Life at the Greenbrier Military (1960s)

Life in the Military: Almost Heaven, West Virginia

As one can probably imagine, life in a military academy is not quite the free style afforded by a public school. After academic classes and military drills one can only find shelter in a stark dormitory; and a very far cry from the warm bosom of a cozy bed at home. Also one can imagine that life at the Greenbrier Military Academy, which fronted for the Federal Government’s secret playground and bomb shelter would predictably be regimented and considerably lacking in humor.

This is compounded by the element that much of the student body substrate is composed of troubled youth as opposed to the ambitious thoroughbred who may be applying to West Point.

The hierarchy was the same as any military establishment. Senior class members of higher rank lord it over the under classes in a well defined pecking order, then layered on top of that is the tier of school instructors who also hold actual career military rank and sway.

The first encounter my brother had with upperclassmen were the Gandy brothers who stormed his room the first day he was there and tied him to a chair in preparation for his first senior officer indoctrination and “interrogation.” This was intended to ferret out and to castigate any other than normal sexual predilection in a plebe, which certainly antedated the modern military edict of: “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”They were from West Virginia and somewhat counter culture to my little Yankee brother.

Although it may seem strange to anyone familiar with common vernacular, I can vouch for the fact that there are pockets in the South where the slang is inverse. Having heard the same thing myself, when I went to college in North Carolina, this was something that took months for me to figure out.

“Do you like cock?” the Gandy boys yelled repeatedly in my brother’s face. My brother intuitively thinking and knowing it to be the correct answer repeatedly answered “No sir”.

Every time he answered in the negative, they pummeled him, verbally abused him and then repeatedly asked it over again.

My poor brother thought he had been consigned to a barracks of gay soldiers, and for awhile carried the reputation of being gay himself, until he realized that they were referring to female genitalia when they used the word “cock.” I never did learn what the backwater Southern enclave vernacular for penis turned out to be as I can only suppose then that these people really did believe that a “pussy” was truly just a cat.

Then again what should one really expect from the Gandy boys of West Virginia who also shaved the pubic hair off their testicles with a power razor after they had cinched them up with a coat hanger.

Another typically wayward student in the dorm was a boy known as “Frankenstein.” His real last name was Frankenstaff, but he got his moniker at the age of sixteen when he stole his father’s car, and then promptly got into a head on collision. After his own head went through the windshield, the accident had so permanently disfigured his face as well as so softened his brain that he actually looked and acted like the real monster.

In an overall system that was structured on a merit and demerit profile, students had to maintain a B average to retain dorm study privileges so as not be sent to the general library. Despite this, even the dorm study periods were not free from constant spying by senior officer or teachers who then punctuated repose time by spot check interrogations.

These senior officers were usually on a diligent lookout for illegal cigarette or pot smoking, resulting in many an ashtray being pushed down the window cracks while the dorm rooms were being invaded. One such attempt to hide the evidence caused the dormitory building to catch on fire.

One group of dorm denizens became so fed up with a certain Professor Cosmo who had the nasty reputation of spying by putting his ear to the dormitory room doors, that his eardrum was blown out by firecracker pasted to the inside keyhole. Of course this resulted in 200 demerits for each felon, which translated into 100 hours of picking up trash and cigarette butts around the school grounds.

Because the teachers were career military, they more or less enjoyed automatic tenure and being left pretty much on their own, were subject to much less scrutiny than that of the poor plebes.

For example, my brother told me about a teacher nicknamed “Professor Eraser,” who showed up inebriated every day for his classes. In order to prop himself up, he leaned on the black board and then proceeded to erase everything he had just written as he slid across going left to right, finishing up by yelling at the class for not taking notes.

My brother also got into trouble for layering Ben Gay into the senior officers underwear, then for getting drunk with two other boys and mooning the Commandant’s wife as she rode by them in a car on the way to a black tie Soiree. That was also worth 200 demerits apiece.

It was also in Military School where my brother learned how to sniff glue, to smoke pot, to take hallucinogens, or to solicit the easy affections of the denizens of the nearby School for Wayward Girls. He then capped off an otherwise sparkling military career by chewing tobacco at the annual Cotillion only to puke it all over his date because of the nausea induced by having to swallow the juice instead of being able to spit it out on the dance floor.

His attempt to hide tobacco chew at the big dance earned him 200 demerits.


Despite the fact of doing drugs, mooning superior officers or chewing tobacco, these behavioral quirks that were learned during his two year sentence at Military School paled in comparison to his juvenile delinquent friend Joey’s, left behind on the streets at home. Joey ended up doing life without parole for the strange homicidal shooting of his male roommate several years later.

By the time these two years were over I was a freshman in college. It was the era of the great Vietnam War protests, and my parents had asked me to stop by to see my brother on my way home from North Carolina. Since my cousin Byron was graduating, they also asked me to take 8 mm movie films of the ceremony, pre-supplying me with a camera before I had even gone down to Duke for that semester, so as to be especially prepared for the great event.

Uncle Oak and Aunt Polly were there to see Byron graduate with the plan being for all of us to be billeted in the guest dormitory.

However, all hell broke loose when I showed up with my shoulder length hair as I tried to walk around the facility. In retrospect, this was a very naïvely stupid thing to have done. I had left the safe haven of a cosmopolitan, if not relatively conservative, college campus and had wandered into one of the principle supporting intelligence nerve centers of a federally sanctioned war, which was then being protested by hippies and flower people. Come to think of it my going there with hippie hair actually bordered on being suicidal.

From the second I arrived I was subject to catcalls, curses, insults and threats of severe physical harm as well as murder. I was a “goddamned hippy” which made my presence insulting to the sanctuary of the United States armed forces. Meanwhile, the only thought in my mind was, “please just don’t hurt me.” The only reason I look like this is because I’m just trying to blend in with a bunch of other people who will also kill me if I don’t look like this. I’m really harmless. I’m only trying to study so that I can get into medical school.

I was so nervous at the graduation ceremony, spending so much time looking over my shoulder in a paranoid frenzy of fear, that when the movie film was developed there was virtually nothing recognizable on it except for endless footage of people’s feet or sweeping views of the sky.

When the final product was débuted in our living room, my father said:

  • I just can’t understand it. Where are Larry and Byron?

God forbid my mother and father would go there to take movies for themselves or show some personal interest.

The weekend however was not entirely lost. One of the cadet’s mothers actually made a pass at me and tried to pick me up. As it turned out this was my only chance in life to ever have had sex with what became known decades later as a MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) or Cougar. But alas, in a similar vein to Aunt Jean ruining my dalliance with Cousin Beverly, Aunt Polly got wind of what was going on, and then managed to sabotage the entire affair by rearranging the sleeping accommodations.

It was yet again one more intervention by those good old Cooper sisters imposing their sanctimonious, high minded moral values on the rest of the clan.

Secretly, they must have been life members of the Anti-Happiness Committee.  

In any event, I was fortunate enough to escape The Greenbrier with my hair intact, much less my life, along with my MILF virginity. I am sure that given the opportunity the Gandy boys would have had a field day putting one of their coat hangers around my neck and shaving it down to my skull as though it might be the world’s largest gonad.

They probably would have made one of Nuzio’s Italian haircuts back home in White Plains look like a duck’s ass pompom by comparison.


Greenbrier Military drill 

(The photo I never got for Dad) 


West Virginia………a part of the country you never see. Not even on television.

A place where you come to understand why all the other forty-nine states decided to pass laws against incest. 

(Lawrence De Carlo)

© Photo USMC/Cadets Marching


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