right, Carl, Frankie, Mark, grab your lunches and go,” Mom said. “You’re almost late now.” We moved toward the lunch boxes but looked back at the TV. “The door is open, out you go,” Mom said. “Three, two, one, gone!”

We rushed off on our bikes, and we weren’t alone. It seemed all of Colonel Johnston’s students were rushing to school at the same time – late. Everyone had seen the launch at home. Now it was a space race to the bicycle racks.

* * *

Mrs. Van Houten looked sleepy. She had been up most of the night. This morning, she brought in a Zenith clock radio and put it on her desk. The radio was tuned to a country and western music station, which interrupted its regular programs for news reports on John Glenn. 

This was the first time I ever heard a regular plug-in radio in class. Once in a while, classmates brought little transistor radios to school, but their radios were never turned on indoors.

Mrs. Van Houten stood next to the classroom globe to show us where Glenn was. He was out there circling the real globe. He crossed Africa and was over the Indian Ocean.

“Right now it’s nighttime there,” Mrs. Van Houten said. “Listen! They just said John Glenn can see the lights of Perth. That’s a city in Australia. That’s on the other side of the world from us.”

As the space capsule continued across the Pacific Ocean, the news announcer talked about the dangers of space flight, and we all wondered what the astronaut was thinking. The newsman said Glenn was passing over Baja California.

“That’s western Mexico, right here on the globe, just south of Arizona,” Mrs. Van Houten said.

The classroom buzzed with wows, oohs, and ahhs.

I looked out the window to the deep blue sky. It was clear, but there was no sign of the space capsule 160 miles up. Only ten minutes later, about 9:30, the newsman reported that Glenn was back over Florida. “John Glenn has become the first American to orbit the Earth,” the newsman said.

“He’s all the way around!” Mrs. Van Houten said, giving the globe a spin. “And he’s still going.”

We clapped and cheered as our teacher took her seat.

“Okay, we have to get back to our lessons,” she said, turning off the radio. “Let’s all pull out our reading books.”

While Glenn continued his flight, we took turns reading a short story about a family who got lost on a snowy mountain but found a safe way home. Then we went over new vocabulary words and wrote sentences with them. The lesson went until 11:45, when Mrs. Van Houten let us go to lunch.

“Be sure you’re back here by 12:15,” she said. “We’ll check how John Glenn is doing.”

When we returned, Mrs. Van Houten’s radio was on, and I noticed something else on her desk. Her blue folder. She was correcting the arithmetic homework. She had done two or three of the papers and held a red pen over the next sheet on the pile.

This could be a problem, I thought.

“John Glenn is about to come down from outer space,” Mrs. Van Houten told us as we went to our desks. “They say he’s over California, and he’s supposed to splash down near Florida in less than a half hour.”

I took a long look at the pile of unchecked homework. The first paper was flat, and I saw the name. It was Terry Cook’s worksheet. Most of the other worksheets looked fairly flat too. But the second paper, the one under Terry’s, had lots of fold marks. I knew it. Those were the folds I made yesterday, before I slipped the paper in my pocket. That second paper was mine. I was one page away from trouble.

Mrs. Van Houten looked at the top worksheet and breezed through Terry’s first five questions, the multiple choices. As the radio newsman continued his updates on John Glenn’s flight, Mrs. Van Houten made a red check mark next to an answer. One wrong. She moved on to the twenty arithmetic problems. She was closing in on my homework. This could be embarrassing, I thought. What if she showed the whole class that I answered only five of the twenty-five questions?

I raised my hand. “Mrs. Van Houten, if John Glenn was over California a minute ago, wouldn’t he be over us in Arizona right now?”

“Well, Frankie, I don’t know. That could be.”

“How would we figure that out?” I asked.

She put down her red pen.

“That’s a good question, Frankie. Why don’t we all figure that out together?”

She walked to the blackboard. “This is a little tricky,” she said, turning down the radio. “But you heard the newsman say Glenn is moving at 17,500 miles an hour. We’ll start with that.” She wrote the number on the board. “Now, how far is it from California to Fort Huachuca? Look at our wall map of Arizona. Get up and look if you want to. The scale of miles, the line at the bottom of the map, shows you how far 100 miles is.”

We all got up and looked. Flavio used his forearm to measure out 100 miles and found the California border three forearms to the west. “It’s about 300 miles to California, maybe a little less,” he said.

“Very good, Flavio,” Mrs. Van Houten said. She wrote “300 miles” on the board and asked us to take our seats. “Now, the question is, if you’re going 17,500 miles an hour, how long does it take to go 300 miles?”

“I have the answer!” Terry said. “It would take John Glenn about one minute to fly from  eastern California to Fort Huachuca.”

“You figured that out fast,” I told Terry. I had hoped it would take longer, to keep Mrs. Van Houten away from the homework.

“How did you come up with that answer?” Mrs. Van Houten asked, and she walked to Terry’s desk to see what she did with the numbers.

“I sort of guessed,” Terry said. “I thought, if John Glenn is going 17,500 miles an hour, how far is he going per minute? Then I did this.”

“Oh, yes, yes, I see,” Mrs. Van Houten said, looking over the calculations. “Okay, let me ask the rest of the class. Can any of you tell me how Terry figured out how many miles per minute John Glenn is going?”

We thought for a moment.

“Frankie, how about you?” Mrs. Van Houten asked. “If the capsule is going 17,500 miles an hour, how would you find out how fast it’s going per minute?”

“I know!” I said. It just dawned on me.

“Show us,” Mrs. Van Houten said.

I went to the blackboard and picked up a stick of chalk. “There are sixty minutes in an hour, so if you want to know how fast John Glenn is going per minute, you divide 17,500 miles by sixty.”

I divided it on the board. The answer: 291 miles per minute. “That’s close to 300 miles, and that’s how far California is from here,” I said. “That means John Glenn got to us in one minute.”

Mrs. Van Houten smiled. “Sometimes my students surprise me.”

As I took my seat, she sat down and turned the radio up again. She picked up the red pen at the homework pile. But the newsman’s voice changed. He was suddenly extra serious and talking about John Glenn’s retro-rockets. 

“Glenn’s original plan was to jettison the retro-rocket pack immediately before re-entry,” the newsman said. “But Mercury Control now has ordered Glenn to keep the rocket pack attached even after he fires the retros. These retro-rockets sit on the capsule’s curved heat shield. We’re not certain why he’s been told to keep them on the heat shield or how this will affect his re-entry. We do know that Glenn must come down heat shield first, at a precise angle, or the capsule will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

“This doesn’t sound good,” Mrs. Van Houten said. She put down the pen.

The heat shield does its job best if the retro-rockets are gone during re-entry, the newsman said. He said he had scientists with him, and even they didn’t know how risky it was to leave the rocket pack attached to the heat shield.

Mrs. Van Houten looked down. She picked up the pen.

Before the newsman had time to find out more about the heat shield, he reported that John Glenn was seconds away from his scheduled splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. “Glenn should be down just about now,” the newsman said. “We are awaiting word from NASA.”

Mrs. Van Houten listened closely. The whole class listened with her.

“There we have it,” the newsman announced. “Mercury Control says it can confirm that Friendship Seven has splashed down and Navy helicopters are searching for Glenn and his capsule in the waters off the Bahamas.”

Mrs. Van Houten looked relieved for a moment, but the worry returned to her face. Again she put down the pen.

“Is John Glenn all right?” she asked quietly.

The newsman did not say. For fifteen minutes, he talked about Glenn’s three orbits, the heat shield and the splashdown, but he steered away from comments on Glenn’s health because, the newsman admitted, he had no information on it.

Just after 1 o’clock, the newsman said a helicopter crew had found the capsule and a Navy ship was closing in with a special crane to lift the spacecraft from the water.

“How is he?” Mrs. Van Houten asked, knowing the radio newsman could not hear her. “Is he alive?”

The answer was not yet there.

“Glenn’s capsule has been hoisted to the deck of the destroyer Noa,” the newsman said. “We are told the crew is preparing to open the capsule. No word yet on Glenn’s condition.”

“Oh my,” said Mrs. Van Houten.

The newsman was quiet for a moment but came back excited.

“Mercury Control has just informed us that John Glenn is aboard the destroyer Noa, and he is alive and well. I repeat, John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth, is alive and well, and he will soon be on his way home.”

We all applauded and shouted with joy.

“Isn’t that something?” Mrs. Van Houten said. She looked happy but almost exhausted. She picked up the arithmetic homework pile, tucked it into her blue folder and got up to teach. Today’s afternoon lesson was on the moon.

* * *

The next morning, Mrs. Van Houten started the school day with an announcement.

“Boys and girls, I just want to remind you that when I give you homework, you must turn it in on time, and you must answer every question to the best of your ability.”

She seemed to be looking at everyone except me. But she was talking about me, and I was in big trouble.

Frank Warner

(From Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat)

Colonel Johnston School from the air, Fort Huachuca 1960

A aerial Warner house and Col Johnston photo and labels
By Frank Warner

I’ve been looking for old photographs of Colonel Johnston School in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Now a fellow Army brat has sent me a picture his father took from the sky.

David Penman of Grand Forks, North Dakota, says his father, Staff Sgt. Keith Penman, snapped this photograph from an airplane that flew out of Libby Air Field, probably in 1960.

The picture shows Colonel Johnston School, which I attended from 1961 to 1963, on the far left of the frame. On the right side of the photo is my old neighborhood, called Wherry.

This school and this neighborhood figure prominently in my book, “Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat,” a story of Fort Huachuca life in the early 1960s.

It turns out that, in the two and a half years I lived there, David Penman lived just 15 houses east of my house. I lived at 159 Hughes Street. David was at 189 Hughes Street.

We lived there at the same time, but did not know each other, principally because we weren’t the same age. I’m four years older than David.

We tried to figure out how neither of us met the other’s brothers or sisters, when six of us went to Colonel Johnston School at the same time. (The other two were too young for school.)

When we checked out our birth dates, we discovered none of us was born the same year.

Here are our birth years:

Carl Warner, 1951.

Frank Warner, 1952.

Mark Warner, 1954.

Theresa Penman, 1955.

David Penman, 1956.

Laura Penman, 1958.

George Warner, 1959.

Kathy Penman, 1963.

That’s eight Army brats, fairly close in age, and yet not one of them would share the same school grade.

My family left Fort Huachuca in 1963, when my father was sent to Vietnam. The Penmans lived in Fort Huachuca twice. They were there from late 1959 to 1965, and then, after Sgt. Penman’s two tours in Vietnam, they returned to Fort Huachuca from 1969 to 1970, living this time on Dorsey Street.

For the sake of remembering our Arizona days, it helps to see Sgt. Penman’s photograph. It clarifies how simple the Colonel Johnston School building was: the offices, cafeteria and multipurpose room toward the front, classrooms for kindergarten to sixth grade at the rear.

When I visited Fort Huachuca in June 2022, my old neighborhood was gone. Around 2001, the Wherry houses were bulldozed and replaced by much more graceful-looking homes. Streets were rearranged too. Hughes Street doesn’t even exist where Warners’ quarters and Penmans’ quarters were. It's White Street.

The old Colonel Johnston School has been closed about 20 years, replaced by a bigger, modern building. The old school is no longer used for classes, but it still stands. In June of this year, it was being converted into a maintenance building for all the fort’s schools.

I’m glad the old building was kept. It's just where you see it in Sgt. Penman's picture. It isn’t fancy-looking and never was, but for the brats who learned lessons and made friends there, that old school holds a mountain of memories.