Monday, July 18, 2011

The things we got away with at Linton Hall Military School

(I took this picture on Military Day, 1980.)

I've been told that I tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of my experience at Linton Hall.

This post is about the things we got away with, the times we did not follow the rules and escaped punishment.

Getting away with something even once was difficult, since (1) there were rules that covered pretty much every aspect of life at Linton Hall Military School, and (2) unlike the schools that I attended before and after, at Linton Hall "telling" or "ratting" on someone were common practice. In order to get away with something, you had to do it not only out of sight of the nuns and Commandant, but out of sight of the other two hundred cadets.

Here's what I remember, in no particular order:

At the end of one visiting Sunday, some of the older cadets were missing several buttons from their shirts and blue sweater. Seems that they had traded buttons for kisses from visiting girls (presumably the sisters of other cadets.) No one got punished; all we got was a lecture from the Commandant during Military Science class. I still remember him saying "they're not laughing with you, they're laughing at you." Only a few of us had been involved; I wasn't one of them. I also remember after class someone who commented "if I had known that girls were doing that, I would have traded buttons from my fly." (Our khaki pants had button flies.)

Some of the nuns who taught at Linton Hall Military School were young and attractive. A couple of times one of us would "accidentally" drop a pencil while she was walking past our desks, and try to peek under her habit. You had to be careful and not be too obvious. No one got caught, as far as I know. A few of us tried this. Yeah, I was one of them. Kind of sad, really, that looking up a nun's habit and maybe getting a glimpse of her knee was considered a thrill.

One time about five folk singers sang and played music during Mass, and afterwards. A couple of them wore miniskirts (this was the late sixties.) I remember some of us lying down on the gym floor (obviously after Mass) and trying to catch a good sight.

Someone actually had a couple of porn magazines in his locker! Amazing, since we weren't even allowed to have comic books. Someone squealed on him during "rest" and told an officer. The officer just told him to put the magazines away. I just happened to be nearby when the squealing and putting away took place, and very briefly saw the covers. The owner was a good friend of mine, and after that incident I asked him many times to let him look at his magazines, but he wouldn't let me. I imagine that as a condition of not reporting him, the officer who found out did get to look. The owner of the magazines did not live in the local area so he did not get to go home on weekends, so I don't know what happened to the magazines, since I can't imagine how he could have managed to throw them away undetected. Did they stay in his locker the rest of the school year?  Did he sell or trade them to someone who did go home on weekends?

Many of us smuggled candy from home when we came back to Linton Hall Military School from the weekend. I did, too. It wasn't too hard to hide it, it was just that you had to be careful not to be seen eating it. An officer saw me go to my locker during "rest" and eat something once, and he asked me for some. Obviously, I didn't really have a choice, I gave him some and in exchange he kept quiet about it.

One time my mother gave me about ten apples to "smuggle" back just so I could have one piece of fresh fruit every day. We both knew what the consequences were if I got caught. It was risky, since there's no easy way to hide so many apples. I just left them in my duffle bag in my locker. Eating them was the difficult part. I had to go to my locker during "rest" then put it in the pocket of my bathrobe, eat it in bed under the covers after lights out without anyone hearing every time I took a bite, and then dispose of the apple core either the next morning (or in the middle of the night) by flushing it down the toilet. I got away with it, but it was too risky and I never did it again. After all these years I still wish that when my mother found out that I was going hungry and that we weren't allowed to sneak in food, that she would have spoken to Sister Mary David about it. Yeah, I got away with it, but it's sad that I needed to sneak in food at Linton Hall Military School.

We got a punchcard to use at the canteen. There was more than one line, and sometimes it was possible to get in line twice. Not easy, since different companies got into different lines and people would have noticed that you were in the wrong line the second time, but I was able to do this a couple of times. This is something I figured out, and I shared the information with a couple of close friends who could be trusted not to rat me out.

One time there was some kind of visiting Sunday exhibit at Linton Hall, and one of the exhibits was about the evils of smoking. There was a mask with a lit cigarette in its mouth, and of course from time to time the lit cigarette had to be replaced. The two cadets who were in charge of the exhibit would periodically light a new cigarette for the exhibit. Actually, they were smoking cigarettes. During Military Science the Commandant gave them a tough talk in front of the whole class, and one of the things he said was that since he thought that there was a chance they would be able to convince their fellow officers that they weren't smoking but merely lighting up the cigarettes, they wouldn't get court martialed.

There was an extension phone just inside the classroom wing, by the chapel. Obviously we weren't allowed to use it, but one time someone did during study hour to call his girlfriend. Everyone in our classroom knew, but nobody told on him! I never did this since it was too risky (Mary David could have picked up the phone in her office at any time and heard the conversation.)

The punishment for using foul language was having to chew on a bar of soap, but Mexicans could say everything they wanted in Spanish, with no consequences. One time a bunch of them were hanging out with a nun who was learning Spanish, and they taught her a few words. One of the words they taught her was "puta" (which means "whore" in Spanish) but told her that it means "nun." So they were saying things to her face like "you are a puta" and she had no clue. I knew what the word meant and it was hard to keep a straight face while this was going on. All of a sudden I couldn't help myself anymore and started laughing, and someone just explained that I was laughing at her pronunciation of the word. Sounds like a dangerous kind of practical joke to play, but after all, this was the sixties, and dictionaries still pretended that four-letter-words didn't exist, and Spanish language dictionaries were probably the same way, so she couldn't have looked up the word.

There was also the time it was bitterly cold (much colder and windier than usual) during Drill, and ALL the offices from ALL the companies had enough good judgement to have us spend a lot of time on "bathroom breaks" in that smelly bathroom in the basement under the Commandant's office, just to get away from the cold. I remember overhearing them negotiating with each other about whose platoon had to go outside and march and which got to stay indoors. We couldn't all be indoors at the same time, but it was so crowded that maybe half the battallion was in there at one time. There had to be enough of us outside so that if eithe the Commandant or Mary David happened to look out the window from their warm office, they could see some of us out there marching.

There was also a group of cadets (many or most of them officers) who called themselves "Code C." They got caught breaking into a food storage area in the basementof Linton Hall Military School and stealing food. This was something the Commandant lectured the whole class about (and how I found out about it.) I know those responsible didn't get court martialed, but I don't have the details on whether they got punished. It would have been embarrassing for them to get court martialed for stealing food because they were hungry. Wouldn't have gone well with the parents either. I'm pretty sure that I would NOT have participated if given the chance, but am disappointed that those involved didn't trust me enough to invite me.

The last thing is something I have no personal knowledge of, but according to one of the nuns, who used to be principal before Sister Mary David, many years before sometimes cadets would get raisins as a treat, and one time they tried making wine. They didn't succeed and got sick from trying to drink the fermented raisin concoction, but they didn't get punished; the nuns wanted them to get rid of the stuff without fear of punishment.

Comments are always welcome. If you remember more examples of things we got away with, please add them!

Copyright (c) 2011 Linton Hall Cadet. Please respect copyright by linking to this blog instead of just copying and pasting. Thank you!
This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Being an Officer at Linton Hall Military School

Just like everyone else, I started out not as a private, but as a "recruit." I remember that after they had cut off your hair and taught you things like right face and about face, you actually got a piece of paper "promoting" you to Private. Kinda ironic to get called "Private" when you had zero privacy!

I remember what it was like being the low man (boy) on the totem pole, not only did I not know all the rules of Linton Hall Military School yet, but I had to follow orders from "officers." I'm putting all these words in quotation marks because it seems bizarre that we were "playing soldier" (as one of the commentators to my blog put it) just like kids play cops and robbers.

It was bad enough to have adults ordering me around and controlling every aspect of my life 24 hours a day, but even worse having some kid -- yes, not an "officer" but another child, maybe a year older, maybe my age, maybe even a year younger, telling me what to do.

Some of the officers were fair most of the time. I don't think there was anyone who was fair all of the time. By fair I mean that they expected you to follow legitimate orders such as "about face" when drilling, make your bed the prescribed way in the prescribed amount of time, they were understanding if you made an innocent mistake (hard to avoid, since everything had to be done a certain way, from how you made your bed to where you placed your toilet kit and slippers on the metal chair next to your bed.) And a "fair" officer punished you fairly, you know, maybe standing at attention for fifteen minutes, that type of thing.

I wasn't impressed by most officers, mind you, I felt that most of them were, how do I put it, a bit slow mentally since they seemed to accept and enforce rules without question, and focused on minor details instead of what was really important. I've had professors and bosses who were like that too, people who seemed to focus on whether a word was spelled wrong and not on the substance of a report.

But then there were also the officers who abused their power, the ones who used their rank to bully and intimidate, who punished and scared younger, smaller, and lower ranking children just because they had the power to do so. I know that they were acting just like some of the adults in charge, but at the same time all the officers at Linton Hall Military School were eighth graders, at least 13 years old, some as old as 15, and they could have exercised better judgement.

I never ran away simply because I realized that I had nowhere to go. When you're a kid you can't just get a job and an apartment. And if I followed orders it wasn't out of any respect for the school, the majority of the nuns (there were some decent ones, not too many) or for the rules. I just saw how other cadets (I mean children) were punished. I did just what I would do if an armed robber pointed a gun at me; I would hand over my money not out of "respect" but out of fear.

I was careful about saying anything negative about Linton Hall Military School to the wrong people, and was lucky enough not to get caught that time I brought about ten apples from home, so I didn't get disciplined much.

I guess the Commandant and Sister Mary David misinterpreted my compliance for "respect" or perhaps "leadership" because when I became an eighth grader, I was promoted to officer.

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I was proud of being an officer. You know, really feeling good about myself because I got to wear some metal on the collar of my khaki shirt, a leather officer's strap, a dull-bladed sword during drill, and I got to tell a whole bunch of lower ranking cadets what to do, and if they didn't do it I got to punish them.

I hope you can understand this, I mean, I was almost (but not quite yet) 13 years old at the beginning of eighth grade.

I tried to model my behavior after those officers who had treated me fairly. In other words, I told people what to do, but wasn't on a power trip. I succeeded doing that with most of the cadets I was in charge of, but some had real discipline problems, were real brats, and sometimes I would say insulting things to them, knowing I could get away with it, sometimes punish them more than perhaps they deserved. Not that officers were allowed to do any of the abusive things that the adults got away with, but I could make cadets stand at attention a really long time, do deep knee bends, that type of thing. I'm not proud of this, but I admit it.

Even though I tried to be fair, and was fair most of the time, and felt "proud" of my rank (whatever "proud" means) I also felt bad about being an officer, I had the feeling that I wasn't doing the right thing.

One time this realization really struck me was when I was supervising study hour for the third grade. We officers got to supervise different grades during study hour, which basically meant sitting at the teacher's desk and trying to do your own homework (without much success) since at the same time you had to make sure everyone was quiet, and you kept getting interrupted by cadets who really really had to go to the bathroom, little kids who had questions about their homework, and so on.

Surprisingly, the third grade was the hardest to supervise because they didn't have enough homework to keep them occupied for an hour and, well, these were rambunctious eight year olds, and it was hard to keep them quiet.

I remember thinking hey, these are little kids (of course I was a kid too, just five years older than they were) you would give an order like "right face" and some of them don't even know their right from their left -- and there they were having to follow this discipline. They should be home watching cartoons. They shouldn't be here having to act like they're in the military.

And then I remember several times when the whole battalion was assembled on the blacktop, and we had to watch some unfortunate soul get punished by the Commandant, having to stand at attention holding out two rifles, and whenever his arms got tired and they dropped down from being perfectly horizontal, he would get hit in the elbow with another rifle.

I don't know what held me back, but I just wanted to take the bars off my collar and the helmet off my head and walk up to the Commandant and tell him I was resigning and wanted no part of this.

I never did it. It's the type of thing that looks great in the movies, but I can't imagine him just accepting my resignation. This is just speculation on my part, but I think it's highly likely that I would have gotten the same punishment, and then would have been sent back, maybe without my rank, but I still would have been doing the work as an officer. That's what happened to a lot of officers who got bumped; they lost the rank and privileges, but still did the same work.

I could have tried giving my resignation at a calmer moment, and explained my reasons, but I cannot by any stretch of the imagination picture it going well.

With everything I've learned as an adult, I still can't think of how I could have gotten out of being an officer, not without doing something really major in order to get a really huge punishment.

I don't know if any other officers thought the way I did, if several of us could have tried resigning at the same time, if I could have found even one other officer to lend me moral support and accompany me when going to the Commandant and Sister Mary David and telling them that hitting kids with rifles was wrong, that making bedwetters wear their urine-soaked pajamas around their neck all day was wrong, that so much about that school was wrong.

Can you imagine if some of us officers had actually rebelled? Yup, folks, I'm taking mutiny here. It would have been so worthwhile.

But I didn't do it, and nobody else did either.

As usual, comments are welcome.

Copyright (c) 2011 Linton Hall Cadet. Please respect copyright by linking to this blog instead of just copying and pasting. Thank you!
This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.