On a winter afternoon in December 2009 a 63-year old man sat reading in his favorite chair. A warm fire was burning in the freestanding fireplace in his living room. He was reading Mary Edwards Wertsch’s book, “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress.” If you looked closely you would have seen tears beginning to slip from his eyes. He was reading the Introduction, written by Pat Conroy, and it got to him again that day as it had so many others. Pat Conroy’s introduction was his story also – that of a childhood as a military brat.
This day the passages did not evoke the shaking as they had done so often in the past. He didn’t set down the book, and walk away. This day he just sat there, alone, crying – overwhelmed by the sadness. Then he came to the paragraph; “In this parade (of Brats), these men (our fathers) would understand the nature and the value of their children’s sacrifice for the first time. Our fathers would stand at rigid attention. Then they would begin to salute us, one by one, and in that salute, that one sign of recognition, of acknowledgement, they would thank us for the first time. They would be thanking their own children for their fortitude and courage and generosity and long suffering, for enduring a military childhood.” And on this day, he got mad.
“Why hasn’t anyone recognized these kids,” he thought. “It’s too late for me, but not for these kids who continue to serve. Then he wondered, “Why doesn’t the Congress recognize these kids, for their continuing sacrifices to our nation – they don’t ever hesitate to stack them up like cord wood behind them for their own personal political gain when it suits them!” And herein is the origin of the “BratPin.”
Taking up his computer he wrote a quick email to his US Representative, explaining his idea. Five hours later he received a call from one of the representative’s “horse-holders” (aides), asking for more information about his idea. And that conversation was the beginning of the legislation that was introduced to the Congress (HR 1014: Children of Military Service Members Commemorative Lapel Pin Act) in March of 2010. In one form or another, that legislation sat in committee for over 3 1/2 years when this man attended a Dining In in Texas.
The guest speaker that evening, a 3-star Air Force General, told of the day “the blue car” came to his house, to tell them that their father had just been shot down over North Vietnam. He went on to say he was only 7 years old. As he continued on with the story, no one noticed the tears once again, quietly streaming down this man’s face. It’s not “appropriate” to cry in the presence of POWs and Fighter Pilots… And that evening, as he sat there, alone with his feelings of hurt and pain, he resolved he was going to do something about this. These kids, our Military Brats, deserve recognition and to be honored for their service to our nation!
Upon returning home, he found a couple of guys who make video recording of Veterans under a grant from the University of Toledo. He approached them and asked if they would be willing to help him make a ‘You Tube’ video, promoting the legislation. They agreed.
During the filming the narrator asked, “Three and a half years, the legislation sitting in committee, don’t you think this is disrespectful to these kids?” And upon receiving an affirmative reply, he went on to ask, “Then, why don’t you do it yourself?” And that was all it took. The man knew what he was going to do; he knew what he had to do…
It took just 2 months to design a pin, using the dandelion – the Official Flower of the Military Child – bordered by a dog-tag chain. The dandelion symbolizing the child, the chain representing the serving service member, encompassing the child.
Using his own personal financial resources (by choice) he had these pins made and began selling them, primarily through Facebook. And from the very beginning he told people that proceeds would eventually be going to a ‘non-profit’ that supports military kids.
In the first year over $35,000 of BratPin products were sold. This was done without any corporate support or promotion; without an endorsement by a “famous Brat,” or without the backing of the US Congress…
Pat Conroy, in his introduction to Mary’s book, also noted:
– “We’d never stopped to recognize ourselves, out loud, for our understanding service to America,”
– “Our greatest tragedy is that we don’t know each other,” and
– “…that military brats, my lost tribe, spent their entire youth in service to this country and no one even knew we were there.”
These are the 3 statements that are the essence of the BratPin. Through this pin, this simple image, we will begin to discover each other. We will recognize, and honor ourselves, for our service to our country, and folks will come to know the Pride we took in that service. as Mary Edwards Wertsch stated in a email to this man, earlier the year, “The design selected is just perfect–both eloquent about our experience and elegantly understated, which makes its appeal wider.”