Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Xavier Regiment - Back To The Future

In the last couple of years I have been sporadically haunted by memories of my somewhat peculiar high school days.  Xavier High School at 30 West 16th Street in Manhattan, one of New York City's then five Jesuit High School, besides dividing its students into four years each comprising seven or eight homerooms was also organized as a Regiment as participation in Junior ROTC was a requirement for all students.

Interesting Times

 The school is just a few blocks north of Greenwich Village and I attended it 1966-1970, which were interesting times.

On the faculty were soldiers, some just back from Vietnam, and Jesuit priests and scholastics, whose friends were under observation by the FBI for anti-war activities. There were also lay teachers, probably the majority - career high school teachers and young guys who would move on to something else.

The Passing Of A Supreme Court Justice

But that was then and this is now.  More recent events further sparked my memory.  There was the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia Class of 1953 who addressed the Regiment (now an optional activity) in 2011 and, among other things, lamented Xavier's departure from being thoroughly military.

A Reunion

There was my 45th reunion, which made quite an impression on me as we all broke into cheers and a rousing rendition of the school song as our cadet colonel was introduced, acknowledged by all attending to have been the best colonel in the history of the school.

The Boy Who Would Be Colonel Or Not

And then there was my get together with Jerry Snee Class of 1971 and founder of Squidget Inc who related to me his obsession with becoming the colonel of his class and being quite chagrined when he was named Executive Officer of the Regiment, the second highest rank attainable.

Burn Draft Records ! - No Church Parade For You

And during this project there was the passing of Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit who was on the run from the FBI while we donned our uniforms everyday,  As I and many other from my class went to New England to start college, Father Berrigan went there to start his prison term in Danbury, Ct.  Father Berrigan's funeral was live streamed from the church attached to Xavier.  I think a church parade and attendance by the Regiment in uniform would have been perfect.  With a magnet and a coil of wire the spinning of Father Berrigan in his grave could have powered Manhattan for weeks.

Not Quite Done

The finale of my memoir series has been stalled due to my having other things to do and because I am still trying to pry a little more information out of classmates. I'm still hoping to get a little more on the mysterious organization called PAX (Positive Action for Xavier) which arose among some of my classmates in 1969 or 1970, but I thought to keep interest alive I could report two contemporary matters that tie into Xavier's past.

Let's Put On A Show

The first is a play, written and directed by John Frank Class of 1971 called the "The Institute - Coming of Age During the Vietnam War"which will be done by the 2nd Act Players of Evanston IL  from October 21 - November 13.

Sorry, I just couldn't choose between the videos. So I had to show you both.  The poster for the play, designed by John's daughter is a real beauty and I have it framed and hung in the office.

The background photo is of something that will never be seen again.  It is the winter review of the 1970-1971 year, the last year that the Regiment and the school were the same.  In the subsequent year, according to Father Lux, who as Mr. Lux was my Freshman homeroom teacher, participation in the regiment dropped to about 30% of the student body when it became optional.  The picture is great as it shows most but not all of the Regiment and I just love the detail

Note the kid standing by his lonesome just a bit from the left edge.  That has to be the Sergeant Major of the Second Battalion.  The duos as you go right are Company Commanders with their guidon bearers.  The white covered hats in the middle are the X-Squad, Band and color guard,  The thing that most intrigues me are the kids in the back standing by the wall.  My guess is that they are with the Regimental Supply Corps, my people.  Our job was to show up early and stay late to load and unload a truck on loan from the Army with band instruments and drill rifles. They always had a hard time figuring out what to do with us during the event.

Sadly, I won't be able to a timely review of the play, as my schedule dictates that I will be going to the last performance.  John has let me see the script though and I am really looking forward.  The story is told through a group at their 45th reunion doing flashbacks, with the same actors moving back and forth from old guys to teenagers. It is a work of fiction allowing for the contrast between the school's heritage and the sixties protest culture to be more sharply and dramatically portrayed than happened in real life.  That is as far as I will go not wanting to create any spoilers.

They Keep Marching

The other piece of the story is that I have done a little work on is the Regiment as it is now.  I was able to talk to Master Sergeant Clifford Stein who has been part of the Xavier High School Military Science Department for about ten years.

In order to be a JROTC instructor you have to be certified and hired by a school within two years of your retirement from active military duty.  MSG Stein started his certification at the same time he put in his retirement application - about a year before actual retirement - knowing that that was what he wanted to do.  He had another post-Army job offer in human resources but turned it down and has no regrets.  He doesn't understand why all retired military folks don't want to be JROTC instructors.

The JROTC instructors are actually employees of the school subsidized by US Army Cadet Command.  Back in the day, the MS faculty was a mix of retired and active duty soldiers.

A Shift In Emphasis

There has also been a shift in emphasis in the overall tenor of the program.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code declares that "the purpose of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps is to instill in students in United States secondary educational institutions the value of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment." 
The study of ethics, citizenship, communications, leadership, life skills and other subjects designed to prepare young men and woman to take their place in adult society, evolved as the core of the program. More recently, an improved student centered curriculum focusing on character building and civic responsibility is being presented in every JROTC classroom.
Essentially, JROTC has been demilitarized. MSG Stein is teaching things like leadership and personal finance.  When I told him about my blocks of instruction in Weapons, Squad Tactics, Platoon Tactics and Counterinsurgency, he said that that sort of thing is forbidden as is explicit recruiting.

I remember Major Smullin, probably in the Psychology of Leadership block, giving us the sales pitch for Senior ROTC.  The context was entirely difference since as young American males we had, as one of our teachers put it, a military obligation. So Major Smullin could contrast the prospect of being an enlisted man or going through OCS with senior ROTC.  And thanks to our certificates of completion, he would be signing for us we would be able to grow our hair long for our freshman year at college, since we got to forgo the first year of real ROTC having covered all that at Xavier.

Anyway, MSG Stein told me that the school is required to have 10% participation and that it has 40%.  More than half the freshmen give it a shot and most of them soldier on so to speak.  He said that some of the football player will try to convince kids it is uncool, but many see the benefits of leadership training.

At 400 or so, the program is light for even a battalion, but it is allowed to maintain designation as a Regiment out of tradition.

There is one thing that I had to ask him about which is a little amusing.  Take a look at the ribbon rack on the kid on the right in the picture below

I checked the yearbook and noted that I had had four ribbons and then looked at others and noted that I was pretty average.  Our colonel Charlie Brown had seven.

MSG Stein kind of laughed and said that he thought that it has gotten of hand.  In his 20 plus years in the real Army he earned 12 ribbons.  He said that they have some sort of camp that fifty of the kids go to each year and that it is possible to pick up five ribbons there.  He'd like to get it more under control, but has not had much luck.

More Officers

The other thing that he told me that I find beyond hilarious is that all seniors in the program are cadet officers.  Since there are not enough officer slots to go around, there is one platoon that is made up entirely of cadet officers.

This does solve a problem which I noted in one of my earlier posts.  As a Freshman at Xavier, if you had no previous connection to the school, the first seniors you encountered would either be giving you orders, maybe yelling at you or condescending to you.  Likely the first senior you encountered more or less as a fellow student would be a fellow private standing next to you in the ranks.  He would be mocking the pretentiousness of his classmates who were nominally in charge.

You are a private because all freshmen are privates.  He is a private after maybe ten or so promotion opportunities that yielded not even a single stripe.  To manage that without getting thrown out of the school required that you walk a fine line.  My friend, John Sundman, tried to manage to match his brother's achievement by graduating as a private, but somehow screwed up a couple of times and finished as a corporal.  At any rate, the seniors who interacted most closely with freshmen in a military context were those that would be the worst influence.  I really liked those guys and have a sneaking admiration for my seventeen classmates who were in the privates club.

The program is optional now so anybody who is really anti-military will drop it presumably.  Still in any group striving for excellence there have to be those who are less than excellent.  Now rather than those being the seniors put in close contact with freshmen, they are isolated in the second lieutenants platoon.  I think there might be something lost there.  Most distressing of all must be to be the platoon leader of that platoon.  All your platoon leader buddies have freshmen holding them in awe and you've got the guys who came up through the ranks with you although maybe not so much on the coming up.

Of course, maybe Xavier today does not have cynical wise-asses salted among the ranks,  Given that the school is still in New York, though, I suspect there still might be a couple.

We're With You

Anyway in a not entirely rational manner, it some how feels good that much of the school "keeps marching" into the new millennium with colors continuing to fly and guidons as high as ever, if not higher.  That's from the school song of course, which at least the reunion goers among us will break into at the drop of hat.

One thing you will note besides the fact that for the most part we don't sing very well is that the line that gets really emphasized is not about marching and victory it is "We're with you".  I'll leave it at that for now as I wait for just a bit more information from my classmates.

And I would love to hear from those who are more in touch with the school as it is now.

Peter J Reilly CPA attributes the low marks his partners gave him in executive presence with his failure to absorb lessons in bearing and appearance that he was offered at Xavier High School.  His problems with authority were developed by Franciscan nuns and cannot be attributed to Jesuits or the Army.

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