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Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett

(Installment 5 of 14)

Collected and arranged by

Amy Uptgraft

Edited by

Audra Edwards

“About a year into our time in Puerto Rico, Ralph was assigned to Colombia, South America to establish a Ranger School for the Colombian Army. At that time, he was the only Ranger-qualified person in the Caribbean Command. After World War II, the Rangers had been deactivated. The Korean War had brought home the fact that Ranger Training was needed again, so Ralph had been part of the creation of the Ranger Department at Ft. Benning when we first married. Of course, Ralph was excited to be selected for this assignment. He did not speak a word of Spanish but was assured that he could learn on the job.

The Army gave little or no thought to the families during that time period. There was no option for me to stay in any quarters while he was away. We had to figure that out ourselves. I defaulted to going home to my parents.

I was home for about three months when Ralph called me and said that things were moving very slowly. He was still in Bogota, and it appeared that he would be there a few months more. He was missing us and suggested that I bring the baby and join him in Bogota. I agreed that we needed to be together. Ralph subleased a furnished apartment from a Dutch couple in a very modern high-rise apartment complex.

Arriving in a foreign country was yet another new adventure for me. Bogota was far more European in feel than Puerto Rico had been. I walked Jeannie in a stroller in a small, beautiful park every afternoon, and I had noticed a very beautiful young woman who often rode the elevator at the same time as me. After a few weeks, she asked if my husband and I would like to join her and her husband for an American movie some evening in their apartment. I agreed to a late Sunday movie, after putting baby Jeannie down for the evening. Ralph agreed, since they lived one floor above us, that he could run downstairs to check on Jeannie often to make sure she was still asleep.

When we arrived at their apartment, we were a little stunned to find a built-in bar the entire length of the living room and, under a glass top, magazine covers of the woman. She was obviously a top model and had graced the cover of Life and several other well-known magazines. The man was dressed in a dinner jacket with satin lapels and an ascot. The woman was dressed in a plunging, low-cut dress. I was wearing corduroy pedal pushers—which were very popular at the time—along with bobby socks and loafers. I cannot remember exactly what Ralph was wearing, but I am sure it was his normal lounging clothes.

As soon as they had offered us drinks, (which we gracefully refused), they started the movie. Immediately, the woman sat at Ralph’s feet and put her elbow on his knees. The man seated himself beside me and placed his arm on the sofa behind me. Ralph and I exchanged glances, and I think we both simultaneously realized that we were in the company of some very “sophisticated” people and were in way over our heads! Almost immediately, Ralph jumped up and said that he needed to check on the baby. After he had been gone a few minutes, I stood up and said I needed to join Ralph. It was not a very “sophisticated” exit, but then we were clearly not in their league! We never spoke to them again. My education was being expanded daily.”

Reflections from Amy:

There are times in this military life when you are reminded that you are not in Kansas anymore. Places that you have only seen on National Geographic documentaries are now in your backyard. Unknown languages surround you. Local customs leave you baffled or feeling ignorant. “Neighborly encounters” like Jeannie and Ralph experienced make you blush in the moment but keep you laughing decades later. This military life can be the ultimate Adventurers’ Club. While the initiation fee can be high, the membership is good for a lifetime. 

Are you an active duty or veteran milspouse interested in being a guest writer for VSP? Get in touch with your details and topic interests on our contact page!

Tags :
Army,Bogata,Columbia,Jeannie Puckett,Military Family,Military Life,Military Spouse,Milspouse,Puerto Rico,Ralph Puckett
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