When I was a plebe (freshman) cadet at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, way back in the fall of 1955, I was the class screw-up, the ultimate immature clusterfuck, can’t do anything right dumb head. To this day I hold the record for the most punishment imposed upon any cadet who actually graduated, from 1842 to right fucking now. I’m proud that I toughed it out for four years, but I’m not proud that I failed to develop sufficient maturity to have appreciated what it was that was really good about the military system. I learnt a lot about how the system works, enough to understand now why it is that it works really well in emergency situations and why there is so much reluctance to make institutional changes. The mission of the military is to engage in military operations. The people in the military are there to execute military tactics and strategy. They are not there to be “parade” soldiers. They are not there to be effete cocktail party circuit decorations for the social amusement of the prominent. I probably, even to this day, could not bring myself to follow orders if I was certain that they were incompetent and calculated to bring about failure, or if the problem with the orders was that they were the product of fraud and corruption. I could operate independently of any system or group with great likelihood of success, but I am not a team player if I am not the team leader. That is a personality flaw and I acknowledge it as such.
My chief regret is that I did not then possess the ability to engage in the intense level of biting sarcasm that I now enjoy. There were so many situations that arose in the course of my four years of fucking up that I could have characterized in comedic ways if only I had the analytical insight and the quick command of the cutting and denigrating remark. Of course, it is also quite likely that if I had had that ability then, I might well not have been allowed to graduate. As it was, because I lacked the sarcastic weapon that I now possess, those who governed that august institution simply could not believe that I was as bad as my punishment scroll suggested. Accordingly, they divined that there was some plan afoot to oust me from the corps, and decided that I must indeed be a brave and worthy soul for not letting the bludgeoning demoralize me into quitting. My tenacity was therefore rewarded by the expungement from my scroll of punishment of a great deal of demerits, a sufficient number to assure that if I could handle the academic load in addition to the maximum amount of punishment, I would eventually graduate. At least that is what saved me the first year. In the other three years it was a contest to see if I could be made to quit. Forgetaboutit! And I did handle the academic load, with honors.
It was known from early in my freshman experience that I had had an altercation with a sophomore corporal of particularly disgusting persona who had known me before I entered The Citadel because he had tried to date one of my high school sweethearts and was rebuffed. Not only was he rebuffed, but I had enumerated loudly and publicly the many shortcomings that had brought about his being rejected. Knowing that I intended to attend The Citadel, he said he would be waiting for me when I arrived and he would be an upper classman. During the first week, the stupid spoilt sport frog marched his sorry ass all the way down the regimental line from his position in Band Company to the Fourth Battalion barracks so that he could berate me for having tarnish on my brass belt buckle (in the form of a smudged thumb print right in the middle of the damn thing that he put there himself at that very moment), and a scuff on my spit shined shoe (that he also put there that very moment). Being who I was (and still am), the matter was dealt with then and there. Consequently I was branded as a plebe who had no respect for upperclassmen and who would confront a sophomore corporal given a chance to do so, even if on parade. There were numerous upperclassmen who were on the varsity football team who could have beat me to a pulp just for fun, and I might not have been so brave/stupid had they done what this asshole did, but they seemed not to have an interest in being petty assholes like he was.
Under the upper-class system then in force at The Citadel, an affront to any upperclassman was deemed an affront to all members of his class. Accordingly, I had every fucking corporal in the whole fucking regiment on my ass all year long, with an enormous punishment scroll, gorged with demerits, punishment tours to march, restrictions and confinements. For a long time, the military faculty believed that I was just not Citadel material, and they treated me as just some little punk that would soon wash out. Eventually, however, after failing such military examinations as being unable to recite on demand the correct number of hairs on my head, it began to occur to them that I had no intention of allowing anyone to drive me out, and it became a game to see how much could be heaped upon me short of expulsion. I urge every young man to undergo a similar experience as excellent preparation for marriage.
In all honesty, I cannot claim that a major portion of the punishment was attributable to bad faith on the part of upperclassmen. I honestly deserved almost all of it. I was a fuck up. I just wasn’t quite as bad a fuck up as the punishment scroll suggested.
My room mate, Ed Maiorine, enjoyed the luxury of being ignored in the rush to stick me with demerits. He could have shit right in the middle of the quadrangle and no one would have noticed because they were all too busy inspecting me for some opportunity to write a delinquency report. He got away with murder just because everyone was looking for me and never gave a shit what he was doing. He was frequently asked why he would pair off with the Corps fuckup, and he gleefully acknowledged that being my room mate made him invisible. When the Commandant learnt that he was my room mate, he was amazed that he had remained ignorant of the identity of the room mate of the worst cadet in the regiment. And he still would never have known who Maiorine was except that Ed had gone to the Commandant’s office to insist that demerits given to me were rightly to have been assigned to him because that week he had been responsible for anything about the order of the room that was incorrect. He wanted some demerits assigned to me to be given to him so that he could try to protect me from what he then saw as my inevitable expulsion. When the fucking Commandant heard that Ed was my room mate, he went nuts because he had no idea who my room mate was. Since he thought it was his job to know everything about everything that went on in the Corps, his ignorance was a smirch on the escutcheon of his ego. Ironically, during my freshman year we had a Commandant who was a real soldier, not just some washed up no name nonentity, and the Office of the Commandant didn’t get involved with the shenanigans about one stupid cadet with demerits during that first year. Later, when lesser lights succeeded him as Commandant, they wallowed in that mire until it became a game to see if they could make me quit. They viewed my expulsion as a personal defeat. Nothing less than my capitulation would satisfy them. That they would never get! Eventually I would from time to time exceed the number of demerits permitted to a cadet before expulsion became obligatory, and they would convene a “court martial” to expel me from the Corps. However, the “court marital” always ended in a verdict that I should not be expelled, and demerits were removed from my punishment scroll so that the game of making me quit could continue. There were four such “courts martial”. They all ended the same way.
One of the great instances of my insubordinate conduct was that of my refusal to learn and to sing a redneck suicide song in violation of a direct order to do so given to me by a sophomore corporal who was from Tennessee. Actually, I knew the fucking song, so my refusal to learn it and to sing it for him was especially delicious. It seems that the men of Tennessee are so inept at being able to keep a girlfriend that the girls will leave them at the slightest opportunity and run off with a real man. Some women just lack the maturity to appreciate a crude, abusive, maladjusted and disgusting male, and that explains why it is that Tennessee men have so much trouble keeping a girlfriend. This particular example of Tennessee manhood had as his favourite song a whiny lament entitled “The Tennessee Waltz”. The Tennessee Waltz consists of some slob singing about his remembrance of the night of the Tennessee Waltz and of his knowing how much he had lost. It seems he lost his “little darling” when they played the Tennessee Waltz that night. She ran off with a “friend” of his to whom he had introduced her. Obviously, this friend to whom he had introduced her was from another state, which automatically made him more attractive. So she ran off with him, and the Tennessee guy was left to spend the rest of his life whining about the affair to something that in Tennessee is called music. All redneck suicide music is about some inadequate male having lost some woman’s affections. Some have a tad more calamity to express than just the loss of a woman. Tennessee people lose not only women, but sometimes their dog dies or their truck breaks down or they go to prison. Redneck suicide music often deals with clusters of these tragedies happening to one person all at the same time.
As I persisted in my failure to learn and sing The Tennessee Waltz, he would inspect everything about me and find delinquencies everywhere. These he faithfully reported to the Commandant’s office. Accordingly, the subject of my imperfectly shined shoes occupied a large portion of my “file”, as did my imperfectly polished brass, the imperfect line-up of the line of my shirt buttons with the fly on my trousers, occasional lint or dust either on or in my rifle, a less than perfectly made bunk, garments in my clothes locker that were imperfectly aligned on a shelf or imperfectly aligned with the garments on the shelf beneath or above, a dust bunny on the floor under my bunk or anywhere else in the room, a drop of water left standing in the sink. It is a great failing of their system that they lacked the initiative to have pulled back the bedding to see the semen stains that, as I was constantly restricted and confined, had no where else to go. They might have received some literary recognition from the delinquency reports about my inappropriately placed semen.
Back in those wonderful days, it was also the custom of upperclassmen to call a recalcitrant freshman into their room and to strip to his skivvies and stand face to the wall with his ass poked out prominently so that they could pound on it with a broom (or a coat hanger). A few real hard shots with a broom and the blood vessels in your buttocks start to rupture. Soon your ass looks a lot like a raspberry smash and you bleed a bit. They usually stop when the blood starts to run down your leg, because if it gets on their floor, the floor has to be cleaned up. In my case, our Tennessee friend would offer to stop hitting me if I would just sing the fucking Tennessee Waltz. Forgetaboutit! On one such occasion I required medical attention, and the regimental croaker could spot an ass whuppin immediately. He would demand that the offending cadet be identified. The injured cadet would refuse to identify the assailant, and the whupped ass sumbitch would then get demerits for refusing to respond to the regimental croaker’s demand for assailant identification. Part of the reason for refusing to identify an assailant was that the event was usually associated with being recognized near the end of your freshman/plebe year as having succeeded and become ready for recognition as an upperclassman. This honorific would never be reciprocated by fingering who it was that whupped you to the regimental croaker. You kept your mouth shut. In my case it was not a recognition event, but I wouldn’t rat out our Tennessee friends anyway. My revenge on the bastards was not to sing the fucking Tennessee Waltz.
Many years later, I received a letter from General Jack Blandford of the great state of Georgia, who had been a classmate of mine and who had been the chairman of the Honor Court where those who might lie, cheat, steal or tolerate others who did were tried and often expelled from the corps in dishonor and disgrace. General Jack was an easygoing person who did everything right all the time and rose to prominent rank at The Citadel and in the military. His son had followed in his footsteps and went to The Citadel. When his son went home for Christmas holiday during his plebe year, he announced that he had decided to leave The Citadel. He had accumulated so many demerits and so much punishment that life had simply become intolerable for him. According to the letter I received from his dad, he told his son about me and my experience and that my classmates always respected me for refusing to quit and, in the end, overcoming all the difficulty. I had never had any inkling that anyone gave a damn whether I stayed or left, and never any indication from anyone that there was any positive regard for me. But according to Jack, every month that I remained at The Citadel I was proving something. He went on to tell his son that I had graduated with honors, and he urged him to remain and see it through. He did, and he also graduated with honors and was one of the editors of The Sphinx, the Citadel literary magazine, which was lovingly called The Sphincter when I was a cadet for the quality of its content. His son wrote and published a poem about punishment and dedicated it to me. I still have General Jack’s letter somewhere, and it is the only indication I ever received from anyone that what I was doing then had anything to do with an accomplishment of any sort. I had always thought of it as simple stubbornness.
I obviously had no social contact with General Jack whilst we were cadets at The Citadel. The successful cadets stayed far away socially from the denizens of the punishment quad. I did try a couple of cases before his Honor Court, having successfully defended what the prosecutor called a mafia laundry racket scheme by which a group of miscreants circumvented the system about which day you were allowed to send your soiled clothing to the laundry. The laundry day was assigned according to your laundry number – the number placed by stencil on your clothing to identify it as yours. Woe betides the plebe who was unable to recite his laundry number on demand at meals. Upperclassmen were notorious for interrupting every attempt to put food into you mouth by asking you any number of critically important questions about hot button issues. Among these inquiries would be for you to demonstrate you knowledge of your laundry number. You might also be called upon to enlighten everyone on the mess concerning how many bricks there were in Padgett-Thomas Barracks, and your recollection of the direction in which the eagle faced atop Bond Hall. If you were a real fuckup, you might not get more than a bite or two into your mouth before the meal ended and you were required to move out to your next obligation.
Anyway, it seemed that some cadets had organized a cabal, so the prosecutor claimed, to circumvent the laundry number system, and instead of viewing it as an example of a cadet being able to adapt, innovate and overcome an obstacle, it was viewed as an honors violation, an expulsion offense, for it was obviously a false representation to the laundry concerning what one’s laundry number really was. The star witness for the prosecution was the head of the laundry, appropriately named Mrs. Willi Oder. That was her fucking name. I aint making this shit up. Fortunately for the defendants, the prosecutor was a fucking idiot. Once he saw two laundry numbers on a pair of skivvies, to him the ultimate question of guilt or innocence had been answered. We went to him with the proper information about what had really happened, but the fool’s mind was made up and he knew what he by God saw when it was in plain sight. There was more than one laundry number of a garment and that meant that one number was false/incorrect and that laundry was being sent in on the wrong day, which could only mean dishonesty.
There were a great many cadets at The Citadel who were financially strapped. This was not a school full of rich peoples’ sons of old southern aristocracy. VMI (Virginia Military Institute) was where the sons of the old south rich went. There they could learn the fine art of being a staff officer, serving as someone’s gofer, chauffeur, loafer and scrounge, finding everything from rare wines and cognacs to sleazy women for any senior officer whom they might serve at some rear echelon post, hopefully the Pentagon. While there were well off cadets at The Citadel, there were many more who had to watch every single penny and who often went without food when away from the campus.
At the end of every school year, the poor amongst the cadets would go from graduating senior to graduating senior and buy his underwear and sox and old shoes and uniforms (if they fit), because buying anything new was out of their range. I actually know of at least one instance where a poor cadet painted his ankles and feet with black shoe polish so that it would look like he had on black sox as the uniform required. Accordingly, when they would buy clothing from a departing senior, that senior’s laundry number would be indelibly stamped on every garment, and then they would put their own laundry number on it to comply with the regulations. There was no scheme to cheat or lie. And that obvious absence of any lying and cheating won the day in the Honor Court for the defendants. It should never have gone to trial in the first place, but we had an imbecile for a prosecutor. The poor cadet defendants sweated bullets for a long time over the risk of being expelled and being a disgrace to their families. For some, they were the very first of their families to have gone to college, and their integrity was about the only asset they then had. It was fucking awful until the final verdict was handed down. General Jack was the Chief Judge on that Court, and if he knew me at all, it was from that experience.
There are many stories about The Citadel, and maybe as time goes on I will share more of them.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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