Fran Brown, 49, sits sentry with her service dog Lucky, a cheerful Husky/Akita mix that doesn’t know they are homeless.
Born in Oklahoma, raised beginning at the age of nine, by her full blooded Cherokee grandmother on the reservation, she endured the taunting by American Indian schoolmates who said she wasn’t native enough, and by European American classmates who said she was too native.
The words hurt, but not as much as the physical, sexual and mental abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father and older siblings before moving in with her grandmother. Because of previous marriages, her family consisted of four older brothers, four older sisters and four younger brothers.
Brown had a plan. Her father was a retired Navy corpsman. Her uncle and two aunts were also in the military. As soon as she was 18, Fran joined the U.S. Marine Corps. For the next 18 years, Brown said proudly, she “kept those boys flying,” as an aviation mechanic attached to an air wing. For five years she suffered through the humidity at Parris Island. Finally moving on from there, she relishes memories of the time she was assigned to the USS Constellation before the ship’s decommissioning, then the USS Nimitz.
Women were not always welcomed by fellow Marines, and Brown took her share of abuse. But she stayed with it, until an on-the-job accident forced her to retire with an honorable medical discharge, get two pins in her knees and deal with pent up PTSD issues. When she left in 2004, she was stationed at Camp Pendleton, so she remained on the west coast, alternately staying on the street, in cheap motels and single room occupancy hotels. On the first of the month when she receives her disability check, she and Lucky go indoors to sleep on a real bed (and real carpet), use a private shower and private bathroom. When the money runs out, she’s back on her swivel chair, sitting sentry at a church parking lot dictating who can and can’t park there. In return, she gets gift cards that allow her to buy quality dog food.
“Lucky eats better than I do,” she said proudly, shaking a Pringles can for the last potato chip. “When I got him you could see his ribs, he was so skinny. He’s gained 16 pounds since I got him. He’s a bouncy puppy now.”
With her service dog by her side, Brown sleeps on the thin blankets that fit into the military backpack she still uses. She’s gained some weight since her military days, but doesn’t really have the luxury of only low-fat, sugar-free healthy meals, since when she eats is dictated by which generous church is offering a meal for the homeless on any given morning or evening.
But she doesn’t complain. Brown proudly sports a tattoo relating to her Native American heritage, and another for her military service. She hopes this year at Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, she’ll be able to file paperwork to replace the DD214 and other necessary military documents that will help her get health care, and maybe on a housing list.