Military Life

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.)


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


Huachuca gold hunters of ‘63 believed a flying saucer helped them

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.
 
TUMBLEWEED PHOTO Terrell Mahan and William Hawthorne seek gold 1963 s
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.
 
 
 

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.