Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting "bumped" -- the officers' rite of passage

One way (and perhaps the primary way) officers were punished was by getting "bumped."

In milder cases this meant a drop to a lower rank, such as Captain to First Lieutenant, or First Lieutenant to Second. (I don't recall the Battallion Commander getting bumped while I was there, but it may have happened during Linton Hall's history.)

But what usually happened was being bumped down to private, which meant not having any rank at all.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Sometimes being a private meant just that -- being the low man on the totem pole. Other times even though the bumped officer lost his rank, he kept his position (as company or platoon commander.) He kept all his duties and the ability to give orders to those under his charge, but he lost his privileges as an officer. I don't remember anyone actually saying this, but it was generally understood that such a "bumping" was temporary and the officer had the opportunity to eventually earn back his rank.

There weren't many privileges to being an officer. Once in a blue moon (a handful of times over the school year) there were "officers' nights" -- the chance to play Ping Pong, watch TV, and have a snack in one of the vacant dormitories for an hour or two, and socialize with other officers.

A bumped officer didn't get to wear the insignia on his collar, or the belt with a shoulder strap while carrying a sabre. (Sabres were worn/carried sometimes during drill, and during parades and special occasions such as Military Day and graduation.) He still got to carry a sabre, though, so it was attached to the same type of belt that everyone wore on the outside of his blue sweater. (I've seen pictures of students at LH after it was no longer a military school, who still wore the black belt over the sweater.)

I found it interesting, while looking through my old yearbooks, that there was a year in which almost one third of the officers in the picture have their sabres hanging from the regular belt, meaning they have been bumped.

Oh yeah, I was one of them. And I did eventually regain my rank.

How did officers get bumped? Usually through a court martial. (The other blogger has done a great job describing how the court martials were often little more than a rubber-stamping of the Commandant's or Principal's decision.) But that wasn't always the case. I know of one instance (there may have been more) in which Sister Mary David decided that an officer was bumped, and that was it. There was no court martial. Not that there really needed to be one, since the outcome would have been predictable. But then again, given the facts of the case, I am convinced that there was no justification for bumping that officer. Can you imagine what would have happened if his fellow officers had not bumped him? Or even if they had, but the decision had not been unanimous? I can't conceive of it happening, but at the same time I can't help wondering how things might have turned out.

One consequence of being bumped was the pleasure that a lot of cadets found when an officer was bumped. It's the dark side of human nature, I suppose, but I also think it shows a lack of understanding of the difficult position an officer found himself in. Some, perhaps many, abused their power, but others tried their best to be fair, to actively ignore minor infractions that really didn't deserve to be punished, and to treat others as they would want to be treated themselves -- while at the same time enforcing all the rules.

When officers lost both their rank and position, they were generally transfered to another company. This was so that they would not be subject to reprisal by anyone who now outranked them (PFCs on up.) I think this was a good move on the Commandant's part.

Another consequence of bumping an officer was that he lost his motivation. Even in cases such as mine (where I lost my rank but not my position) I did a half-hearted job for a while and broke a lot of rules, feeling there was little point in doing the work for little or no reward.

When I visited Linton Hall many years later on Military Day, I noticed in the program that someone was listed as:

Platoon Leader John Doe, 1st Platoon Leader

instead of the customary

First (or Second) Lieutenant John Doe, 1st Platoon Leader

and realized that the practice of bumping officers was still alive and well. Unfortunately for "John Doe," he didn't regain his rank by Military Day.

Copyright 2011 by Linton Hall Cadet.
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This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author. Comments are always welcome; please do not use your name or names of others.

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