written by Kerstin Dice Stoval circa 1976-77
by John Paul Jones
While we were stationed in Germany my parents partook of as many opportunities as they could to travel to other countries, in my Father’s case this was often via TDY to some professional conference or the other. He would usually take all of us, but failing that at least my mother and little brother, who was still in elementary school. One such trip, I was banished from, having a notable test in Ms Wilbur’s Algebra II’s class, to Madrid, Spain. I argued hot and heavy for my inclusion, stating, correctly, I had straight A’s in Algebra II, my teacher would give make up work, up to and including tests. I said I was the only member of the family who spoke Spanish, also true, my parents shot that excuse down, little did they know!!!
So, one brisk morning saw me setting out for the Spaar Mart at Weilerbach to catch my bus while the rest of the family was off to Sunny Espana. One of the “highlights” of the trip was the family’s trip to the Prado. This still being the time of Franco, the Guardia Civil was seriously present with their funny hats and not so funny sub-machine guns. It seems that my mom, weighed down by her giant purse holding food and drink enough for a platoon, and my little brother growing grumpier by the step (not now, nor then an art critic), got separated from my Dad. Mom’s glasses had been pushed up on her head where she promptly forgot about them. As she tried to peer myopically at a painting, her forehead banged into the protective glass case.
Of course this set off all sorts of alarms, whistles and lights which had the multiple effects of attracting the Spanish Guardia, Museum personnel, shocking my brother into alertness and opening his eyes wide along with his mouth which accepted his thumb, my Dad, from a safe distance returned to watch the show. After much yelling, screaming, almost all in Spanish, which had my poor mom in near tears (she gets nervous around guns, figure, a farm girl marrying a military man afraid of guns!). Finally, someone who could translate explained. The guards went back, a little disappointed that no one was shot, and especially that they didn’t get to do the shooting. My mother, straightening what little pride and decorum she had left, and quietly cursing my Dad for abandoning her in her hour of need (as he stood around the corner chuckling). She arrived in front of the next painting, leaned forward…..and yup, banged her head on the glass again. This time, no pleas were to be heard, my mother and little brother were marched out under guard and deposited several meters from the entrance. A shaken finger, a double tap on the gun, and a head shake were enough to break through the language barrier. SEE I knew they needed me!! My Dad finished strolling through the Prado and inquired of my mom if she knew what all the ruckus was earlier. Again, some responses pale beyond any language barriers
“This was given to my father when I was about 8. Would have been around 1963.”– Sandra Turpin
by Circe Olson Woessner
Air Force spouse and artist Cary Smith has lived in Colorado, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Japan, Alaska and Rhode Island. She currently calls Germany “home.”
The daughter of an art teacher, Cary grew up in a home filled with every art supply imaginable and can’t remember a time where she wasn’t drawing, painting or creating. At the age of seven, Cary began sketching from a head and figure drawing book she found on her parents’ bookshelf. She soon discovered that she was good at creating portraits, and 33 years later, she’s turned that passion into a portable career.
Now, with a degree in graphic design with an emphasis in fine art, Cary is accomplished in many mediums including oils, pencil, and digital illustration, but her current focus is painting in watercolors.
Her most recent body of work consists of a collection of portraits of 17 enlisted and officer women from different military branches. Each portrait includes a brief biography of the woman featured. The portraits were exhibited at Ramstein Air Base’s 86th Airlift Wing Headquarters and also at the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Headquarters.
“I was thrilled to include a painting of a pregnant woman in uniform in this collection. It is important to capture servicewomen realistically to show that, for example, motherhood is not a limiting factor in being able to serve your country.”*
I recently interviewed Cary via email to learn more about her and her work.
CW: As a child of an art teacher myself, I understand how wonderful it is to have access to art supplies at all times. Every time I smell a box of crayons, I get happy. I love walking into paper stores and just looking at all of the colors. It sparks sheer delight. What one art supply brings you an instant, childlike joy? Why?
CS: My mom was an art teacher and our house was filled with every sort of art supply you could imagine. But, honestly, I was most drawn to a ream or new pad of fresh white paper; all of the possibilities were fun. Some people are intimidated by the blank page, but to me, it is still exciting to start something new. My childhood home was also filled with books about every topic, including drawing. I loved looking through the art books and trying to copy the steps or reproduce the images.
CW: As a military wife, I know you move a lot and travel extensively. Does your work get influenced by different region’s/ country’s culture or art?
CS: I think that the experiences we have in our life creates our perception of the world as we walk through it. I am a figurative painter and perhaps subconsciously I am cataloging a collection of people I have experienced, not literally of course, but everywhere we have lived I have met the most wonderful people that have become like family to me. I like telling stories about people with paint. I like to capture subtleties of expression and emotion.
“Someone told me to paint what I know, what is near and dear to my heart, and I decided this was service members and their families. I find myself overcome by emotion to see the strength, dedication and selflessness by this group of people I have been a part of for 20 years as the spouse of an active-duty pilot.”**
CW: When I was about nine, I remember my mom sitting me down with my first batch of oil paints, and teaching me how to mix the paint, dip my brush in the varnish and turpentine and from there on, I was painting in oils. It’s one of my great memories of intimate time with my mother. Do you have one of those mother-daughter art instruction moments?
CS: I have wonderful memories of doing crafts with my mom, she is the most creative person I know. We decorated Easter eggs, we made straw scarecrows, painted rocks, and made Christmas ornaments from salt dough. She taught me to try new things and not be scared to make “mistakes” in art.
CW: How old were you when you sold your first piece? What was it? How did you feel afterwards?
CS: Honestly, I don’t remember selling my first piece of art but I do remember entering lots of art contests when I was a kid. I won a few along the way and that gave me the confidence to keep making art. I am a graphic designer too, and I remember in college when my roommates, who were all pharmacy majors, went off to organic chemistry class and I went to oil painting class. I felt like I knew a secret they didn’t; that you could get a degree in something as fun as art. I would be creating some kind of art even if I didn’t get paid for it.
CW: What is it about watercolor that makes it your preferred medium?
CS: I spent a few years painting in oils– but when my son was about three, he tried to drink the brush cleaning liquid and I realized I needed a nontoxic medium. I love that you can pick up where you left off in watercolor without much prep time. I love the transparency of watercolor and how you can build up value but still see the brush strokes you put down earlier. The transparency is wonderful for skin tones mirroring human skin.
CW: If you were to be dropped off somewhere, anywhere in the world, for a week and told to just paint to your heart’s content – – no one would bother you—money is not an object—food would be brought in—where would you go and why?
CS: I would go to Iceland and stay at a Scandinavian minimalist home where the simple lines of the landscape and the home sort of bleed into each other visually. I feel like that would give me an uninterrupted visual space to create with peacefulness and calmness.
CW: Has your military lifestyle influenced what, or how you produce and sell your work?
CS: It’s not easy finding work as a military spouse in a foreign country. I decided to dedicate my time to something that will hopefully have an impact on others. With all the moving I have stopped worrying about selling work. Luckily my spouse has a stable job and I can do that so right now I am concentrating on my skills.
“When it comes to military figures, we are more likely to capture someone’s image in a selfie than in a formal portrait. These snapshots don’t carry the same permanence that traditionally painted portraiture holds. As an artist I felt it was time to add women to the tradition of military portraiture.”**
CW: It is a small, small world! When I told my retired Army husband that I was interviewing a military spouse-artist in Ramstein, he said a colleague of his had just been painted by an artist in Ramstein. It turns out this mutual contact is MSgt Christians. He has known her for years. Ironic, huh? It’s funny how small military circles are!
CW: Do you do custom work? How can people contact you, and what information do you need from them to do a portrait?
CS: I do accept commissions. I paint quite a few children and it is so wonderful to present the final piece to the mom or dad, or the grandparent and see their reaction. I have had quite a few people tear up and that is such an incredible feeling, to create emotion with drops of paint. Contacting me through email email@example.com is the best way to get a hold of me. With the time difference here in Germany I find this easier for everyone involved.
My preferred way to start the process is to meet the subject and take some photos to work from myself. However, I do work from provided photos but I usually ask for quite a few as some images don’t translate well to paintings.
Examples of Cary’s work can be found on her website: www.caryasmith.com and on Instagram @cary.a.smith .
*In an interview by 1st Lt. Shelby Chapman, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Ramstein
** From her website
The question was asked by someone earlier on the page about what TV show or movie do you think portrays brat life well? Most people answered “none”, and I understand that. I haven’t seen any that strike me as being realistic and representative of my experience, but if you were to ask me what TV show or movie portrays my father in a way that is familiar, I would have to say the movie “A Soldier Story” made in 1984 starring Harold E. Rollins Jr.
The main character is an African-American JAG Captain named Davenport. The story takes place during World War II when Davenport is sent to a backwoods Louisiana Army post to investigate the murder of a Black senior NCO in an all-Black Chemical Corps unit. Not withstanding the fact that my father was a Chemical Corps officer, and that Rollins looks a lot like him, the movie is well made and the story is compelling. It has an all-star cast of Black actors that includes Adolf Cesar and Denzel Washington in one of his first roles.
Notably, my father joined the Army after integration, but he was still a rare commodity as a Black officer in the late 1950s. Throughout my life, there were never more than a handful of Black senior officers wherever we were stationed [if any], so my father understood that he carried the burden of being the representative of the entire Black “race” on his shoulders no matter what he did, and he made sure that we his kids understood how our behavior would be judged by those same standards. He would often say to me when I did something wrong outside of our quarters, you can’t do that because you are my son and you represent me!
In the movie, Captain Davenport is a sophisticated, tough-as-nails, straight shooter with an impeccable sense of style and the self-assurance of a man who is keenly aware of his place in the world. Rollins’ character is so much like my father you would think the producers based Captain Davenport on him. Davenport’s mannerisms and the way he carries himself are mirror images of the amazing man I grew up with.
When the movie came out in 1984 [four years after my father retired] I got to watch it with him, and after it ended, I turned to him and said, now I understand why you are the man you are. He smiled and said, that Captain Davenport was really something else wasn’t he. My father was a man of few words, but those few were his stamp of approval for what he had just seen, and more importantly lived through during his 23 years in the Army.
My father is gone now and I’ve watched the movie at least half a dozen times since he passed away and each time I see it I get choked up, but no doubt in a good way.
When we were in West Germany, most of our tour was spent on the economy, in a little village called Weilerbach. The last year we moved on base and I had to sell my beloved little Fiat 850 powder blue fast back that my Mom and I shared.
Well, it came to pass that spring when young men’s eyes turn to, well we all know what they turn to. I had decided on asking this young lady out to a new (for us) movie, “Tommy”. The problem was that I no longer had a vehicle to pick up my fair damsel, who of course lived on the economy, way out in the middle of nowhere. This took some serious groveling on my part, now as I was a Senior with a straight A card, acceptances to all my colleges assured, Senior Class Treasurer yada yada, yada.
So I finally got them to agree, my long suffering mother stipulating that I come straight home. Now the way I understood that was I wasn’t to make any other stops between her place and my place. I never understood it to mean that I was to slow down open the car door and throw my date out and speed home. Apparently though that’s EXACTLY what mother dearest expected.
The movie was great, what we saw of it, we arrived at the farmhouse she lived in, and spent a couple hours saying goodnight to each other. As I was driving home, I suddenly got a chill up and down my back which told me to get my tail home ASAP. I poured it on to the little Peugeot 504, even yanking the choke out to give the little engine as much juice as I could. I arrived home before midnight, a perfectly reasonable time in my opinion, especially as I often stumbled in stinking of beer past that bewitching hour. Dad was up, never a good sign, he informed me that my mom and her friend Mrs. Goldfein (yes, General David Goldfein’s mother), had left in her car to look for me. They had a rope, blankets, first aid kit etc. But that wasn’t the worst part. Oh no!! They had a list of all my friends, given to them by one of my “friends” I’m sure and they went door to door looking for me and asking about my date. Well, you can just imagine what going to school Monday morning was like!!!! Moms!! You have to love them, no matter what!
–John Paul Jones
by Alan Simmons
Today’s afternoon gospel moment is an older gospel song, “A Beautiful Life.” It was written by William M. Golden and was first published in 1918. Since then, it has been performed by a number of both country and bluegrass musicians and has found a home among the many singers within the Southern and Bluegrass gospel genres.
Growing up in Germany in the 1980s, Hee Haw was one of the American television shows we could watch through Armed Forces Television Network. The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet, which was a part of the show, wasn’t my favorite at the time. But as I grew older and can watch the reruns of the show, it has become my favorite part of Hee Haw. The close harmonies, the voices, and simple songs they select to perform really is a ministry in itself.
The song is simple and has a very powerful message. As followers of Christ, we are taught through the Bible to love our neighbors as ourselves and to minister to the needs of others. This song is a reminder of us to do those things daily. None of us know when we’ll be called home to meet the deeds we’ve done.
The lyrics for the first verse and chorus are:
Each day I’ll do a golden deed
By helping those who are in need
My life on earth is but a span
And so I’ll do the best I can
Life’s evening sun is sinking low
A few more days and I must go
To meet the deeds that I have done
Where there will be no setting sun
Listen, enjoy, and be blessed!
In October 2020 we had just moved in to the Navy housing in Pearl City, Hawaii, and were eager to explore our new neighborhood. From our miniscule backyard, we could see beautiful, exotic trees in a large grassy common area—and beyond that, we could see a slope with a white “picket” fence enclosing a huge area.
Curious, we went over to see what the picket fence protected. It looked like a dry water catchment basin, and we speculated that during the rainy season, it filled with runoff. We’d had one of these in our neighborhood in Albuquerque, so we knew how they worked. The four-foot high, close-together “pickets” seemed a little bit of overkill for the dry pond but we didn’t give it a second thought.
White pickets seemed more like English countryside than Urban Hawaii.
Over the next days, we spent a lot of time in that particular part of the commons; our dog likeed rooting around under the banyan and mimosa trees. Near the “pond” we came across a small stone bench, angel statue and a broken bird bath. A metal sign affixed to a cinder block read, “Friends are angels who lift us up when we believe our wings have forgotten to fly. Charlotte Paige Schaefers Jan 18, 1999-Feb 28, 2004.”
Interesting. I wondered about the military spouse who’d made a sign in honor of her friendships during her tour on Oahu. Who were her friends? Where was she now?
I examined the birdbath, wondering if my husband and I could fix it.
On the museum Facebook, there is an album titled “On Base” where we have photos of memorials and historic markers from different installations. I uploaded a of couple photos of the plaque and the angels captioning it, “I wonder where this spouse is now?”
Within a few minutes of posting the photos, someone commented that I might check the “find a grave” website. Although I knew the marker wasn’t a grave, I googled Charlotte Paige Schaefers. When I clicked on the first link, I was face-to-face with a beautiful blond girl—same birthdate and death date—in Georgia!
Confused, I clicked more links—and a tragic story emerged.
Charlotte, affectionately known as “Sharkey,” was a loving girl who lived with her parents and big brother in one of the houses nearby. In 2004, she and her friends were playing in the commons and a younger child slipped and fell into the water-filled retaining pond. Charlotte who was a good swimmer, immediately jumped in to rescue him. She drowned while trying to save him—in full view of dozens of neighbors. It happened that fast.
There were dozens of stories on the internet about the event and the subsequent lawsuits and legislation that came afterwards. Apparently for years prior, military families had complained that the unprotected drainage basin was a danger and that something needed to be done—but it wasn’t until after Charlotte’s death that a fence was built and the drains were repaired.
In 2009, after years of raising awareness and lobbying by Charlotte’s family and friends, HB 881 came into being. The bill acknowledged that approximately 30 Hawaii residents mainly keiki (children) die annually by drowning—some in retention ponds. The bill mentioned Charlotte by name and laid out standards and regulations to ensure that no more children would drown in the future.
One of the recommendations was four-foot-high fences.
A couple of weeks after learning about Charlotte’s story, Oahu had a horrific rainstorm. Many parts of Honolulu were flooded. It was so windy and wet that we hunkered down inside and watched the sheets of rain come down. As the smaller depressions in the commons filled with water, I imagined the pond out back growing and swelling into a football field-size lake.
I replayed the scenario from the 2004 news stories—in my head. Charlotte’s mother was not home; her dad was in the front yard in full view of the pond—he’d just grabbed his shoes and was running out to warn the kids to not go near the water—but it was too late. I imagined the neighbors wading into the water side-by- side, groping through the muck for Charlotte. They finally found her, but nothing could be done. The doctors estimated she’d drowned with minutes.
Our rainstorm had its own drama—two ten-year-old boys were swept away in a sudden flood in a nearby drainage ditch—but miraculously, both survived, one rescued by a good Samaritan with a lasso.
Over the next days, I thought about Charlotte and her small memorial in the commons. I wonder if anyone who passed by ever looked at it. It was in pretty good shape, but could use a little TLC. After all, it had been 17 years since the incident.
I wondered over the years how many people were curious enough to google Charlotte’s name and read her story? I may not have, if a museum FB follower hadn’t speculated that it commemorated a death.
So, I decided that I would like tend to and update the small memorial for Charlotte’s 17th death anniversary.
Over the weeks, my husband and I rearranged the area and created a new sign to explain the memorial. I bought a pink flower whirligig, because according to one article, Charlotte liked pink. We left the birdbath as it was, but I added a couple of plants.
Hopefully, later in the year, when the pandemic has abated, we will see lots of kids playing in the commons and parents out walking—maybe someone even sitting on the small stone bench, and learning the story behind the picket fence and the stone angels.
But right now, through this blog, I hope to draw attention to a small girl who put a friend’s safety before her own.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
Circe Olson Woessner
Schooling With Uncle Sam will focus on personal memories–what it was like to work or study in the school system, to live and work in a foreign country or military installation – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories should be about a certain time, event, or experience about school/work/life with DoDEA (or with its predecessor organizations such as DoDDS, USDESEA, DEG, etc.) Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment. All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the museum community free of charge.This is a chance to preserve a unique history and to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity to share a personal look at a world-wide school system serving America’s world-wide interests and assuring that your involvement with it will be recognized. You can submit up to three different pieces for the book.