Army Brats

Mr. Archie Brown, the music man of Fort Huachuca schools

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Photo: Mr. Archie Brown (at right in white) and his well-dressed Fort Huachuca Accommodation School Band


More than 50 years ago, a Navy veteran from Kansas taught hundreds of soldiers’ children in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, how to play musical instruments.

His students still remember following Archie H. Brown through the streets of Tombstone and Sierra Vista, playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” for the Fort Huachuca schools marching band.

The late Mr. Brown, who was born 99 years ago today, cheerfully brought youngsters together to play the most beautiful melodies and harmonies.

He made music fun, but he also made us work.

“Practice makes perfect,” Mr. Brown said again and again. To drive home the point, he gave us “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT” posters to put up in our bedrooms. And we practiced.

In the Navy Band. Mr. Brown’s musical career began in July 1942, when he joined the U.S. Navy Band. Seaman 2nd Class Archie Brown was in Europe in June 1943 when he heard his father, Robert Brown, had died back home of a heart attack. According to his family, the news devastated him.

Immediately after World War II, the sailor met his wife-to-be, Vernelle Langley, at a dance in Virginia Beach, Va. They married in March 1947 despite knowing Seaman Brown would be away with the Navy for the next 10 months. 

Re-entering civilian life, Mr. Brown made a home with Vernelle in South Boston, Va., where he taught music at Halifax County High School.

His teaching style there was so impressive that a local minister in 1955 suggested the South Boston Junior Chamber of Commerce name him “Man of the Year.”

“More than a band leader, more than a teacher, Mr. Brown is a friend and helper to the young people of our county who seek an introduction to the wonderful world of music,” the Rev. Hugh B. Carter wrote.

No record is available on who became Man of the Year, but Carter’s words are notable because, later, many who joined Mr. Brown’s Fort Huachuca bands felt the same way.

Virginia and Kansas. While Mr. Brown lived in Virginia, he used the GI Bill to subsidize his studies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. After two years, he transferred to the University of Kansas. Taking summer courses at KU, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music in 1952 and his master’s in 1956.

When one of his three children developed asthma, Mr. Brown decided in 1957 to move the whole family to the dry air of Fort Huachuca. Here, Mr. Brown taught music at all of the post schools and formed a large marching band, which met regularly at General Myer School. He also taught summer school music classes.

His band competed each year at Helldorado Days in Tombstone, the Rodeo Parades in Tucson, the Sierra Vista Parades, and the Armed Forces Day events in Fort Huachuca. The band earned many awards for its lively music, deft footwork and flashy uniforms.

The Browns lived in the dusty West Apache neighborhood of Fort Huachuca during their first years in Arizona. In early 1960, they moved into Sierra Vista, which became their permanent home.

Five little Browns. Mr. and Mrs. Brown added two sons to the two sons and a daughter they’d brought from Virginia. Now there were Connie, Jerry, Danny, Archie L., and Jimmy.

Mrs. Brown worked for the civil service in Fort Huachuca, first in procurement and later at Greely Hall. She also helped persuade public officials to start a special education program in Sierra Vista for children with learning disabilities.

Arizona was a long way from Mr. Brown’s roots. He grew up in the middle class family of Robert and Cora Blanche Brown of Iola, Kansas.

His father operated a small grocery store, and several other small businesses before it. Archie Brown was the youngest of five sons. The others were Laverne, Lorraine, Robert and Beryl.

Mr. Brown showed musical promise in high school, both as a singer and a tuba player. He used his musical talents in church and further refined them in the Navy and at college.

Lots of Tchaicovsky. In Arizona, his house was always full of music.

“We listened to a lot of classical music, especially Tchaikovsky,” his daughter Connie said. “We also heard a lot of John Philip Sousa and some Perry Como, like ‘Round and Round,’ but most of it was classical music like ‘The 1812 Overture.’”

Mr. Brown’s favorite instrument was the trumpet, but he could play almost any musical device. He considered the violin and the French horn the most difficult instruments.

As a father, Mr. Brown gave his children their choice of instruments. He taught Connie the clarinet at age 6, Jerry the trumpet, Danny the saxophone, Archie L. the cornet, and Jimmy the drums.

The younger Archie also sang for the Buena High School Show Band, and for several southern Arizona rock’n’roll bands.

Mr. Brown also was active in the Sierra Vista Rotary Club and in First Christian Church of Sierra Vista, where he served as choir director and an elder. He and Mrs. Brown were involved in Gideons International and the Gideon Auxiliary.

Troubles in the 1970s. The late 1960s and 1970s were difficult for the Browns. Mrs. Brown was diagnosed with cancer and began radiation treatments. Heart problems forced Mr. Brown to undergo several operations. Son Jerry died in a Colorado car accident in 1973, and a granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 1976 and died in 1977.

It soon was time for Mr. Brown to retire, and fortunately he and Mrs. Brown enjoyed retirement together into the 21st century. He died in December 2005. She passed away in September 2010.

Archie Homer Brown’s music lessons haven't been abandoned. His students have handed that “Practice makes perfect” motto to younger musicians.

Today, somewhere in America songwriters turn out powerful new tunes, saxophones make sweet jazz, and piccolos play “The Stars and Stripes Forever” because Mr. Brown was here.

He hasn’t waved a director’s baton in a Fort Huachuca classroom in more than 40 years, but he’s not gone and forgotten. In the spirit of hard work and pure fun, Mr. Brown still makes music.

* * *

(Thanks especially to Connie Brown Hays, Mr. Brown’s daughter, for providing so much of the information in this story. Connie lives in Hereford, Arizona, just south of Fort Huachuca. As for her brothers, Danny also lives in Hereford, Archie L. in Tucson, and Jimmy in Phoenix.)


Jet missing 60 years: Flying Tiger disappeared with 93 soldiers who trained at Fort Huachuca

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Photo: Carrying soldiers in 1962, a Flying Tiger Lockheed Constellation like this one disappeared on its way to Saigon.

Flying Tiger Flight 739, carrying 93 soldiers who had trained in Fort Huachuca, was lost over the Pacific Ocean on March 16, 1962, on the way to Vietnam.

Including the flight crew and three South Vietnamese, 107 were aboard the jet. The U.S. soldiers had trained for at least a short time in Fort Huachuca. One report said they were Army Rangers. Five of them lived in Sierra Vista. After the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines searched more than 200,000 square miles, all on board were given up for dead.

As I understood it, the soldiers were supposed to train the South Vietnamese in more effective fighting, and to build radio towers for the South Vietnamese army.

A year later, the Army sent my father to Vietnam. He was there for a year and came back fine.

Frank Warner

 


What is an Army brat? Where does the term come from?

20 Little George in uniform

Photo: Army brats normally wear civilian clothes, but here in Fort Huachuca of 1963 is my brother George, for the fun of it, wearing a small Army uniform that his three older brothers wore before him.

An Army brat is the child of a soldier. Usually, the term is applied to those children who have moved more than once, sometimes overseas, because the Army has ordered their fathers or mothers from one post to another.

“Army brat” is a respectful title, as are the similar designations for children of the other military branches, Navy brats, Air Force brats, Marine brats, and Coast Guard brats. Navy brats and Marine brats also are called Navy juniors and Marine juniors.

The word “brat” goes back at least 1,000 years, when it was applied to a blanket or clothing for an infant or toddler. By the 1500s, “brat” simply meant a child. By itself, the word can have humorous, even insulting meanings. In a scolding tone of voice, “brat” implies a child is annoying, selfish and nasty.

Term of endearment. But for children of the military, “brat” is a term of endearment that recognizes the blessings and hardships, the bonds and separations, the introductions and farewells of their nomadic lives. An Army brat’s childhood involves repeatedly leaving old friends and homes, so the “brat” title also refers to the ability to adjust to losses, and to adapt to new people and places with resilience and a smile.

Some say the term “brat,” as applied to children of the armed forces, dates to around 1920. It was then that Britain officially used the term British Regiment Attached Traveler (BRAT) to identify any soldier’s family member – a spouse or child – who was permitted to go overseas with the soldier. The word also may have been a contraction for “barrack rats,” a term used in the 1700s to describe children allowed to live with soldiers in a barracks.

The term doesn’t appear to have been commonly used in the United States until just before World War II. An April 4, 1938, article in The Lincoln (Nebraska) Star mentions a short trip taken by “Army brats,” two daughters and two sons of officers stationed at Fort Omaha, Nebraska.

No offense. The Columbus, Indiana, Republic on March 30, 1939, reported that “One of the 43 boys and girls in the Edinburgh [Indiana] senior class is an army brat, which is a term Army people apply to their own children and others of Army parentage indiscriminately and not meaning any offense. She’s Sophia, 15-year-old daughter of Capt. George Middleton. He’s been in the Regular Army about 20 years and of course has been moved around a lot, so Sophia’s gone to school several places, including three years in the Hawaiian Islands. She a bright little girl, and will be the youngest student ever to graduate from Edinburgh High School.”

Brat general. Lt. General Hugh A. Drum, who served the U.S. First Army in both world wars, was known as “the Army brat” well into his adulthood because he was born in Fort Brady, Michigan, and grew up in various other Army posts with his father, Capt. John Drum. Capt. Drum was killed in the Spanish-American War in the 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill, Cuba. President McKinley responded by giving 18-year-old Hugh Drum an immediate lieutenant’s commission, no West Point needed. Hugh Drum went on to fight in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines in 1899, and eventually became a general, active in the Army until 1943.

A Brat’s Opinion. In spring of 1940, Catherine Unger of Fort Knox, Kentucky, sent a poem written by her daughter, Bette, to The Louisville Courier-Journal, which published it. Bette’s father was Army Col. Charles H. Unger.

Bette’s poem was called “A Brat’s Opinion”:

I was born to the boom of a cannon,
And a drum’s loud rat-a-tat-tat;
No, I’m not a German immigrant,
I’m just an Army brat!

I’ve packed my little suitcase
All over the U.S.A.:
Will probably never settle down
’Til after judgment day.

I’ve left good friends a-plenty,
At every “port of call”;
But we really never say goodbye,
’Cause the world is awfully small.

For Army brats today, that description still seems to fit.

Frank Warner


In ‘Tumbleweed Forts’ book, hear the voice of an Army brat

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What is “the voice” in the book Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat?

Elizabeth Wrozek, curator of the Henry Hauser Museum in Sierra Vista, asked that great question in the June 15th discussion and book-signing at the museum. My simple answer: The boy is narrating the story as it happens. He knows only what he’s seen and heard, and he’s not going to tell you any more until he knows it.

WROZEK: A thing that I’m impressed with is the voice that you use in the story. Now you’ve been a news reporter, and you’ve worked as an editor, so you know quite a bit about that. But when you’re reading the book, and you’re a grown man who’s looking back on his childhood and writing from that child’s perspective, the voice in it is so well done, and you forget you’re actually reading the words of a grown man.

WARNER: Elizabeth, you caught something there. A few editors I know have read the book and mentioned the point that you’re bringing up, the voice. There are very few books written from the voice of the child. It’s usually someone, an adult’s voice, describing the child. Huckleberry Finn is one of the exceptions. It’s in Huck Finn’s voice. He’s got that dialect, the Missouri dialect, the Southern dialect. I don’t use a dialect in my book because I spoke pretty ordinary American English as a boy. My mother was terrific with words, reciting poetry all the time, and my father was a good writer himself.

So I hope my voice is very plain and clear in the book, and it is from the perspective of a boy, initially seven years old and growing to 12 by the end of the story. I tried to keep to that. I said to myself, this is going to be the boy talking – me, but only how I felt then, and I wouldn’t describe anything I didn’t know at the time, or anything I wouldn’t know within a few days. If I found out something important 10 days later, I might mention that for perspective, but you’re finding out, in the book, what I’m learning as I learn it.

First-person limited. The first-person pronoun “I” tells the reader that the story is coming from the main character’s point of view. From a “first-person omniscient” perspective, an author could choose to describe all sorts of things the main character couldn’t know. But I don’t do that in Tumbleweed Forts. My book is from a “first-person limited” voice.

In my book, if the main character doesn’t know whether he’ll get in trouble for not doing his homework, or whether the steam-shovelers will find gold in Huachuca Canyon, the reader doesn’t find out either -- not until the character finds out.

To me, the first-person limited voice seems the best way to keep the reader thinking from the youngster’s perspective. The reader is in the boy’s shoes, and imagines how the boy is responding to every new adventure, acting with no knowledge of what happens next.

The in-the-moment voice is intended to build some exciting tension and give the reader a few extra surprises. I hope it works.

Frank Warner

Photo: Huachuca Canyon as seen from Reservoir Hill in Fort Huachuca, Arizona


Growing up in Fort Huachuca, I saw no javelinas

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I heard about them. My father hunted them. But the javelinas, wild pigs of the Huachucas, never crossed my path when I lived in Fort Huachuca in the 1960s.

So I was surprised June 16th this year when, in a visit to the fort, I saw this javelina bothering a food caterer’s van during a colonel’s farewell ceremony on Brown Parade Field.

It was about 7:20 in the morning, the sun already bright, when the two-foot-tall spiked critter showed up at the south end of the field.

As I made my way from the flagpole toward the gazebo, the javelina approached the food van, and caterer Colleen repeatedly yelled, “Shoo!”

I moved in a zigzag toward the animal, to avoid spooking it. The javelina trotted away a yard or two at a time, and then disappeared across Grierson Avenue, Colonels Row.

Several experts later said it is unusual for a javelina to approach humans alone. They also guessed that this javelina’s family was nearby, but out of sight.

I was happy to see just one.

Frank Warner


Henry Hauser Museum in Sierra Vista holds a public book forum on 'Tumbleweed Forts'

Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat was the subject of a public forum June 15, 2022, at the Henry Hauser Museum in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Elizabeth Wrozek, museum curator, examined the book with me and then brought the public into the discussion. -- Frank Warner

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Elizabeth Wrozek (left) invites Sierra Vista residents, Army brats and others to ask questions of Frank Warner (right) at the Henry Hauser Museum book forum.

Here are my opening comments for the event, which turned out to be a lot of fun:

Hello, Sierra Vista! And thanks to the Henry Hauser Museum, museum curator Elizabeth Wrozek, and the Ethel Berger Center for inviting me here to see Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca again, for the first time in decades.

This part of America holds a special place in my heart. I lived here 60 years ago when my father, Master Sergeant Thomas Warner, was stationed here to develop the Army’s early drones and fly them around that black tower in Fort Huachuca’s West Range.

My whole family, Dad, Mom, -- that’s Georgiana Warner -- and my three brothers, Carl, Mark and George, enjoyed our time here. In fact, those two and a half years were the sweetest slice of my childhood. It’s all described in my book, “Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat.”

I now live in Pennsylvania, where my father settled down in 1966, after serving 24 years in the Army. I’m retired after 37 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.

My family left Fort Huachuca in 1963, when my father was ordered to Vietnam. Dad shipped out despite the letter I secretly wrote at age 10, asking President Kennedy to keep my father and the rest of us right here in Arizona. Answering for the president, a Pentagon colonel wrote me back to say he understood my concern, but every soldier has a duty to be away from his family from time to time.

In 2020, as I wrote the last chapters of “Tumbleweed Forts,” I searched hard for the words to explain how abrupt and shocking it was to leave Fort Huachuca after becoming so attached to the place.

Late one night, the words came in a dream. I jumped up from my sleep and wrote this on a notepad: “It seemed I had left behind something big and important, a picture half-drawn, the story of my life that would go on without me.”

There I was a boy, and I really felt then that my whole life’s story would go on here, and I wouldn’t even be part of it.

Elizabeth Wrozek asked me to explain today why I liked this area of Arizona enough to write a book about it. The explanation is easy: It was the friends I made, the freedom I felt, the beautiful sights I saw, and the history here with its own special magic.

I made most of my friends at Colonel Johnston School. There were Flavio, Emily, Terry, Skeeter and others who made my life so much fun. Now they’re all characters in my book. And today one of my old friends, Flavio Garcia, - stand up, Flavio -- is here. I came in from Pennsylvania. Flavio drove in from California to take a look at Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca again with me. In fact, we’ve been wandering around a lot the last day and a half. I even got a cowboy hat from Spur Western Wear.

Flavio was my best friend in those Fort Huachuca days. His father also was a master sergeant. In May of 1961, Flavio saved my life at the Golden Bell picnic area north of here, in Saint David. I think it’s an RV park now. On that day 61 years ago, I jumped in the deep end of a lake there, and I didn’t know how to swim. Flavio saw me splashing for my life and got me out.

Flavio and I also were involved then in many of the usual youngsters’ activities: baseball, the school band, biking everywhere, and looking for gold in Huachuca Canyon. We also were confirmed in St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Sierra Vista.

My friend Emily was a captain’s daughter. She was good at art, spelling and chasing dust devils. At school, I learned to square dance with her in Mrs. Smith’s music class. Some of you remember Mrs. Smith. Another friend, Terry, was good at tetherball. Skeeter put together a class play. Every friend had something to add.

In Arizona, my family enjoyed Helldorado Days in Tombstone, and my brothers and I got to be in the Tucson studio audience for a Marshal K-GUN TV show. We made fools of ourselves on that show. More locally, we made regular visits to Sue ‘n’ Herb’s Drive-In Restaurant, the Geronimo Drive-In Theater, the A.J. Bayless’s store, and the El Rancho Roller Rink.

While we lived in Fort Huachuca, we saw some of the filming of the Gregory Peck movie “Captain Newman M.D.,” and we saw the Mahan Brothers in Huachuca Canyon digging through rocks and mud for Private Jones’ lost gold, which has yet to be found.

On post, we also went to Chaffee Field and Demonstration Hill when our father’s crew showed off the flying drones to the public. And after that same drone crew spent two months at the Nevada Atomic Test Site, Dad brought back four silver dollars that he’d taped to a drone before it flew through a radioactive mushroom cloud. Each one of his sons got one of those coins.

Those days here were a time of exploration and imagination, all of it in vast open spaces, the mountains and desert of Fort Huachuca and Sierra Vista. We were so free we couldn’t imagine limits, so secure we couldn’t imagine any real danger.

I wrote “Tumbleweed Forts” to remember those precious years. I wrote it for my family, I wrote it for all Army brats, I wrote it for anyone who’s made good friends and then lost them all at once.

In the first thirteen years of my life, my family moved thirteen times with the Army. Fort Monmouth; Fort Knox; Verdun, France; two posts in West Germany; Fort Ritchie, Maryland; and Camp Roberts, California, were some of the other stops we made.

So, like most Army brats, I tell people I’m from everywhere. Each stop was home for a while. But of all those places, only one place was my dream home. You know where it is. If you hear the evening bugle in the shadow of the Huachucas, you’re in the neighborhood.

My family’s old house in Fort Huachuca, Warners’ quarters at 159 Hughes Street, was demolished around 2001, as the Army made room to build new houses on post. I’m happy to say the house that replaced my old house is beautiful. It’s a nice style for an Arizona fort. It has a nice Western feel. Meanwhile, Sierra Vista has really blossomed and grown.

So the area has changed. But the special spirit of the place remains. Sunrises and sunsets still show up here in colors you don’t see anywhere else. And last night, a strawberry moon cast a stunning glow from Fry Boulevard to the black tower.

Fort Huachuca and Sierra Vista are alive and well. The people are busy. The tradition of curiosity, experimentation and innovation carries on. The people are friendly. They care about their neighbors.

My life went on without me here, and all of you are lucky to be living it, so thanks for having me with you today.

-- FW

Aa Flavio and Frank at Coronado San Pedro view

In June 2022, Frank Warner (left) and Flavio Garcia visit the mountain pass just south of Fort Huachuca, Arizona.


Draw a picture of Huachuca Mountains, you could earn a treasure map to 'lost gold'

If you like to draw, please draw a picture of the Huachuca Mountains or the Arizona desert and mail it here.

Pencil, pen, markers, crayon, charcoal, paint -- it doesn't matter what you use. Just draw something special set in southern Arizona.

If the drawing looks suitable to this Tumbleweed Forts webpage, it'll be posted here to brighten up the discussion about the book and about life at Fort Huachuca.

Please draw at least one person into your artwork, and you also might consider sketching in your favorite plants and animals of the Huachucas.

Mail your original drawing through the Postal Service to:

Frank Warner
565 Kline Avenue
Pottstown, PA 19465

If your drawing is chosen for the Tumbleweed Forts page, you'll receive the unofficial map to Private Jones's "lost gold" in Huachuca Canyon. The map is 11 by 17 inches and in full color.

Don't forget to write your name and address on the back of your drawing.

Hope to see your artwork soon!

-- Frank Warner


Whether you've read the book or not, this is the place to discuss 'Tumbleweed Forts'

This is a place to discuss the book, Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat, and any subject related to the story.

Tumbleweed Forts, by Frank Warner, is about a boy's life in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in the early 1960s. It’s about youngsters making friends and exploring, soldiers experimenting with drones, and all sorts of people looking for gold. It’s also about making the best new home and then suddenly being told to leave it behind.

The book has been published. You can order it by clicking here.

Millions of Americans have spent part of their childhoods with at least one parent in the armed forces, and regularly moving from one base to another. Many are likely to find something of their own lives in Tumbleweed Forts.

Even you civilians can appreciate the adventures in Tumbleweed Forts.

Here’s your place to talk it over.