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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com. 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.
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.
(From Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
In June 2022, Frank Warner (left) and Flavio Garcia visit the mountain pass just south of Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
Excavators hunting “lost gold” in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, believed their 1963 search was aided by electronic tools from a downed flying saucer.
This is in my book “Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat,” but here are some of the details, and they’re not in any Fort Huachuca history book – not yet anyway.
Silas Newton of Phoenix, Ariz., who claimed to be an expert dowser, brought the “magnetic radio” equipment into Huachuca Canyon to help find the gold. My father, my brothers and I saw him there, but we didn't talk with him.
Newton’s equipment looked like small antennas attached to flashlights. The Mahan excavators of Chino Valley said Newton's special dowsing rods – also called “doodlebugs” – came from a flying saucer that crashed in New Mexico.
The Mahan Brothers said they hired Newton for the gold dig, but they apparently were unaware of Newton's reputation in Colorado as a con man.
The 1963 gold hunt attracted nationwide attention after the Kennedy administration approved digging at Fort Huachuca, where former Army private Robert Jones said he stumbled into a chamber full of gold bars in 1941.
Jones, of Dallas, Texas, signed up the Mahan Brothers to do the digging, and the Mahans brought in Newton, who showed up in Huachuca Canyon with a half-dozen assistants. You can find out more in "Tumbleweed Forts."
News stories during the 1963 gold hunt made no mention of Silas Newton, whose 1948 reports of extraterrestrials crashing in Aztec, N.M., helped shape the world’s first concepts of flying saucers.
Newspapers in 1963 did report on prospector C.O. Mitchell, using “a gadget” to help the Mahan Brothers pinpoint gold, and “spiritualist” Mitchell Holland, interpreting his “visions” to advise the excavators.
At the time, the Mahans talked to my father about Newton at the Huachuca Canyon dig. Thirty years later, while I was preparing to write my book, one of the Mahans, Gordon Mahan, confirmed that Newton was part of the gold search.
Newton, formerly of Denver, Colo., was convicted in 1953 of fraud for selling dowsing rods he claimed could find oil in Colorado. He moved to Phoenix in 1957, and around 1964 he moved to Sedona, Ariz. He died in 1972 at age 83 or 84.
The Mahans had good reason to reach out for gold-detecting help in 1963. Jones had a general idea where the gold was, but digging and drilling was expensive, and the Army had given the Mahans only one month to complete the dig. Getting a precise location was vital.
The Army and Jones would have split 50-50 the value of whatever gold was found in Fort Huachuca. The Mahans were promised 11.5 percent of Jones’s share.
Using Jones’s description of the underground chamber and the gold bars inside, experts estimated the treasure could be worth $6 million to $275 million, and the Mahans’ 11.5 percent would have been at least $345,000.
The Mahans dug a huge hole into Huachuca Canyon, about two miles south of Colonels Row, from mid-February 1963 to early March. But with no sign of the gold and with their money running out, the Mahans called off the dig after three weeks.
The gold dig is one of several memorable events in my book. Among the others are the Army’s drone testing on the West Range, the loss of several Fort Huachuca-trained soldiers in a Pacific plane crash, and the filming of the “Captain Newman, M.D.” movie.
Other chapters of the book involve Helldorado Days in Tombstone, and a visit to the Tucson KGUN-TV studio to be in the audience of "The Marshal K-GUN show."
I lived at Fort Huachuca for two and a half years with my soldier father, my mother and my three brothers. We left Fort Huachuca in 1963.
“Tumbleweed Forts: Adventures of an Army Brat” is for sale in paperback and ebook at Amazon. The book also is on sale in at the Fort Huachuca Museum Gift Shop.
Terrell Mahan, excavating contractor (right), and Private Robert Jones's friend William Hawhorne supervise the 1963 dig for 'lost gold' in Huachuca Canyon. Private Jones, who at this time was ill in Texas, said he was in the canyon in 1941 when he stumbled into a chamber full of gold.