Life as the Spouse of an Army Aviator
Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer, Sue Stevens, Joyce Hesson, and Bobbi Robinson: We all know and appreciate what
Aviation spouses and their families are enduring these days, but sometimes it is worth looking back to years gone by to also appreciate what life was like for our early aviation spouses.
(wife of MG (Ret.) Story C. Stevens – AAAA Past President, 1987-1989)
It has been a long time since I became the wife of an Army Aviator. Sto went thru OCS, an occupation in Korea, and attended Purdue for three years until his unit was called to Active Duty in September 1950 and our first visit to Camp Rucker, AL. We had just acquired a convertible and I remember getting whistles on post when I drove in with the top down. They stopped when I got out of the car, revealing I was pregnant.
When Sto was accepted for aviation, we pulled our trailer to San Marcos, TX where the Air Force taught Army officers to fly their way. On to Fort Sill, OK where Army officers really taught him how to fly. I enjoyed early breakfasts and shining his boots. On to Japan and Korea, and upon his return we went back to Purdue to finish his degree. Deciding that flying was preferable to Chem-E, Sto returned to Active Duty and we went back to San Marcos for another round of the Air Force now teaching Army pilots how to fly helicopters. From there to Fort Rucker with the first class so he could again learn the Army way. I loved his sharing with me about how to land on fields and farms.
Assigned to the 30th Engineers at the Presidio, we pulled our trailer with 3 children there so he could learn to land on the peaks near Palm Springs, CA. When his unit went to Alaska for five months to finish a survey, I returned to Cincinnati to live with his parents. Upon his return, we moved to Stockton with 66 aircraft.
That was our life thru 1957 and I guess it reads like a travel log, like many Aviation wives. There were many more adventures, lots of fun, some hardships, making many wonderful friendships along the way, and being involved in AAAA.
(wife of BG (Ret.) James M. Hesson – AAAA Past President, 1989-1991)
It was a very different Army when we married August 1952 in MN, 2 ½ days after Jim [BG James M. Hesson] graduated from OCS at Fort Belvoir, VA. We used his uniform allowance to pay for our wedding and six-day honeymoon. Not our wisest move! Reporting to Camp McCoy, WI, our home was a 17’ trailer. If Jim sat at the 18-inch wide table, he could reach the sink, counter top, ice chest, two-burner hot plate, and the closet. I sat in a pillow filled hole in the sofa with lost springs and my chin literally rested on the table. The community bathrooms were a half-block down the road, and when temperatures reached the 40s in October, hygiene became a chilling affair, especially being newly pregnant.
We soon relocated to Fort Leonard Wood, MO to a 1910 house with three rooms and hot & cold running mice. Earnings were $217 a month, rent was $90 and we were still paying for uniforms. Weeks later we moved on-post in 20’ trailers with toilet facilities residing in a sea of red mud.
When Jim learned that he did not qualify for flight school because he was 6’ 4 ½” (the limit was 6’), he received orders for Korea. I moved back to my parents in St. Paul, even though there was no medical coverage or support system for military families. A major factor for Jim’s leaving Active Duty upon his return was his senior mentor, however he remained in the Army Reserve and then to flight training. Upon his return to Active Duty, our 3 young children and I joined him in Mineral Wells, TX for helicopter transition.
Numerous assignments followed to include Karachi, Pakistan and Vietnam. When asked how I coped, the best word is persevered. In life you do what you must do to meet and defeat challenges. Jim loved being a Soldier, especially an Army aviator. Notwithstanding those first few years, I loved being an Army wife.
With graduating flight school and AAAA being chartered in April 1957, our histories have intertwined. Those wonderful experiences with people we loved would fill a book. I’ve been blessed by living in the company of heroes.
(wife of MG (Ret.) John D. (Dave) Robinson – AAAA Past President, 1997-1999)
The Army family was very close in our early years in Army Aviation beginning in the 1960s. We experienced that especially in overseas assignments. Much was expected of young military wives in those days with etiquette of prime importance. We cared for each other’s children in order to be present at 8 a.m. parades with hat and gloves, attend meetings and social functions and fulfill our unit’s quota of volunteers at the Thrift Shop and Wives Club Christmas Craft Fair.
We all have humorous memories of sharing gloves and suddenly finding ourselves at the beginning of a receiving line because we entered by the wrong door. I remember tripping while very pregnant and sliding down the steps of the Officers’ Club just as a general officer arrived. I was sure I had ruined my husband’s career. (Dave delivered that baby because we didn’t arrive at the hospital in Frankfurt in time.)
Our purses always included spot remover, safety pins, aspirin and a pen and pencil to unobtrusively record names and important information. Heaven forbid that we should forget an appointment.
The Vietnam War took our brave husbands into combat again and again. It was a time of fear, grief, and pride in our warriors. We wives grew stronger through these experiences. Personally, we survived losing our household goods in a warehouse fire three weeks before the first tour. Three weeks later the well went dry at our newly purchased home and the car permanently died. We were also robbed while on R&R in Hawaii. Still we rejoiced in every letter, and the baby kissed Dave’s picture at breakfast every morning.
We have special memories of arriving at new assignments and being warmly greeted by our unit families and the Officer’s Christian Fellowship, and have been grateful for the friendships that have lasted through the years. We always moved as a family no matter the inconvenience or number of schools for the children. We were a team serving the Army together.