Monday, May 30, 2016

Sons Of Xavier Keep Dancing - An Interlude In My Account Of The Decline Of The Regiment

I left off this account of the decline of the military at Xavier High School in the Fall of 1968, as we started our Junior Year.  Those of us who got good grades and stayed out of trouble  were already cadet corporals and thanks to a wave of rank inflation that finally reached our class would add three stripes and finish the year as Sergeant First Class.

The War Goes On And On And On

The war and opposition to it was no longer a crisis. It was a condition.  Richard Nixon was elected President promising a secret plan to end the war.  The secret remained secret throughout his first term, although American involvement had peaked and began to decline.  1968 was as bad as it got, but 1969 was not much better.

As I indicated in the last piece a Catholic peace movement had started in force and everybody was now divided into hawks and doves.  But as happens with these things, the controversy about the war became just one of those things.  Life went on.

A Wonderful Life

And frankly, that year it was as they say a wonderful life.  In both high school and college, junior year was the best. I doubt that it is universal, but there is really something magical about junior year.  There is still some promise of a future but you have probably to some extent found what your place is in the mini world of your school.

At the second night of my 45th reunion where all the five-year classes were gathered having dinner in the new gym, I had this thought as I walked by the various tables. The tables not far from us plus sixty guys, the classes from say 20 to 35 years out were going through the stage of their professional life that corresponds with junior year in either high school or college.  You have been there and done that, but there are still quite a few years of doing to still do.  You probably have some sense of what the limits of your achievements will be, but there is still potential.  There is much behind you but there is still quite a bit ahead.

I'm planning on focusing on non-military matters in this post, but my "military" job as a junior was so extraordinary that I can't let it pass.

The Arms Room

 While the non-classroom piece of militaria for most Xavier students was weekly drill with their battalion. My regular weekly duty was one day in which I was NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of the Arms Room.

Despite the anti-war sentiments that had made their way into my mind the typical American boy who played "war" with his friends and watched Combat religiously had not gone away.

And for that boy, the Arms Room was a garden of delight.  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that it would outfit the heavy weapons platoon of a WWII rifle company.  Lots of M-1s, some M-1 carbines and BARs, a .50 caliber machine gun, a mortar and some 1911 Colt .45s among other wonders.

I and the freshman under my command, a kid named Tracy, issued M-1s to the X-Squad so they could practice on the roof and did an inventory of everything including stuff that rarely, if ever, left the Arms Room.

In what  I considered a somewhat perverse development, our commander also started having us drill on the roof even though we did not march in parades and reviews.  I think the rationale was that the Juniors needed the practice for the upcoming OCS, that was Major Smullen's innovation.

The amusing thing about drilling on the roof rather than in the armory is that we would sometimes attract the attention of young women in the apartments across Sixteenth Street.  There are stories about some of those young women being careless about the drapes while wandering about their apartments unclothed.  But I never witnessed that.  I'm sure I would remember if I had.

So yeah, we were interested in girls.  Well almost all of us, but we covered that in a previous post.  And that was one of the reasons that Junior year was magical for me.


Although I sometimes had thoughts of somehow connecting with girls in the Fairview Cliffside area, I ended up doing most of my dating through the Xavier "mixers".  Every few weeks or so a too loud garage band playing on the stage of the new gym on Friday while we circled around gathering up courage to ask girls to dance.  We were allowed to wear jacket and tie rather than uniform on those Fridays.

Once in a while I would hit it off which might lead to a date or two.  Sometime in Freshman year, I ended up with a full fledged girl friend.  Meeting her parents and getting involved with her friend group.  She lived in Stuyvesant Town, which was called the Irish Ghetto.  Her father worked for Metropolitan Life, which I think owned Stuy town and had  graduated from Xavier.  It continued through Sophomore year and somehow just tailed off.

Then in junior year, something extraordinary happened.  We were encouraged to go to the football games.  School spirit you know.  As I think about it, not too many of my friends bought into that.  My memories of going to the games except the big one against Fordham where we were all required to go are largely solitary experiences.

Possibly the last non-Fordham game that I went to, because my every other Saturday job would convert to every Saturday, was against St. Cecilia's.  A bit of football trivia that every Xavier graduate will have to work into a lengthy treatment is the seven blocks of granite.  It was a famous line of the Fordham University football team in the 1930s.  One of the blocks was Vince Lombardi, who started his career coaching St. Cecilia's.  Another block was Leo Paquin who coached Xavier and never moved on.

Regardless, being in Englewood the game did not have a big turnout on the Xavier side, but that was not the significance of the game to me.

A girl had come to the game with her brother, who was a year behind me at Xavier. I'm going to call her Kay, which is not her real name.  We started talking and somehow or other we hit it off.  I asked her out.  Probably to a Xavier mixer for the first date, which did not make a huge amount of sense, since she lived a reasonable walking distance from where I did.

Still it was great riding home with somebody on the Orange and Black bus.  Even though there was a Xavier connection to our meeting, it was a major boost to my self-esteem that I had actually met and asked a girl out in a situation not designed for that.

Kay was really wonderful and we lasted a few months.  I really still kick myself that I let the relationship wither.  I was never able to articulate why I did that. I remember discussing it with my friends who went to Cliffside High with her.  I made this lame comment about Kay's friend group that I met and Alan Jacobs, who was absolutely the coolest kid in Bergen County, told me that I was being ridiculous.  He knew some of them and thought that they were cool.  So they must have been.

Maybe after a couple of years of therapy, I might be able to write more on that relationship, but there is not much more Xavier connection to it, so I will move on.

It was back to the mixers and that leads to a romantic epic that carries over into senior year.

On Being Tall

The circumstances of my upbringing made girls somewhat mysterious to me.  Systems were designed to have boys and girls live in alternate universes that only occasionally interacted.  One thing I did learn though was that there was this rule that a girl's date should be taller than she is or at the very least not shorter.  It was not an absolute, but it was pretty strong.

That was probably a factor in my success with Kay, who seriously outclassed me. She was about as tall as I was - over six feet.  She was also very smart, probably Regis smart, which from what I can gather might not have been a normal path to popularity at Cliffside High.

As I reflect on this.  I'm thinking that the gift of my height that I failed to appreciate was punished in the subsequent year.  But before I get into the story, I'll tell you a bit about my friend Victor.

Mutt And Jeff

At Xavier, my closest friend group was Tom Burns and Mike Oleske, with whom I ate lunch everyday and had out of school adventures with.  They usually involved drinking another painful topic I am passing over in this treatment.  Tom had pulled John Sabini into our orbit.  The common bond was Jean Shepherd.  I could try to explain the appeal of Shepherd to teenagers like us, but you wouldn't understand.

I also had a close friendship with Victor Donovan, but that was not that integrated with anything else.  Victor was part of what I now call the Gang of Five that Junior Year was Greek Honors, AP Latin and AP English.  Victor also took German as did I, so our schedules were identical.

There is this odd thing when I mention Victor to other guys at reunions. Very few seem to remember him.  Like I start wondering if he was my imaginary friend.  As it happens we both went to Holy Cross and majored in English (I switched to history), lived on the same corridor as Freshmen and hung out together there.  As a matter of fact, Victor was the only one of the sixteen or so other Xavier graduates in my Holy Cross class that I spent a lot of time with, but that of course is a more advanced story.

Victor was actually of about average height but I think possibly because of his brothers he would sometimes get belligerent on behalf of the oppression of short people.  When we were visiting Holy Cross, his mother said to me my mother as we were walking ahead of them "Look, Mutt and Jeff", which kind of annoyed him.

I think Victor had a somewhat more engaging life in his neighborhood in Queens than I did in Fairview.  He had a long term off again on again girl friend in his neighborhood in Flushing, so he may not have hung around Xavier as much as I did. At any rate, Victor plays a key, though largely passive, role in this part of the story, so it was important to introduce him.

The Junior Ring Dance

I met this girl named Barbara at one of the mixers Junior year.  I don't remember which of the Catholic girls schools she went to, I don't think it was Notre Dame or Holy Rosary and those are the only two I can think of right now and I am not inclined to go on another research project.  She lived in Secaucus which to a person in Fairview without a car is one of those you can't get there from here places.  Often the only way to get from one point in New Jersey to another was to take a bus into Manhattan and another one out.

The Junior Ring dance was coming up. I asked her to it and she accepted.  As I recall it was an extremely watered down prom like thing held in the new gym.  Jerry Snee told me that helping plan the Junior Ring dance was a step in his campaign to become Colonel - go figure.

At any rate for the Junior Ring dance Victor's girl next door was in on again mode.  Unbeknownst to me and also of no apparent significance she exchanged phone numbers with my date.

Further attempts to date Barbara came to naught so I moved on.

The Military Ball

The Military Ball was the high point of Xavier's social life.  I think it was open to all classes, but it was mainly a senior thing.  It was held in some sort of fancy venue rather than the gym.Mike Oleske introduced me to his sister Mary, a junior at I don't remember which of the girls schools, which now launches a Jean Shepherd style diversion

Tom Burns and I had gotten into the habit of walking up Fifth Avenue to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

With your solid knowledge of Manhattan geography, you realize that that is a decent hike.  The rule of thumb is that 20 city blocks makes a mile so the northbound piece of the trip 16th to 42nd is over a mile.  To shorten the walk a bit it would have made more sense to go up the Avenue of the Americas, which everybody called Sixth Avenue (I think they finally gave up on trying to change that), but Fifth Avenue was more engaging and of course it would have been shorter to cut over to Eighth Avenue on 40th Street, but we were 16.

The walk as we did it had us go three blocks on 42nd Street.  42nd Street from Times Square to Eighth Avenue was tragically Disneyfied as the twentieth century drew to a close, but in 1969 it was the type of place people from Sodom and Gomorrah would visit when they wanted to let loose a little.  Just breathing the air on that block was a near occasion of sin.  The mere titles of the movies could trigger impure thoughts.  Besides Tom and I like to walk.

During one of these nearly daily treks, as I think we were passing the Empire State Building, the upcoming military ball was under discussion.  Tom, in his deep wisdom, issued a solemn warning - "Just remember, you are the blind date".  A Jean Shepherd scholar would recognize the reference immediately.  In case  you haven't read In God We Trust - All Others Pay Cash recently, the meaning was that by introducing me to Mary for Military Ball purposes, Mike was definitely doing me a favor, Mary maybe not so much.  In the not very long run that proved true, but I suspect, particularly given what happened, she did not regret it.

A week or two before the military ball, there was a special dance at the high school.  Seniors brought their military ball dates to that dance.  A committee, composed I think of Xavier mothers, selected the queen of the military ball and her four princesses.

As I have noted before my primary reference group what I call the Unclique and the Gang of Five, which consisted of myself and seven others (Mike Oleske was also in both groups) was altogether remarkable for our military mediocrity all holding ranks within one standard deviation of the mean rank of Master Sergeant,  Thus I think it is of interest to note that two of the four military ball princesses were Mary and Victor's girl next door,

You might recognize the reason for the height rule from the yearbook picture of the Queen and her court with their consorts.  Victor is second from the right.  If his date had been standing in front of him he would have been entirely invisible. You have to take my word that I am second from the left.

Of course, Tom was right about the blind date thing, I was quite smitten with Mary, but she not so much with me. but Victor's girl next door would play a role in my next "dating adventure"

Getting Asked To A Prom

Prom was a really big deal for some girls.  I think it was mainly about the dress - kind of like having a Sam Browne was the thing about being an officer.  The girls at the single-sex Catholic high schools have to get their dates from somewhere and there is that height rule.  All that works to explain the phone call that I got probably in March 1970 from Barbara.  The purpose was to ask me to be her prom date.

Sometime afterward, Victor told me the story behind the story.  He and his girl next door were in off again mode not speaking to one another.  She came storming into his house to ask him a question.  She needed my phone number.

I have to go into imaginary mode.  Sometime, probably early in Sophomore year, if not eighth grade, Barbara had started working on her prom plan.  The main thing, clearly, is the dress, but the date is also an important element.  What all the elements of her ideal prom date might be, I have difficulty conceiving.  I'm thinking that quite likely I had few of them.  However, I did have the sine qua non. I was taller than she was.  So my dossier was added to her file of potential prom dates.  Included in the dossier was contact method - the phone number of Victor's girl friend, who despite her failure to follow the taller than rule understood it and could be relied on.  There was probably some sort of backup contact plan - perhaps a surveillance team cruising the streets of Fairview looking for awkward adolescents in peculiar uniforms.

As the time approached and she began to get desperate, my file was finally opened and with some chagrin, it was acknowledged that I might do.  And of course the phone number of the girl in Queens, who knew, but as it turned out was not speaking to, the boy who knew me was there.  Sisterhood apparently trumped pride so Barbara now had my phone number and called.

The Economic Impact

Usually when I relate the prom story, my main emphasis is on the enormous financial hit that I took. I could probably get into a fairly elaborate bit of amateur sociology about social class and economics and, who knows, white privilege.  The effect of the way Catholic high schools, particularly Jesuit schools, ran was to suppress social economic differences among the students in the school, but of course you probably didn't go to a Jesuit high school unless your family was at least middle class in attitude.

And middle class in attitude would probably be the best explanation of the life my mother and I were living in 1970 regardless of the fact that we were statistically living in poverty.  Probably the biggest signs of our lack of affluence were that we did not have a car, were heating with coal and the house she had inherited from her mother was falling down around us.  Both my brother and I did not get driver licenses until we were 24.

 On the other hand, there was no question that I was going to college.  My mother's family, the Lyons, had been more or less one of the founding families of Fairview.  Fairview has historically been peopled by the most recent batch of the wretched refuse yearning to be free.  Suppression of immigration after the twenties allowed a couple of generations to actually stay in place.  In that type of environment having an ancestor who had been in the Civil War was the equivalent of being a Mayflower descendant in the rest of the country.  In retrospect I think a number of breaks I got were related to respect for my mother's family.

At any rate, I had developed some odd habits of frugality from our circumstances.  For example those long walks with Tom Burns.  Tom indicated that he was motivated purely by the exercise and the pleasure of walking.  I on the other hand had a fiscal incentive. My mother gave me two dollars every day.  That covered round trip on the Orange and Black bus to the Port Authority, two subway tokens and a drink with the lunch that I brought with as much as a quarter left over.  I would buy the two tokens every morning but on many days only use one.  After about a month I would have an accumulation of subway tokens that allowed me to stop buying them for a while giving me the munificent sum of forty cents in extra spending money.  Talk about feeling prosperous.  Forty cents went a long way in 1969.

Barbara indicated that her parents were paying for the limousine that was being shared with two or three other couples, but I had to rent a tux.  As I recall that was forty bucks, an enormous sum.  That was a weeks take home pay from my summer job packing dresses as Lou Mallas Inc or nearly a month's worth of Saturdays on Tony Genaro's bread truck.

And then after the prom we were going to none other than the Copa Cabana.

That was also on me and I think may well have been another forty bucks after a scam pulled by the maitre d'.  It still bugs me.  As we were riding over in the limo the topic of a scholarship that the state of New Jersey had for everybody who did well on a certain exam or something.  I didn't get that scholarship because I had another scholarship, everybody else because, you know, they weren't as smart as me.  The maitre d' scam proved this.

The guy was very suave, kind of looked like Peter Graves in the original Mission Impossible

He just asked us if we were all over 18.  When the check came we saw we had not hit the minimum so we ordered another round.  Silly us.  Since we ordered the round after the check came it got tacked on.  But then the bastard really nailed us.  He comes back and says "I always try to get 15% for my people"  Each of the guys then threw in another couple of bucks.

On the way back I did the math.  We had been about twenty cents short.  If I had been  thinking quicker I would have told everybody to hold off and thrown in a fucking subway token.  Nobody else seemed that excited about it.  They also did the picture scam.  I forget what that cost, but maybe it was worth it.

It is an excellent illustration of the height rule in action,

The Down Side Of The Single Sex Schools

I have often remarked that I think single sex high schools are a very good idea.  I don't think I have ever met a woman who did not go to one who agreed with that sentiment nor a woman who went to won who disagreed with it. A story somebody told me that best illustrates the principle was from someone I knew in church.  She was pretty attractive and had a very positive personality so it was not surprising that she had been a cheerleader.  She also took calculus.  Only that didn't go too well.  She was the only girl in the class and got a distinct sense that she shouldn't do well and ended up dropping it.  Anyway that is one of the downsides of coed schools.

The downside of the single sex schools is that there is not as much opportunity to deveop ordinary friendships between boys and girls. I don't think that offsets the upside, but what do I know?

Maybe The Next One Is The Final

I am rather dissatisfied with this particular piece, but I am launching it anyway.  I would love to get an account of the Prom night that cost me eighty dollars from the view point of Barbara and her friends.

Peter J Reilly CPA is still over six feet tall, but not nearly as good at chess as he was when he was 18,  He is less mystified by women than he was then, but that is not saying a lot.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Daniel Berrigan And Those In The Silent Generation That Did Not Shut Up

Just over a week ago, I found myself watching a live stream of the funeral mass of Father Daniel Berrigan.

My reaction was probably a little different from most. I laughed along with the physical audience when the homilist joked about there probably being FBI agents out there making sure that Berrigan, whom they had been tracking for nearly 50 years really was dead.  The thing that I could not get over though was the setting of the funeral Mass.

The Church Parades

The Church of St, Francis Xavier on 16th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan is a parish run by Jesuits - founded by Father John Larkin in 1847, It is a good sized building so it seems like a pretty reasonable setting for the funeral of the most famous Jesuit in the New York Province.  But there is this odd thing.  Also founded by Father Larkin in 1847 was the College of Saint Francis Xavier.  Ultimately it became a high school and it is right next door to the church.

Being a graduate of that high school, I was in that church numerous times.  The last time was last May for the Saturday Mass along with members of my class as a prelude to celebrating our 45th reunion along with all the other five year classes.  But that is not is what is most memorable about the church.

What is memorable is the church parades.  Because Xavier High School was not just a high school, with four years Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors divided into home rooms.  Since the entire student body was required to participate in the Junior ROTC program, Xavier was also a regiment.  Three battalions.  The First and Second divided into companies and platoons and squads and drilling for parades and reviews on either Monday or Tuesday at a nearby armory.  And the Third Battalion composed of special units - the color guard, X-Squad (precision drill team) and band who practiced intensively on the school roof or band room.  And then there was my beloved Supply Corps, which did not march in parades or reviews, but showed up early and stayed late to load and unload a truck on loan from the Army with band instruments and rifles.

We all had ranks and wore one of three uniforms every day, but I have covered that elsewhere.  Church parades were actually not much in the way of parades, as the entrance to the school was right next to the church.  Still there was something impressive about the whole regiment filing in.  Then there would be a "military mass", which some came to view as almost obscene. I think we probably had them about once a month.

At any rate, it introduced a bit of irony into the funeral of one of the era's greatest peace activists. Imagine that camera panning a congregation of 1,000 teenagers in military uniforms.  That was what that sanctuary would look like every month or so in 1969 when Father Berrigan was on the run from the FBI (Also ironically not an unusual career choice for Xavier graduates).

Candles of Joy and Concern

So I could not resist bringing it up at the "Candles of Joy and Concern" at my church last Sunday.  I attend the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester  (not to be confused with First Unitarian).  The practice there is for you to write your joy or concern on a card which Reverend Payson reads, which was unfortunate, since I have wretched hand writing, but it got across anyway.  It had an interesting result at coffee hour, which is probably as close as you get to a sacrament in UU churches.

Interesting Times

At coffee hour, I ended up deeply engaged with three women in their mid to late seventies (None of whom appeared to be a day over 65, by the way)  They all appreciated that I had made a gesture to mark Father Berrigan's passing,

  One of them had been a college professor.  Her salary was levied by the IRS, because she had refused to pay the excise tax on long distance phone calls. That tax had been dubbed "the war tax", perhaps because it had been explicitly enacted to fund an earlier war - the one against Spain.

Another told me about being part of an anti-war mothers group and getting a letter from either Nixon or Agnew chiding her on being unpatriotic.

One lady in particular had a fascinating story. I have this terrible memory for names, so I'm going to call her Ruth, which actually might have been her name.  I could have talked to Ruth for hours.  She had a rather fascinating background.  Her mother was a Missouri Synod Lutheran and her father was a physician of Italian descent.  So she attended Lutheran Church every Sunday but went to a Catholic girls high school, which is kind of unusual for the mid nineteen fifties.  Not at all surprising that one of her children ended up being a UU minister.

The really impressive thing to me though was that she grew up in Cliffside Park, which kind of wraps around Fairview, where I grew up to both the north and the east.  And she met boys like many girls from Catholic high schools by going to mixers at Xavier.  She even went to one of the military balls when she was 15.

Dentists For Peace - Who Knew?

She apparently didn't meet her husband at Xavier, he being Jewish and all, but that is neither here nor there.  He was a dentist and in the early sixties just out of dental school faced a dilemma.  There was a doctors draft that was pulling physicians in and there was some expectation that it would be extended to dentists.

Compared to most medical specialties it takes a lot of capital to start a dental practice. To start one up and then have to put it on hold could be disastrous.  So combining that practical issue with  some idealistic patriotism, he decided to join up.  He and Ruth spent three years at Fort Ord.  While he was there getting officers ready to go a long time without seeing a dentist again, he realized that that little thing they had going on over there in Southeast Asia was an actual war.

He finished up his three years in the Army and he and Ruth became anti-war activists. There was actually a dentists against he war group.  Who knew?  She remembered him one time coming from a meeting where there were photographers outside. Not from the newspapers as it turned out.

Being In The Silent Generation And Not Shutting Up

In the seventies, people began talking about how early it was that they were against the war.  By 1972 it almost seemed that the only reason for us to be in the war was to make sure we got our prisoners back.  As Ruth related to me her and her husband's experience being alienated from some of their family for their views, I realized how much harder things were for what was dubbed the Silent Generation.  (The Beat Generation was definitely a misnomer.  I once heard somebody say "Four guys don't make a generation" - referring to Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and some other guy.  Haven't been able to track the quote down.  Maybe I imagined it.)

You might call them the pre-Boomers, people born from 1937-1946. You might envy them to some degree.  There relatively low numbers in an expanding economy meant opportunity.  There was also an expectation that they should hurry up and get to work.  They were also unique in being the first birth cohort that grew up expecting that military service would be a common rite of passage.

In 1966, the top pop song was Ballad of the Green Berets

It took a lot more courage to speak out against the war in 1965, than it would a few years later when the Secaucus Seven loaded into their car in Boston to go to Washington.

Ruth met Father Berrigan when the Trial of The Catonsville Nine was being performed.  Peace activism will waxes and wane in its appeal, but it remains in part because there are people like Berrigan and these women who were inspired by him who keep it up consistently.  For them it was not a phase.  They remind me of my friend Tom Cahill, who I believe was the only US Air Force veteran to serve as a human shield in Iraq.

The best piece I can think of to sum them up is the poem by Bonnaro Overstreet

To One Who Doubts the Worth of
Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)

You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

Peter J Reilly CPA is altogether dissastisfied with this piece, but needs to move on.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Epilogue Class (1971) Gathers- 1970 - The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia - Part VII

My account of Xavier High School's last years as a "thoroughly military academy" to quote one of Xavier's most famous if not most beloved sons - Antonin Scalia Class of 1953 - might appear to have stalled, but I've been working on a difficult section.  Thankfully, John Frank has come to my rescue.  John reports here on the 45th reunion of the Class of 1971 and the memories they shared.

After they graduated, the military become optional.  When I was a freshman Mr Lux SJ had been my Latin and homeroom teacher.  In 1971 Father Lux became the Prefect of Discipline. He recently explained the denouement to me in an email.
 The sixties were certainly a different era. As you know I took over that revamped office from Fr. Heavey.  During a couple of years before my ordination in June 1971, Father Wood was the rector at XHS. There were continuing conversations during those years on the role of the military and the impact of the Vietnam war on the student morale at XHS. With great deliberation and after exhaustive consultation with all the constituencies of the school, Father Wood made the decision to have an optional JROTC program at the school. From 71 through my three years in that office the JROTC program had a 33% enrollment. And there was no conflict whatsoever when I was moderator with those in or out of the military. The student body without exception accepted the decisions of other students. I worked with Sergeant Major Carney for those years and he was a great teacher and leader by example. 
Incidentally, in the dictionary next to the definition of soldier they could put a picture of Sergeant Major Carney.

Anyway, I'm kind of a numbers guy, so I've got to say that even though they still call it a Regiment, at 1/3 of the student body it is more of an under-strength battalion making John's classmate Bob Meisner, the last Colonel. My friend Jerry Snee also class of 1971 told me an interesting story about Colonels Day that year.  (I have to say that Colonel's Day never made that big an impression on me.  It was just one of those schola brevis church parade days as far as I knew.)  Jerry had devoted himself to being the colonel of 71 and came achingly close being named the Regimental Executive Officer.  The tradition was that he would draw his saber to salute the new colonel and the rest of the Regiment would hand salute.  The Jesuit in charge of the ceremony told Jerry that there would be no saber drawing on the altar on his watch, so Bob had to settle for a hand salute from his XO.

Sorry for the extended intro.  Here is John Frank.
I traveled through time recently…or as close to it as is possible in our day and age. My trip took me back to the late 1960s and early 1970s to an incredibly special place in my life, Xavier High School in New York City. The occasion for my trip was the 45th reunion of my Xavier class of 1971.

Peter, who was a year ahead of me and with whom I spent many days in the chess club trying to become the new Bobby Fischer, has been recounting his recollections of Xavier here already.

It’s fair to say that Xavier was a nexus for so many social and national crosscurrents sweeping America in the turbulent 1960s. It was a military school when the Vietnam War was ripping the country apart. To add to the tension, it stood on the edge of Greenwich Village, about as counter-culture a place as you could find at the time.

And in an era when suburban flight was rampant in big cities, it drew suburban students back into the city, offering more, in their parents eyes, than the massive suburban high school campuses that were springing up to serve their new communities.

Xavier was also a Jesuit school, which meant the social justice currents of the civil rights movement and the upheaval in the Catholic Church post-Vatican II were on full display.

A classmate mentioned at our reunion that it you tried to create a Xavier for a fictional story about the 1960s, people wouldn’t believe it could exist. But it did and does, albeit in a much different form today. And, by the way, I’ve tried to capture it in my new play, The Institute, which you can read more about on my theater’s website.

We discussed all of this and much more in the two nights of events that made up our reunion. And whatever our feelings about all those issues swirling around the school in those days, we all agreed it was a unique place that we loved.

People who were pro-military loved it. People who were anti-military loved it. We loved it because it let us be who we were, and allowed us to discover who we were. In fact, it demanded we get to know ourselves and not accept the stereotypes others would tag us with.

There were jocks at Xavier and nerds (we were all nerds really) and musicians and future doctors, engineers and others, but we really never felt there were the cliques you see so much about in almost every movie about high school.

I  contend that was because of the military uniforms we wore and the haircuts we were required to get.

We first judge people by how they look…so when everyone looks the same, you have to think a little harder, spend a little time getting to know people before you decide if they’re people you want to associate with or not.  Xavier gave us that time, and again encouraged us to get comfortable with people we might never had gotten close to otherwise.

As we exchanged stories about teachers who threw erasers at us or stuffed people who weren’t behaving into lockers or held them out windows by their ankles (actual events all, I saw the first two and the third is class legend), it struck me that life at Xavier was a bit like the Bible and its view of God.

Freshman and sophomore years were Old Testament God all the way…strict discipline, rote learning (we memorized everything), constant toughening. Junior and senior year were New Testament God as seen through a Jesuit lens…love God, love your neighbor. After that, you’re free to question any and every rule of the church and the world.

Was that the plan all along, or was that a reflection of the massive changes our country was going through? I’d like to think it was a Jesuit plan and I’m sure they’d be happy to take credit for it.

I felt this reunion included more looking back than past ones had. We held our first event of the weekend at the 69th Regiment Armory where we drilled every week, so that likely prompted a lot of the looking back that night.

But our age had a lot to do with it too, I’m sure. We’re in our 60s now, a good portion of us have retired or are looking ahead to retirement. And that leaves those of us who were trained to lead, to be innovative, to be creative, wondering…well, what do we do now?

Our colonel, Bob Meisner, led a ceremony Friday night to recognize the departed members of our class, about a tenth of us, which for me only reinforced that we are so much closer to the end of our journey than the beginning as we were when we were at Xavier.  Touring the building with a fresh-faced senior lieutenant colonel reinforced that. He can’t imagine all life has ahead for him in his next 45 years before he’s our age…just as he can’t imagine being our age!

Some of us talked about caring for very elderly parents, others about new work projects, even new products they planned to launch.  I talked about my theater, a project that grew out of me wanting to write plays and to not wait for other people to decide to produce them after I decided to end my 39-year journalism career because of heart-health issues that had required surgery in 2012.

But mostly we talked about, and relived the past…all the great plays and actors we had seen thanks to Mr. Moroney (who came to our Friday event) – Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes, Jimmy Stewart, a very young Al Pacino…all the adventures we had drinking, underage, at places like McSorley’s, Steak & Brew and the Hofbrau House in Yorkville where we’d sit in the back room and sing German songs…all the times we had rushed to windows on the 16th Street side to see the prostitutes who lived across the street (Chelsea was much different in those days). They would stand naked in their windows around first period every day our junior year.

We remembered Miss Salvati (whom had already been mentioned in Peter’s blog) and how she helped us when we needed help…and Mr. Donelan who was simply crazy…and many legendary teachers I somehow managed to never have, like Mr. Wohling, Mr. Pacquin, Mr. (later Fr.) Lux…and every time we mentioned a name, it was like a magic incantation making us young again in 1967.

Xavier set us on our way back then, we had come back to say thanks and we left, hopefully, infused with that magic of our youth when no challenge seemed too large because we were Sons of Xavier.

Under age drinking - I'm shocked.

While at Xavier, I never fully appreciated the heritage of the 69th.  They were the First Regiment of Thomas Francis Meagher's Irish Brigade which played a large part in ending the pervasive prejudice against Irish Catholics, then the most despised white people in the United States. When I was at Gettysburg for the Sesquicentennial I ran into someone who was in a society dedicated to Irish Military History, which until the 20th Century mainly concerned itself with Irish men fighting for other countries.

One of my favorite song lines is from a song about another Irish Brigade that fought for France.
 - "And they, who survived, Fought and drank as of yore, But the land of their heart's hope. They never saw more,"


John Frank after 35 years in journalism is now a playwright.  His upcoming work The Institute is based on his experience at Xavier High School.

Peter J Reilly after a similar stint in public accountant hopes to become a writer.  Go figure.