Friday Nights at the El Rey Theatre

El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona

El Rey Theater, Glendale Arizona

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. 1959 found me living in Glendale, Arizona. Dad was stationed at Luke Air Force Base. Base housing was under construction at the time so we lived in town, not on the air base. Our family would move into the military housing in February 1960.

While living in Glendale our family would go to the El Rey Theatre in downtown Glendale at 17 N. 2nd Ave. It was a special treat. Mother and daddy saved from dad’s meager $275.00 a month pay as a United States Air Force staff sergeant where we could go to the movies.

Friday night June 26, 1959 found my family going to the movies. Mother was excited about seeing Sean Connery and Janet Munro in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. The movie is a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. It was the scariest movie I remember seeing as a kid because of the death banshee appears and the cóiste-bodhar, a spectral coach driven by a dullahan, to carry the dead’s soul off to the land of the dead.

The real treat that night was an educational featurette film we  saw before the feature film. It starred Donald Duck. The title was Donald in Mathmagic Land. It was 27-minutes long.

In 1961, two years after its release, Donald in Mathmagic Land had the honor of being introduced by Ludwig Von Drake. It was shown on the first program of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

The film was made available to schools and became one of the most popular educational films ever made by Disney. As Walt Disney explained, “The cartoon is a good medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

I saw the film at Luke Air Force Base Elementary School each year from 1961 to 1963. Maybe that is a reason mathematics never scared or intimidated me. The film’s popularity was so great that my Cub Scout Pack saw the film as well as it being shown each summer during the base’s day camp program.

I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to take me to the movies where I was exposed to neat films like Donald in Mathmagic Land. I recently watched the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People on DVD. The banshee and death coach are still scary.

Oh, the architecture of the El Rey Theater in Glendale was amazing. It was an art deco theater. The photo is of the El Rey Theater that seated over 500 people.


The Library Card

Library Card

Library Card

In my mind it’s Saturday, September 11, 1964. My family has just moved into base housing on Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. Dad had my little brother and me get in our 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 car. It was a beautiful Turquoise Metallic. Our destination was the base library. We have set off on a short drive to get my brother and me our first library card.

I kept my library card in my bedroom. Mother was not going to keep it for me in her purse. The card means I am old enough to pick out any book I want. I thought this is kind of cool.

We were given a tour of the library. We had the Dewey Decimal System explained. We toured the book stacks with the children’s, science fiction, history and biography books.

I remember dad had us walk back home from the library where he made sure we knew the way and made it safely.

We visited the library several times a week. It was a twenty-minute walk to the library. We always had adventures en route to the library, but not so much on the trip home. We couldn’t wait to get back to the house. At home we could dip into the adventures between the book’s covers.

I remember how hush-hush the libraries were back then. It seemed all speech ended at the door. There were no computers in libraries in the 1960’s. No one was sending text messages or taking pictures on a cell phone. I can still hear the swishing of card catalog drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book-cart wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. They were some of my favorite sounds.

I recall all those book spines announcing the titles covered with the plastic covers. I would walk down the aisles looking, gawking.

Suddenly, there they were. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. I think I heard Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah Chorus when I found the books. I started reading both. I have been a fan of Bradbury and science fiction since that time.

I still remember the woman librarian’s pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it. There was a pocket glued in the front of the book. In it was a card. She took the card out of the pocket wrote my name down on that card. She filed it away. She then stamped the due-date on the slip of paper inside the pocket glued to the front page of the book. I had the books for two weeks. Two adventurous weeks!

At home I would retire to my bedroom and read for hours.  I would be it the cupola orchestrating the lights of town turning off at night. I would experience the rocket winter of travelling from Ohio to Mars.

I traveled to all those places for free in my mind. The base library became a favorite destination for me. Libraries are still a place of refuge and solitude for me and hundreds of military brats.

Reflections of My Life

Have you ever sat down with a cup of hot coffee and reflected on your life? Go ahead; raise your right hand if you have done it. If you are looking in my direct, you will see I have my hand lifted high. I admit I have had many of those melancholy moments.

No, I am not planning my eulogy, but at sixty-one years of age, I look back from time to time. What is the catalyst for my latest round of self-examination? My mother passed away his past Sunday.

One of the first things I do when reflecting is thinking about where I have been. Growing up as a military brat during the Cold War and Vietnam War gives me a different perspective than many.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my childhood. It really was fun and different. I lived many places. My laundry list of places lived before I reached adulthood include:

  1. San Antonio, Texas
  2. Bowersville, Ohio
  3. Greenville, South Carolina x 2
  4. East Saint Louis, Illinois
  5. Glendale, Arizona
  6. Sequin, Texas
  7. El Paso, Texas
  8. Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  9. Bebe, Texas
  10. Schertz, Texas
  11. DeSoto, Texas x 3
  12. Arlington, Texas

I also attended eight schools for my twelve grades of public school. The schools were in Arizona, Texas and New Hampshire.

The advantage was getting to see and experience much of this great country called the United States of America. The disadvantages were a lifelong feeling of not having roots and not having a true hometown. I even felt an outsider at my own high school where I attended from the middle of the ninth grade through graduation. I sometimes still feel that way when some of use get together for a Saturday evening meal.

Other times I think back to winning the military draft lottery when we use to have such a thing. I had a twenty-five draft number.  It was a one of those pivotal moments in my life. It meant I was going into the US military. I had the choice of going immediately or going later. I could have gone immediately by enlisting or just waiting to be drafted.

The Vietnam War was winding down at that time, but they were still sending combat troops. They would do that for another eighteen months after I graduated high school.

I selected another option. It was to defer my military service. I did this by joining the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps is college. This lead to me being commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army upon college graduation. It guaranteed I would graduate from college on time and serve in the military.

My laundry list of places lived and worked since I married in 1974 include:

  1. DeSoto, Texas x 4
  2. Fort Riley, Kansas
  3. Fort Benning, Georgia
  4. Fort Lewis, Washington
  5. Yakima Firing Center, Washington x 2
  6. Camp Pendleton, California x 2
  7. Fort Irwin, California x 3
  8. Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho
  9. Coronado Naval Amphibious Base, California x 2
  10. Fort Worth, Texas
  11. Decatur, Georgia
  12. Clarkston, Georgia
  13. Bogalusa, Louisiana
  14. Jasper, Texas x 2
  15. Buna, Texas
  16. Denison, Texas
  17. Los Angeles, California
  18. The Colony, Texas

It also leads to three other items. First, it took me to Fort Lewis, Washington. There I attended First Baptist Church of Lakewood. I accepted Jesus Christ as Savior at Lakewood. I believe it was a providential appointment.

Second, it provided me with the G.I Bill educational benefit that I used to get my master’s degree. It was God’s finance plan.

Third, it provided the G.I. Bill house financing benefit I used to buy two homes. I doubt I would have ever been able to buy a house with the 20% down payment requirements in place in the 1970s and 1980s. It was God’s finance plan, part two.

I think back about choices I made like marriage and the birth of three children. I reflect on attending, graduating from seminary, and serving six churches over an eighteen years period.

I look at leaving ministry and retraining for work in the information technology field. The Hazelwood Act payed for my retraining in IT. Yet another benefit of serving my country and being a Texan.

Sometimes I think of how I could have been a better husband and parent. I think of the poems, short stories, non-fiction, and books I have written.

No, I don’t have regrets. You cannot change choices, so any reexamination isn’t a good thing to do.

I also think about the future. I‘ll write about that on another day.

Sun Tea

Sun Tea

Making Sun Tea was a fun way for this military brat to enjoy the hot summers of the Phoenix, Arizona when dad was stationed at Luke Air Force Base. He lived there from 1958 to 1963. We also made it in Seguin, Texas during 1963 – 1964 and El Paso, Texas 1964 – 1966.

Sun Tea is a technique of brewing tea slowly. It uses the heat of the sun to pull out the flavors from dry tea leaves.

I recall my mother placing a gallon size glass jar full of water and tea bags out on the cinder block fence. It was place up high where the kids and the critters couldn’t get to it.

It reminded me of placing an offering on the altar for the sun to shine down upon. My mother used the hot sun to brew her tea.

Mother would fill the gallon glass jar with war and tea bags. Next we would go with her as she placed it on the cinder block fence just before lunch. We would retire to the kitchen for lunch. Following lunch, she would send us to our afternoon naps. We would rest for a couple of hours. Mon would bet us up in time to watch American Bandstand. It was still a daily show way back then. When Dick Clark signed off it was time to go get the jar of tea.

The clear water in the jar was now a medium to dark brown color. I would help get the glasses from the cabinet and the ice trays from the freezer. I would fill the glasses with ice and mother would pour the warm brew over the ice. At least half of the ice always melted. We then would this treat with our supper.

In researching Sun Tea online I was surprised to learn there has been some recent debate about Sun Tea being unsafe. It has been identified that bacteria can grow because the water doesn’t reach a temperature of 190 degrees or more. The Snopes article I read says the bacteria found in sun tea comes from the water used to make it, not the tea itself. That would mean that the water is the real issue.

Information for Sun Tea Brewers (from: )

  1. Always us a clean glass jar and not a plastic jar. Make sure you choose a jar that has a metal lid and not a plastic one. Always place your sun tea jar in direct sun light.
  2. Scrub your sun tea container with hot soapy water after every use I always clean mine by hand and run it through the dishwasher after each use.
  3. If you want you can use distilled water instead of tap water if that is a big issue. Don’t leave the sun tea to brew for more than 4 hours.
  4. The key is not allowing sun tea to sit out and come to room temperature. Refrigerate and drink as soon as possible. Don’t prepare more than you can drink in a day or two. Throw out the leftovers after day two.
  5. Also throw away tea that has turned thick and syrupy or that has ropey strands, which are bacteria. I mean who would drink that anyways it’s really is common sense here.

Sources with recipes:



Family Photos Before an Overseas Assignment

Quito, Ecuador Family Photo circa 1958

Quito, Ecuador Family Photo circa 1958

In the late 1950s, my father received orders with assignment to the United States Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. One of the good things the government did back then was make a family photo before each overseas posting.

In the photo on the back row is my dad. He is thirty years old. My mother is twenty-five years old in the picture. My brother is three. I am five years old.

Do you remember having family pictures made? They are one of the most traumatic experiences of my youth. We had to get on just the right clothes. We had to stay clean. We had to sit still.

At five years old a necktie was like a noose. I found it choked me. I remember I kept removing it and getting my parents upset. I was a smart kid. I still remember suggesting why don’t we just wait and put it on when we take a picture. Apparently, that was both the right and wrong thing to say. My little brother followed my lead and removed his tie. My folks finally caved and let us keep them off until we arrived at the military photographer.

Staying clean was the second problem. Crawling on the floor and playing with our army men and cars were regular activities. When we got down on our hands and knees to resume playing mother had visions of us wearing holes in the knees of our pants. She made us get up and sit on the couch while dad and mom finished getting dressed. “Sit and don’t move” was her command.

When it was time to get in the car for a short drive to the studio, my brother ran toward the car and fell getting his grass stains on the knees of his pants. Mother calmed a visibly upset dad. She pointed out they probably wouldn’t be taking pictures of his knees.

Well, we arrived for photos. They poised us just like they wanted after first putting our ties back on us. We wiggled like worms and giggled. Finally, they said to say cheese. Then they tried again having us say watermelon. I guess they finally got the solemn look they wanted and snapped a picture.

We never moved to Quito, Ecuador. Dad’s orders were canceled. Instead we moved to Luke Air Force Base near Glendale, Arizona.

This process repeated five years later when my dad received orders to Vietnam. You guessed it; dad and mom stressed over getting the pictures. My brother and I were typical little wiggly boys.

Do you have memories of having family pictures being taken? I would love to hear them.

I Believed I Could Fly


In 1956, my father returned from a one-year tour of duty in Turkey. Our family moved to Greenville, South Carolina as my dad was stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base. Donaldson AFB was a C-124 base emphasizing air transport. It was named the “Airlift Capital of the World”. We lived there 1956 – 1958.  My first memories are from living at 201 Maco Terrace in Greenville. That was also the first house my parents owned.

My favorite TV show during those days was Superman. Superman always began, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman! … He fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”

In 1956 and 1957 I would run around the house with a towel for a cape and wearing only my brief undies pretending to be Superman. I would have my arms stretched out in front of me, my head down as I was flying around the living room and kitchen.

One evening I decided I would try to fly. I got on the couch and then stood on the arm of the sofa. Suddenly I jumped with arms stretched.

Instead of flying, I feel like a rock. My forehead found the corner of the coffee table. I didn’t fly, but instead received a big cut. We had to get in the car and drive to the emergency room at Donaldson AFB. The wound was so severe that blood was flowing from my forehead into my eyes where I couldn’t see. I asked mother if they would get me a seeing-eye dog if I went blind. Suddenly, the car was filled with laughter. My parents were laughing at me. The doctor also chuckled as I received fifteen stitches to stop the bleeding. I have heard the seeing-eye dog story for over fifty years.

The happy ending was I got stitches, didn’t go blind, and learned I couldn’t fly. Growing up a military brat was a never-ending adventure.

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne.

Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty-four years ago, I came off active duty as an US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew.

This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day.

We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day-to-day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale.

On the light side – her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those military black-framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen styled glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is a book worth reading.

Tumbleweed Forts & Snow Forts

Snow Fort in New Hampshire

Snow Fort in New Hampshire

In January 1966 I was digging foxholes and building forts in the desert near the military quarters my family lived in on Biggs Air Force Base located at El Paso, Texas. My friends and I would dig big holes in the sand and surround our fort with tumbleweeds and other desert vegetation. This effectively camouflaged the fort’s site from prying eyes.

While we were building our prized base, another group of kids would do the same thing building their fortress several hundred yards away in another part the desert. One team would be the American soldiers.

A second team would be the German Soldiers. Pretending it was 1942 and 1943 we would play a dismounted game of “Rat Patrol” where we chased each other around the desert. The goal was to surprise and defeat the bad guys and their leader, General Erwin Rommel.

It would be hot, sandy and lots of fun as we played Army. Many times we took home huge amounts of sand home with us in the cuffs of our turned up blue jeans and in the blue jean pockets. Sometimes we added intrigue using water balloons as hand grenades.

Just a few weeks later in February 1966 my family relocated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Pease Air Force Base. There my role-playing and mischief continued with a new group of friends. Instead of sand, tumbleweeds, and water balloons we graduated to snow forts and an endless supply of snow balls. We would sneak up and destroy the enemy’s creation.

It would be cold, damp and lots of fun as we again played Army. This time we played pretending we were German troops on the Russian front facing the Red Army. It was sometimes confusing as we had trouble understanding how the Russians could be the good guys in this scenario. After all, this was in the middle of the Cold War and the Russians were the Evil Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, the fun was endless as we would dash in running and throwing snowballs. Sometimes we would ride our sleds and swoosh into action. Growing up a military brat was endless fun. The never-ending supply of kids your own age made the fun that much greater.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur’ran.Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King’s civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population.

It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. Those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the “most-wanted” list to seek him out and surrender to him personally. He even met with Muhammad Saeedal-Sahaf, a.k.a. “Baghdad Bob”, the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, since 1999.

Tumbleweed Snowman

Snowman Tumbleweed

Snowman Made from Tumbleweeds

I lived in two desert communities when growing up. The locations were Phoenix, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.

In the 1950s and 1960s both areas had little snow and lots of tumbleweeds. The residents tired of the same old snowless Christmas. There was almost no hope of snowfall. Without the snow, there would be no snowman.

Some creative person came up with the idea of building a snowman from tumbleweeds. It was simple. You obtained three. They were abundant in the desert. You placed the largest on the bottom. The middle-sized one went in the middle. The small one made the head. Some people spray painted them white.

Hat, eyes, and mouths were added to the creation. We added an old scarf as well.

A tumbleweed snowman can become a fun holiday tradition for your family. It is easy to create one of these eye-catching figures on your lawn.

My family did this when we lived on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and on Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas.
Growing up as a military brat allowed me unusual experiences like a tumbleweed snowman.

What holiday traditions did you have as a military brat?