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A boy gets a pistol — and an education — at military boarding schools

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Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:52 am, Sat Feb 25, 2012.

I hated Military School.

As a child I suffered chronic bronchitis. So my parents sent me to the Palo Alto Military Academy to be away from the fog and the wind of our home in Salinas. It was 1929 and I was a 6-year-old in first grade.

I suffered tears and trauma every time the folks brought me back to school after a weekend at home, or when they would occasionally come up for a Sunday picnic. I looked forward to their visits eagerly, but hated it when they left.

Corporal punishment was still in vogue in those days, and I can recall a few whacks with a ruler on my butt from Col. Kelly. I don't remember what my transgressions were, but I suppose I either mouthed off or failed to follow orders. Keeping my room in shape, sweeping, making the bed, shining shoes, etc. were always a chore that I would resist, and would accumulate some demerits. Demerits were worked off by "walking the track." The track went around the soccer field, and we would be assigned a certain number of laps to walk after class. My only consolation for this was that I was never alone. There were always several others doing the same thing. I guess they didn't much care for Military School either.

One of the highlights of my time at Palo Alto was the Saturday afternoon movie. We would all line up and march into town (about 20 blocks) to the Stanford Theater. I recall that each of us was given a dime for admission and another to buy some candy. We also marched to church on Sunday. We were broken up into small groups, depending on church affiliation, and I think we also got another dime at that time for the collection plate.

I can say one good thing for the Academy: I got a pretty good education. Our classes were small, maybe 10 to 12 students. The teachers were good, and study hour in the evenings was rigidly enforced. After study hour we were allowed to listen to the radio for a short time. I recall that I was a lucky one. Dad had bought me a large Atwater-Kent radio.

I left Palo Alto in February of 1933, about midway through the fourth grade, when we departed for our around-the-world trip.

When we returned from our trip in 1935, I spent a year attending the Arroyo Seco School. I then returned to the Palo Alto Military Academy.

My last time at Palo Alto wasn't so bad. I was older, and found my studies more challenging.

One of the high spots of this year was that I was made Sergeant-Major. At parades, which we held every Sunday afternoon, I wore a sidearm. This was an old .22 pistol, but I thought it was big stuff.

I got my first taste of newspapering then. We had a school newspaper, which we printed from a carbon rubbed onto a slab of gelatin. I did some writing and typing, and although we were all amateurs, I think we put out a pretty good product.

After Palo Alto, I attended high school at San Rafael Military Academy.

One of the most enjoyable activities for me at San Rafael was the rifle range. They had a 22-caliber range underneath the administration building and we regularly shot for medals. By the time I graduated, I had qualified for all nine bars on the sharpshooter medal. From time to time we would also go out to Fort Baker and shoot 30.06 rifles on the army range. I recall that we all came back with sore shoulders after a day out there.

At school, we held a formal parade almost every Sunday afternoon. This meant that when we were away for a weekend, we had to be back on the campus by about 4 p.m. The parade took only about 15 minutes, but it was an annoyance that we all hated. The only bright spot was that we were invited to do the parade at the World's Fair on Treasure Island. We found this pretty exciting. Besides showing off to a large crowd, we were allowed to roam around the fair. We spotted Sally Rand's Nude Ranch and this caused some teenage speculation, but we were too young to be admitted.

I graduated in June of 1940, shortly before my 17th birthday. Little did I know how much I would need this early military training when World War II broke out the next year.

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