DVIDS – News – Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) US High School alumni hold reunion in Leavenworth
Affectionately calling themselves “Army Brats” with exclusive memorabilia from France, approximately 30 alumni of the American High School in Rochefort (France) visited Fort Leavenworth on September 16 during their 2022 three-day high school reunion in Leavenworth.
Rochefort AHS Alumni Association Vice President Ginny Perez Torchia, reunion facilitator, and her sister, Madeline Perez Webb, were stationed at Fort Leavenworth as children with their father, Captain Jose Mr. Perez, before living in Europe. The sisters volunteered to house their former classmates following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rochefort AHS was opened from 1953 to 1958 in Rochefort Sur Mer, France. Alumni estimate that no more than about 300 students attended the school during its brief existence.
“Rochefort was a small school. There were only two schools (Ministry of Defence) in France – one in Paris and one in Rochefort. A good number of us were dorm kids – my dad was stationed in Bordeaux but there was no school there so we all got on board. We lived in army barracks.
Torchia said that when the school first opened, students had no textbooks and classes were randomized based on regional history.
“We were there in the 1950s. The French didn’t like the Americans very much. (For example,) on May 1, those of us who lived in the dorms were not allowed to go home because there would be riots, parades and a lot of hostility,” Torchia said. “It was the kind of atmosphere we lived in.
“Our facility where we lived was the dorm and the school, and we were all fenced off. We had an army guard, … and then the installation was around that, then another fence, then a gate (replicating the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile). We were really protected and isolated.
Torchia said the students were in school Monday through Friday and returned home to their parents every weekend. She said that although her classmates remembered the anti-American sentiments in the town around the school, that didn’t dampen their interest in exploring the country.
“We loved it. The culture shock is huge,” said Rochefort AHS alumnus Dudley Pippin. was able to meet not only French soldiers but also German soldiers who had French wives who were still there, and it was very interesting to talk to them. We were able to meet them, I met the French underground. … Every day was an exciting thing that happened, I even wrote a book about being an army kid.
Torchia remembers moving regularly but transferring from high schools in a state of shock, especially when he arrived in Rochefort at 16.
“When we first moved to Europe, my dad was stationed in Germany, and I went to high school in Frankfurt for a year and a half, then he moved to France, and I thought they had dropped me off at the end of the world,” Torchia said. “My dad said, ‘Get in the car, I’ll take you to school,’ and the next day we’re driving and (then)… I walk in and there’s army barracks and beds of camp in the central hall,… a big army footlocker and I thought ‘Where the hell am I, what’s going on?’
Torchia and her best friend, Shirley Rich, fondly recall their meeting and bonding to Torchia’s dismay. They joke that Rich saved Torchia from the end of the world, acknowledging her perspective as an Army teenager.
Torchia and other classmates said they felt the Army’s interest in making their experience enjoyable, including hosting a ball in Chatelaillon, France.
“You’ve never really lived until you get in an army truck in heels and a formal and you’re taken somewhere by bus for a dance,” Torchia said.
Torchia said the culture shock was a two-way street, as some of them encountered difficulties returning to the United States.
For example, Rochefort AHS was an integrated school in the 1950s, when schools in the United States were still segregated. Torchia said she remembered showing a photo of her class to a friend back home, who warned against bringing the photo home – a notion she quickly ignored for the value of diversity.
The reunion, she said, offers her classmates the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company again with memories they consider unique.
“We come from all over; it’s our way of finding ourselves. We don’t have a hometown, we don’t have a school, so that’s how we behave to reunite and maintain these friendships over the years, which are so unique,” Torchia said.
She said she was thrilled to welcome her classmates to a place she calls home.
“As far as Fort Leavenworth ties go, my sister and I consider it the only place we could truly call home,” Torchia wrote in an email. “Our father, Captain Jose M. Perez, was with the Allied Officer Section from approximately 1948 to 1952 and then again from 1956 to 1957. Being bilingual was an advantage working with the students of the Command and State College- major who came from the South. America and Spain, so his tour was always extended. We lived at 315-2 Pope Avenue. The second time we lived in what was called Old Normandy.
During the reunion, Torchia and her sister visited her father’s grave at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Torchia and the Alumni Association are still looking for classmates online and said the association tries to hold a reunion on a voluntary basis every two years. The next meeting will be in 2024 in Huntsville, Ala.
|Date posted:||29.09.2022 15:44|
|Location:||FORT LEAVENWORTH, KS, USA|
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