Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life

Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life

by Terri Barnes


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Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life is a collection of Terri Barnes's best military life columns of the past seven years, based on her popular weekly column, Spouse Calls, inStars and Stripes.
From her own kitchen table to Capitol Hill, Terri takes readers beyond the headlines and homecoming videos for an inside look at the day-to-day hardships, victories, and many ways military life shapes, challenges, and enriches its families.
Through poignant personal stories, incisive interviews, and emotive reflections, Terri creates an historical snapshot of American and world affairs, preserving an important piece of our nation's culture.
About her book, Terri says, “My hometown isn't a geographical location, but a place in American culture that is invisible to many people. My family lives in the hometown of military installations and military communities. This book is the story of the people we know and the life we live in the neighborhood of our American military life.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781934617250
Publisher: Elva Resa Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 03/01/2014
Edition description: None
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

TERRI BARNES is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, the editor and coauthor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life, and the special projects editor at Elva Resa Publishing.

A well-respected journalist, Terri developed and wrote the weekly Stars and Stripes column Spouse Calls. Appearing in print editions worldwide and online for more than eight years, the column was honored in 2015 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, winning second place nationally. Her book Spouse Calls is a select compilation of those columns.

Terri continues to be a voice for military spouses and families. She has been a member of the Washington, DC, press corps and has contributed to several other books.

Terri  is a cum laude graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she studied journalism. Her work has appeared in Air Force/Army/Navy TimesThe Huffington Post, and Books Make a Difference magazine, as well as newspapers, magazines, and base publications in many of her adopted hometowns around the world.

Terri’s expertise in military life comes from long experience. Her father was a Vietnam veteran and career military man. Her husband, Mark, retired from the Air Force after thirty years of active duty service. Terri and Mark now reside in Summerville, South Carolina. They have three adult children.

Read an Excerpt


Home Numbers: Family and Friendship

Dream Houses

February 8, 2013

Some people wait their entire lives to find their dream home. I've already lived in several.

At our first assignment in Texas, my husband and I lived in our first real house. It was my dream home because it had a fireplace. We didn't have much furniture to put in it. And we used a rotary push mower, a gift from my grandfather, until we could afford a gas-powered lawn mower to cut the grass. It had a big backyard, a rectangle of concrete for a patio, and even a grapevine.

Our first on-base home, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, was my dream home because it had hardwood floors and big windows. We brought our first baby home there.

Our second baby came home to a dream house on a tropical island, complete with a hibiscus bush and a hammock between two palm trees. Our house on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, wasn't much to look at. With concrete walls, flat roof, and brown plywood shutters, it was more like a bunker, but it survived five typhoons and an earthquake, and it was less than ten minutes from the beach.

Our house on Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, was the house of my dreams mostly because it was available. After spending five months on the housing list in a sparsely furnished apartment with two small children, I could easily love the outdated cabinets, tiny closets, and oddly-paneled ceiling. By the time we left that dream house, with baby number three, we were bursting at its three-bedroom seams.

So naturally, our next dream house in Japan was even smaller. It had a closet under the stairs and, although we could have used the storage space, it got better use as a secret hideout, playhouse, or pirate cave on rainy days. Outside our windows, we had cherry blossoms in the spring and fiery red maple leaves in the fall.

Our dream home in Valdosta, Georgia, was a family favorite. It had a fireplace, a second story, plenty of space inside, and nearby woods and ponds outside. Dad and the kids built a tree house and picked blackberries for Mom to bake homemade cobblers. Quiet streets and lots of open spaces provided our children room for adventure and scope for the imagination.

At Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, our dream home had a view of the ocean and Catalina Island on a clear day from one of the upstairs windows, if you stood in just the right spot. The daily walk to the elementary school was a flower-lined sidewalk with a full view of the Pacific. With beautiful weather almost every day, we enjoyed our back patio and pergola. No fireplace, no air conditioning, but we rarely needed either one.

Our dream home at Ramstein, Germany, had three floors, a spiral staircase, balcony, and did I mention, was in Germany? Dream location and the last of our dream homes to house all our children year-round, it was walking distance down cobblestone streets to favorite restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops.

Of all of these dream homes, our home in Virginia has the most space, which we most enjoy when it's full of our family and friends.

I don't know how many more dream homes we'll have. Someday we hope to have one that is truly ours and will be ours for a long time. When choosing it, I don't know that I'll be looking for the "must haves" the HGTV hosts rave about, such as granite countertops, recessed lighting, or a rain shower.

My "must haves" are a kitchen in which to cook for family and friends. A dining room big enough to hold them all. A sidewalk that leads into town. A sofa by the fireplace would be nice, and plenty of shelves for the books we like to read. Wall space for pictures from all over. Bedrooms for the beds our children used to jump on and dream on. Maybe their children will jump and dream on them, too.

When it's time to look for that dream home, I'll be looking for glimpses of the dreams from every home we've ever lived in.

* * *

Mom's Love Letter

May 9, 2010

I could write a lot about my mother: Her phone calls and emails provide advice and encouragement on everything from missing my college-aged son, to middle-school research papers, to prom dress decisions. She was present at the birth of all three of our babies, even the one born in Guam.

For love, a mom can endure fifteen hours on a plane — one way, not including layovers, without complaint — to welcome a new grandbaby. But there are harder things for love to endure, as well we know.

When I was nine or ten, my mother wrote me a letter. I don't remember when she gave it to me. I just remember having it when I was a little girl. It was short, only a few sentences, telling me she loved me, was proud of me, and encouraging me to hold on to my faith.

For a long time, I kept the letter in a secret compartment in the bottom of an old jewelry box. As a child, I had a habit of creating a hideout under my bed or in a corner of the attic, depending on where we lived. The jewelry box, my favorite books, and a flashlight were usually among the treasures found there.

I would take the letter out occasionally and — with the aid of my flashlight — read it and even shed tears over it, especially when one of us was angry. I knew that whatever punishment was meted out, whatever words passed between us, Mom loved me. Her words on the page reminded me.

When I was in high school, my parents' divorce precipitated a move to another house. I've made about twenty moves in my life as a military child and wife, but none has been as painful as that one.

Hurt and angry, I refused to help pack up my life for a move I bitterly resented. The treasure box was neglected, perhaps left behind in the attic, perhaps thrown away.

The letter was gone and forgotten, and after the dissolution of my family, the certainty that Mom's decisions were made out of love for me was gone, too. Our relationship was changed, tread-marked by the long procession of circumstances that follow a divorce, like slow-moving cars follow a hearse.

Years went by before I knew exactly what I had lost.

In fact, I was the mother of three young children when, one day, I suddenly remembered the jewelry box and its hidden contents. With bitter clarity, I also realized when it was lost and how. I couldn't believe I had forgotten it for so long, and I wished then that I could read the letter again.

Now, I'm the mother of three teenagers. My mother has written me many letters in the years since that difficult chapter of my family's history. She tells me often that she loves me, in words, deeds, and transoceanic flights.

I gave up the letter for lost, but rediscovered the certainty of my mother's love for me. Our relationship has been restored — not instantly, nor easily — but still, miraculously.

Last year, I was looking through my old journals. Behind the very last page of the very oldest volume — my life as a thirteen-year-old — I found the letter, yellowed by years and creased from many readings. I don't know how it got there or how the old pink diary kept its secret for so long. But it did.

Like the assurance of my mother's love, the letter was not truly lost, only misplaced, waiting to be found, read, and believed again.

* * *

Peace Stories

January 24, 2010

"Have you asked your dad about his war experiences?" the woman asked me.

As the interviewer, I was supposed to be the one asking questions, but perhaps this was to be expected from my interviewee, a retired Marine and currently a writing teacher.

The answer was no, and even as she encouraged me to do so, I knew that I would not. Several years ago, my father gave me his trove of photos from Vietnam, so I had pictures, but few words.

When my father and my husband would start swapping stories from their common Air Force experiences, I would listen carefully, gleaning details. Mostly, they talked about aircraft they had flown in or worked on. Dad liked to recall the people he knew, chuckling about crusty generals or "this ol' E-8 I flew with."

About the war, he was silent, and I respected his silence.

The woman's question came back to me when I received the news just after Christmas that my father was gone. A car accident claimed his life on December 30, 2009.

My earliest memory is of the day my dad returned from Vietnam. I woke up in the backseat of our car and saw his big round "wheel hat" silhouetted against the sun. I couldn't see his face, but I remember his voice as he leaned in to pick me up. I was two years old, so as far back as I can remember, I knew my dad had been to war, but he never told war stories.

He told other stories. When I was in grade school, we lived in Alaska. When Daddy would come home, I would sit on his lap, breathe in the smell of his flight suit, eat the dessert he saved from his flight lunch, and hear about the places he had been and the people who had flown with him.

I have an old photo that reminds me of one of his stories. It shows my dad, who was a crew chief, standing in front of his plane on a snowy tarmac, circa 1969. Beside him is Santa Claus, who hitched a ride to help deliver supplies in remote Arctic areas. That was the kind of story Dad preferred to tell.

In letters from his overseas tours, the only hardship he mentioned was missing us, usually reminding me to say my prayers and mind my mother.

Only when I was older did I learn that Dad's mission in Vietnam was a dangerous one, flying over enemy territory, that he had lost friends there, that he had bad dreams.

Long after the war, as I was growing up, our family experienced other kinds of turmoil, which we weathered together and apart. Fallout from his untold stories? Perhaps, in part.

But do I regret not asking those questions? I don't think so. My father preferred not to talk about some experiences, but I've seen how those events shaped him and his life. I knew the man, so in some way I do know the stories, even the ones he didn't tell.

The words that mattered were said. When I talked to him on Christmas Day — from Germany to Texas — our last words to each other were what they always were at the end of a phone call: "I love you."

For Veteran's Day in 2008, I wrote a magazine article about my dad and his reluctance to tell war stories and sent him a copy. Now I'm especially glad that I did.

The closing lines were:

"Peace is not free or easy. It is hard won. It must be pursued and war stories are the story of that pursuit … Still, the best stories are peace stories. Not fairy tales pretending that war and death and suffering don't happen, but true stories of peace reaching beyond conflict … So thanks, Dad, for the peace stories. We owe our gratitude to you, and to all veterans who have endured the real story of war, so that others are free to hear the story of peace."

* * *

Worth More Than a Thousand Words

May 1, 2012

When my father died, he didn't leave me a fortune. He left me something better: his memories, even the ones he never talked much about. A few years before he died in 2009, he gave me a metal box filled with photos and home movies from my childhood. He handed it over when we were visiting him in Oklahoma, just as we were leaving. He said something offhand like, "The mice are getting to this stuff out in the barn. You should take it home with you."

Inside were boxes of photos and reels of 8mm film, taken when we were stationed in Texas, Colorado, and Alaska. Among the Polaroids and color slides from family vacations, I discovered something else.

A yellowed envelope labeled in Vietnamese and French enclosed two stacks of small black and white photos. The mice had found several, but most were intact.

I recognized my dad's handwriting on the backs of some. He had written brief descriptions like, "Unloading AC-123 at Quin Hon," or "Taking off at Bong Song." Some are aerial photos showing huts, mountains, airfields. I'm sure my father was the photographer. One says, "A train derailed — The V.C. tore the track out," and another, "Sailboats off the end of the runway Quin Hon." Many more photos were wordless, but they still told portions of the story of my dad as an airman in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965.

Some were from a trip to Saigon: a young boy giving my dad and his camera a mischievous wink and salute, a smiling woman carrying two big baskets on a shoulder pole, a man smoking a cigarette under the striped awning of the Saigon USO.

Others depict austere living conditions on base, looking all the more grim in monochromatic prints. Tents, hammocks, sandbags, guard towers. Makeshift runways made of Marston mats, expanses of modular corrugated steel.

My husband can identify most of the aircraft for me. It's the people who remain mysterious. Some snapshots show Dad's fellow airmen, friends perhaps.

A young captain reclines under the wing of a plane, wearing aviator sunglasses and a belt stocked with bullets. A paunchy sergeant stands on the runway, arms akimbo, the brim of his uniform cap flipped up. Two men repair landing gear. Another poses inside a bunker with helmet and weapon.

My father is in just a few photos. In one, he stands beside his plane at Bien Hoa Air Base, a pistol on his hip. On the nose of the plane is stenciled "Miss Terri Jane," my name and my mom's.

Mom has told me that Dad was a crewmember for a psychological warfare aircraft. Fitted with large speakers and no weapons, the small plane flew missions low over known enemy territory, blasting anticommunist messages and showering the ground with leaflets.

In another photo, a South Vietnamese soldier poses by the plane's loudspeakers. His name is not on the photo. I wonder if he flew with my dad and what happened to him. I wonder if my dad ever wondered the same thing.

I'll never know because I didn't ask him. Vietnam was a subject he rarely broached. I used to be satisfied with his silence. Now, there are questions I wish I could ask.

I have other photos, letters, and news clippings my mom and grandmother saved, mostly things my dad mailed home during the war. My mom collected her memories in a blue scrapbook, tied with a gold cord.

One news clipping was particularly enlightening. PFC Mike Mealey, reporting for the Pacific Stars and Stripes in December 1964, wrote about the missions and the dangers faced by the crews of propaganda planes like my dad's. Mealey's story said three such aircraft were in operation in Vietnam at the time.

That same month, Dad had sent home a Christmas card bearing the logo of the 21st Infantry Division Advisory Team. He was then at Can Tho, near the Mekong Delta, and mentioned the pilot quoted in the Stripes story.

"Dearest Darlings ... Capt. Scott and I were working with this outfit and they gave me this card ... You don't know how much I hate not having Xmas with my little family. But war is bad for a lot of people. I will try to write a letter tomorrow. Lot of love ..."

Also in the scrapbook were newspaper stories of a tragic series of accidental explosions at Bien Hoa Air Base on May 16, 1965. Twenty-seven died and almost a hundred more were injured. Dad was there. My mom said she heard about it on the news, and it was two weeks before a cassette tape arrived from Dad.

"'First of all, I'm fine,' were his first words on the recording," she said.

"I was going out of my mind," she remembered. "We got news back then, but it wasn't as explicit as it is now."

I found a video of the aftermath of the Bien Hoa tragedy that someone posted on YouTube. I watched the men moving planes and fighting the fires, scanning every face for a glimpse of my dad. I knew those men had likely known him. I also knew that he had surely known some who died.

Dad would be seventy-one years old this month. The longer he is gone, the more conversations I wish we'd had. At least I have the pictures he took with his little black and silver camera.

When I was a teenager, the camera was lost somehow. Even years afterward, he would lament, "I sure wish I knew what happened to that camera." I used to wonder why it concerned him so much. Now I think I understand. It was his witness, and the pictures were his evidence. Now they're mine.

Each photo is a testimony, a piece of my dad's war story — the places he served, the men who served with him, scenes he thought were important enough to preserve when he was far from home.

Nothing in his bank account could make me richer.

* * *

This could have almost been my story. I, too, am a military spouse. My husband has proudly served the Army for twenty-one years now.

On May 1, I lit a candle in remembrance of my father, who left this world four years ago. When he fell ill, I had the privilege of tending to him. He was a proud man. I know it was the hardest thing he had probably done, but it was the least I could do for him. Every morning, I would drive over to the hospital to shave him and have breakfast together. It soon became my favorite time with him. He shared many stories over a cup of oatmeal, some from my early childhood years, and others of his military career as a medic.

What a proud soldier he was. He also served in Vietnam and Korea. Shortly before he passed, he handed me a box. In it were six reels of 8mm [film]. Memories of me and my brother growing up. [Dad] knew I had been longing for them.


Excerpted from "Spouse Calls"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Terri L. Barnes.
Excerpted by permission of Elva Resa Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Home Numbers: Family and Friendship,
Dream Houses,
Mom's Love Letter,
Peace Stories,
Worth More Than a Thousand Words,
No Strangers on This Train,
The Family Forge,
The Last Lunch,
College Culture Shock,
Strings Attached,
I Am Somebody,
Silver and Gold: A Circle of Friends,
What Goes Around Comes Around,
Pumpkin Cookies,
The 411: Facts of Military Life,
Trial by Fire,
The Real Thing?,
Special Needs, Special Dad,
We Were Thrifty Before It Was Nifty,
Mrs. Doolittle,
Spell It Out With Real Letters,
The Way Glenn Miller Played,
Stay-at-Home Dads,
Macho, Macho Spouse,
Welcome to the Table,
Stars and Stripes Forever,
Stand and Deliver,
Military Moms,
ID Cards and My True Colors,
Area Codes: Moving and Travel,
Empty Houses,
Small World,
Not the Real Me,
Farewell to the Stairwell,
Land of the Free, Home of the Barnes,
Traveling Exhibits of Our Past,
Taking Inventory,
Earning Our Wings,
Visiting Hometowns and Coming Home,
Lego Blocks and Loose Screws,
Duty Calls: Service and Sacrifice,
Things That Don't Change,
Green Bags,
Homecomings: The Nitty Gritty,
Telling Stories,
Gary and Lt. Dan,
A Measure of Sisterhood,
Rolling Out the Red Carpet,
Operation Homecoming: Stories to Tell,
Pages From Life,
Invasion: Ten Years Later,
Ernie Pyle: Across Many Aprils,
Bobby's Flag,
TAPS: More Than a Sad Song,
Words of Hope,
Invisible Wounds: Voices of Experience,
Leaving Messages: Meaningful Days,
New Year, Old Friends: Not the Same Auld,
Lang Syne,
Fourteen Bucks and a Dozen Roses,
Cross Purposes,
Cherry Blossom Time,
Waiting for Spring,
Memorial Day,
The Star Spangled Banner,
Absence Makes the Dad Grow Fonder,
Born on the Fourth,
Election Day, Veterans Day,
Giving Thanks,
Large Legend, Small Gifts,
A Child Is Born,
Decorations for Christmas,

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