Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Becoming Part Of The Regiment - 1970 - The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia - Part I

But as you know, the tradtion of Xavier as a thoroughly military academy did not survive the antimilitary sentiment of the Vietnam War. I lamented when the school announced that the the Regiment would no longer be compulsory, and I continue to think that was a mistake.

Antonin Scalia (Class of 1953) - Speech to the JROTC Regiment at Xavier High School - May 17. 2011

Scalia At Gettysburg

What ever you might think of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, I have to tell you the guy could give a good speech.  I saw him at the Sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg address in November of 2013, when as part of the ceremonies he swore in sixteen new citzens.  In his speech he mentioned that his father was an immigrant and that his grandmother wanted him to grow up to be President. I thought it odd that he had to mention about the only thing the new citizens would not be eligible for, but nobody seemed to mind.  There was a standing ovation, but, to be fair, it was probably more intended for our new fellow Americans, who had just abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign princes or potentates, than for the Justice.

Scalia Addressing The Regiment

There is another Scalia speech that is even more interesting, to me anyway.  In 2011 he spoke to the JROTC Regiment of Xavier High School - his regiment and mine.  Rather humorously, he led off by recalling his cadet rank - lieutenant colonel, which he took some pride in since his postion in command of the band usually only called for the rank of major.  For whatever it is worth, there was a round of bonus promtions, in my year that caused many seniors to go one rank over what their postion called for and others like me to catch up.

Some Interesting History

One of the things that Scalia alludes to is some history that people now and even back in my day were only dimly aware of.  Referring to the period in the 1890s when particpation in the school's military program became mandatory:
I have no doubt those first Xavier cadets played a small but important role in reinforcing public perception of Catholic loyalty and civic virtue.
Growing up in the metro New York area it was easy to miss that you were living in a Protestant country. Before the 20th century,  Americans fought a war of Independence and something of a redo of that in 1812 and a Civil War of mindblowing magnitude and for centruries contended with the indigenous peoples, but whenever they fought actual foreign countries they were Catholic countries - France, Mexico and Spain.  During the Mexican War, Catholic soldiers for a variety of reasons deserted to the Mexican side and formed the Battalion de San Patricio, still remembered as heroes in Mexico and Ireland.  In the United States not so much.

The special American history books we had in parochial grammar school did not include  much of that history.  We were told about the disproportionate number of Catholics who had died fighting in America's wars and were somehow given the impression that iconic figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln would have been Catholics, if they had just had better educations.

I was more interested in history than most kids and I cound not help but notice that the pre-1776 version of history in our textbooks flew in the face of the common culture, which is something of a Protestant myth. We learned that the Spanish and French, while sometimes mean to the indigenous peoples, were not nealy as mean as the English and that Bloody Mary was much nicer than Good Queen Bess.  Things like the San Patricios and 19th century convent burning were left out.

So the marvelous collaboration between the Society of Jesus and the United States Army in the forming of young Catholic gentlmen that was embodied in the Xavier High School Regiment seemed perfectly consistent.

Joining The Regiment

At least that was the way it looked in September 1966.  The highest rated pop song in 1966 was the Ballad of the Green Berets. By the end of the year, there would be 385,000 American troops in Vietnam. By September enough Americans would have died in Vietnam to fill 10 of the 70 panels on the East Wall of the monument in Washington and I put on my uniform for the first time.

It is very important to note that the school was much more Jesuit than it was military. Operationally, it was probably not that different from St. Peter's Prep, Brooklyn Prep or Fordham Prep.  The big difference from Regis, which Scalia and I both applied to and did not make, was that they were a lot smarter than we were. One of the really magical things about that period was that the most elite high school any of us knew about charged no tuition.

The Xavier tuition at $400 was not insubstantial and then you throw in about $200 for the uniforms and I forget how much for books. They were a real hardship for my mother, but she believed that the "male influence" would be good for me.  My father had died a year before and my brother home after five years of chasing Russian submarines and rescuing astronauts was doing a creditable job, but he would move out before long.  I had formed the notion of going to Xavier from my friend on the block Dave Gallagher, two years ahead of me.  His father, Mr. Gallagher, was very active in the parish and had been my counsellor for the Ad Altare Dei award from the Boy Scouts, which I never quite finished.  Mr. Gallagher had also gone to Xavier.

Start Marching

Freshmen were oriented for a day or two, before school started.  Seniors, who would soon be cadet officers, taught us to stand at atttention and march and about placing brass and gig lines.  Father Dineen, a counsellor type, told us we should realize that those young men were new to authority and should not be too upset by them - a notion lost on my 14 year old mind.

The structure and order of the school was Jesuit and embodied in Father Heavey, the Prefect of Discipline, who struck terror in my heart.  His memory still does. My friend JerrySnee, a year behind me at Xavier, had more exposure to Father Heavey.  Jerry had the peculiar postion of Junior Provost Marsahll, which I won't even try to explain. I told him how even looking back on it, I have trouble, at a gut level, thinking of Father Heavey as just having a job to do.  He indicated that Father Heavey did seem to relish it just a bit too much and that he was a big man who moved very quickly.  The story was that Father Heavey thought more highly of the kids that he had in his office to tune up and was contemptuous of the run of the mill types that he cowed by by his demeanor.

Regardless, the tight structure of the school had a very positive effect in that the teachers who cared to be were quite relaxed and could just coast on the institutional discipline and focus on teaching.

What It Was Like For The Privates

The military as far as freshmen was concered meant wearing the right uniform everyday.  Once a week a couple of cadet officers (all officers were seniors) came into the homeroom to inspect us.  And there was drill. Marching around the armory a few blocks from the school to prepare for a couple of reveiws and parades.  One of the reviews was on Thanksgiving morning as the football team played the big game against Fordham Prep.  It is the oldest high school football rivalry in New York City and having the whole student body out in uniform certainly added to the color.  Although, my friend Tom Burns, when the subject comes up, still bemoans having every family Thanksgiving ruined while he was in high school due to the excessive schlep.

Freshmen were not eligible for promotion.  The deal was that you could pick up two stripes as a sophomore and two more as a junior with the big bonanza of cadet rank coming at the beginning of senior year.  The system changed just a bit as few superior freshmen made PFC.  That rippled upward so that when I was a junior most of the guys I hung with were Sergeants First Class.

The other miltary flavored things were the hall monitors and detention to use more netural terms. Instead of detention we had "jug", a Jesuit high school term derived I read from "jugum" which meant yoke.  At Xavier it took a military turn involving marching around the quadrangle that spearated the two builidings or in inclement weather standing at attention on the seating stairs in the "old gym".  The "old builidng" faced 15th street and the "new building" (which really was pretty new then) faced 16th street as did the church next door, which also served as a parish church.

Hall monitoring was done by "MP"s.  Due to limits in the facilities only half the school could be at lunch or recess at a time.  So it was either Freshmen and Juniors or Sophomores and Seniors, with MPs drawn from the older class and required, I think, to serve one week in three.  Up till my junior year it was an extra random duty assigned to students, as was running jug.  MPs became a special unit when I was a senior, an inherently flawed idea, but more on that later.

Military Memories

At any rate I only have two military memories from my Freshman year.  The one concerns drill.  My memories of drill at the armory are so vague that I cannot even tell you what company I was in or who my company commander or platoon leader were.  I think I was likely in the third or fourth squad of my platoon, possibly due to my height (I was already six feet tall).

What I remember distinctly was an officer who was Asian, pretty uncommon at Xavier, and the seniors who were in the ranks with me who mocked him, in a racist manner.  I remember walking with those seniors and their telling me how the colonel was actually an all right guy and they had gone out with him and even gotten laid (which was a very shocking concept to me).

My interaction with those seniors is indicative perhaps of a flaw in the system that is perhaps not that uncommon.  These guys stood in the ranks with me, because they were, like me, privates.  Their class could not have been very different from mine in regard to the rank compostion of the senior class, which in a particularly inane project I recently analyzed.  In my senior class there were over 220 kids.  The most common rank was first lieutenant. The average rank was a hair below master sergeant.  There were 17 privates - less than 10% of the class.  And those were the seniors along with 28 PFCs who stood in the ranks with the freshmen privates and probably had more influence on them than the cadet officers.  The other thing you need to remember is that the school was in New York City and the kids were not counrty bumpkins, but New Yorkers - bunch of cynical bastards in a goodly percentage, regardless of having been the brightest boys in parochial grammar schools.


At any rate, my only other freshman military memory is the first time I ever got jug.  It was for being late.  Captain X (the Asian guy) was running jug and he terrified me almost as much as Father Heavey. I think Father Heavey might have showed up too, as it was early in the year. He  had us marching around in the quadrangle.  Father Dineen, the counsellor type, pulled me out and sent me on an errand of some sort.  I was very grateful.

The Faculty

Our teachers were a mixture of Jesuit priests, career lay Catholic high school teachers, young guys who hadn't quite gotten whatever would be the career going and Jesuit scholastics, who were, I think, about half way on their way to becoming Jesuit priests.  Since scholastis, like lay teachers, were addressed as Mister, I'll throw an SJ after their name for clarity.  As Freshmen, we were not exposed to the military science faculty.  There was one active duty officer, the Senior Army Instructor, one or two active duty sergeants and a few retired sergeants.  The latter were the most colorful membersof the faculty with the exception of Father Hareiss, but that is another story entirely.

As fresmen, we did not have military science classes and when not in the gray "summer" uniform wore the schools blue uniform everyday.  Upperclassmen had another uniform issued by the Army that was worn on certain days of the week.  The latter looked enough like an Army uniform that I have this memory of being on the Orange and Black bus one day and having a lady aske me if I was "going back".  I was seventeen.  I could see how it was plausible. Freshmen were part of the Regiment, but not formally enrolled in Junior ROTC therefore not wearing the Army uniform that might cause the uninformed to think they were soldiers - that and them being 14 and all.

The Gold Honor Cord

At any rate, I did well academically.  Our home room teacher in 1-E, Mr. Lux SJ taught us Latin and I got on with him pretty well.  Some kids had a real problem with him. Eddie Kulesza, who lived in Cliffside Park, right next to Fairview, hated the particular day of the week where we did not have Mr. Lux in first period, because it extended the stress through recess.  The mutual fondness that Mr. Lux and I had for one another may have had an unfortunate effect on my future acadmic career but that is a later story.

The "military" implication of my doing well academically was that after the first marking period, the gold cord of first honors became a fixture on my right shoulder.  I have to admit I thought it was kind of cool.

Rumors Of Anti-War

I also don't remember if there was much in the way of anti-war sentiment seeping into my consciousness as 1966 unfolded into 1967,  When I look at a timeline of anti-war activity, the event from the spring of 1967 that I can remember making an impression at the time was Martin Luther King coming out against the war and perhaps there is some of the essence of what made the coming years difficult.

In every conflict, I wanted there to be good guys and bad guys.  I can remember as a kid asking my father and a friend of his how Robert E Lee could be considered a hero.  I don't think the fellows had a really good answer for the budding neo-abolitionist in their midst, but it fed the confusion I experienced when I read in the parochial school history books that the Spanish were the good guys and the English the bad guys and compared that to the TV version of Francis Drake.

In the Civil Rights movement Martin Luther King was the good guys.  I had imbibed a fairly naive unsophisticated anti-racism from my parents and Father McTague, the saint-like curate in our parish that went on to become moderately famous.  So how could Martin Luther King be against the Americans in Vietnam, who were clearly the good guys?  I think at the time I just left it as a confusing detail like Robert E Lee, chief bad guy in the Civil War, somehow being a hero.

It did not take long to get weary of the trouble of dealing with the uniform and it is definitely more fun to watch marching than to, you know, actually march.  So it was clear by the end of Freshman year that I would never be super military, but the unity of values between the Army and the Jesuits remained undisturbed.  And that may well be where to end this part of the story, which will be continued.

Peter J. Reilly CPA hoped to be an historian, but public accounting has been good to him.

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