BRATS: Our Journey Home A Donna Musil Film Featuring Narration and Music by Kris Kristofferson
UNCLASSIFIED: The Military Kid Art Show Operation Military Brat Order the film
Life as a BRAT

One BRAT's Story

"My father liked to be called "Pappy." He was a boatswain's mate and had been in the U.S. Navy six years when I was born. He loved the sea. My mother understood my father's passion and agreed to marry him and follow him wherever he went. I was born at Seaside Hospital in Long Beach, California. I don't remember the hospital. It no longer exists.

I celebrated my first Christmas aboard my father's ship. I rarely celebrated a holiday twice in the same place, but the Navy always threw lavish celebrations for the "swabbies" and their dependents. An only child, home life was often lonely. While my schoolmates giggled at slumber parties, I trailed behind my father as he shouted, "Woman aboard!" to clear sailors from the ship's "head" (Navy for "bathroom").

Life could also be exciting. I strolled the shores of Bremerton Sound while picking up starfish, poked sticks in the tar pits in Long Beach oil fields, and tobogganed in Adak, Alaska. I learned how to blow a boatswain's whistle, and entertained myself by shopping from catalogs when supplies and stores were limited or non-existent.

My mother tried to keep the family together as much as possible, so we followed Pappy's ship up and down the West Coast. Living arrangements were unique. We stayed in motor courts for short visits, or with new-found friends (following their own swabbies) or in boarding houses when our visits lasted longer than a few weeks. I was quarantined in one of those motor courts when I contracted Scarlet Fever. Often, we lived in Quonset huts - on sand in Florida, ice in Alaska, and wood roses (with huge spiders) in Hawaii - but they were always metal and they were always brown. By the time Pappy retired, after 28 years, four months, and 28 days of loyal service, I had attended twenty schools, but I would never attend a class reunion. The school I graduated from was a correspondence school.

Gail Dunagan Morrison
Photo Courtesy of Gail Dunagan Morrison & "Pier Charlie" the Cat

Military personnel are given recognition, medals, and retirement compensation for serving their country. On patriotic holidays, flags are flown and honor bestowed on them. Occasionally, spouses are recognized, but the children are rarely mentioned. As I reflect on my life as a brat, a life for which I never volunteered, I feel a gamut of emotions from pride to resentment. The closest thing to a hometown I will ever have is a Navy base, on which I am no longer welcomed, except as a visitor. Even when I visit, no one will be there to "ooh" and "aah" over me, or say , "You haven't changed a bit!" I won't know anyone at the base and they won't know me.

They often say, "you can never go home again." If you're a military brat, you surely cannot."

-- Gail Dunagan Morrison
The first documentary about growing up military.