Have been asked a couple of times here of late, “What was it like for you in high school?” To put it all in perspective, I attended 4 different high schools in my 4 years of high school. Two in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, one in France and my senior year in Wiesbaden, West Germany.
I loved my freshman and sophomore years – at Chicopee Falls High School. My favorite classes were Latin and Civics. I came into Chicopee Falls HS from the DOD school system and there was a bit of “an adjustment.” But overall, my grades were fine, and I enjoyed school.
In later summer 1962 Dear Ole Dad was transferred from Westover AFB, MA to Chambley AFB in France. This move was part of the ‘Berlin Crisis’ build up. We arrived at Chambley in Oct. ’62.
I actually began my junior year of high school in Chicopee Falls, at a brand new school, Chicopee Comprehensive HS. It was impressive, to say the least, and actually had an Olympic swimming pool! And if you can believe it, they offered a course in aeronautics for juniors! That was where I learned about the ‘coefficient of lift’ for the first time. Then I transferred to Verdun HS, France.
Verdun HS was situated 29 miles from Chambley. We were bussed there every day, leaving before daylight and returning home after dark. The trip in those days took ~ 45 minutes as the French roads in those days were ‘terrible.’
Having suffered through 2 world wars in the first half of the century France just did not have the resources – financial or manpower – to repair or maintain their roads. They were ‘passable’ at best, but the going was slow. I can remember traveling through fields and wood marked with signs reading, “Achtung, Minen!” Attention, Mines. Some mines were left from WW II, others from WW I! There were also fields of twisted barbed wire also throughout Northern France at the time.
On my first day of school at Verdun, I was sent home with a 3-day suspension – for wearing jeans! Hell, I didn’t know we weren’t suppose to wear jeans! At any rate, Dear Ole Dad had to come and fetch me – and that was not a pleasant 45-minute ride home!
This was our school:
I was told it was an old German WW II hospital, converted into our school. You can see the nice barbed wire fence around the school! For the year I attended, I am happy to report, there was not one Visigoth who breached the perimeter!
When I was reinstated I discovered that while the exterior appearance of the school might have been ‘spartan’ in nature, the interior was cold and dreary. And my grades suffered.
From ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s (I know, only 1 ‘A’) to ‘C’s’ and ‘D’s. And they left off the Aeronautics class I took my first semester at Chicopee Comprehensive. I think that pissed me off more than the ‘C’s’ and ‘D’s!’
In 1962 French President DeGaulle threw us (Americans) out. Dear Ole Dad was reassigned to Wiesbaden AFB, West Germany, and I was ‘assigned’ to General H.H. Arnold HS.
I can distinctly remember that first day of school. I was terrified. When I found my ‘Home Room,’ I took a desk on the left side of the room, against the wall – where I had a clear view of everything. I can remember ‘hunkering down,’ hoping no one would notice me. They didn’t.
I remember seeing a ‘pretty girl’ those first few days of school. I told Mom about her, and what her name was. “Oh,” Mom replied, “we were with them at Selfidge (AFB, MI).” I was elated – a ‘connection.’
The next day after mustering the courage to speak to her, I approached her and told her about attending kindergarten with her at Selfidge. She subsequently dismissed me with something like, “Oh, that’s nice,” and she turned and walked away. Back to the desk, against the wall…
Pat Conroy says in his Introduction to Mary Edwards Wertsch’s book, “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress;” “My job was to be a stranger, to know no one’s name on the first day of school…” I fulfilled my ‘duty’ for 3 of my 4 years of high school.
My grades in my senior years continued to decline. However they were ‘good enough’ to get me into college.
Our senior class at Wiesbaden had class mugs made, with everyone’s name on them. Nice German beer steins with our high school crest featured on them. When they were handed out, there wasn’t one for me. In addition, my name was left off the other kid’s mugs. I may as well not have been there… “They” scrambled, and had a mug made for me before year’s end, with my name embossed on the top, but not in with the other kids names on the side of the mug. I threw the damn thing against the wall and shattered it when I got home…
I left high school thinking I was the “class dummy.” I knew I was “brighter” than my grades reflected, but my grades were my grades. (In college I graduated with a 2.03 accum.) This haunted me, until I got sober in 1994…
(Part of my initial recovery process was to take a battery of psychological and intelligence tests – to see how much of my brain was fried. When I completed the 8 hours of testing I did something totally out of character for me – I asked for a copy of the results! I couldn’t believe it when he told me that he would send them to me.
When the results arrived a couple weeks later, I was shocked. The assessment was laced with phrases like, “…well above average,” and “…in the superior range,” and so forth. I always knew it, damn it! I knew it!
I then retreated into prayer: “Okay God, now that I “know” this, I ask that You guide me to use it to Your way, not mine…”) But, I digress…
Today I have contact with a couple guys from my senior year, believe it or not – and I am so grateful for those associations. But I have no idea who I attended school with during my freshman, sophomore or junior years. The one guy I “hung with” during my junior year, the guy I began drinking with, committed suicide 9 months before I got sober! Crap…
If I were to go to a high school reunion today, which one? Guess it wouldn’t matter – I don’t know if I would know anyone there anyway…
This all being said, I am thinking about attending the 50th reunion of my senior year high school next Spring. We’ll see…