They describe themselves as a loose-knit group. There is no speaker and no agenda for the meetings, but the Society of Daughters of the United States Army (DUSA) has one commonality that binds them strongly together — they are the daughters or granddaughters of Army officers and have lived the life of a "brat."
The Society was founded at Fort Benning 80 years ago as a way to stay connected to other Army children and preserve the traditions and customs of the military. The organization that was initiated in January 1928 by 22 daughters and granddaughters gathered in a Fort Benning home grew to about 100 chapters around the world.
That has since dwindled to less than a dozen chapters with the Benning group comprised of about 24 members. June Leggett explains that so many women work now that it is difficult to attract active members. The daughters who have married into the military usually come and go, but some of those who have stayed in the Columbus area make up the core of the local DUSA.
During a recent gathering of 12 members , the discussion didn’t center on military life, but it colored the conversations.
The frequent move s required of the military family were remembered with fondness. “I loved every assignment,” recalled Sandy Casey. Nancy Smith added that it was fun to move from house to house since it provided the opportunity to frequently redecorate.
The women agreed that the mobile lifestyle makes the Army “brat” special. “They are adaptable,” said Lee Morris. Military children have a tendency to be outgoing and self-sufficient — traits they carry throughout their lives, she said.
“You cried every time you left a place,” Sally Lasseter recalled, “but then you fell in love with the new place once you got settled.”
Morris explained that in each new locale you were only new for a short while, then someone newer would arrive. The odds were you would run into old friends at your new assignment and friendships among brats have endured for decades.
An informal survey of the Fort Benning Chapter members show they have lived on every continent and many were born in foreign counties . . . something they believe has given them an understanding and tolerance for other cultures.
Discipline and civility are also traits shared by these Army children. The kids were well behaved for the most part fearing that the school would contact their father’s commander if they misbehaved. Even so, the pros of military life, the women agreed, outweighed the cons.
Several members said the protocol of military events was also special , a n d decried the casualness of military gatherings today. They remembered when a coffee meant bringing out the good china and silver and dressing up with white gloves. “It’s a bygone era,” Lasseter sighed.
DUSA isn’t just about remembering the past; it is also about impacting the future.
Members were ahead of their time when they created a nursery during World War II so that Army wives could work and support the war effort. This became the model for the Army-wide child care program. Over the years DUSA raised money and in the early ’60s built and opened Tot Town at Fort Benning. It was turned over to the Army about 10 years ago.
According to Lasseter, current DUSA president, funds required to be held for employee benefits were well invested and when DUSA got out of the child care business the organization had quite a nest egg. That allowed them to donate a quarter of a million dollars to the National Infantry Foundation for the Museum and Heritage Park. Members hope to be involved in the gift shop and docent program when the museum opens.
Noting the aging of the membership, local daughters began exploring development of a retirement community for military retirees. That did not prove financially feasible, but some of those now living at Spring Harbor like to think they helped spur the development of that community.
“The military brat digs deeper for her roots and when planted makes sure they stay watered,” Lasseter says. She urges daughters, stepdaughters or granddaughters of commissioned officers of the United States Army to rediscover their roots by joining the organization. She can be reached at 706-323-2831.