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.