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Metamorphosis

by
Barry B. Longyear, SMA '60

You, Old Boys, climb to the top of Flagpole Hill... if you can.  Stand behind the monument, put the asphalt to your back, look over the cannon and toward the southeast.  It will look the way it always did.  I hear that and to test it, I climb the hill and have a look.

Trees grow and die, but the trees in that direction seem the same.  Houses are built and changed and removed, but those houses seem the same.  The descendents of the grass that witnessed those tens of thousands of reveilles and retreats seem the same.  For some of us, the flag has more stars but it seems the same.  I look a little to my left, until the superintendentís house moves into view, and it seems the same.  I look a little to my right, until I see the tops of Mary Baldwinís buildings, and they seem the same.

Look no further, I tell myself.  As long as I face southeast, it feels as though the looming, gray presence of South Barracks, its crenellated battlements, stark against the sky, is just over my right shoulder, still filling that end of my world.  With my mindís eye I can look through the sallyport and see the polished windows of the guard house, the keeper of the bell button that for years shattered my mornings and sent me off to class, mess, drill, parade, study, and at last to bed.  As long as I face the southeast, I know that North Barracks, its four white columns, clock, and eagle still fill my memory of ending childhood.

Yet, somewhere within me I know that South is gone, replaced by a parking lot.  North is gone, its legacy a grassy hole in the ground.  If I donít look, though, the illusion survives; it is as though the years never passed.  I can almost hear the murmur of cadets preparing to form for Sunday parade, the sounds of leather heels running as a tardy rat races to face early-call judgment, the sharp critique of a squad sergeant as he straightens out and tightens up some sloppy webbing, a gentle reminder to get that haircut from another.

I think I can actually hear the idle tap of a drumstickís bead on a taut drumhead, a laugh, an order, conversations too far away to be understood.  I can almost smell that exotic perfume rising from the corps on a warm, autumn afternoon:  that mix of blue-gray wool, linseed oil, gun solvent, shoe polish, soap, Brasso, and starch.

Itís still there, I whisper to myself.  The corps is still there.  I can feel it.

The asphalt is clear of all those trees, that grass, and all those parked cars.  Itís filled from south end to north with those hundreds of boys, becoming men...
webbing, tight
brass, golden bright
shoes, gleaming like liquid anthracite.

With my closed eyes I can see them milling about, doubting the power of prayer because the rain to cancel the parade never came.  I can listen to the complaints, the jokes, the football reviews, the lies about girls.  I can even hear the rats, all at attention in their company areas, silently praying for that season of miracles to come when Santa transforms rats into Old Boys.

Itís there.  If I donít look, itís all still there.

But, I have to look.

Sooner or later I need to find a place to sit down.  The knees that pounded asphalt for endless hours on Beat Squad half a century ago are now lucky they managed to make the climb up the superintendentís steps and to the top of Flagpole Hill.  I turn to go and I look, as I must.  And as I thought, itís all dead, over, finished.  Where South Barracks used to be is a parking lot.  I close my eyes and turn away, even now reluctant to let go the fantasy.

When I open my eyes again I see that where the North Barracks clock should be is nothing but empty air; the columns gone, all those footsteps on the galleries nothing but faded echoes from across that same-called, descending, shallow field below.  And the asphalt, itís full of trees, grass, and parked cars.

It is all dead...
lost in time
a memory
dimming.

But wait!  Just a minute...

Whatís that?

I can still hear the band, the orders to fall-in, the reports, the command to come to attention, that unmistakable chorus of double clicks as dozens of M-1 rifle butts touch down in unison on hard macadam.  I rub my eyes in disbelief.  I can see them before me now.

Look.

Look, damn you!

The corps is there!  Smaller, the blue-gray now black and Army green, the hair a bit longer, but the corps is there!  They are a band of sisters taking on all that one draws by donning uniform, code, the mission to serve country, keep faith with each other, and maintain a tradition that, to us, was phrased in the hardened, venerated steel of ďTruth, Duty, Honor.Ē

I was wrong.  The corps never died, brothers.  Itís not finished.  Instead, it metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly with the sting of a bee.  And itís growing.  Already the best in the world of what it is, this amazing creature is struggling, still, to become even better.

As the band strikes up a march and the corps of stinging, green butterflies steps off down the hill to Kable Field, I fall-in with the remaining old caterpillars to follow them, grateful for what we have been, and proud to be a part of what helped build and supports that transformed, immortal legacy, now shouldered by stalwart, dedicated young women...

their ranks already, sadly, but inevitably initiated...

with honor and courage, and with their new blood, added to that of our fallen brothers, upon our nationís distant battlegrounds.

SMA Ghosts

by
Thomas E. Cacy, SMA '63

I had the opportunity to visit TSFKASMA (the site formally known as Staunton Military Academy) this past week for the first time since graduation in 1963.  After finding the time to drive down from Washington while there on business, I found the rewards to be overwhelming.

This time of the year is absolutely beautiful in the Shenandoah Valley.  As I stood on the patio which was at one time the entrance to South Barracks and looked toward the distant hills, the view was breathtaking.  The leaves were turning into a fiery blaze, and there was a crispness in the air that slightly numbed the cheeks.  This experience brought back the memory of standing formation, staring straight ahead at the Superintendent's home, with the odor of bacon from the Mess Hall wafting over, around and through the ranks.

I suddenly realized my error in neglecting a return trip for all these many years.  From the vantage point on the hill, between the flagpole and the WW-I monument, I could hear the ghostly sounds of orders being barked and heels clicking in unison.

For those who, like myself, have postponed for so many years a visit to TSFKASMA, don't hesitate any longer.  But alas, when I looked around for someone with whom to share the experience, there was a only a lone Mary Baldwin student hustling to her dorm.  As she glanced in my direction, I could read her thoughts: "Another one of those crazed military graduates."

Yes, I thought, and proud of it.

When Never Comes Along

by
Richard A. Henderson, SMA '63

As I watched the Blue Ridge Mountains getting smaller in the rear view mirror, I vowed never to return--never to return to Staunton, never!  The words and the feeling seemed genuine at the time and, in fact, added punctuation to the chorus of graduates celebrating their freedom.  My mother remembers it well, "You were unwilling to acknowledge any pleasant experiences while at SMA and would only say how happy you were that it was done."  Well, I must have meant it, because I did not return until 34 years later.

I had never made any effort to visit Staunton, although my parents lived in Falls Church, Virginia for five years in the late 70s.  Oh, I did keep in touch with my roommates for a while, but eventually we drifted apart, absorbed in our own lives, careers and families.  Did I ever look back?  Sure, many times, and fondly.  On occasion I would run into or read about an SMA alum (John Dean), and that would send me looking for my Shrapnels to see if there was a connection to any of my years as a cadet.

Once, in the mid-seventies, I sent for a catalog after seeing an ad in the Sunday magazine section.  It was then that I came to sense SMA's financial straits.  I began to receive a blizzard of follow-up material inviting me and my son to come see the school.  I finally wrote back, saying (truthfully) that my son was only six.  I did not mention that I was an alum as that might have invited solicitations of another kind.

Now a new chapter in my life is about to begin: retirement is just ahead and we have begun our search for a suitable locale.  This past summer we planned a swing through North Carolina and Tennessee with the return via Virginia and West Virginia.  This route took us so close to Staunton that it could not be ignored.  We did plan an overnight stop in Staunton with the intent of going north on Skyline Drive to Luray Caverns; a fitting end to a trip filled with exploration.  At this time, I had no expectations that any trace of The Hill would remain.  I was well aware that it ceased operation by the 1980s, a victim of the economy and the anti-military sentiments so prevalent in the 1970s.  Would we encounter a housing project or had some other enterprise taken over the property?

My wife drove as we neared Staunton, and I was sitting shotgun, armed with a video camera and babbling expectantly as we rounded each turn, passing Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and then Mary Baldwin College.  Another left turn and behold!  Wieland Gate! Still there, but I wondered what lay beyond as we crossed that portal into the past.

"1913 Mess Hall," my wife announced!  What?  Was it all still there?  Sure enough, there stood the administration building and Mess Hall.  Then, to my left as we passed through the gate, was the Superintendent's home.  But reality started to set in as, further on the left loomed Mary Baldwin College, once shrouded behind a tree row and South Barracks, now vanished.  As we drove toward the terraced parking lot that replaces it, it became clear that South had been my home-away-from-home so many years ago, resplendent in memory, with its guard house, classrooms, barbershop and study hall.  Surprise returned as I glanced up at "The Hill" and saw not only the flag pole, but the WWI memorial and cannon, as well.

North Barracks
Coming Down - 4th floor gone, 3rd going.
Photograph courtesy Mark Orr, SMA '76

By now I was out of the car and video-taping the landscape.  When I turned back towards the car a strange new building came into view.  It was then that I learned that SMA was now all part of the Mary Baldwin campus.  Completing my 360 on the "asphalt," I noticed North Barracks was also conspicuous by its absence.  South gone?  Well, I had expected that, but what had become of North with its library, post office, classrooms, gymnasium, armory and galleries of rooms?  Nothing stood in its place, save its skeletal foundation.  What had been its fate?  Fire or some natural disaster?  Surely, it was a usable structure.  As a resident of South, all the other buildings had, by comparison, seemed very modern and functional, but that was for young men, being guided by a code of military discipline, and even North spoke too strongly of that for fair college women.

It was beginning to rain, so I returned to the car and we drove past Kable Hall and Deming Hall (Deming Hall?  That just didn't sound right!) on our way to the parade grounds.  More gate posts still proclaiming "SMA."  The rain came down harder.  We would check into the Samson-Eagleton Inn, a fine Bed & Breakfast on the corner of Beverly and Coulter, and get settled before resuming the "investigation.

Our host was able to provide some details about the purchase of the property by Mary Baldwin College, and an interesting story about the destruction of South Barracks, but had no information on the demise of North or what the previous name of "Deming Hall" had been (Memorial Hall!, as I would remember, much later.).

After getting settled, off we went for a walk into town and dinner.  In keeping with the theme of reliving my past experiences, I had suggested dining at the Colonnade Room of the Stone Wall Jackson Hotel, where, shunning the Mess Hall, I had taken many a Friday-night meal.  But, that was closed, and the old C & O Railroad Station was suggested as an alternative.  At about the same time the military was falling out of favor, passenger rail travel also declined.  Now the station is a trendy restaurant filled with any number of nostalgia items and boasts a decent bill of fare.  Following our meal, we began to wander the streets looking for places familiar to me: movie theaters, two of them.  I must have seen every movie that ever came to town in those years.  To this day, I am unbeatable at early 60's movie trivia.  Alas, as we continued down the quiet streets, not much else sparked the nostalgia rush I had experienced earlier.  Perhaps the years had not been kind to the town; certainly the Stone Wall Jackson had seen hard times.  Perhaps the years have taken their toll on my memory as well.  We passed a small news stand/soda fountain which looked as though it was unchanged from the fifties.  But if I spent either time or money there, I cannot recall it.  Evening was descending upon us and we had been on the road for most of the day, so we decided to go back up to "The Hill" in the morning before leaving for the Skyline and Luray.

Being an early riser, I set out on my own to video-tape what's left of the academy, leaving my bride to catch a few extra but well deserved zzzs.  Back on the asphalt, I found the supply room to be intact and could see the laundry building behind Kable Hall.  Major Howie's alcove is still a part of Kable, but the bust is gone.  Another mystery to be explored at some future time.

Kable is still being used as a dormitory now and I would guess the swimming pool still sees service but what of the rifle range, what's become of that?

On to the Mess Hall.  As I look down the steps to the entry way nothing seems to have changed.  The steps on either side, which lead to the infirmary and, if memory serves, the chemistry lab, are still there.  Peering into the hall, it also seems little changed, and a tug on the door reveals it's open!  In I go, camera whirling.  There are no tables or chairs, but it is our Mess Hall.  The steps and landing up to the Junior School section are there, but no bell on the wall for the Corps Commander to ring before the prayer and then bellowing the command, SEATS!  The kitchen is no longer, but the Mess Hall now seems to be a meeting or events center.

I am suddenly hurled back in time to my Rat year, and the good natured hazing (seems so now) which accompanied most meals.  The meals...  "mystery meat" and worse...  A Company sat by the kitchen, so our "Chief," (Archie?) would be able to refill the plates quickly.  These were the big boys, A Company, and they included many of the football players.  Wow, flashbacks coming fast now: I can hear special orders being read, both "make sheets" and disciplinary pronouncements.  What's that?  "Milk down?  Yes Sir!"

OK, back outside and around to that other eating establishment...

The Canteen!
Circa 1949
Photograph courtesy John Deal, SMA ' 49

Gone now...  once on Memorial Hall's ground floor, it now looks to be storage space.  I can recall afternoons spent consuming Dr. Peppers and watching American Bandstand, "live from Philadelphia."  The upstairs still seems to be class rooms and totally refurbished, judging by the entry way.  I did not attempt to go in.

Now it's down the drive to the parade ground/athletic field.  The cement stands are in disrepair and it seems as though there is a section missing.  As I stand there, I try to see the Corps of Cadets forming on the field for the parade.  The memory just won't come!  Perhaps the magic is only present in the Mess Hall.  Out onto the field for a look back at the what is left of the school.  I can almost hear a Sousa march pouring from "Battle Group Band." And there goes the Adjutant in full "Adjutant Walk," to report that the Corps of Cadets are ready to "pass in review."  Memories are coming full tilt now; it's perspective.  After all, I never saw a Sunday parade from anywhere but within ranks.  How could I have expected to conjure up something I never saw?

On to town, past what had been the Junior School (MBC Adult Education Center), down a street I walked several times a week, year after year.  Seems very familiar until I get to downtown and once more lose the link.  I pass the old hardware store, now a junk shop or flea market.  It's open, at 8 a.m.  I can't resist, so in I go to rummage.  It looks as though there is still a hardware store beneath the junk (treasures to some, I am quite sure).  I find a license plate bearing the year of my graduation complete with a strip which proclaims "Staunton, Woodrow Wilson's Birthplace."  I ask the storekeeper if he has any SMA stuff.  "I think so," he states, producing a few small items: buttons, caps, a lighter (Zippo style, and new), and a demitasse spoon.  Demitasse spoon!!?  What on earth was he talking about?  Had I missed out on High Tea all those years?  He explained that Mrs. Kable had a silver service with the school insignia on it, and all of it had been auctioned off some years back.  Plausible, the Kable's did own the jewelry store in town back then.  "Thanks, but no thanks."  Especially for the princely sum of eighty dollars.  Besides it held no memories for me.  So, $20.00 later, the license plate and lighter were mine, and I headed down Beverly toward the B & B.

Breakfast was being served and I began to relate my morning adventure.  "You're lucky you didn't get arrested!" my wife interjected.

"Huh?" says I, annoyed at the interruption.

"Think about it!" she continued.  "A middle-aged man, roaming around a girls school with a video camera at 6:30 in the morning!"  OOPS!  Pretty dumb on my part.  The only thing probably kept me out of trouble is they're so used to seeing these old guys walking around the place all the time taking pictures.  They know we're those military guys, as one student put it, and they mostly ignore us as we poke around.

This was August of 1997, and I made a note to seek out the Alumni Association that I had heard just a few weeks earlier held a reunion in Staunton.  I had searched the internet in the past looking for old acquaintances and had some measure of success.  I once found a childhood chum to whom I had not spoken in over 40 years and called him.  'Bout gave him a heart attack.  So now, a search for SMA, Mr. Yahoo, if you please.  Wow!  There it was, brass band, school motto and a list of members.  A lot of names, but when looking specifically for my years it was sadly barren.  I did locate one friend from my class, and fired off an E-mail (no more seizures that way).  We went back and forth with several catch-up grams to learn that we had lived surprisingly parallel lives--down to the fact that we had both revisited SMA for the first time this past summer, and only two weeks apart at that.  We are presently speaking about where and when we might get together in the not-too-distant future.  It would be fun to look back and finally acknowledge those "pleasant experiences" I had been loath to admit to, or failed to recognize as such so many years ago, and to share those recollections with someone who can identify with them--who marched many miles in your shoes.  That too, is my purpose, I suppose, in posting this here on the SMA website where it can be read by those who can see why, "I'll never say never again!"

Copyright © Malcolm L. Kantzler, SMA '65 and respective authors - All rights reserved