Caveat: Our blog was originally conceived to be a way to connect with our sweet grandkids, Eric and Hazel, since we don’t get to spend much time with them. And to keep our kids, Jesse (Terri) and Caroline apprized of where our wheeled home was currently residing, in case they wanted to visit. We share pictures, stories, geography, geology, history, church missions, adventures and love. Hopefully, our extended family and friends enjoy it as well! This particular blog series is about Wendy Walton’s family history, before she became a Smith.
I’m not often nostalgic, but Clay and I spent the month of April, 2018 around Bisbee, Arizona and it made my heart gooshy (that’s a Latin medical term for soft and squishy). Nostalgia doesn’t often bubble to the surface because it seems like I’ve never been in the same place twice during my lifetime.
Thanks to my Dad’s career and our current nomadic lifestyle, it practically guarantees new scenery all the time with no backtracking.
In 1968, when I was 7 yrs old, my father was offered an active duty army assignment, which meant he could finally quit working 4 jobs at the same time to pay the bills (including high school French teacher, counselor at a juvenile detention center, grocery clerk and reserve army major).
Major Walton was asked to attend Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas– a rare honor especially for a reservist, with the next orders after that being assigned to Intelligence headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War.
One of his C&GS classmates was Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. who later became a general and commander of United States Central Command, leading all coalition forces in the Gulf War. It was a prestigious opportunity for Dad. We met lifetime friends there, including Blaine and Clarice Jensen and Al and Laura Morris and all their wonderful children.
Although Dad could never talk specifically about his top secret work in Vietnam, we knew he was the French speaking secret military advisor for the Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge when the US government was denying they had any personnel in that country. He sent daily briefings to General Abrams and President Nixon during that time.
We were then stationed at the Military Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland. From sunny Hawaiian beaches to December on the Chesapeake Bay, freezing our flower leis off!
But that next summer of 1971, the entire Intelligence Command operation was moved 2300 miles to the isolated outpost of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the Mexican border.
Like the old time land grabs, the Walton clan was one of 500 families set to race directly across the country to snatch up the limited housing options near the new headquarters. But instead, my parents decided to take a month camping in our tent trailer on a leisurely drive west across Canada, then down through Washington, Oregon and California. Upon arrival, there was no more housing near the post, so we found a wonderful hacienda style home in the old mining town of Bisbee, 30 miles southeast of the fort.
April of 2018 was the first time I had been back to the area in 46 years. Clay and I spent a lovely day touring the museums at Fort Huachuca and seeing the history that unfolded when the Military Intelligence schools arrived.
What did my Dad work on at Fort Huachuca?Shhhhhh! It’s probably still a secret.
Clay and I enjoyed the Military Intelligence Museum and while walking out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, I felt the overwhelming presence of my Dad right there, smiling and happy, looking over my shoulder at his old stomping grounds.
The Walton family spent 1968-1977 scurrying around the country while Dad was on active duty. Because we usually moved in the middle of the school year, I had 13 notches on my school transcript belt (even though I skipped my junior year and graduated early).
While Dad was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he also served as the Bishop of our congregation, which was also a confidential job, where people came to him with their problems and concerns.
Mom: How was your day at work, Dear?
Mom: How was your evening at church, Dear?
I don’t think they had many substantive conversations over the years.
The last time I moved with my parents was to Southport, Indiana. In the middle of my senior year of high school. During the Blizzard of 1978. Welcome to the midwest.
But, the miracle is, I met Clay there in the few brief summer months when he was home from college before he left to serve his two year mission for our church. So I’m not complaining! If you ever feel the Lord does not know where you are, just remember He has GPS: God’s Positioning System.
When the army ended his active duty assignments, Dad worked at whatever civilian jobs he could find (who needs a white-haired French speaking secrets keeper?) until he could finally retire from the reserves as a full Colonel with 32 years of service.
Dad died in Greenwood, Indiana at the age of 71 in April 2001, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, two months before I completed my Otolaryngology residency training.
When Heavenly Father suddenly called his son home, the Colonel saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!”
Never once questioning his newest orders.
I am so proud of my father– an honorable, gentle, intelligent, hard-working, funny guy who loved his Savior, his loyal wife, his four kids, his grandchildren and his country with the heart of a true patriot.
I’m beginning to think the spirit world is kind of like his secret military jobs, because he hasn’t told me what happens on that side of the veil, either!
Stay tuned for Part Two- Miners.
I never knew what Grandpa W did in the military, thanks for filling in the gaps (as much as possible because you know, secrets).
I love learning about our family. I interviewed Grandpa a couple of times for school projects. While gaining intelligence, he witnessed horrific things in Cambodia. You’d never know he’d seen such awful things because his countenance never showed anything negative.
Hi Kirsten. That’s very interesting! You might have learned things no one else knows. Your aunts (Wendy & Kerry) might find your interview notes to be fascinating.
Ree could be an intimidating presence, until you saw his genuine, loving smile. He looked awesome in his uniform, but he never took himself too seriously.
Wow…what a wonderful story…thanks for sharing..