l to r: Dad, Aunt Mary (visiting), Mom, me, and my sister. Honolulu, Hawaii, 1968








Usually drunk, or trying hard to be, Saturday nights we’d pile into somebody’s car and drive over to the MATS terminal on the military base where many of my friends and I lived.  The flight line wasn’t our reason for driving there; as I recall the snack bar had really good fries.

It was 1966, in Hawaii, and the Military Air Transport terminal on Hickam Air Force Base was a stop on the hop from California for soldiers going to Vietnam.  Like us, most of them were teenagers.

Most of my friends were kids of military families like mine.  Ever since Pearl Harbor the military presence on Oahu’s been pretty beefy so being a military kid –  Air Force, Army, Marines, and especially Navy – wasn’t unusual.  My life was about protocol and acting appropriately; I remember having to answer the phone “Sergeant Palermo’s quarters”.

Adolescence is a time for challenging authority; it’s part of what young people have to do in order to find out, and be, who they are.  While I tried to be part of my peer group, which group had my loyalty was unclear.   Was I a hawk like my military-industrial-complex’s warmongering father? or was I a flower child, a peacenik, a dove like the rest of my generation?

For a military brat like me, being sixteen in the sixties was complicated.  My answer was to dress like a hippie and keep my military heritage to myself.

Even so, those years in Hawaii were mostly spent among other kids who were themselves veterans of military life.  Even when I began college at the University of Hawaii, there were no demonstrations that I remember maybe because the bulk of the island’s inhabitants were part of very traditional Oriental cultures.  For lots of reasons, I wouldn’t have joined a protest rally anyway.

I had pen pals in Southeast Asia, guys I didn’t know but who were like all the guys I did.  Some classmates joined up out of high school, some got drafted, and some were friends out of the University’s ROTC program.  I still keep the letters from one of them.

It was later, back on the mainland, that I felt out of place and isolated – a military brat at a small New England college the year Jimi Hendrix (formerly in the Air Force himself) electrified the national anthem at Woodstock.

Being a childhood veteran is a singular experience; one that’s both good and bad.  I went where my father went and, with hardly any choice, he went where he was told to go.  So me and my family, veterans all, piled into the family Ford or onto a transport plane, and set off across country – again.

They also serve who sit in the back seat.

I never thought to complain that the only consistency in my life was change: leaving friends and having to make new ones; the anxiety of changing schools to one whose different curriculum inevitably guaranteed my failure; trading lush landscapes for harsh winters.  And always, always aware and reminded that my actions could literally affect my father’s career.

Lots of my behaviors result from those years; how can they not?  While I’m flexible enough to move about without trauma (I think) I  don’t have a hometown.  Quick at making friends, I don’t hang onto them.  Love is usually lost, marriage notwithstanding.  A poised pretender, I’m self-critical and self-conscious.  Honest and honorable, I’m surprised and stung when those around me aren’t.

Today’s military families are no less veterans than we were.  Like it or not, and many don’t, military affiliation sets you apart.

There’s nothing quite like the sense of ease I’ve felt around military people; nothing like the belonging I feel around things military.  No time I’ve felt more at home than with others who know what it felt like to be a veteran of growing up military.

Maybe that’s why I love a man who’s a military brat, too.  Whose father and mine were stationed in the same place two different times in our young lives.  Whose mother and mine were bowling buddies across our country.  A family reencountered years later on one of those re-assignment journeys in our family’s Ford.

Thomas John Palermo, Kathe’s father, was a veteran of the Army Air Corps who served in China during World War II and for almost 30 years in the United States Air Force, retiring as a Chief Master Sergeant.  He played a significant military role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, about which he never spoke.  Her mother, Elizabeth Korobeckhine Palermo, was herself a veteran of World War II.  Working as a Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado Springs, a high-profile military town, his daughter, Kathe (Palermo) Skinner, often works with veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and their families as well as with those who currently serve.  She is married to David Skinner, son of George and Kay Skinner, military friends of her parents for almost 50 years. 
© Being Heard, LLC, 2017


veterans dayWhen it comes to military service, Americans used to be joiners.

Not anymore.

The numbers from a national study conducted by The Pew Research Organization in 2011 tell an interesting story:

Compared with respondents who were ages 50-64, younger respondents (ages 18-29) were less likely to have at least one immediate family member (parent, sibling, child, or spouse) who served in the military.

In fact, younger people were almost 50% less likely to have a close family member who served, or is serving, in the Armed Forces.

Despite what the patriotic hoo-ha might suggest, the reality is that during post 9/11 conflicts (2001 to present) the percentage of Americans serving was the lowest in American history.

Relinquishing personal gain to the success of the whole, striving for excellence, an encompassing sense of belonging, and a strong moral code almost guarantee that service members, active or veteran, remain on the outside of the larger society.

Priorities have shifted; there isn’t a national consensus on what America’s role in the world.  More than ever before the military sways in the political winds.

World opinion may be more expensive than military technology.

The positive shift in Americans’ acknowledgement of the dangers and sacrifices of America’s military men and women, especially those of the Vietnam era, is long overdue (Korean War veterans remain largely unrecognized for their service).

The fact is that the danger of war hasn’t changed, all that military families forgo hasn’t changed, nor have the life-changing ramifications of military service changed.  That the military encompasses a culture of its own is poorly understood by most Americans, even those with supportive intentions.

The sacrifices made by generations of military men and women are deep, and remain for a lifetime, although few may realize that early on.  The transition from active to veteran is never fully accomplished.

Forever living the Code in a mostly code-free world may be the most outstanding job of all.

Kathe Skinner and her husband, David, are both “military brats” whose fathers were career Air Force non-coms.  Both of Kathe’s parents served in WWII.  Both Kathe and David agree their lives have been rewarded by the structure and community afforded them growing up military.  Kathe is a psychotherapist specializing in couple’s work. She lives in Colorado Springs, home of Ft. Carson, Shriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain, and the Air Force Academy.  

copyright, 2015 Being Head, LLC