Growing up as a ‘military brat’ – Joan’s story

Guest blog by Joan P. Miller, American Legion Auxiliary member of Unit 453, Love Field, Dallas, Texas

My childhood was unconventional, fascinating, crammed with learning experiences, and thoroughly enjoyable! I was an Army brat during the second World War. My mother, not believing that an Army wife should wait at home tending the garden and cuddling the children, followed my father, the officer, to his duty stations all over these wonderful United States.

My brother and I either lived in or rode through all of the then-48 states. I lived in a huge house two blocks from a college campus in Virginia, in an Army barracks in muddy Tennessee, on the third floor in a one-bedroom apartment next to a “working woman of the night,” whose evening sounds through the wall upset my mother for reasons unknown to us at the time, and on a large farm whose owners moved into the servant quarters and permitted my family to live in their home with another Army family.

JP Miller-child
A young Joan wearing her father’s U.S. Army cap.

I learned to adjust to every conceivable living environment, every local dialect and custom, and learned to “fit in” as a contributing member of humanity. I learned how difficult it was to transfer from a Southern school to a Northern elementary school located on the campus of the University of Michigan.

I learned how to appreciate riding a bicycle 3 miles to school on farm roads, and how to cross the street in a busy city. I learned to play the violin because the school system I attended required that all students play an instrument.

I learned patience during our car caravan trip across the country to a new Army base, and I saw how beautiful the desert looked at night. I remember the moment when we rounded a curve in the road, and, suddenly there was the heart-stopping sight of the Grand Coulee Dam laid out on the desert floor below me in awesome splendor.

I learned that mountains are purple at night in Oregon, and I learned how to fight when I was called an “Army brat” and another child took a swing at me. I learned how to amuse myself during a long train ride, on an Army troop train, from Washington State to New Jersey. I learned composure and how to conquer fear when I was separated from my mother in the huge Chicago train station.

I learned to appreciate each moment of my existence during air raid drills in Seattle where Japanese planes often ventured too close to our coast. I remember feeling my school-issued dog tags and hoping people would be able to identify me should the bombs fall on my school.

Captain Miller-1
Joan’s father, Eugene R. Miller, then a captain.

I learned to appreciate my parents who tutored me along the way, who never doubted that I could cope with their lifestyle, and who were beating the odds of successful family life under the circumstances offered during those difficult times.

We continued our nomadic life through the war years until my father was assigned to the Asian front. My childhood education was complete with visions, experiences, interesting people, and exciting places. My high school years were full of experiences and education.

My parents, partly due to the war years, were unwilling to permit my brother and me to stray too far from the homestead, and when I applied for college and was accepted, they said, “No.”  I was forced to change my direction in life, which saddened me a great deal, and enrolled at the New Jersey College of Commerce, an elite secretarial school. I graduated with honors and was accepted for a position as secretary to the president of a large corporation.

Marrying my sweetheart and having two beautiful children was a marvelous and happy experience. However, the marriage did not weather the storms, and my children and I launched into a lifetime of love, loads of fun, dedication to the tasks at hand, a hybrid of jobs, and unbelievable successes.

JPM Picture-now
Joan today.

I’m still an Army brat, full of self-confidence, love of exploration, and deep appreciation for my wonderful country. My careers have included years of government service with the FAA and GSA, private computer corporations, and in later years, as a real estate broker and owner of a multi-faceted company. My early experiences have “done me well,” as they say in Texas. And, my memories of my adventures are enough to keep my quiet hours filled with happiness.

Read more stories in the May 2019 issue of Auxiliary magazine on what it was like to grow up military. Were you the child of a career military parent? Tell us about it! We’re always seeking stories from American Legion Auxiliary members of all ages. Contact alamagazine@ALAforVeterans.org.

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