Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
1 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Rochefort (France) American High School alumni arrive at the Buffalo Solider Monument, their first stop on a bus tour of the installation, as part of their three-day reunion Sept. 16 at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. (Photo Credit: Charlotte Richter) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
2 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Rochefort (France) American High School alumni photograph the Buffalo Solider Monument, their first stop on a bus tour of the installation during their three-day 2022 reunion Sept. 16 at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. (Photo Credit: Charlotte Richter) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
3 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Alumni from Rochefort (France) American High School explore monuments in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area during their first stop on a bus tour of post Sept. 16. The Rochefort Alumni Association attempts to host a reunion on a volunteer basis every two years. (Photo Credit: Charlotte Richter) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
4 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Members of the Rochefort (France) American High School Class of 1956 pose for a photograph during their 1998 reunion in France. (Photo Credit: Russell Toof) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
5 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Rochefort (France) American High School alumni pose for a photograph during their 1998 reunion in France. Submitted photo (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
Army Brats Reunion: Rochefort (France) American High School alumni host reunion in Leavenworth
6 / 6 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 1950s Rochefort (France) American High School barracks. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Affectionately calling themselves “Army Brats” with exclusive memories from France, about 30 Rochefort (France) American High School alumni toured Fort Leavenworth Sept. 16 during their three-day 2022 high school reunion in Leavenworth.

Rochefort AHS Alumni Association Vice President Ginny Perez Torchia, reunion host, and her sister, Madeline Perez Webb, were stationed at Fort Leavenworth as children with their father, Capt Jose M. Perez, before living in Europe. The sisters volunteered to host their former classmates following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rochefort AHS was open from 1953-1958 in Rochefort Sur Mer, France. Alumni estimate no more than about 300 students attended the school during its brief existence.

“Rochefort was a small school. There were only two (Department of Defense) schools in France — one in Paris and one in Rochefort. Quite a few of us were dorm kids — my dad was stationed in Bordeaux but there was no school there, so we all boarded. We lived in Army barracks.”

Torchia said when the school first opened, students did not have textbooks, and lessons ran haphazardly based on regional history.

“It was during the 1950s that we were there. The French did not like the Americans very much. (For example,) on May Day, those of us that lived in the dorms were not allowed to go home because there would be riots and parades and lots of hostility,” Torchia said. “That was the kind of atmosphere that we lived in.

“Our installation where we lived was the dorm and the school, and we were all fenced in. We had an Army guard, … and then the installation was around that and then another fence and then a gate (replicating the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile). We were really protected and insulated.”

Torchia said students were in school Monday through Friday and would return home to their parents every weekend. She said although her classmates recall anti-American sentiments in the town around the school, it didn’t reduce their interest in exploring the country.

“We loved it. The culture shock is tremendous,” said Dudley Pippin, a Rochefort AHS alumnus. “The first year we went back and forth to the village that we stayed in every day. … We got to meet not only French soldiers but German soldiers who had French wives who were still there, and they were very interesting to talk with. We got to meet them, I got to meet the French underground. … Every day was an exciting thing that would happen. I even wrote a book on being an Army brat.”

Torchia recalls moving regularly but transferring high schools in a state of shock, especially upon her arrival at Rochefort at age 16.

“When we first moved to Europe, my dad was stationed in Germany, and I went to Frankfurt High School for a year and a half, and then he got transferred to France, and I thought they dropped me off at the end of the world,” Torchia said. “My dad said ‘Get in the car, I’m taking you to school,’ and the next day we’re driving and (then) … I walk in and there’s Army barracks and Army cots in central hall, … a big Army footlocker and I thought ‘Where in the hell am I, what is going on?’”

Torchia and her best friend, Shirley Rich, fondly remember meeting and bonding over Torchia’s dismay. They joke that Rich saved Torchia from the end of the world, acknowledging her perspective as a teenage Army brat.

Torchia and other classmates said that they felt the Army’s interest in making their experience enjoyable, including holding prom in Châtelaillon, France.

“You’ve never quite lived until you climb into an Army truck in heels and a formal and get bused somewhere to a dance,” Torchia said.

Torchia said the culture shock was present both ways, as some of them found challenges moving back to the United States.

For example, Rochefort AHS was an integrated school in the 1950s, while schools in the United States were still segregated. Torchia said she remembers showing a picture of her class to a friend from home, who warned against bringing the photo home — a notion she promptly ignored for the value of diversity.

The reunions she said, offer her classmates an opportunity to enjoy each other's company again with memories they consider one-of-a-kind.

“We come from all over; this is our way of getting together. We don’t have a hometown, we don’t have a school, so this is how we handle getting together and maintaining those friendships through the years, which are so unique,” Torchia said.

She said she was excited to host her classmates in a place she considers home.

“As far as ties to Fort Leavenworth, my sister and I consider it to be the only place we could really call home,” Torchia wrote in an e-mail. “Our father, Capt Jose M. Perez, was with the Allied Officers Section from about 1948 until 1952, and again from 1956 to 1957. Being bilingual was an advantage in working with the students at the Command and General Staff College who attended from South America and Spain, therefore his tour was always extended. We lived at 315-2 Pope Avenue. Our second time we lived in what was called Old Normandy.”

During the reunion, Torchia and her sister visited her father's grave in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.

Torchia and the Alumni Association still search for classmates online and said the association attempts to host a reunion on a volunteer basis every two years. The next reunion is in 2024 in Huntsville, Ala.