Temporary quarters

When people think of the sacrifices made by the men and women in our armed forces, they tend to think in terms of deployment, combat and the strong likelihood of getting one’s arse shot off.

But there’s another forfeit that goes unnoticed — home ownership. While the military defends the nation’s homes and hearths, the citizens in uniform often must put their own American dreams on hold.

The old man (back row, right) in one of his earliest temporary billets, in New Guinea during World War II.

The old man (back row, right) in one of his earliest temporary billets, in New Guinea during World War II.

I don’t recall knowing any homeowners as a kid. We lived in Maryland, Virginia, Canada and Texas when I was a punk, and the old man either rented or arranged for quarters on base.

Sure, it’s possible to own a home while in the service, and we didn’t move around nearly as much as some folks did, but renting is still easier, even for officers. If you suddenly find yourself transferred from Ottawa to, say, Randolph AFB outside San Antonio, well, you have a house to sell. And in another country, too.

This shit rolls downhill to the dependents. When we lived in Ottawa I wanted a tree house. Nope, said the old man. That’s not our tree.

Between rental houses we got to experience the joys of Visiting Officers Quarters (VOQ), which were the early prototypes for what would become the Motel 6 chain. At least one unhappy customer said in 2008 that it was an open question whether the VOQ at Fort Drum were “preferable to field conditions.” I recall a few that were more KOA than VOQ, for sure.

But all things come to he who waits, and in 1967, when we were transferred from Randolph to Bibleburg, Col. Harold Joseph O’Grady finally got to buy his house (after 25 years of service and one final, astoundingly long run of stays in VOQ, BOQ and actual shitbox motels on Knob Hill, which was seedy even then).

He got to enjoy it for all of 13 years, and after that he took up permanent quarters at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

So here’s to all the troops waiting patiently for their slice of American pie. Try to save ’em some.



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17 Responses to “Temporary quarters”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    A tip of the hat to Col. H. J. O’Grady, along with Ralph and Roy Bonati, my uncles.

    What was your father doing in Ottawa? Or do you have to shoot me if you tell me?

    So you stayed at Fort Drum? Gawd, that is one cold, isolated shitbox of a place. I rode my motorcycle from Rochester to nearby Governeur, NY one year for field camp in May and arrived so cold the other students said I was more incoherent than usual.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      K, he was easing into flying a desk — it was some personnel gig he was doing up there. Still got his actual flying time in, though. I recall many a day when the flight suit was absent from the hall closet.

      Never did Fort Drum; that quote I pulled from the Innertubez. But I remember VOQ/BOQ from Randolph and Ent AFBs very well. “Temporary quarters” from WWII that were still in service 20 years and more later.

      Shit, some of the Ent buildings may still be standing, but as part of the Olympic Training Center.

      Tell you what, though. If you have to do time in military housing, there are worse places than officers’ country on Randolph. One day I’d like to go back there, see if the place at 100 Main Circle is anything like I remember it. I recall stucco exterior and tile roof, with a living room, dining room with butler’s pantry, kitchen, maid’s room and a screened-in porch on the main floor. Upper level was master bedroom and bath, with two smaller bedrooms separated by a second bath.

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    A little seller’s remorse perhaps? It must be very hard to let go of a place like that in the old neighborhood. Damn Wall Street speculators sure fucked up the American dream, didn’t they? Just another market to skim the cream off of. And not a single one of the sumbitches warming up a jail bunk tonight. And don’t get me started on realtors. Guess I need to send a few bucks to Bernie.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Maybe a little, Pat. I miss the place we had outside Weirdcliffe, and I’ll miss Chez Dog, too, if the deal goes down. We didn’t have the buyers’ signatures on the inspection-resolution document by bedtime last night, and I was wondering whether we were out of contract when I arose, but nope. We’re still in business.

      And yeah, plenty of them Wall Street sumbitches should be doing fast laps around the yard, and not at tennis prison, either.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        We have lived in this little place for 26 years. It is nothing special to anyone but us. Bought it when we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But, when I am in Waukegan, IL, I always drive down Palmer Place where I grew up, or got bigger anyway. It was a real Norman Rockwell type gig. Sweet. Thank you for reminding us of another sacrifice those in service make, along with their children like you.
        Well, time to get ready for a Brown Canyon ride.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I’ve had a hard time parting with any place I’ve spent considerable time inhabiting. Seems hard to say goodbye.

        It was especially tough when my aunt Donna sold the Bonati house in Rochester, NY and when my first father in law sold the house in Horseheads, NY. Both places were familiar haunts.

        Ralph had a fairly easy billet in WW II. He was an aide to Gen. Raymond Wheeler in India and SE Asia. Don’t think he ever dodged a bullet. He was in the Army Corps of Engineers before the war and returned to that afterwards, working on the Mt. Morris Dam until he hung up his uniform for the last time and got a gig with the IRS, first in Buffalo and then in Rochester, where he spent the rest of his life.

        Roy dodged quite a few bullets as part of a railway reconstruction battalion slogging along with Patton’s 3rd Army. At my mom’s wake, we got him drunk enough that he pulled out his war photo album. He got a job working on rockets down in Alamagordo after the war and eventually returned to Buffalo and got a gig as an electrician and occasional traveling fair huckster. He passed a couple years ago in a VA hospital.

        John, my first wife’s dad, landed as a medic on D+3 in Normandy. He never talked about it until one day when my brother in law Jack and I presented some venison. The meat had some hairs in it and John had a flashback. John used the GI bill to get an architectual engineering degree and went around building schools in Western NY during the baby boom. John passed when I was in Hawaii, after multiple strokes.

        Life is easy compared to dodging rounds issued by 88’s and Mitsubishi Zeros. Who am I to complain about anything?

      • khal spencer Says:

        Oaf…obviously John didn’t sell the Horseheads house. He was dead. His kids finally sold it after both parents checked out.

        Drink coffee first, then babble on blog….

  3. Steve O Says:


    When you and I were kids, at least the housing market was fairly stable

    The problem has gotten 1000 times worse since then

    When the real estate market was fairly robust, do you D decided to stop spending on housing in through a housing allowance at everybody

    Basically forced guys to buy a house that they knew they would only live in for two or three years

    Some years this was a good thing, when it was a gimme that somebody would buy it off you

    But in the last dozen or so, thousands and thousands of troops were stuck with a home they couldn’t unload, and PCS orders telling them to get their ass out of there anyway

    The financial burden is obvious. But maybe even worse is the predicament with their families: the servicemember being forced to move on to the next assignment while the family stays behind waiting for the house to sell

    It’s one of those problems that just isn’t sexy enough to warrant a fundraiser. The NFL ain’t going to play next weekend’s games with huge “support military housing” banners

    It’s also kind of hard to explain the civilians, who are in the same boat themselves, except for the part about Uncle Sugar demanding that you change jobs on a certain date

    The army was very, very good to me, overall. At the end of the day, I have to admit that I got more out of it than I put in. And yet, because of the impact on families, I have a hard time recommending that path to anyone else.

    • Steve O Says:


      When the real estate market was fairly robust, DOD decided to stop spending on military housing and instead threw a housing allowance at everybody

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Damn Siri! Anyway, you are right Steve. Lots of soldiers from Ft. Huachuca, along with Border Patrol agents, got stuck with underwater houses. Our neighbors on either side got stuck. One stayed, but the other is forced to rent to anyone with the cash. The place is slowly going bad; repairs just not being done unless absolutely necessary. Arizona really got churned during that housing bubble. Our 1415 sq. ft. joint was worth $195K at the height of the boom; now it would bring about $130K.

  4. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    I’ve written this before, but you brought it up so – the entire concept of home ownership is a fraud. Stop paying your property taxes and see how long you “own” your home, mortgage or not. I read somewhere the entire idea was cooked up by guys like Henry Ford. The problem was their factory workers, once the rent was paid, there was a chicken in the pot and plenty of booze, would simply stop coming to work. They’d return when money ran low, but Ford and Co needed a way to get ’em to show up every day, rain or shine. Tying them down with a mortgage and “ownership” proved to be the key. If they got behind on rent they’d just get tossed out and find another rental shack, but home “ownership” created that obligation and feeling of loss of “investment” if mortgage payments were missed and you were foreclosed on. The result was a much more reliable and docile workforce for Ford. And of course plenty of industry was created to tap into the “home ownership” myth – insurance, mortgage brokers, home improvement stores and all the rest of the materialistic “keeping up with the Joneses” baloney. I’m keeping close tabs on all the expenses during the time we “own” (it was buy or move and I HATE moving!) our shack in order to really rebut the old “Renting? That’s just throwing your money away!” trope.

    • psobrien Says:

      I bet you will find that you probably will break even when comparing renting versus buying. That is assuming you have kept your house for the last 15 or 20 years, and you did normal maintenance or upgrades that increases value like adding square feet.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        Everybody says the same thing, especially the old “I bought the shack for X and sold it for Y, therefore I made money instead of throwing it away on rent!” but only time will tell. With any luck we won’t be living in this joint for even 10 years, but I’m keeping every receipt for every penny we spend vs what we’d spend renting a similar shack so I can figure it all out once the place is sold and we’re moving to Italy.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Despite having “owned” five homes, and still “owning” three (soon to be two, I hope), I am a renter at heart.

      We didn’t get around to hanging much in the way of art here at El Rancho Pendejo until the in-laws descended upon us this month, and I never make significant changes in a place, unless you count replacing the gravel driveway in Bibleburg with concrete, or adding a Tuff Shed for bike storage at the place outside Weirdcliffe.

      There are plenty of neo-renters out there these days, folks who lost their homes when the bubble burst. The NYT had an interesting read earlier this year on how the desire for property persists despite changing financial circumstances and demographics, perhaps because rents are rising.

      A nice van down by the river. With a bike carrier, of course. That’s all I ask.

  5. Libby Says:

    A great post to highlight an often unknown, under-appreciated sacrifice by those in the military and their families. The replies are always interesting and these replies particularly.
    Growing up the house next door was rented by an officer and his family. There was little rental property, let alone a house, to be had in a small town. A health situation sent the owners 2,000+ miles away and they lucked out by finding this wonderful family to rent the house. The house had a huge backyard and was across the street from a church (their denomination) and a school 100′ away that 2 of the children attended. The five kids 4-16yrs shared 2 bedrooms. It was sad when they moved away – I was friends with the kid who was in my grade. My sisters were friends with them, too. One of the daughters babysat us every once in awhile. Years later, my former friend, all grown-up, stopped by my parents house. The family had ended up in Georgia and he made a special visit to his old neighborhood. He had good memories of his time in a small town in NY. Thanks for reminding me, Patrick, of this lovely family and my long ago friend.

  6. Jay Guerin Says:

    My father was also in New Guinea during WW II. In modern language he was a M*A*S*H commander. Back then it was called a Portable Surgical Hospital.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I wonder if our dads ever stumbled across each other. He never talked much about his war years, and what documents were around vanished when Alzheimer’s got Mom. Lots of blank pages in our family history.

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