It’s been said that when you join the military, you become government property: they own you. My husband was told that if he got a bad-enough sunburn, he could be court-martialed for destroying government property. There were lots of other things I thought were silly, but as a military dependent, I wasn’t important enough for anything. My role was to make sure that things were right for my husband, back him up, keep my mouth shut, and behave myself by following the rules no matter what I thought of them.
There were a lot of rules that we were expected to obey. He wasn’t allowed to wear his camouflage uniform (cammies, as they were known) in town unless he was in his car. We had to make sure he kept the car filled up, so he wouldn’t run into the problem of having to get gas and not be able to get out of the car to get it because he was in his cammies either on his way to or from work. We had to get out and pump our gas in North Carolina, and that included me. I was glad when we came back to New Jersey, and I didn’t have to pump my gas anymore since it is against the law here. He had to be in civilian clothes to be able to be outside the car in town.
While in uniform, there was no kissing or other public displays of affection allowed, including holding hands. There was even a rule against adultery in some places.
The soldiers were not allowed to put their hands in their pockets, despite having plenty of them. One of the reasons for that was to keep their right hands free for saluting their officers. No wonder, so many of them ended up standing at parade rest. They had no idea what to do with their hands. You could tell a military man by how he stood with his hands behind his back and his feet about ten inches apart.
They had to watch their language. No indecent language was allowed.
Haircuts were expected once a week, two weeks tops. Heaven forbid your hair got too long. Andy kept his short anyhow, as he had naturally curly hair, and the longer it was, it started to curl up.
While walking, they couldn’t eat, drink, or talk on their cell phone. There were no cell phones back when Andy was in the military, but that was a new rule when they became commonly used by just about everyone. When out with someone, they had to walk on the right side, so their right arm was free to salute. There was no walking on the grass unless they were training or mowing the lawn.
One rule that affected me was that his cammies had to be properly ironed every day. We couldn’t afford to take them to the cleaners to have them done, so I washed, starched, and ironed them all the time. This is not my ideal job, but as his wife, it was my duty to see that he was properly dressed. Ironing cammies is not easy.
Now, these were just some of the rules. There were many others, and some of them were downright stupid, but those were the ones that I could relate to at that point. We found a lot of them out by accidentally breaking them.
Andrew, known as Andy to most, had originally wanted to join the military and be on a submarine, just like his brother. It had been a dream of his, and this dream was destroyed when they found out we were planning on getting married and soon. We had already booked everything and mailed the invitations.
“You can enlist with us if you postpone your wedding. We need you now, and it’s not negotiable,” the recruiter told us. They could care less if our invitations were already being replied to, and the wedding gifts were starting to arrive.
I knew this was a dream of Andy’s, and I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know what he would say or do either. I waited with bated breath and looked first at him and then the recruiter, before sliding my eyes back to Andy.
“We can’t stop the wedding now. We are too far along. The gifts are already coming in. I will have to pass if you can’t make an exception for us.” Andy was calm and polite, but he was determined to keep our wedding date, and for that, I was eternally grateful to him. I knew how hard it was for him to give up that dream of being on a submarine just like his older brother.
We got married as planned on July 10, 1976. We were only nineteen years old at the time. It was a medium-sized wedding with a reception right there in the church. We had cake and ice cream, along with chips, pretzels, and punch. We had no choice as my parents could only afford five hundred dollars, and I had to plan and hold the wedding and reception on that budget. We had nothing saved to add to it.
My wedding gown was a simple long white dress, bought two sizes too small so that I would have to lose the extra weight I had gained (which I did). My maid of honor, my sister Debbie, and the bridesmaids, Kathy Bradley, and Gail Anderson, had dresses that came off the clearance rack for twelve dollars each. No changes needed to be made to any of their dresses. I couldn’t believe my luck since the cost of my sister’s dress had to come out of my small budget as well.
The ceremony was held in the Lutheran church in Wenonah, New Jersey, and my biggest problem with having it there was that they didn’t have pews, only metal chairs. To me, that wasn’t a church. I couldn’t change churches as my favorite pastor was there, and I wanted him to perform the ceremony.
I was now Mrs. Andrew Smeigh. No one can pronounce or spell it. I should have kept my maiden name of Dean. It wasn’t as common back then for the wife to keep her maiden name, and I am old-fashioned anyway and would have taken my husband’s name no matter what it was. Just like I would follow him anywhere, and not too long after that I followed him to North Carolina when another recruiter from a different branch called and said he could enlist with them even though he was already married.
My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I drove down to South Carolina for the graduation from boot camp. I had lost a lot of weight, but he had too, plus he was bald due to having to shave his head for boot camp. I didn’t recognize him at first. I know he was surprised when he saw me as well because I looked good. While he was gone, I’d had no money except for what my part-time job paid me because the military messed up my allotment, and I didn’t get it for the thirteen weeks he was gone. Not much food and exercising by running around the long block had made me drop all the weight I had gained after we got married.
After he had graduated from the thirteen-week boot camp with a meritorious promotion to Private First Class, we went home directly from the graduation and packed all our belongings into boxes, and we were ready to load the car for our trip to North Carolina for his training. All the boxes I had packed did not fit in the car, and finally, in exasperation, Andy ripped them open and just dumped all the contents into the trunk and back seat, and we left behind what didn’t fit. We had a long car trip from New Jersey to North Carolina, and we needed to get started. He had been given ten days of leave till he needed to be at his duty station for training, plus one day for traveling.
After a very long drive, we arrived late that night at the building on the base where Andy was supposed to report for training. Since we were already married when he enlisted, it never crossed our minds that they would have a problem with him bringing me along after boot camp.
It was dark, and we were later than we should have been, but we’d had no idea where we were going. Finally getting out of the car at the designated building, he went first and stood at attention. I slumped in behind him.
Looking at the faces of those soldiers was not a pleasant experience. Not only were we late, but he’d also arrived with someone they were not expecting.
“Who is that?” one of the men asked, and we could see that none of them were amused.
“My wife, sir!” I wished I could disappear at this point.
“What did you plan to do with her?”
“Sir, we have money saved, since they never started the allotment to her during boot camp, so we were going to get a place to live in town.”
They talked among themselves. The recruiter knew we were married, and we had expected rejection since his first choice had already turned him down. But the recruiter said it was not a problem, so Andy had signed up and gone to boot camp. These guys were uninformed of the fact that he was married and it seemed that they had not been in this position before. They went back to the conversation about what to do about me.
I don’t know how Andy felt, but I wanted to cry. I was tired because of all the packing and repacking. Add in the long trip and being in a place I didn’t know, and the only person I knew was my husband. We waited with bated breath.
They finally made a decision. There were specific rules since Andy wouldn’t be living in the barracks like the other recruits, but we could live with them. I had to drive him onto the base to the barracks very early every morning, and then pick him up every night once training was over for the day. He was required to take his turn doing guard duty at the barracks, called Fire Watch, and on those nights, he had to stay overnight. On the days they had a field day, which was a deep cleaning of the whole barracks, he had to participate in that as well.
We found a mobile home park just a short way off the base. It was called Yopps Mobile Home Park in Sneads Ferry, NC, and every day I drove him to the barracks and back home. It wasn’t far at all. I kept myself occupied driving the other wives around during the day shopping, doctor appointments, etc. That was until the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child.