Day by day the resilience of American military families is tested. Their triumphs and tears are rarely captured and chronicled. Their stories certainly are still few relative to their numbers across the land and their vast contribution as supports to service members, and to the fabric of society. We are most likely to hear of their challenges and regrettably, the tragedies they experience.
Author, Candace George Thompson’s glimpse into the intimate life of one family is, therefore, a rarity and a delight. She is the daughter of a career Air Force Officer whose first mission was on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Her book, Still Having Fun, a Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941–2007 is today’s Words on Wednesdays (WoW) selection. It adds joy and love to the narrative of military family life, as most of us might imagine it to be.
In today’s Words on Wednesday:
- Still Having Fun.. the award winning book
- Author Candace George Thompson transitions
- Life lessons shared
Excerpts from a recent interview with Military Success Network comprise today’s WoW post:
The book is quite a well documented biography of a family. It folds in the history of the times and invites readers to dip liberally into all manner of memorable stories and photos. These lush details illustrate the energy and enthusiasm with which Rex and Bettie George pursued their life adventure.
From courtship to camp-following, WW II to post-war occupied Okinawa, the Cold War to the Korean War, the Pentagon to Germany, retirement and more travel, aging and Alzheimer’s, the path was not always smooth.
Along the way their marriage was tested by the death of a child, a murder, a family suicide, a betrayal of trust and several personal and family health crises.
Rex and Bettie chose to approach adversity as their life challenge. They would learn what they could from it and move on.Their story is told through letters and postcards, v-mails and emails, flight logs and travelogues, expense ledgers and tax returns, taped interviews and home movies narration, performance reviews and newspaper articles and is accompanied by photos and illustrations.
You may have read the title in the celebratory posts from the Military Writers’ Society of America, announcing “Still Having Fun…” as the 2013 Gold Medal winner for the biography category. A direct link is provided below for purchase on Amazon.
Naturally, our interest on Military Success Network turns to transition and how the process of its writing may have impacted a military family.
The book’s engaging tale sheds an insightful light on the now, adult children of this military marriage and its member’s commitment to an energetic and positive life.
Candace George Thompson generously took time from her Executive Coaching practice and seminar schedule to speak with Military Success Network. Our conversation occurred in the weeks prior to her Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) award, from her home base of Chicago.
The very first moments of our exchange concerned our personal preferences around our first names. I took it as symbolic of the significance of identity to two writers accustomed to a highly mobile early life. I’ll continue with her indulgence, to respectfully refer to our guest author by her first name of Candace.
She was born in Kentucky, as were both her parents. Like most service families, hers moved frequently. By the time she started 10th grade, she had changed schools 13 times. “I am told that before I was 3 years old, I had lived in 6 states and 2 countries,” said Candace.
Relocations of the family continued and would become the stuff of their exceptional life story elongated over World War II, the Korean War and postings all over the USA and also in Okinawa.
“After college graduation with a B.A. in Spanish Lit from Antioch College, I served in Venezuela as a Peace Corps volunteer. My rootless way of life continued upon my return – Vermont, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and New Jersey.”
She left Portland, Oregon in 1976 to follow true love and moved to NJ to get married and work in Newark. Later, she earned an M.S. in Organization Effectiveness from Loyola University in Chicago.
Candace has resided in Chicago with her husband for about 30 years. “I’m happy to have finally found a home. I just never looked back,” said Candace as she reflected on her travels and then finally settling down, feeling grounded, amidst high rises.
I imagined that her family life added greatly to her resilience.
“Our parents consciously tried to expose their children to a broader life. We never lived on base. They were very proactive about the local community in which we lived, the school and in finding non-military friends, too.”
This led to many stops when they travelled cross country. “Perhaps it’s not typical of base brats.”
As Bettie and Rex aged on the west coast, that strength from her family foundation was called on. They were all granted the gift of time…enough time to come together as a family during the years of their parent’s sickness and decline.
The visits that required Candace and her younger siblings, Jennifer Dee and Christopher to fly in from across the United States allowed a kind of reconstructing of her own life. Candace said she learned new things. She collaborated with her siblings who had more time with their parents. They compared their experiences and memories – so different now in the telling of them out loud, as adults.
“I know I inherited my mother’s love of rhyming and singing, and, like her, I pop out of bed in the morning, eagerly anticipating the new day. She taught me to treat all people with respect and kindness, and I hope I’m living up to her standards.”
Recollecting her father, fondly, Candace says, “He ingrained in me the value of self-sufficiency. I can’t say that I even come close to having all the life-skills that he developed, but I can thank him for insisting I learn to type, drive, and cook.
Still, with all this fun and inspiration to share, Candace had no intention of writing a book—“Until after my parents died and I was re-reading my mother’s letters from Okinawa. She had mentioned to me that she wanted to publish them one day.
When I was cleaning out my parents’ house, I discovered a one-page outline written on a sheet of lined yellow paper in one of her desk drawers. I decided I would take on my mother’s project. The little project kept growing, expanding back to my parents’ courtship and my father’s Army Air Corps days.
It crept forward in time as I delved into documents and records, navigator logs and travelogues, performance evaluations, weight charts, emails, tax returns and household expense ledgers. My parents, it turned out, led well-documented lives.
At some point I decided I wanted to share their love story with people beyond immediate family, hoping it would entertain, educate and inspire them to live life to the fullest. I’ve been very gratified by the feedback from readers of all ages and backgrounds. They all tell me they’ve fallen in love with Bettie and Rex, so I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Candace may have delved into all the bits that documented their love story, adventures and vital connections but she experienced more, unexpectedly.
She encourages families to save and share their memories, actively and now, before it’s too late.
The process enriched her life.
“In the context of my parent’s marriage in World War II, I learned more about myself and where I had been.
I also learned to appreciate the value of capturing and saving memories.”
In a recent talk radio interview, Candace told listeners “Just by being in the military, you are all leading adventurous lives. Involve your children in documenting it.”
Once it was clear a book was to be one way her parents’ lives and rituals for coping with military life would be immortalized, she hoped to also entertain and educate readers. The beautiful book and its story is about family relationships and a life of love and loyalty that unfolded before all the communications that are possible now to sustain a military family over the years of duty and deployment.
To support her own transitions and understanding, Candace reads other military themed writers, many in the writers’ groups she belongs to. Her essay on her father “Devotion,” is published in the Military Writers Society of America’s themed anthology titled, Silent Battlefields and more recently Voices.
And now, to a favorite tune of Bettie George the family came to love by singer,Vera Lynn, herself an icon of WWII resilience: