Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Didn't Linton Hall Help Poor Children Learn a Trade?

That was, after all, the condition under which the Benedictine Order was given 1,736 acres of land by Sister Mary Baptista, V.H.M.. (Note 1)

In 1893, Sister Mary Baptista gave the land subject to the condition that it be used for
"an industrial and training school for poor and friendless white boys and youths, ... [and] a school for training and education of poor and friendless white girls in habits of industry and virtue and in learning useful occupations suitable to their condition of life" (Note 2)

In this context, the term "friendless" means children who have no parents or other relatives taking care of them -- orphaned or neglected, in today's language. "Industrial," "training" and "useful occupations suitable to their condition of life," means that they were to be taught a trade, rather than an academic curriculum. The limitation to whites became unenforceable as a result of court cases and civil rights legislation.

Saint Joseph Institute was opened in 1894 and closed in 1922, as detailed in my previous blog post. Although a school for boys, it "was never a first-rate educational institution, and it was never really an industrial school at all." (Note 3)

Nor was the condition that poor children attend the schools met, at least not as a general practice. There was strong resistance to covering the costs of poor children by St. Joseph, which requested payment by the Diocese of Richmond for such children. (Note 4)

In 1894, the Benedictine Sisters opened Saint Edith, an academy for girls. In 1897 they opened Saint Anne, an industrial school for girls. (Note 5)

The girls' schools founded by the Benedictine Sisters were not built on the 1,736 acres of land from Sister Mary Baptista's bequest, but on the nearby 92.5 acre Kincheloe farm, which had been originally owned by the Linton Family and sold off, and which was then purchased by the Benedictine Sisters. As this land was not part of the Linton gift, the sisters were not bound by the conditions placed on the Linton bequest. (Note 6) However, it could be argued that, in spirit, the condition of building a girls' industrial school had been met. But the girls' schools in Bristow were closed when Linton Hall Military School was opened in 1922.

It is not known whether or not St. Anne requested diocesan support for girls' expenses, but in 1922, with Saint Joseph Institute continuing to insist that it would only accept orphans if the diocese paid their fees, Bishop O'Connell became concerned that the trust agreement was being violated, and the Benedictines risked losing the property. (Note 7) This matter came to a head with a court case in the Prince William County (Virginia) Circuit Court in February 1923. Although the Diocese of Richmond argued that because there was no industrial school, and the instruction was educational rather than industrial, and the monks declined to take "friendless" boys free of charge, the terms of the trust had been violated. St. Joseph Institute, on the other hand, argued that because no protest had been lodged within twenty years, it was too late to enforce the trust's provisions. The court ruled in favor of St, Joseph's position, and title to the land passed to the Benedictines free and clear, with Sister Mary Baptista's conditions no longer in place. Four years later, in 1927, the Belmont Abbey gave the 1,736 acres of land, together with buildings thereon (except for the library and its contents) and livestock to the Benedictine Sisters.

As a result, Sister Mary Baptista Linton's gift became property of the Benedictine Sisters, even though no industrial school for boys and youths was ever built, and the girls' industrial school, Saint Anne, was in existence from 1897 to 1922 -- a period of only twenty-five years. (Note 7) Most of this land was later sold off to developers by the Benedictine Sisters, and the extensive land on which Linton Hall Military School alumni went camping and hiking is no longer owned by Linton Hall School.

I do not know how the proceeds of the land sale were used, or whether they were used in line with Sister Mary Baptista's wishes. I believe that although there was no legal obligation to do so, a moral obligation existed.

1. Johnston, Helen, The Fruit of His Works. Bristow, Va.: Linton Hall Press, 1954, pp. 37-40. There was a Sister Helen whom I met while a cadet at Linton Hall Military School, but I never knew her last name, so I don't know whether she was the author.
2. Baumstein, Dom Paschal, O.S.B., My Lord of Belmont: A Biography of Leo Haid. Belmont, N.C.: Herald House, 1985, p. 138, quoting Archives of the Abbey of Maryhelp, Deed from Phillips to Trustees, January, 1893. Baumstein's meticulously researched book, although dealing primarily with Belmont Abbey and Abbot Haid, devotes one chapter to the Linton legacy.
3. Baumstein, op. cit., p.151.
4. Ibid, pp.160-161.
5. Ibid, p.149.
6. Johnston, op. cit., pp. 51-52.
7. Baumstein, op. cit., pp. 172-173.
8. Ibid, pp. 174-175.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Linton Hall's Precursor, St. Joseph Institute, in 1922 Had Flies, Bedbugs, Lice, a Typhoid Fever Outbreak ... Plus a Fake Priest Having "Relations" With a Sixteen-Year-Old Girl

A scathing report by Joseph Tobin, O.S.B. written on August 4, 1922, described extremely filthy conditions at Saint Joseph Institute, the boys' boarding school run by Benedictine priests and brothers in Bristow, Virginia.

Frater Tobin, an undercover investigator sent by Abbot Leo Haid, O.S.B., of Belmont Abbey, N.C., described a deplorable lack of hygiene, with bedbugs, lice, and a refectory "infested with flies." His report also stated that a water inspector had forbidden use of well water for drinking,, and that the outhouse had not been cleaned in two years. A doctor and nurse inspected the premises and threatened to condemn the whole institute. (Note 1)

The lack of hygiene had resulted in an outbreak of typhoid fever, with five boys who had stayed over the summer ending up bedridden, and at least two of them, the Barnes brothers, critically ill. Their mother was not informed of her sons' illness for eight days, and when she arrived she found her sons with

"temperature[s] running at that time 105 [degrees] ... just covered with flies, lice and bedbugs ..."

Mrs. Barnes had her sons transferred to a Washington, D.C. hospital. It is not known whether they recovered. (Note 2)

Frater Tobin's report also confirmed concerns raised by both Mr. Barnes an by Mrs. Keane, a nurse hired to take care of the ill boys, that Denis Smith, who passed himself off as a priest, but who was not, had been taking "liberties" with the 16-year-old daughter of a woman working as a cook at the Institute. (Note 3)

The following month, Father Ignatius Remke, O.S.B., arrived at Bristow and confirmed that the reports "about the dirt, filth, etc. of this place" were "all true," and that although there were two wells, the water was unaccptable for human consumption. (Note 4)

A year later, Father Remke discovered that a broken sewer line had been discharging human waste under the priory for up to three years. (Note 5)

In order to restore hygiene and improve living conditions, enrollment at St. Joseph, which had previously been 77 boarding students and 11 day students, was drastically reduced to between 25 and 30. (Note 6) At that point, Saint Joseph Institute was "allowed to die of attrition." The Benedictine sisters, who had been running two schools for girls in Bristow, Saint Edith Academy and Saint Anne, closed these two girls' schools, continued their activities teaching girls in Richmond, and opened Linton Hall Military School for boys in Bristow, Virginia. In 1927 the 1,736 acres of land donated by the Lintons were given to the Benedictine sisters.

1. Baumstein, Dom Paschal, O.S.B., My Lord of Belmont: An Autobiography of Leo Haid. Belmont, N.C., Herald House, 1985, pages 166-167.
An extensively documented book. Although the book deals primarily with the Benedictine's activities at Belmont Abbey, N.C., there is a chapter which covers the Linton land bequest, and the Benedictines' activities in Bristow until the founding of Linton Hall Military School.
2. Baumstein, op.cit., pp.164-165, quoting a letter from Mrs. A.J. Barnes to Abbot Haid, dated August 3, 1922.
3. Baumstein, p. 166.
4. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated September 11, 1922.
5. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated Sptember 26, 1923.
6. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated January 22, 1924.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Linton Hall alumni included Nicaraguan president's sons

During the 1962-1963 school year, Luis Somoza, age 12, and his brother Alvaro, age 11, attended Linton Hall Military School. (I do not know whether they attended Linton Hall other years.) They were the sons of Luis Antonio Somoza Debayle, who was president of Nicaragua from September 29, 1956, through May 1, 1963. He died in 1967 (at age 44) of a massive heart attack. The boys' mother, however, lived until 2014.

The boys' grandfather was Anastasio Somoza, born 1896, and president from 1937 to 1947 and again from 1951 to 1956, when he was assassinated.

The boys' uncle (brother of their father,) Anastasio Somoza Debayle was president from 1967 to 1972 and from 1974 to 1979. He was deposed by the Sandinistas after a long civil war in July 1979. He fled to Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980.

The Somoza family rule over approximately four decades has been described as a hereditary dictatorship.

Sources: Pittsburgh Press, June 28, 1963, page 2; Wikipedia.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Linton Hall Had to Change

Linton Hall School has undergone radical changes during the time since I was there. As far as I can tell, most of these changes were in response to external factors, rather than the result of a desire to change from within.

The increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam war was tied to a loss of prestige of the military, and this had an effect on military schools as well, although the decline in number of military schools in the U.S. had begun even before the Vietnam war.

At the same time, single-sex schools were also losing their appeal for reasons which included the lack of opportunity for socialization with the opposite sex, as well as the desire to give girls and women the opportunity to attend schools that had excluded them.

Although I did not care for the military aspect (I would have preferred to spend my time in better ways,) nor the all-boys aspect (I was, after all, at an age when I was experiencing a growing interest in girls) nor being in a boarding school, those aspects of the school were fully and openly disclosed. It is with the corporal punishment and other humiliation by the adults in charge with which I take issue, since not only were these excessive, but they were also concealed from parents through censorship of outgoing mail. I need not enumerate these punishments; a comprehensive list has been compiled by a classmate in his blog post The Ugly: Was this any way to treat kids?

It was in 1989 (coincidentally, the year in which Linton Hall went from being an all-boys military boarding school to a coeductaional non-military day school) that the Virginia legislature passed a law, Virginia Code Section 22.1-279.1 which outlawed corporate punishment in public schools. Although, by definition, the law did not apply to private schools, the tide was turning, and the corporal punishment with which many alumni were all too familiar, seemed to be on shaky legal ground.

Nine years later, in 1998, 22 VAC 40-705-30 provided a definition of abuse and neglect which I believe would encompass many of the punishments which were practiced at Linton Hall during the late 1960s. These would include any physical injuries resulting from corporal punishment (such as beatings with a wooden paddle or leather belt, or being made to chew a bar of soap) as well as the mental abuse of publicly humiliating younger children who had accidentally wet the bed by forcing them to wear their own urine-soaked pajamas tied around their neck all day.

From everything I've heard (obviously, my first-had experience at Linton Hall Military School ended when I graduated) today's Linton Hall School has vastly improved over the decades. I cannot think of any substantial way in which I would suggest it could be improved. It is only unfortunate that it would take changes in the law to bring this about, instead of the Benedictine sisters deciding to do the right thing on their own.

Copyright 2016 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Huge new book about Linton Hall Military School just published!

Linton Hall Military School

The newest, biggest book about Linton Hall ever has just been published. And you can buy it at cost!

This book is huge: 7x10 inches, 208 pages, 51 chapters with over 60,000 words of text, plus lots of photos and excerpts from Linton Hall brochures going back as far as 1949!

It's much more than a collection of my blog posts; I've added twelve new chapters including:

>> The time we went into a submarine on a field trip
>> The chicks of Linton Hall
>> Solar eclipse at LHMS -- a once-in-a-lifetime event
>> The smells of Linton Hall
>> More letters to and from Linton Hall -- excerpts of letters I sent and received while I was there

... and lots, lots more!

This book will bring back a flood of memories for Linton Hall Military School alumni: the nitpicking rules covering everything from making your bed to folding your underwear, the nuns’ cruel punishments, the occasional compassion from officers, the fun of camping trips, the officers' rifle club, and the things we managed to get away with in spite of LHMS' rules and lack of privacy.

This is a crazy joy-ride of good and bad memories and emotions for alumni, and an astonishing peek into the past for current students and recent graduates.

Books this big usually cost around $25 at a bookstore; but you can get it for just $5.69 -- which is exactly what it costs in printing costs and Amazon selling fees; I don't make a penny. My goal isn't to make money -- it's to share my memories and thoughts with alumni, and anyone else who's interested.

The price is guaranteed for just one week. After that, who knows?

So get your copy now -- while it's still fresh in your mind.

"Linton Hall Military School Memories" is available exclusively at

A preview including table of contents is on the Amazon site.

P.S.: Now you can read this book for free! The Prince William County, Virginia public library has added "Linton Hall Military School Memories" to its collection. It's in the Dale City branch, but you can probably get it through interlibrary loan if that branch isn't convenient.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Running away from Linton Hall

I never ran away, because I had nowhere to go. If I had gone home I would have been sent right back, and I had no sympathetic grandma or adult older brother living on his own who would let me stay a few days, much less until I turned eighteen.

Besides, it didn't make much sense to run away from Linton Hall; it would have been much easier to go AWOL: to run away from home while there for the weekend.

So, although I hated that place, I decided early on to make the best of a bad situation, follow the rules, and enjoy the positive aspects of the school -- the oft-cited trio of academics, friends, and camping/hiking activities.

Although I never seriously thought about running away, that didn't stop me from fantasizing about it, or about discussing how best to do it, from a theoretical viewpoint, with one of my friends; how to run away was our favorite topic of conversation.

Although there were no fences to keep us in, there were several major barriers to overcome.

First, there were headcounts at formation, with a "report" that generally was "all present or accounted for" (the conjunction is or, not and.) The term "accounted for" meant that those not present at formation had a legitimate excuse for being absent, typically being sick in bed. Occasionally, the report was "all present." Rarely, one or more cadets were not present and not accounted for, which was when things got interesting. While everyone else stood at attention, whether shivering in the cold or perspiring in the heat, the battalion commander, his adjutant, and the five company commanders would try to figure out if there was a mistake in the count or whether someone was truly missing. In some cases the missing one(s) had run away.

In addition to the headcounts, there were times and places where you had to be present: in the dorms, classrooms, and cafeteria, to cite a few examples, and where your absence would have immediately been noticed and reported. Thus, it was best for a runaway to get as much of a head start as possible before being reported missing. Free play periods were such an opportunity, especially on a Saturday on the weekends when we did not home, since there was a long play period between meals. An even better opportunity was at night, after everyone else had fallen asleep, especially if you could make your bed look occupied by putting something under the covers. You could, of course, leave your bed at night to use the bathroom, but if anyone happened to wake up and see your bed unoccupied and that you weren't in the bathroom, they would have quickly noticed your absence.

Running away during the day presented its own problems, different than the problems of running away at night. My friend and I would often debate the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.

During the day, we were "out of bounds" if we went away from the blacktop or nearby grassy area (or to the bathroom in the basement.) It would not have been easy to leave that area without someone seeing. It was worse than having ubiquitous video cameras; there were over two hundred pairs of eyes ready to rat you out. The easiest route away from Linton Hall and towards D.C. (where most of us were from) was to walk on Linton Hall Road towards Gainesville. The quick drive to and from the intersection of Route 29 and Linton Hall Rd. to the school would have lulled many prospective runaways into a false sense of how close that intersection actually was; I never thought to check the odometer when I was taken to and from Linton Hall, but a quick check of Google Maps tells me that it's 4.2 miles, which Google says can be walked in one hour and twenty one minutes, though I expect that a motivated cadet running away from Linton Hall would cover the distance much more quickly.

But after four miles of walking you'd only have reached the intersection of Linton Hall Road and Route 29. Alumni of my generation would find it hard to believe that there is now a large shopping mall there, just as current students would be surprised that at the time I attended, during the late 1960s, there was only an Esso (later renamed Exxon) gas station and a diner at that intersection. From there, you could have either used the payphone to call a sympathetic older brother with a driver's license and a car (which I did not have) or hitchhike on Route 29, hoping that you would get a ride before being spotted by the Commandant or a local policeman. For someone to come from the DC suburbs to pick you up would take an hour, more or less, and hitchhiking might take just as long, and carried the very obvious risk of being picked up by a pervert or murderer. I have to be blunt about this so any young people reading this are well aware of the significant potential dangers of running away.

Needless to say, anyone reported missing during the hour it took to walk to Route 29 would have been quickly apprehended, since it would not take long for the Commandant to cover that distance by car. I know of one cadet who was apprehended on Linton Hall Road; since this was the easiest route, I would expect that many of those who ran away were caught there.

Public transportation was not an option at the time. There existed bus service to Washington, but that was from Manassas, several miles away.

At the time, Linton Hall Road was a two-lane paved rural road, with no shoulders, ditches along either side, and overgrown vegetation (trees, bushes, thorny brambles and poison ivy often coming up almost to the edge of the road. Many places along the road had a barbed wire fence. The area was sparsely populated (there were maybe half a dozen houses, excluding Bill's and the Commandant's, between Linton Hall and the Route 29 intersection, and traffic was light. Nevertheless, during the one-hour walk, there might have been a couple of cars passing by. There was really not much room to hid along the sides of the road, and you would have had to have really quick reflexes to do so before being seen by an oncoming car; even more difficult to react in time if a car was coming from the opposite direction. Thus there was a strong likelihood of being seen, and with Bristow being such a small town that everyone knew everyone, even if you somehow managed to wear something other than the tell-tale Linton Hall uniform, it is likely that the driver would have stopped to investigate (the term "mind your own business" does not apply in small towns) or reported you to the school as soon as he got to a pay phone. Cell phones did not exist back then, but the couple of extra minutes it would take for someone to make that call wouldn't give you much time.

Running away at night would address many of the risks of being seen; you can see headlights before someone in a car sees you, and there is almost no traffic; Bristow wasn't exactly a hub of night life.

The big risk of running away at night was when you left the dorm. It was somewhat easy to make your bed seem to be occupied (with a pillow and the second blanket bunched up under the covers, though of course at close range it would be clear that there was no face poking out) but once you left the dorm there was a big risk. It would be difficult, but possible, to retrieve clothes from your locker during "rest," hide them under your pillow, then put them on under your pajamas while in bed after lights out, after everyone else was asleep. That way you would be safe if discovered while getting out of bed, or even going down the stairs. In that situation, you could concoct a story about feeling sick and going to the infirmary. Of course, the infirmary wasn't staffed twenty four hours a day, and in an emergency the logical thing to do would have been to knock on the prefect's door, but it was a semi-plausible excuse if nobody noticed that you were wearing clothes under your bathrobe and pajamas. But you couldn't walk four miles to Route 29 in your slippers or in bare feet. You could have put on the boots you wore every day (but that would have seemed inconsistent with going to the infirmary) and the boots would have been a military component that would have been somewhat incongruous with civilian clothes -- that is, if you had somehow managed to have a set of civvies available; more about that later. Tennis shoes (which we used for gym class) would have been less obvious, but if stopped on your purported trip to the infirmary they would have been another hole in your story. And you couldn't conceal a pair of tennis shoes under your clothes, or throw them out the dorm window before running away, without being noticed.

The big hole in my plan was that Linton Hall had a night watchman. I did not find this out until a few years ago, when I read Louie's obituary and read that in addition to maintaining the school's landscaping, he was also night watchman. And I thought my fantasy plan was so well designed!

I've mentioned civilian clothes. When I first arrived, I had, like other new students, worn my own clothes. But once uniforms were issued, we were expected to take our other clothes home on the next weekend home. There was nothing to stop us from bringing back a set of clothes, maybe a lightweight pair of pants and a nylon windbreaker. Those weren't prohibited items and there was no inspection of our belongings upon returning to the school on weekends. Money was prohibited, but easy to conceal and useful when running away. But those items required planning, and anyone thinking about running away so far in advance would have simply gone AWOL during a weekend home, where civilian clothes, public transportation, food, and money, as well as the sympathetic grandparent or adult sibling (which I did not have) would have been available.

Walking on Linton Hall Road was the easiest and quickest way to get away, but also the most obvious and the one with the biggest risk of getting caught. Not everyone left that way.

In Military Science class, we studied the topographic maps of the area which we used for map-reading instruction. While studying the maps I (and who knows whether the same thing was on the mind of others) looked for possible escape routes. There was a railroad line that led to Washington D.C., and I fantasized about hopping on a freight train, like a hobo. I did not know yet of the dangers of trying to do so, which I only happened to read about many years later. Hopping onto a moving train is only possible when the train is moving very slowly (as at railroad yards) and extremely dangerous. Dangers include slipping and falling under the train, barbed wire or baling wire which gets hooked on the train and is almost impossible to see, but will drag you to your death, hobos on the train, as well as railroad security guards, many of whom take a sadistic pleasure in beating train-hoppers. Fortunately I never tried this.

But there were other ways.

Two cadets who attended while I was there took a different route. I only found out about how they had done this a couple of years ago, when one of those cadets shared his experience with me and other alumni on Facebook. On the way to and from Linton Hall, he had noticed high voltage power lines crossing Route 29. On the Linton Hall campus, he had noticed what he assumed to be the same power lines, and his deduction was correct, and brilliant, I might add. The two cadets followed along the power lines through woods and fields to Route 29, then turned their black LHMS shirts inside out, in order to conceal the school seal and name, which would have been a dead giveaway, and then they hitchhiked a ride from some hippies to D.C.. This being the late 1960s, there were hippies around and the Vietnam war was in full swing, and the hippies' antiauthoritarian and antimilitary views would have made them sympathetic to runaways from a military school, though I don't know whether the two runaways revealed that fact to them. Though the cadets made it to D.C., they were sent back to Linton Hall, presumably by their parents, and received a severe beating as punishment on their return.

Another cadet, who should have been the eponym for persistence, attempted to run away many times; I think the total was seven. During one such occasion, the seventh and eighth grade classes were enlisted to go looking for him after school. I was a member of that search party. The Commandant had us comb through a field of tall grass, each searcher about five feet from the other, close enough that we would not have missed him if he happened to be located precisely between two searchers. I was not the one who found him, but at the time I heard that he had been found asleep in the grass. At the time, I took the report that he had been asleep with a grain of salt, suspecting that he had concocted a story about playing out of bounds and falling asleep, which would have been a far less serious offense than attempting to run away. Only recently did I find out that he had actually not been trying to run away on that occasion, and had actually fallen asleep. That cadet, Augustus Cho, has written more about this incident in his memoir, "Great Light Will Shine vol. IV: Linton Hall Military School, which is available on Amazon and elsewhere. At the time, if I had been the one to discover him, and knew that nobody else had seen him, I would have pretended not to have seen him either. But in retrospect, I am convinced that it was better for him to have been caught. Unlike the two cadets cited earlier, who were thirteen or fourteen at the time, Cho was at the time only ten years old, and younger children are more trusting and less street-wise than teenagers, and he faced risks of which most boys that age are not aware. Furthermore, he had just arrived to the U.S. from South Korea and spoke almost no English; the same language barrier that made it very difficult for him at Linton Hall would have also been an obstacle to his being able to run away. Also, being Asian, he would have stuck out from others in Prince William County, where at the time there were almost no Asians.

Another two cadets ran away together, and I was one of the officers at their court martial. The older of the two, a fifth grader, had tried to find another fifth grader to run away with him. Unable to find an accomplice, he had asked several fourth graders, and then the third graders until he found someone in the third grade to accompany him. After running away, they had gone to somebody's house, said they were runaways, and asked for food. While they were eating cookies and milk in the kitchen, the lady of the house went into another room and called the police. My gut reaction was disappointment that she had ratted them out, but then I realized (still at the court martial) that they had done something extremely risky by going into a stranger's home; had they gone into another house they might have never come out alive. The verdict (as usual, we officers voted in accord with the Commandant's wishes) was to punish the older cadet (I forget what the punishment was) and not the younger, who had, it seems, been entrapped into running away. Although I agreed with the verdict for the older cadet, I felt (at the time and now) that some relatively minor punishment for the younger cadet would have been in order, instead of no punishment at all.

The last incident which I recall might not have been a case of running away. There was a cadet who entered as a seventh grader (not a good age to enter Linton Hall, since you have younger, but higher ranking cadets giving you orders, and you feel and, in fact, are, too old to have someone tell you when to brush your teeth or have a nun watch you take a shower.) He went on a hunger strike, refusing to eat, so that he would get sick enough that they would be forced to send him home. At first they let him, then finally Bill force fed him a popsicle. I was there when it happened, when Bill had other cadets hold him down by force, while Bill tried to cram the popsicle into his mouth in such a way that I thought that he was going to break that cadet's teeth, and then when that cadet wouldn't open his mouth one of the other cadets pinched his nose shut until he needed to gasp for air and thus opened his mouth. A couple of days later that cadet was nowhere to be found. It took a long time to find him, and it is not clear whether or not he was running away. To protect his privacy, I will not say more in this post, though I have written about him in greater detail on Facebook, where my comments are visible only to other LHMS alumni.

I never ran away. Others did. I understand their motivation, so I cannot judge their decisions.

Copyright 2014 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
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Linton Hall Military School Blog

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My last days at Linton Hall: School is out!

The best thing about being in the eighth grade was knowing with complete certainty that it would be my last year at Linton Hall Military School.

That didn't really sink in at first, since I had a long academic year ahead of me, and was wrapped up in the novelty and demands of being an officer, but, sometime around May, I started counting down the days remaining. Then, a few days before graduation, I started counting the hours until my time at Linton Hall would be over.

One thing I remember about the last few days at Linton Hall is that the NCOs (non-commissioned officers, in other words, sargeants) from the seventh grade were left in charge, probably to give them some preparation for being officers the following year, but possibly because after we had received (or not received) our medals on Military Day, many of us didn't care too much about our responsibilities as officers.

We had more free time, and one afternoon the entire eighth grade got to go swimming. I can still recall us changing in a room in the poolhouse, a bunch of 13 to 15 year old boys as sexually developed as we were going to get before leaving Linton Hall Military School, having Sister Doris Nolte, O.S.B. (then known as Sister Mary David OSB) there in the room seeing us naked (watching is a more precise word) as we faced the wall while undressing, trying to avoid her seeing our private parts.

When we went to the pool she sat in the lifeguard's chair, fully dressed in her nun's habit. I wondered -- and feared -- what would happen if someone were about to drown. Would she be willing and able to jump in the pool in her habit and rescue the hapless boy? Just how important was safety? Why wasn't Bill or Linton Hall's Commandant there in her place?

Coming back to the dorms from the pool, I noticed that my bed had been remade, not as well as I had made it that morning, and my mattress had been replaced by one in better shape. The nun who was my dorm prefect said that it was being done so the graduating cadets would sleep better on the last couple of nights, and we would have better memories of Linton Hall Military School after we left.  She knew what was going on -- just like one of the cadets had observed that on the Fridays when we went home, the school lunch was better, so that if our parents asked us what we had eaten for lunch, we would describe that day's lunch, and not the typical meal we ate on other days at Linton Hall.

Another activity for the graduates was a "High Mass" at the Linton Hall convent. There was some really good musical accompaniment to the Mass; good singing by some nuns whom I had never seen before because they did not teach at Linton Hall Military School, and an especially memorable trumpet solo by a nun playing Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I had not heard much classical music before, and did not learn the name of the composition until many years later, when I heard it again and recognized it, but I still remember watching the trumpet playing nun's face, her cheeks puffing out and turning red, as she played.

One evening, possibly our last evening at Linton Hall Military School, we graduates had dinner at tables that had been set up in the lounge next to the Principal's office. Some of the seventh graders served as waiters. If any of them are reading this, thank you. Over forty years later, I realize how uncomfortable it must have been to serve the graduates excellent food, when the "waiters" had eaten just another ordinary meal. Since we weren't allowed to have money, we couldn't even leave them a tip!

That was the only meal I ate from a china plate (instead of a metal tray) at Linton Hall Military School, and if I'm not mistaken, we each had a steak, same as those steaks whose smell we had noticed coming out of the nun's dining room so many times.

We had also done a dry run of the graduation ceremony, and the Linton Hall Commandant had said that if anyone was not graduating (because he had failed eighth grade) he would still be called to the stage and would receive a diploma holder just like anyone else, but there would be a blank sheet of paper instead of a Linton Hall Military School diploma inside, so that he would not be embarrassed in front of anyone. That was one of the few occasions I can recall of the Linton Hall school administrators not being concerned about embarrassing someone.

We wore white gloves with our dress uniforms at graduation, and paper is more slippery when handled with cotton gloves than with bare hands. One cadet, sitting near me, opened his diploma folder and found a piece of white paper inside, then struggled with his gloved fingers for several seconds that, to him, must have felt like an eternity, as he tried to lift it to see whether or not his diploma was underneath. I wanted to tell him that the white paper was just a protective sheet on top of the diploma, but of course we weren't allowed to speak. After a few seconds he was able to lift the paper to uncover his diploma. He happened to be the cadet with the second-highest grade point average, but Linton Hall Military School was such an unpredictable place that anything was possible.   Both he and the cadet with the highest grade point average had already arbitrarily been deprived of the honor of speaking at graduation, as I've related in my previous blog post, "How awards were given (or denied) at Linton Hall Military School."

When I left after graduating, I did not look back, literally or figuratively. I made no attempt to keep in touch either with those in my graduating class, or with others. Staying in touch would have meant reliving old memories, which I wanted to set aside. And how could I write to friends who were still there and tell them of how different, and wonderful, life after Linton Hall was?

Occasionally, I had nightmares about still being at Linton Hall, and when I woke up, I would feel my bed in the dark, notice that it was my bed at home and not the one at Linton Hall Military School, and go back to sleep. Such dreams became less frequent as the years went on, and less intense, since in later years I would dream that as an adult I was spending a weekend there (to relive the experience? -- dreams don't make much sense) but as an adult I dreamt that my car was parked behind the building, near the Commandant's Jeep, and I could leave anytime I wanted.

During waking hours I did not think about Linton Hall, but my focus was on all the opportunities that my newly restored freedom provided, from deciding what clothes to wear every day, to walking to school or the store, to what my first school dance would be like.

In 1972, I got an invitation from the school to an alumni reunion in observance of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Linton Hall Military School. I had no interest in going, and didn't.

Then in 1978, I happened to see an ad for Linton Hall in the Washington Post and sent away for a brochure, just to see whether the school had changed.

In 1980 I visited on Military Day. Other than the school having dropped the word "military" from its name, it seemed to be the same. Having grown up during the sixties and seventies, the thought had passed through my mind of picketing the school and handing out fliers on Military Day (I was in my early twenties at the time) but I didn't; I just observed for a couple of hours and did not speak to the nuns or Commandant.

It wasn't until around twenty years later that one day, when I happened to be driving on Route 66 in Virginia near Gainesville, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to make a detour to see Linton Hall Military School. The four or five mile trip to Linton Hall, which had previously been a deserted country road, was now packed with houses and townhouses. I wondered whether the school was still there at all. Then I saw it and drove up to the building. It was summer, and there didn't seem to be anyone around. I was about to get out of the car and knock on the front door to ask for permission to walk around the place, when a flood of memories came back, and I decided not to, but just drove around the building and left.

A few years later, as the internet grew, I found Charles Carreon's description of a typical day there, and later found Augustus Cho's book "Great Light Will Shine III: Linton Hall Military School" and ordered it. (1) Although he had written it decades after having been there, his recollections were crystal clear, as if he had written about everything the next day. I also saw the school's website, and found out that the school was now much different, and much better, than it had been in the past.

But there wasn't much else out there describing the conditions that I, and thousands of others, had experienced at Linton Hall Military School, things that had been actively hidden from parents through the school's long-standing practice of censoring all outgoing mail.

In March 2010, I decided to write about those things. A blog just happened to be the easiest way to share my memories on the web. I said what I felt needed to be said, and thought that would be it.

It wasn't until three months later that I wrote my second post, in which I discussed my experiences from an adult point of view. And I thought that would be my last word, which it was for the following six months.

Six months later, I started blogging in earnest, and have since written around 30 posts about Linton Hall Military School. Two of them I have not put on the web, but shared them just with other alumni on Facebook, since they were about specific individuals.

During the two years since I began writing this blog, I've heard from many other alumni, who attended Linton Hall Military School from the 1940s through the present day. I thank each and every one of you who has shared your thoughts and memories. Some of you view your experience there in a positive way, and although we disagree, I thank you for allowing me to consider your point of view.

There were cadet officers there who overstepped their authority. I forgive you for what you've done to me. At the same time, having been an officer myself, I realize that there were times when I called those under my command "a mess," "stupid," and similar words, trying to make them feel bad about themselves. I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you did not believe what I said about you.

I believe that forgiveness is appropriate only for those who are truly sorry for their actions. I extend my forgiveness to those among the adults in charge who repent and apologize. Even those who did not mete out excessive punishment, tacitly allowed it through their silence. For example, when children who are seven or eight years old were humiliated and intentionally subjected to ridicule by being forced to wear their urine-soaked pajama bottoms around their neck all day, there was no was that nuns who taught or supervised the playground could not be aware of this. In a school where children wear uniforms, this can be spotted from a hundred feet away.

But no, in its official website the Benedictine sisters of Bristow, Virginia still deny this aspect of the past and claim that Linton Hall Military School "soon gained an international reputation for instilling leadership, integrity and character in its students." (2) Come on, the statute of limitations has long passed, why not do the right thing and admit what you did wrong?

I've since heard from recent alumni, and every indication is that today's Linton Hall School is a pretty good place, nothing like it was at the time I attended. I don't know what brought about these changes. Was it a desire to correct the past, or was it only a reaction to parental pressure and declining enrollment? When I look at my old yearbooks, I see that, without considering those graduating, only slightly more than half the students returned from one year to the next. Sounds like a big sign of dissatisfaction to me. Why did they simply drop the word "military" and start referring to themselves as "Linton Hall School" so many years before discontinuing the military program? Why did it take so long for the school to change and realize its potential?

Although I may have said many critical things about Linton Hall Military School, I've done my best to present a fair, balanced viewpoint and have written several times about the good academics and unique opportunities for camping and hiking that were provided by the school's extensive landholdings (over 1,700 acres when I was there.) With those resources, this could have been a wonderful school.

To my fellow cadets, we had a tough time there, and many of you had it far, far worse than I did. I wish you all the very best, and hope you had many good things happen to you in the years after you left.

1. "Great Light Will Shine III: Linton Hall Military School" by Augustus Cho, available at
2. Brochure quoted in the June 8, 2012 entry at
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