In his memoir about his first year at Linton Hall Military School during 1968-1969, Augustus Cho has written more than just his autobiography; this is really a biography of everyone who attended Linton Hall that year (as I did) or, for that matter, anyone who went there while it was still a military school, since we were all subjected to the same rules, schedule, and discipline.
Having arrived from Korea less than a month before the school year began and not knowing English, Cho faced unique challenges -- not only in being punished for not following rules that he was unable to understand, but also in not receiving candy from the canteen until he figured out for himself what to do, since he was unable to ask.
At the same time, his inability to communicate through language made him a perceptive observer of others' behavior, as demonstrated by the extreme level of detail with which he is able to describe events which took place at Linton Hall Military School almost forty-five years ago.
His book describes events and emotions with which Linton Hall alumni are all too familiar: his desperate, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempts at convincing his mother to take him out of Linton Hall, the deep contrast between the regimentation at school and the freedom and responsibility he enjoyed during weekend visits home, when, although ten years old, he would often go to the zoo with a friend and without adult supervision, as did many children that age. He wisely observes that freedom is not appreciated until it's taken away, and when one gets it back, he learns not to waste it.
In describing these events, Mr. Cho strikes a good balance between providing too much and too little detail, so that both alumni and those less familiar with Linton Hall Military School will find this book compelling.
One lesson Augustus Cho learned very well was persistence, since he ran away from Linton Hall Military School seven times. In a previous blog post I recounted that on one such occasion, the cadets in grades 7A, 7B and 8 had been made to comb through a field looking for him, and if I had been the one to find him, I would have probably pretended not to see him so that he could get away. (As an adult, I am much more aware of the dangers of hitching rides from strangers, so in retrospect I think it was better for him to have been caught, and am glad I did not have the chance to make a decision that I would have regretted.)
In his book he responds to my blog post, saying that he finds it encouraging that "there actually were cadets who sympathized with my predicament and understood what I was experiencing." If he had been able to speak English when he arrived he would not have faced so many difficulties, but he would also have learned that most of the incoming cadets harbored the same negative feelings about many aspects of Linton Hall, and talked about it quite openly at first. As time went on, we were less open in our criticism because of the danger of being overheard -- not just by a nun or an officer, but also by a tattletale. Tattletales were present at my previous schools, but they seemed to be much more prevalent at Linton Hall. Consequently, many of us at the time ended up thinking that we were the only ones who harbored negative feelings about the school, and it was not until decades later, when we regained contact with other alumni, that we discovered that many others had shared our feelings.
Cho recounts amusing incidents as well. Initially reluctant to take piano lessons, he changes his mind when he notices that cadets who take piano lessons on Tuesday or Thursday end up getting a half-hour respite from the two hours spent drilling in the cold, since piano lessons are given at the same time as drill. When his mother asks him what made him change his mind, he tells her that "Piano lessons improve the quality of life of a cadet."
Reflecting upon the overwhelming challenges of his first year, he says he was stronger and better for it. I do not believe that was the case for me.
"It may sound incredible," says Cho, "but I've had dreams over the decades of being back at Linton Hall Military School as a child, marching in the cold ... even after 45 years later." I don't find this incredible, since I have also had such dreams; frequently at first, when upon waking up in the dark I would feel the wall next to my bed, realize I wasn't at Linton Hall, but think that perhaps I was just home for the weekend, then as I became fully awake realizing that I had left Linton Hall for good and was far from Bristow, Va.. Those dreams became much less frequent as the years went by, but returned when I began writing my blog, and were a factor in my decision to stop writing about Linton Hall Military School.
I found it emotionally draining to read Cho's account, since memories kept flooding back, and I often felt as if I had been reading my own biography. I believe that other alumni will feel the same way, and recommend this book highly.
Great Light Will Shine volume 4: Linton Hall Military School
by Augustus Cho, 120 pages, $9.95 is available at amazon.com.
The previous volume of his autobiography, Great Light Will Shine volume 3
, covers his last days in Korea, as well as his first days at Linton Hall, and is available in paperback at lulu.com or electronic version at barnesandnoble.com. I recommend both books.
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