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T-Shirt and Yearbook, courtesy of Robert Cramer

collar shirt

Being a military brat creates that sense of time in the back of your mind. You might think, ‘For a kid, three years is forever.’ When you’re a child of a military person, three years is a very short period of time.

Bob was born in Riverside. A self- proclaimed “military brat,” he grew up ... just about everywhere.

My father was in the Air Force, and we travelled around pretty much from my birth. About every two or three years, following my father’s profession, we were uprooted and moved to another place. As a consequence I’ve lived in Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, and Illinois.

Bob describes the ritual of moving from place to place as his father’s post was reassigned.

You get a rhythm — you gear up for a new place, and you get all excited, and then about two years or so in you start gearing down, because you know your dad’s gonna be transferred and you’re gonna be gone. That’s just the way a military family works.

Because the military places a weight restriction on what can be brought on a move, Bob does not have many material items from his childhood.

I remember my mom and dad telling us, ‘Not everything is going to be able to go.’ So, you start doing the triage. Living in Battle Creek we all had sleds, toboggans, and ice skates. And we were being transferred to Hawaii! So, it doesn’t matter how much great fun you had on that sled – it’s not going to Hawaii!

It was not only toys that got left behind, but also friends.

When you’re among a civilian population, those kids who are connected with the military through their moms or dads are recognized as different. They’re gonna come, and their gonna go. And so the level of connectedness is always just a little bit looser. It’s probably not the case that your best friend is going to be there among those kids. It’s probably not the case that you’re gonna be somebody’s best friend.

The last post before Bob left his parents’ home for college was in Hawaii. And it was here, while attending Radford High School – the third high school he had attended – that he finally found a sense of belonging when he was asked to join “The Stags.”

The group was very much like a high school level fraternity – it was a senior social club. You had to be nominated by a club member, and then the rest would vote on you to get admitted. It’s pretty cheesy to a psychologist, but I wasn’t a psychologist then. At that time it was a wonderful sense of recognition – I had come from another high school, but I’d made enough friends and contacts and had the trust of my fellow classmates, and I was accepted into this club. I was very happy to be a part of that club.

Every Friday, all inducted Stags would wear a yellow collared shirt to school. Bob’s is on display here. He’s kept it for nearly fifty years. It is one of very few items from his youth and adolescence that remains. In part, this is because of the military lifestyle that required constant purging. But, in part, it is also because the shirt represents a cherished experience – that of belonging.

This shirt generates memories of a very good time in my life. It represented to me some permanency, some recognition, some acceptance, and it took off a little of the edge of having to leave friends, and make new friends, as a result of my dad’s job.


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