A Tribute to Cadets
by David P. Sorokoty, KMI 1972

SAE - The Record, Vol. 132, Issue #3, 2013

Like  most  first-year   cadets  that  passed through  the  door  to  the  Old  Ormsby Plantation and its stately mansion with towering  white  pillars,  I  had  no  idea
what was in store for me the next three years. Rather, upon entering through a picturesque front  gate  and  driving  down  a  long  narrow  road lined with tall maple trees and large fields  of manicured grass, I was too busy contemplating what I had got myself into. You see, I was starting my adventure as a Kentucky Military Institute cadet, and this was the embarkation point for the journey.

The   military  school  was  steeped  in  history and  known  for  its  motto  of  “Character  Makes the  Man.”  Founded  in  1845  by  Colonel  Robert Thomas Pitcairn Allen, KMI was the third military academy to become chartered in the United States. The  sleepy little Kentucky town of Lyndon would  see  its  fair  share  of  generals,  statesman, governors,  business  pioneers  and  even  a  couple of movie actors over the next 75 years. KMI also maintained a winter campus in Venice, Florida, since  administrators  believed  that  ideal  weather conditions  for  the  entire  academic  school  year would make for a superior learning experience.

But my experience took place in 1969, the last years of this storied institution. With the Vietnam War  raging  and  national  feelings  turning  away from the military, the school’s population sharply fell off. I graduated in 1972, and my first days were met with fear and some excitement. As I stepped onto the campus for the first time, I was not aware that every minute of every hour of every day during  the  school  year  was  already  planned  for  me and  my  next  three  years.  Our  day  depended  on bugle calls that were played from the guard house. We woke up with reveille and ended the day with taps. We spent Monday through Friday in class for six hours with most afternoons  devoted to drill, the time to practice for the parade every Sunday. Outside class and study hall at night, our time was devoted to the military — from field-stripping  our issued M1 rifle  and room inspections to marching in formation and paying attention to detail on our uniforms.

We  spent  free  time  among  sports  that  were offered   like  football,  baseball,  swimming,  golf and our rifle  team to name a few. On Wednesday afternoons, we were allowed to walk to Lyndon. Saturday after  morning inspection, we had the day off, which meant we could hop a bus to Louisville. You  can  imagine  how  long  our  meager  weekly allowance of $2.50 would last. However, we had to leave in uniform. And, of course, when a busload of us left to go to an Iron Butterfly  concert at Rupp Arena, we had to be in our military uniforms. It wasn’t to our liking, but as cadets, we had no other options.

The  only exception to having free time involved demerits or penalty points if we broke the rules. A  cadet  once  remarked  that  we  could  become gardeners working off our demerits. In fact, one infraction  of  AWOL  equaled  100  hours  of  extra work  after   classes,  so  I  think  cadets  with  that many demerits could become master gardeners.

With  a  few  hundred  male  teenagers  living together 24 hours a day, we enjoyed our share of campus pranks, much to the chagrin of our peers. We used to paint the cannon out front many different  colors,  just  in  time  for  homecoming  or graduation. And one of my favorites was playing “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin over the loud speakers at midnight from the guard house, which seemed to wake everyone in the county. My fellow cadets and I laughed it off as good, clean fun.

But  as  we  made  our  way  through  the  early 1970s, we could see our old school was taking a beating. Paint started to chip away from the once proud  buildings  that  adorn  the  campus.  School enrollment dropped below 300 for the first time and  my  graduating  class  had  only  28  men.  At graduation, I could not help but think of the past cadets who took that step on to the front porch of Ormsby Hall to receive their coveted diploma. That step, worn by the weather — and featuring a pronounced dip from foot traffic  over the years — is where a boy cadet turned in to a man. The  school finally  closed after  a long but proud history in 1974.

I  have  created  a  page  on  Facebook  titled Kentucky Military Institute, which serves to preserve the history, recall fond memories and rekindle  friendships  of  the  brotherhood  we  shared. You’re invited to stop by and take a look at facebook.com/kentuckymilitaryinstitute.  David Sorokoty, one of the last cadets to graduate from Kentucky Military Institute, maintains a Facebook page for his alma mater. This photo circa 1970 shows other cadets in formation outside a campus building.
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