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In 1966 my mom was having problems with my asshole step-dad. She decided that I needed some positive male influence and spoke to my father who had his own concerns about my being brainwashed by parochial school into wanting to become a priest. Their solution was to send me to military school, New York Military Academy was the choice.

I immediately loved the idea. I was a happy Boy Scout, had been a Cub Scout and was very comfortable in uniform and acclimated to the idea of ‘rank’. I had grown up on war movies and had absorbed the idea of ‘service’ to the country. So I was ready and excited.

We drove up to check it out and I was hooked. After a long ride through the Catskill Mountains, with a short stop at the United States Military Academy (West Point) for sightseeing, to the small town of Cornwall-On-Hudson and a beautiful campus. Then the other advantage hit me! At the ripe old age of 12, I was going to be living away from home! For many kids that young, that may have been heartbreaking, but looking back I was on a fast track to grow up, so I knew this would be an adventure.

The day I was to ‘report to post’ it was my uncle / godfather Mickey who took me. On the way he asked if I knew how to tie my own tie and I told him that at Saint Teresa (my catholic school in Brooklyn) we used clip-ons. So he pulled over, showed me a few times and told me to practice until we arrived, by which time I had mastered this rite of passage into manhood.

As a sixth grader, I was assigned to G Company, quartered at Dingley Hall (the barracks for the younger kids), sent to the on-campus tailor for uniform fitting, issued things like emblazoned sweat suits, fatigues, shoes, caps, belts, webbing and gloves.

I was given a briefing, informed of the daily schedule and given a list of what is expected of a “New Guy” (“plebe” at West Point) which considers of knowing that every single “Old Guy” outranks you which means you are subject to capricious and often humiliating verbal abuse, memorizing the school song and the definition of a New Guy which could be requested by any Old Guy at any moment. I know it to this day: “A sir, new sir, guy sir, is sir, the sir, scum sir, of sir, the sir, earth sir, for sir, a sir, old sir, guy sir, to sir, wipe sir, his sir, feet sir, on sir, sir, sir.” At my age you forget a lot of shit, but that one was branded on my brain, because the punishment for messing it up could vary from a lot of push-ups, to bracing (the position of full Attention up against a wall while holding your chin so close to your chest it hurts) to the worst which was outstretching your arms and having your rifle (8 ½ pounds) put in your hands while at attention. If you have never tried this, I dare you to maintain (using books or something similar) for 5 minutes. Really, just 5 little minutes. Good luck with that.

While many New Guys were soon in tears and some gave up and cried for their parents to take them home, I sucked in up! I was what the cadets called a “love it” and I DID. I ‘got’ the whole idea of initiation and knew that must be earned. I knew that if I could just get through the first year, I would be on the other side of that privilege once there was that first hash-mark on my uniform sleeve.

I also learned that many illustrious personages had been alumni. A short list includes: Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Sondheim, Troy Donahue (who I met briefly when he showed up for homecoming) Robert "Tex" Allen, Albert A. Tate Jr., "Les" Brown, General James Elbert Briggs, Johnny Green, Robert Douglas Heaton, John A. "Junior" Gotti (yeah THAT Gotti) among many others, including one who shown a spotlight on NYMA recently, Donald Trump.

Donald J Trump 1964 NYMA yearbook

After my first summer break, it seems my attitude was rewarded as I was moved out of Dingley Hall to E Company at Pershing Hall, where most freshman were housed, even though I was only in 7th grade. I was a proud cadet!

There were many New Guys in my barracks that year. Most cadets’ start as freshman and I was a 7th grader who out-ranked them! But I soon realized I was not cut-out to be an full blown asshole... I would definitely call to attention any New Guy who did not display proper respect, but unlike many others, I did not go out of my way to ‘get my shit off’ on the sad-sacks. That made me some close friends.

I liked being on the main part of the campus as the other kids in my grade could not roam freely. I was also introduced to “The Farm”. This was a huge tract of forest and meadows that butted up on the Hudson River and was used for war games. War Games happened once a year and were a big event, with all Companies put on a ‘side’ and issued objectives and orders and given credit when one side ‘won’. This was my little toy soldier fantasy made real.

Main barracks

More importantly I fell in love with The Farm itself. I had often gone camping both with the Scouts and my family, but this was the first truly ‘wild’ place I had ever known. Although it was technically “out of bounds” I snuck away every chance I could and spent as much of my free time as I could exploring. I saw my first deer with a fawn. Learned to tell the difference between a Copperhead snake (poisonous) and a Garter (fairly safe). All kinds of birds, changed with the seasons. Every change brought new lessons and beauty... the turning of the leaves into insane spectrums of color as each new school year started. The seeming barren landscape as all went bare and brown, the pristine whiteness of winter, where the only imperfections were the tracks of the wildlife. And of course the glorious spring that explodes into a cacophony of new life.

I contemplated the Hudson, so unlike the dirty, industrial liquid highway that it is in the City. Here it was a beautiful waterway, not far different then what it must have looked like to the Mohawk and other tribes who had known it so well. There were tales of how the Cadets at The Point used it for exercises... and how inevitably, every year when it froze over some poor schmuck would fall through the ice...

And then there were the tracks... There was a railroad easement, long abandoned with the steel rails since taken away but many of the half rotten wooden ties still in place. I could look down the trail and easily imagine it ending at Grand Central Terminal in the City, but when I looked north, there was nothing but my imagination and some vague knowledge of Albany and then Canada. There were many weekends in all seasons when I stayed on campus rather than go into town, just so I could go explore the Farm.

NYMA campus

When I returned from summer break for my third year, a big change; E Company had become E Battery! We were no longer infantry wearing crossed rifles on our collar and a black strip on our legs, but artillery, displaying crossed canons and a red Stripe. More importantly, war games took on a whole new kind of fun, as we manned WW2 era howitzers, which along with their caissons were pulled by jeeps. Yeah that’s right, parade no longer meant marching but riding on the small seat that was part of the howitzer. I looked forward to becoming 16 when I would be allowed to drive the jeeps.

There was also another set of changes... In the school chapel that was used not only for religious services of all kinds, but also for Battalion gatherings, the walls were lined with plaques that were referred to as the “Honor Roll”. On it were inscribed the names of former Cadets who had died in battle. The oldest was from the Spanish American War and continued around the Hall until the most recent, from the Korean Conflict. Now there was a new one and it already had many names on it. By the end of this year, it had doubled.

The other big change was a new staff member as head of the ROTC program. Graduation with high marks meant that you were qualified for OCS and was considered an important part of our education. Unlike most JrROTC programs offered at regular high schools ours was far more intensive and supervised by an Active Duty U.S. Army instructor. He was tasked with classes in strategy, battlefield medicine and weapons training among other things. The arsenal where all weapons were issued from and returned to if not the personal rifle of assigned to each cadet was his domain. The main classroom was part of it and compared to all the academic spaces, almost a sacred space. Our old ROTC staff had retired and the new one, Sergeant Major Wheeler, was a whole different kind of creature than what we’d known. He was the first African American Staff. He had done 3 tours in The Nam and was only back a few days. He was as hard a DI as you can imagine and seemed to not understand the difference between being a teacher at an elite prep school and being a war time drill instructor at boot camp. He screamed a LOT and his eyes bulged when he was nose to nose in your face. He made the importance of learning what he taught plain, fail the lesson and you will DIE! DIE! DIE!

One day a kid fell asleep in his class and Sgt Wheeler picked him up by the front of his shit and literally threw him across the room. Understand that physical abuse was a major no-no, but no one reported him, because every cadet was scared shitless of what we thought was a madman. Little did we know at the time that he was right... and the honor roll kept growing.

At home Christmas Furlough min

By this time I had a good grasp on which rules were important and which I could get away with ignoring. I was now a corporal, so qualified for the perks of a ‘non-com’. It also meant there were fewer people that could give me shit as the amount of time or what grade you were in was mitigated by rank and I now had some. My attitude started to change as I grew-up and matured. Rather than the total “love it” of my first two years, I was a lot more pragmatic which I saw as a change in image from the straight laced John Wayne type characters in the old war movies to more of the Steve McQueen variety in the Great Escape.

NYMA was an “Honor School” which was something everyone took very seriously as the entire reputation of the Academy hung on it maintaining that status. Every cadet wore a little star on his sleeve that represented the distinction. The reality behind it was that being an Honor School was the only OTHER way that one could get in to one of the Nation’s official Service Academy’s (West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy and Coast Guard) The other ways are to be a descendent of an alumni, or be put forward by your Congressperson, Senator or the Vice President. Each Honor School (not sure how many there were at the time, but it was a short list) was granted 5 nominations per year. To maintain this status, a 3 day inspection of the campus, academic facilities, barracks and the Corp of Cadets itself took place. It was THE event that every year was centered on. For weeks prior to the arrival of the Army inspection team most of the normal routine was eclipsed by paint brushes, mops, floor buffers, the smell of gun oil was always in the air as our weapons were broken down, cleaned, put together and then broken down all over again.

With my third year status and non-com rank I was in a position to show how it was done. I led teams, assigned tasks and showed the New Guys what was expected. I was rarely in proper uniform which normally would earn demerits, but the officers, both Cadet and Staff saw my output and let it slide, which reinforced my attitude that results and work counted more than strictly following rules. There were snap inspections several times a day and my squad, my floor and my room were always impeccable.

The Army inspectors arrived, we marched for them, drilled for them, stood inspection for them and got the highest grades possible. NYMA would be an Honor School for one more year. More importantly (to me) E Battery was singled out as best in the Battalion! Our Staff called us all together to congratulate us and I was singled out; “There were many cadets responsible for E Battery leading the way, but one stands out. Corporal Rosa was everywhere, doing everything and when he wasn’t, he was showing a New Guy how to. Considering he is not exactly a strict rule follower (giggles from the entire company) he has performed in outstanding manner and proven he deserves his stripes and may well wear another one when the next semester starts. Corporal Rosa, stand and be recognized!” That did it, I knew what my core values would forever be...

That summer furlough was different. When I got back to Brooklyn, a change was in the air. My friends had stopped hanging out on the block and were in the park, Prospect Park, specifically what we called The Hill. They were letting their hair grow out, wearing a new style of clothing, which was really more of an “everybody make up your own style”. They were listening to Allison Steele on the radio as she sent out her message of hope in a time that was increasingly dark. They were going to concerts at places like The Fillmore East. And they were going to demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.

On The Hill, there were many others from around the neighborhood, so my circle of friends expanded dramatically, as did my exposure to new ideas. Although I was younger than most of them, I was accepted easily and taken under the wing of a few. My outlook on what was happening in the world had already been starting to change through reading and recent developments at NYMA, now that accelerated at breakneck speed.

The war was wrong. Where I had grown up hating “the dirty Japs” and Nazis, I started to realize that in this conflict WE were the ones in the wrong. That the same forces that were killing people who had never done anything to us, were those that kept blacks from civil rights, kept women from equality, kept homosexuals from being able to love as they chose and made of my family’s Puerto Rican homeland a colony to exploit. It had to end and I had to be part of ending it, as I was knee deep in an institution that was specifically tasked with its perpetuation.

By the beginning of August I had done a 180 and started to develop a plan... I decided that NYMA must be shut down!

I knew through what was now a reliable grapevine on The Hill that there was a huge “general strike” coming in October. It was to be called “The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam” My plan was to have the NYMA Corp of Cadets participate. The first step was to create an alliance, so I started calling the many friends I had at school and arranged a meeting at the home of the only one who lived In Newburgh, not far from NYMA, so it was as convenient as possible. About ten of them showed up and they became the planning committee.


I learned that the Communist Party was sending free materials to whoever could show a plan to use them, so I wrote to them and a few weeks later received a box that contained peace sign buttons and bumper stickers. We created a flag that took the school colors and logo but swapped the eagle above the shield with a dove holding olive branches.

We had agreed that when the year began, we would all refuse to get the standard first haircut and present a petition with demands like being allowed to return from furloughs in civilian clothes and have our hair a bit longer, but agreed to back down when it got rough. It was basically a way of letting everyone know that “something was happening”. The buttons were passed out to as many Cadets as would agree to switch them for the color insignia and volunteers placed the stickers on every classroom and Barracks door. A few of us volunteered to do “guard duty” (stand watch all night, blow reveille and raise the colors in the morning and hand over to the staff at First Mess (breakfast) assembly. It was all in place...

On the morning of the Moratorium instead of the recorded bugle version of “First Call”, we played the then new Give Peace a Chance. We raised the American Flag upside down and the School Colors were replaced by our "Peace Colors”. When the Corp of Cadets formed up, at least a third were wearing the peace buttons and the entire campus was awash in stickers calling for peace! It was the proudest moment in my still very young life.

The reaction was swift. The Staff ran out to the flagpoles and ordered us to take them down, which we of course refused. So they did it. We were told to go to the Commandants office, but standing orders were to never leave your post until properly relieved, so again, we refused. The senior cadets then came, and relieved us. The corps of Cadets was held instead of being marched in to the mess hall ad officers held inspection and made note of who was “out of uniform” then everyone was sent back to barracks.

At the Commandants office everyone stayed silent under questioning as to who was behind this and finally sent back to our dorms. Eventually breakfast was allowed and the school day began, but an ominous note hung in the air. As the day progressed, everyone who had participated was questioned individually and when my turn came it turned out that they were specifically targeting those who had signed the petition back in September. One of those was a Cadet Lieutenant and the only officer who had done so. As a senior he was already lined up for college and they used the threat of derailing his career, so he turned. Of course my name was pointed out. I was told that I would be dealt with tomorrow.

That night I was the guest of a “blanket party” which is a time worn method of physical hazing where someone pulls your blanket up over your head while you are sleeping, which effectively locks you into your bunk. Then a series of others beat the crap out of you, the idea being that because you cannot see their faces, you will not know who they were. Except I knew their voices and they were the “love its” of D Troop, NYMA’s only cavalry group, commanded by Major Soto, the most hard ass in the Battalion and ironically the only Latino among the Faculty Staff.

The next morning Soto, made a point of passing by and asking how I had slept with the biggest evil grin on his face I’d ever seen...

That day, my mother was called and told I was being booted out. Before she could figure out what to do, I went AWOL, made my way back to The Hill, spoke with a beautiful woman who had a communal apartment across the street from the Park and said I needed to move in. As the little puppy of the Hill, still in uniform and with the police looking for me (NYMA was responsible for me until my parents accepted me back) I was welcomed into the embrace of my Hippie brethren and never looked back.

So, what was accomplished? Well most definitely not the original goal of shutting NYMA down and in hindsight I think I’m glad I failed in that. What the entire episode did accomplish for me at least, was a first step in what would be many years of fighting unjust wars, striving for equal rights for everyone and galvanizing my convictions that doing the right thing matters far more than taking the easy path.

All in all I have many memories of my time as a cadet many of them warm, but after all these years, most had receded, until last year when the elections put it in the spotlight including tales of being closed down and then sold to a Chinese conglomerate.

Although I know the Alma Matter Hymn to this day, I will let a better voice sing it for you... and say, one more time; Hail NYMA!

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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