Joy of Camping

Circe Olson Woessner

When I was a kid, I lived in Germany.  Because my parents were educators, every summer was an opportunity to take a long vacation.  Every other year, we took “re-employment leave,” which meant that we flew back to the States to visit relatives. While there, we enjoyed road trips across the United States, visiting historic sites and monuments.

Other years, we would leave our home in Karlsruhe and drive to exotic places like Italy, Turkey, Greece or Scandinavia. Europe is small enough that we covered quite a lot of distance in six weeks.

Camping is a popular way for military families to see the world. One Brat says, “I saw all of Europe with my brothers from the inside of a pup tent. ”

Elizabeth’s father was an advisor to the Argentine Marine Corps in Buenos Aires from 1969-1972. “My family drove our VW Camper two summers in a row (southern hemisphere summers, so it was in January) from Buenos Aires to San Martin de los Andes. We drove through the vast expanse of the Pampas, small villages, and into parts of Patagonia on mountain roads, taking two weeks and camping along the way, eventually arriving at the most beautiful campsite on a mountain lake.”

Kathy says, “The summer I was 8, we drove from Quantico to Montreal. We drove down 5th Avenue in New York City pulling a utility trailer full of camping gear!”

Sometimes there’s just way too much vacation!

Cynthia remembers, “The summer I was 12, we drove from Essex, England, to John O’Groats (in northern Scotland). We camped and stayed in local B&B’s along the way. No vacation was without my dad getting a LOT of fishing in, so we saw every loch, fish ladder, hatchery, stream, pond, and creek in the whole flippin’ country.”

Cheri says, “When we lived in Turkey, we took a month and drove from Ankara, through Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Austria. We set up the tent and took it down 25 times in 30 days! After we got back to Turkey, I think Mom had had her fill of camping, so Dad sold all the camping equipment, thus ending our family camping adventures.”

Anyone relate to this? A big canvas tent, coleman stove, 57 Chevy Wagon which we bought in New York after returning from Darmstadt, Germany. We always camped to each base that Dad was stationed in. So much fun (for the kids!) Photo: Mary Andersen

Sometimes vacations teach valuable life lessons or practical skills, like how to dig pit toilets and the necessity of having first- aid supplies handy. One daughter learned about directions after falling asleep on the way to the Netherlands. “My mom woke me up to ask if the Netherlands had mountains!”

Mary says, “Once we came to a castle in Sweden with a posted sign saying, ‘enter at your own risk.’ We went flying up the turret, where a step was missing. I fell and broke my thumb. I already had a cast on my arm so we just got an ace bandage to hold it still. Dad was worried, Mom was mad, and I learned a lesson: if it says ‘don’t enter’– don’t enter!”

Leigh’s family combined a vacation with a new assignment. “Every spring my dad got Orders. We’d finish school, pack up and go. I’m not 100% sure, but it seems like we crossed the United States every summer.”

One Brat recalls a coast to coast road trip. “My mother didn’t drive, so my Dad did all the driving. We stopped at most every major attraction along the way that we saw signs for. We were a family of five and our car was a Chrysler Town & Country station wagon.  We slept in the car at rest areas at night the entire way.  You could do that back in 1975 without fear.”

Kim’s dad’s response was always the same when asked to stop at roadside attractions: “I’m not stopping for any tourist traps!”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as Jacqueline’s family found out. “My father was transferred from Warren AFB in Wyoming to March AFB in California. My mother, father, dog, cat, and six newborn kittens made the trip. I remember crying through the desert because the tiny kittens were panting and I thought they would die. We had AC in the car, but it could not compete with the desert heat. That was a long trip, but we all survived.”

Military families have opportunities to immerse themselves in place and history, as Joanne discovered.

“In the 1950s, our Dad took us down the boot of Italy and we stopped at places where he’d had seen combat in WWII. We drove up the rocky road to the top of Monte Casino, way before it was restored. My Dad wanted to see what the Germans in their machine gun nest had seen. He’d been with the 36th Infantry Division. He called me over and we peered down. ‘Look,’ he said, almost in tears, ‘they could see every move we made. We were like ants on a desert floor. No wonder they had us pinned down for months.’ I remember that trip, now, so well.”

Whether Stateside or overseas, military families take advantage of their unique vacation opportunities. Oh, and I should remind you, that military families take “leave,” not vacations.






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