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The untold story of military academies past

A military career was once viewed as an honorable path out of poverty for millions of destitute farmers’ sons and ghetto children. After the “good” war (WWII), a thankful nation was eager to offer every opportunity to our surviving veterans on their return. After all, casualty rates for the two million Allied troops during Operation Overlord alone exceeded 10% of that number. The US had paid a heavy price. But the vision of a respected career wrought from bearing arms for the nation preceded WWII by many decades.

Like today’s prep schools for prestigious universities, it was thought children who attended “military academies” (for-profit boarding schools) would give them a leg up upon enlistment as an adult. All those uniforms, monthly parade ground performances, and “character building” seemed like just the ticket as disciplinary benevolence before Dr. Spock’s book on parenting became a best seller. Mercifully, few such institutions exist in the US today, other than in the South, given changing social attitudes and a weak economy. The slippery slope to financial perdition began during the Reagan administration.

Today, only an eyesore of what was once the largest such US “military academy” (private boarding school for children) remains as ancient, dirty, cracked, weed-infested asphalt on a hill (Signal Hill), once bristling with oil derricks and oil-saturated dirt. Established in 1924 (along with the incorporation of the City of Signal Hill completely surrounded by the City of Long Beach, California), the school thrived until the 1980’s, changing ownership several times until its demolition in 1987. The Alvarado Elementary School stands in its place today. A perusal of Google’s satellite view of the grounds reveals faint outlines of where the Academy’s buildings had been and its faint parade ground markings. The huge wheeled cannons that once graced its front laws are long gone, undoubtedly sold as it lapsed into insolvency.

For an institution that had so many boys transit its halls over the years, there’s a curious lack of communication/reminiscing by grades 1-9 alumni according to those from its sister institutions alumni associations. It’s as if it suffered the Biblical fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, obliterated by the asphalt, weeds, and dirt almost without a trace or historical account. Then again, perhaps it’s not so curious after all. Despite the fancy uniforms and crowd pleasing parade-ground drills, there were many nasty secrets hidden beneath its white-glove and caissons exterior coupled with the convenience of having someone (anyone!) else do the heavy lifting of parenting/child care. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when others who do not love the children left in their charge are given unregulated 24/7 custody and “parentis in locus” authority including corporal punishment.

Unlike state institutions, these types of facilities are largely unregulated and their track records abysmal, despite the occasionally paraded euphemistic accounts from some alumni. Those who remember Thurston County’s privately run “OK Boy’s Ranch,” founded by the Kiwanis Club of Olympia, may recall the abuse eventually reported there.

Amicus Curia, a self-appointed gadfly, routinely challenges the state and its minions for corruption, incompetence, and abuse of authority.


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