By Marcus Fisk
June is the birth of the U.S. Army and it reminded me that my mother was an Army wife. Sure, we all have mothers. Some of us have mothers that were better than most. Mine, I can say with conviction, was the best mother a guy could have ever wished for.
My mother was an Army wife for 24 years and long before that vacuous television program which pales in comparison to the real deal. She endured my father’s two combat tours to Laos and Vietnam. She managed our family moves from Kentucky to Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio (again), Germany, North Carolina (again), Thailand, Ohio (again), Virginia, and Colorado (again).
In addition to supervising the daily lives of four children spanning a ten-year period, she also was required, as was the custom of the time, to be an active member of the Officer’s Wives Club. She attended countless coffees, teas, hails and farewells, formal balls, cocktail receptions and raffles. She volunteered time at the Thrift Shop, kept and typed the minutes of the Wives Club, and made sure that all of us had clean and neat clothes, were well fed, and shuttled us to our various clubs, sports, and school activities.
Back then an officer’s wife was as important to the officer’s career as much as how that officer performed his duties. I remember reading several sentences about my mother in my father’s Officer Efficiency Report (OER), a report card if you will, of my father’s professional performance.
I remember how she would pack us into the family car and drive us ‘on Post’ to the Fort Bragg Officer‘s Club pool. We’d spend the entire day swimming in the muggy North Carolina summer afternoons, savor our hard-begged hot-dogs and chips from the snack bar until she dragged us reluctantly back home, just before we started to sunburn.
When we were stationed in Thailand in the mid-1960s, my mother was elected president of the Officer’s Wives Club, a big deal for a major’s wife. She ran the club with efficiency, clarity, and with the right mixture of protocol and fun. The wives could be as junior as a lieutenant’s wife or as senior as a gour star general’s wife but that didn’t matter to Trudy Fisk. It was an organization to get things done, raise money for good causes, and to help keep a bond of friendship and ‘home’ between all the families stationed 8,000 miles away from the USA. Mom’s creativity came to the fore when she set-up a fashion show featuring haute couture Thai-designed women’s clothes, an effort that wound up making the major newspapers and television stations in Bangkok.
A testament to her utter selflessness was being my shooting partner in the Father–Son Rifle Match in Thailand. Many of the shooters had fathers stationed in Vietnam so the coach mixed the competition up with a blend of parents filling in for absent fathers. That meant that my mom would shoot as a ‘Father’ – me being the ‘Son.’ I had shot small bore rifle competitively for two years and Mom was a neophyte with weapons. So, I took her to the range the weekend before the match and essentially taught her to shoot. The next weekend Mom, who only the weekend before learned to fire a rifle, fired off a score of 394 out of 400 in the competition. The ‘Father–Son First Place’ trophy is still in their home.
This woman who bore a striking resemblance to Grace Kelly continued to turn heads long after many others’ candles had gone out. But her beauty was also the result of steadfastness, strength, common sense and forbearance. She could salve life’s emotional wounds with just the right phrase. Sometimes, in the midst of a defeat, a Coke would appear in your hands, or she would simply look at you with her bright eyes and say, “How do you like that?” over some baffling event or circumstance – and that would land any of us kids convulsed in laughter.
I often said that my mother is a large reason I graduated from the Naval Academy. While my dad was in Vietnam it was Mom who drove me to the Academy Candidate Guidance Office for my appointments, it was she who made sure I made it to my SAT Tests, my physical exam, and it was Mom, the former legal secretary who was the primary clerk typist for my formal application to the Academy. Finally, during the sometimes bleak days of my incarceration at the Naval Academy Annapolis, it was Mom’s letters with odds and ends news from home that kept me going.
During their Army career Mom had very few requests. She did however, love Venice and she and Dad made two trips there while we were stationed in Europe. And she did fancy San Francisco so when Dad came home from Vietnam she flew out to San Francisco and spent a week with Dad before they returned to Virginia.
The military life is not for everyone. The demands are many for not only the service member but also the family. For a young girl of 19 from Cleveland who married a young Army Lieutenant, Mom did okay. Looking back at the photo albums of our vagabond days in the Army, I often wonder how she did it. I can almost hear her voice in response, “Well, you just do one thing, then you do another, and pretty soon — you’re all done!”
Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, pick-up soccer player, and playwright. He and his wife Pamela live in Alexandria.