Chapter 3 - I never met a school I couldn't hate

Off to the hell of prep schools

I hated school. I hated kindergarten and elementary school, but I didn't develop a fulsome loathing for school until I entered Taft School followed and exacerbated by Culver Military Academy.

Taft is an ivy-covered Yale preparatory school in Watertown CT where mother enrolled me when the school added an eighth grade to the curriculum because she was not satisfied with the level of learning in the small Woodbury CT elementary school.

I'm sure she also strongly sensed my resistance to schooling in general.

At Taft I chaffed at the regimen and rules. I was used to getting everything I wanted, and now had to obey the dons. In addition, in this era these private schools were not co:ed and my raging hormones were deeply offended.

After a year I started nagging my mother to let me transfer to Culver, which I succeeded in doing for the Class of 1949.

When I transferred to Culver in September of 1944. World War 2 was at its height, and the only thing anyone thought or cared about was defeating the Nazis, and I wanted to fight the enemy as an officer rather than an enlisted man when I was old enough in few years.

A popular movie of my youth was "Tom Brown of Culver" directed by William Wyler. The New York Times review made many a boy want to toddle off to Indiana.


Sitting at attention for my Plebe year was not my idea of fine dining. This photo is from a LIFE magazine feature on this great school where I was a lousy student.

Culver was and still is gorgeous, on Indiana's second largest lake, but I managed to arrive for the final year of hazing, and the school didn't even have a Spring vacation then - we studied from New Year's until June.

Worse yet, the war ended towards the end of my freshman year, and with it, my reason for coming to the wilds of the Hoosier State in the first place, a benighted province I have managed to avoid ever since.

Being there at the same time as George Steinbrenner didn't help matters either, and later Bill Koch, Arianna Huffington's ex and the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia attended. At least George gave the school an indoor Olympic pool and Huffington built a new library.

The discipline gave me ulcers by my third year, but it also managed to cram a good education down my throat whether I wanted one or not.

I was the only four-year student in the Class of '49 to graduate as a buck private.

A great number of my classmates were the sons of Latin American dictators of the era. Their daddies felt that sending their sons off to a military school to be trained in military arts might help them keep the masses in their lowly places when they graduated.

But I was completely out of place. I regularly was punished by having to "march post" for one infraction or another. That meant countless hours marching alone around the school quadrangle toting my 9-½ pound M1 rifle instead of enjoying the scant time allowed for personal fun each day.

My deportment was so lacking in the academy's approval they did not allow me to be a member of senior class until a few months before graduation.

And most of my classmates were bellicose lads, while I was a pacifist, like "a rose among thorns."

My 50th Reunion at Culver

When I returned for my 50th class reunion, I was complaining to fellow grads about how they were great successes at Culver and had all risen to officer or non-com rank by graduation while I was a failure.

But they replied, "Walter, we all admired you. You were the only one they couldn't 'break'".

These critical thoughts rose up like an unwanted pustule as I read my Alumni bulletin from Culver Military Academy above on the  right which extols the virtues and achievements of my fellow alumni.

One such who graduated a year ahead of me was George "Damned Yankee" Steinbrenner. And yes, George on the top on right, was as a big a snob and lout as a teenager as he became in adult life.

Even worse, he was in The Black Horse Troop while I was a mere infantryman.

Another infamous alum was Bill "Damn the Wind Farm" Koch, in the middle on right, who won the America's Cup on his way to funding an organization dedicated to stopping America's first offshore wind farm.

Be careful what you wish for

You see, I hated that school with a passion, but believe that Culver made me the man I became. I have been rebelling its discipline and regimen ever since, and it surely explains why I became a  Beat Poet and a voluptuary shortly after graduating.

The (rather good) wages of sin 

Luckily these same characteristics helped me become a successful newspaperman, and I have always been secretly proud of the fact that I survived four years at Culver until the latest alumni bulletin arrived this week.

It contained an article in the magazine Elite calling the school a meritocracy but also extolling its most famous alumni.

I was not on that short list.

But Osterville's Bill Koch was.

What an ironic juxtaposition that Bill Koch, America's Cup winner, and our Nantucket Sound wind farm's greatest financial detractor, should have shared the same education as myself, the wind farm's most clamorous promoter, and both ended up with homes on Cape Cod. 

Of course I have just the one while Bill has a half dozen other homes scattered around the globe.

But what an unholy trio of "Culver men" we represent - Steinbrenner, Koch and Brooks.   It does make one remember the adage, "Coincidences are God's puns."
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