(October through November 1959)
Story by Brian V. Brunner('64)
Afterword by Paul Tate, LWMA Faculty, 1965 - 1983
For me it was October 1959! Thirty-nine years ago this month (October 1998).
Based on what Phil Potts('63) had to say about cadet life at the school in 1958-59, I'm not too sure I would have wanted to be there that year. In fact, I didn't want to be there in 1959-60 either, but I think the situations and the overall condition of the school had already begun to improve that year.
(This was Col. Wesley P. Smith's first as President and General T. L. Futch's first year as Commandant of Cadets.)
What sticks out the most in my mind from that year? Rain. Rain. And more rain! I think we wore those black rubber raincoats and clear plastic hat covers almost everyday until spring! I know it was raining when my great uncle and Grandmother drove my brother, Richard, and me to Camp Hill from Atlanta! I will never forget looking out of the car at a foreboding looking building that I learned later was named "Tallapoosa Hall" as we parked in front of Ross Hall. Tallapoosa Hall had this massive three story clock tower on the near end. The front doors were on the ground floor and windows above on the second floor. The large circles where the clock faces should have been on the third floor were covered by white-painted boards. This building would not have been out of place in any number of old black and white monster movies. Ross Hall could have been some old plantation house from the Civil War days, and the Lyman Ward monument out front seemed to be a grave marker with cemetery benches on either side! I couldn't believe what my mind was telling me. Was I really supposed to live here and go to school? The cold rain and gray skies made the entire place and my dark thoughts even more foreboding! My brother and I were about to be left at this place! Dropped off by Uncle George and Grandmother. I could not believe what was about to happen. As I look back on those moments, I know that no one in the world could have told me then that two years later I would do everything in my power to get back to this place!
I can't say I felt, as Phil Potts('63) said, "thrown away". I knew this was the only chance I had to turn my life around, and thereby to stay out of a "Reform School." Yes, we had been in trouble with the law, and the judge had threatened to send us to place very similar to a jail for juveniles. My brother and I had just spent eight days in jail, a "holding tank" as it were, while Grandmother and the judge found a school that would take us despite our troubles. My mother had had a nervous breakdown, and my brother and I were running around with the wrong crowd. "Where was your Dad?" you may be asking. He was killed in an Air Force plane crash way back in 1950. I was five years old when my father died. Richard was sixteen and I was fourteen when we arrived at LWMA.
So, you might say, LWMA was a last chance for us to do good. I think my brother took it as that, but I'm not sure that I had it in my mind ever to do good. I did know one thing, however. I did not ever want to go back to something that remotely resembled that jail. That morning when we left our jail cell, we went directly to see the judge, and from there we drove to Camp Hill and to LWMA without ever stopping at home. Uncle George and Grandmother meant business. All of the clothes and a few other possessions that we would need at LWMA were already packed in two of my Dad's old U.S. Army trunks, one for each of us, and secured in the trunk of Uncle George's big Buick.
That night we got our uniforms from supply, and we were put in room #11 in Friendly Hall. Then we went to chow. Boy, the food was great! Everyday in jail we had fatback and grits (and, sometimes, watery powdered eggs) for breakfast, an almost "edible" lunch, and then cornbread and buttermilk was all we had for supper! The lunches must have been edible because I don't remember them! I can't remember complaining very much, if at all, about the food at LWMA. Now, you know why.
Later that same night in Friendly Hall after study hall was over at 9:00 P.M., we could open the door and go outside into "the hallway"! There was even a separate bathroom for us to use. We could even leave the building and go to the day room in "Old Brick" (Russell Hall) and get a Coca-Cola in a bottle from the machine there. We had to be back in bed for taps at 9:30. No bars on the doors or windows! Not even a fence or gate to keep us locked in! All we had to do was stay here at this school, stay out of trouble, and no more jail and no more threats of reform school! Considering the alternatives, that was just fine with me after I thought about it.
Because of our late start, we had only been at LWMA for a few short weeks before Thanksgiving came. Everyone was to go home for Thanksgiving, right? No, me and my brother were NOT going to get to go home. It was "Too soon", Grandmother said. That was the only time I ever felt homesick at LWMA! It seemed like everyone was going home except me and Richard. I wept that one time. Never again!
Then I found out that we were not alone, that there were others in the same fix. I guess we had about ten to fifteen other cadets who had to stay at LWMA for one reason or another.
I remember Loy Bascue ('61) was the high-ranking cadet in that group. He tried to make our stay at school as much fun as he possibly could and still stay within the rules. For example, the mess hall was closed that week. The school could not afford to pay cooks to cook for the handful of us "leftover cadets". The school had arranged for us to eat our meals at "The Station," the Panorama truck stop at the intersection of Alabama Highway 50 and US Highway 280 about one quarter of a mile west of the school. Loy was a sergeant and the leader of the drill team. Because of these positions, he had access to the drill team equipment. He checked out a white, crack drill team helmet for each of us. He made sure we wore the helmets when he had to march us the one-fourth mile to "The Station" for each meal. After the meal we would march back as a squad too. That was great fun! It would be 1961 before I joined the drill team for real.
Phil Potts('63) also remembers well that Thanksgiving Holiday week as he was one of the "Outcasts" with us. He will always remember the pool table nap and the lighted cigarette! I know that I will never forget his "Flying Saucer" sounds and cat calls he made over the P.A. system at night while he was "CQ" during that week!
We did get to go home for Christmas! I think that first Thanksgiving was the only time I ever had to stay at LWMA over a major holiday break. Phil Potts had to do it often, but he lived a lot farther from LWMA than I did. (He will have to fill you in on the all the other times he stayed at school or had to go home with someone else.)
From that time forward I felt more at home at LWMA in Camp Hill, Alabama, than I did at 3738 Clairmont Road in Chamblee, Georgia.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Next, I will have to tell you about how I did everything I could to get back to LWMA in the fall of 1961.
I did write that story after all. See the story about "My Lost Year at Mt. Berry, Georgia" to understand what happened there. (Story # 63 "I'm Going Back to Lyman Ward" in the contents pages.)