Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has cited his high school experience at the New York Military Academy as having given him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
In recent weeks, Business Insider reached out to several of Trump’s former classmates at the school. They paint a picture of Trump as a star athlete who rose to become one of the highest-ranked members of his class. They also hinted at regular hazing and fighting that went on at the academy.
According to his yearbook, Trump, who grew up in Queens, arrived at the school in upstate Cornwall, New York, in 1959. He graduated in 1964.
The yearbook shows Trump, who is the son of millionaire real-estate developer Fred Trump, was a member of the varsity soccer, baseball, and football teams. He also won numerous awards including some for his athletic performance and a “neatness and order medal” in 1960.
One former classmate, George Beuttell, played football with Trump and described him as a “good man.”
“He was one of the highest-ranked cadets there and he was motivated to excel back then as he is now,” Beuttell told Business Insider. “Nobody ever spoke badly about him then, and he was liked.”
Beuttell said Trump “had direction back then that a lot of us other kids didn’t.”
“A lot of us were fooling around, played around, and he was more business than a lot of us,” Beuttell explained. “You had to admire that.”
Trump’s yearbook shows he rose to the rank of supply sergeant. According to Beuttell, this position was “probably the third highest-ranked cadet in the whole school.”
Another former Trump classmate, Arthur Schoenewaldt, recalled taking orders from Trump.
“He made me memorise my serial number of my M1 [rifle] and I still remember it this way,” Schoenewaldt told Business Insider. “Operationally, he was very well organised.”
Schoenewaldt also spent some time as Trump’s roommate. He said living with Trump was “great.”
“It was obvious that he came from a better-than-average family, but he was a great guy,” Schoenewaldt said.
Schoenewaldt also recalled Trump’s athletic prowess.
“He was intelligent, he presented himself well, he was athletic,” Schoenewaldt said. “I even heard from some of the coaches and stuff he could have played professional baseball.”
‘Lord of the Flies’
In a brief conversation with Business Insider about his high-school days, Trump declined to discuss his high school sports career on record to avoid bragging. However, he noted he was the “best athlete.”
Ted Levine, another former classmate, played baseball with Trump. He said Trump could have had a professional career.
“He was just the best, a good athlete, a great athlete. He could have probably played pro ball as a pitcher. I think he threw 80 miles an hour,” Levine said. “I was the catcher. He made my hand black and blue every day. … Could he play football? Could he play soccer? He could do anything he wanted. He was physically and mentally gifted.”
Levine also spent some time living with Trump. He said there were “a couple stories,” but he wasn’t “going to repeat them.”
Still, Levine suggested there were was some discord between him and Trump.
“OK, a couple of fights, but you know, that’s common ground in that school. [It was] a little ‘Lord of the Flies,'” Levine said
Levine said fighting was “common” at the school.
“There were a lot of very strong people up there and it was very competitive,” Levine recalled. “Everyone had fights there … like if the bed wasn’t made right.”
Levine, who went on to become a top college wrestler, said he was “the smallest kid” and Trump was “the biggest kid.” Despite the difference in size between them, Levine said he was sometimes able to get the best of Trump “with a stick.”
“I just learned not to lose,” he explained.
They may have fought, but Levine made clear physical encounters were a regular feature of life at the New York Military Academy and Trump didn’t get violent “more than anyone else would.”
“If you were the new guy, you know, the old guys kicked your arse,” Levine said. “Eventually you became on the other end.”
However, Levine hesitated to describe the behaviour at the school as hazing.
“Defining hazing is very difficult because it’s a moving target with the times,” Levine said. “Is it too nice now? Yes. Are Marines weaker for it? Yes. … Is there a moment in time for everything? Yes.”
Schoenewaldt also recalled some degree of hazing at the New York Military Academy.
“They were what they called new guy rules, but it all had a means to the end,” Schoenewaldt said. “It taught you respect. It taught you discipline.”
According to Schoenewaldt, Trump was not particularly hard on the younger students.
“There were some guys that were pretty aggressive with that stuff, but Trump was not one of them,” he said.
Trump’s yearbook indicates his nickname in high school was “D.T.” His former classmates who spoke to Business Insider said he went by “Don” and “Trump,” as well. The yearbook also showed Trump was voted the school’s “Ladies Man” in his senior year.
New York Military Academy was a boys’ school. The graduates who spoke to Business Insider said Trump’s selection as “Ladies Man” was based on his classmates’ perception of him.
“He was a very good looking, handsome guy and he held himself in a way that everyone thought he’d be very desirable for the opposite sex,” George Beuttell explained.
Trump told Business Insider he was voted “Ladies Man” because he “always treated women with the greatest respect.”
“I admire them,” Trump said.
‘Boy, he’s full of himself’
None of the former classmates who spoke to Business Insider recalled discussing politics with Trump. Though his political ambitions may not have been on display, Jack Seraphin remembered a story that seemed to hint at Trump’s future as a real-estate mogul.
“We used to march on Fifth Avenue during the Columbus Day Parade. Donald was marching and the officer he addressed was called Ace Castellano. He was a colonel. And Trump said, ‘Ace, I’d really like to get some of this real estate some day,'” Seraphin said. “Ace looked at him and he thought, boy, he’s full of himself, but he’s got some goals. Castellano told me the story. I know it’s true.”
Trump’s office provided Business Insider with a photo (shown above) that shows him marching in the parade down Fifth Avenue. His current headquarters, Trump Tower, is located on the street.
Some of Trump’s former classmates said they were undecided about who to vote for in the 2016 presidential election. However, Schoenewaldt said it’s a “good possibility” he will vote for Trump.
“He wasn’t the same as he is now, but I’m sure I respect him. I’ll vote for him. I’ll do anything I can, because I think he can make a difference,” said Schoenewaldt. “He was quiet, unassuming. He wasn’t overly brash. He wasn’t a prick. He was a really good cadet.”
Levine suggested the strong support Trump enjoys among his former classmates may be due to the culture of the New York Military Academy.
“No matter what, he was on our team and that’s it,” said Levine. “You understand what I mean? … You don’t go against your teammates, no matter what.”
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