Kemper Military School & College is where I went to college. It was more than twenty years ago. I hope you like it.
In July 1994, I got a ROTC scholarship to Kemper Military Junior College.
The Kemper Military Academy and Junior Military College was an old-fashioned military school. Kemper was in the small town of Boonville, Missouri, in the rolling countryside midway between St. Louis and Kansas City on the Missouri River.
The institution was formerly known as “Boonville Boarding School.” It was founded in 1844 by Frederick T. Kemper. In 1862, it was renamed Kemper Military School.
Known as the “West Point of the West,” Kemper was the oldest military school, west of the Mississippi. Kemper closed in 2002.
In 1994, Boonville seemed like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, a laid-back farm town full of charm. As you enter the idyllic, leafy town of Boonville: You past the courthouse dome on Main Street. Halfway into town, you make a left on a residential street. The street has blue and green two-story Craftsman homes with overhanging white beams and rafters.
On this residential street, you see an out of place belfry tower. The tower stands over a black quadrangle surrounded by red brick neoclassical buildings. The academic buildings faced towards the parade grounds.
Kemper’s parade grounds looked like the fairway on a golf course. The scent of freshly mowed grass hung in the air in the summertime. To the unromantic eye, Kemper looked like a prison or a fortress designed by a totalitarian architect.
A bell rings. Doors rocket open. Young men and women pour out. There are draped in uniforms of blue shirts, gray pants, garrison caps and tight black ties around their necks. Welcome to Kemper!
Early Commissioning Program
Kemper was part of the Early Commissioning Program (ECP). ECP is a two-year program that allows a college student to get commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve in two years.
Students at Kemper attended ROTC classes their freshman and sophomore years. At graduation, we got an associate’s degree and a commission. We had 36 months to finish college with a bachelor’s degree.
Applicants attended Basic Camp before their freshman year. Basic Camp was a five-week boot camp introduction to the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I went to Basic Training in-between my junior and senior year of high school. I didn’t have to go to Basic Camp.
Kemper had a liberal arts junior college, a middle school, and a high school. Kemper’s distinguished alumni were congressmen, senators, and several generals. The school was thirty years past its heyday when I got there.
In 1994, Kemper had 450 students on campus from all across the nation. We had fifty international students from Mexico, Japan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The real difference between an ordinary school and a military school is control. Everyday life at Kemper was more rigorous. Every part of our daily life was controlled.
You were always told what to do. You had very little privacy. It was endless regulations, formal parades, boot polishing and cleaning toilets.
Learning and living values while getting an education is what Kemper was all about. Students were responsible for their actions. The connection between behavior, responsibility, and outcomes was enforced through military discipline. There were only three acceptable answers to any question was, “Yes sir, no sir, and no excuse, sir.”
A Typical Day
No one ever got used hearing the bell at reveille. You couldn’t accept the bells any more than you could learn to accept being whipped.
At a minute to five o’clock in the morning, D Barracks was asleep. The hallways were as dark as a tomb, the corridors solemn and quiet as a church.
In the next minute, the clocked ticked to five o’clock. A dozen school bells spaced along the hallways screamed in unison. A long thirty-second blast, followed by five one-second booms cut into our dreams. Everyone was required to be up and moving. This was the first bell of the day.
Bells controlled our lives. Bells screamed at us throughout the day. One second behind a bell meant trouble. Bells told us when to eat, announced formation and when we were late. Bells taught us how to react like Pavlov’s dogs. We learned to hate bells.
Time management was drilled into us. We learned to split seconds. We did everything in fast time. We learned to be in the right place at the right time in the correct uniform.
We learned to arrive early. We learned to be counted on. We did everything with precision. We were efficient.
I am from Florida. I saw snow for the first time at Kemper. Missouri looks sad in the cruel cold of winter. Everything in the winter time looked like an old newsreel, all black, white and gray.
My room grew freezing in the winter. The heat in the building never seemed warm enough. I bought a small space heater to warm the room.
We filed outside for a run. It was a wild, cold, blowing day. It took time to learn to run in the snow. The cold air makes running harder. You set a certain pace under the speed you normally run at. You run easy. You look around as you run.
The Missouri River beyond the low wall was brown and white, choked with ice and snow, it looked like sludge.
After PT it took me four minutes to shower and dress. It was a skill learned in my first semester. It was nothing to shower, put on a uniform ready for inspection and race outside my door to greet my commander in less than five minutes.
Showering was quick. I had only a small tuft of hair. I used one bar of soap for everything. I shaved and brushed my teeth in the shower to save time. I’ve never used a mirror to shave. It takes too long.
I kept my hat inside a plastic bag to keep it from picking up dust or lint. My shirt was halfway buttoned on a hanger. I pulled it over my head and buttoned the rest of it.
I had my tie knotted perfectly. I slipped my tie over my neck and pulled it tight. My brass buckle was jerry-rigged. The belt tip was detached from the belt and joined to the brass of the buckle. I used shirt stays, so my shirt always looked tucked in and painted to my body. I did my best to be a squared away cadet.