The Spirit of Greenbrier Military School Lives On at Fork Union

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This weekend, the alumni of Greenbrier Military School are holding their annual reunion in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Greenbrier graduated its last class of cadets in 1972 and closed its doors forever, yet the school's special spirit lives on, both in these annual reunions held in Lewisburg, as well as in a unique relationship built in recent years with a former arch rival, Fork Union Military Academy.

Eric Nelson, Greenbrier Military School Class of 1947, helps attach the Greenbrier Cadet cord to the uniform of his grandson, Cadet Robert "Bo" Barnes.

Eric Nelson, Greenbrier Military School Class of 1947, helps attach the Greenbrier Cadet cord to the uniform of his grandson, Cadet Robert "Bo" Barnes.

A decade ago, the remaining alumni of Greenbrier Military School formed a valued partnership with Fork Union Military Academy. Those GMS alumni wanted to do more than get together for reunions and remember past times. They wanted to actively participate.

This weekend, the alumni of Greenbrier Military School are holding their annual reunion in Lewisburg, West Virginia. At first, this might not seem like a remarkable event; many schools host reunions for alumni. But the Greenbrier Military School annual alumni reunion remains a testament to the strong personal bonds formed in a boys only, military-style, boarding school environment. These men of Greenbrier are committed to each other, and committed to seeing that their school, and the values it stood for, will not be forgotten. You see, Greenbrier graduated its last class of cadets in 1972 and closed its doors forever. Yet the school's special spirit lives on, both in these annual reunions held in Lewisburg, as well as in a unique relationship built in recent years with a former arch rival, Fork Union Military Academy.

Like many traditional military schools during the 1960s and early 1970s, Greenbrier was unable to weather the changes taking place in the country. The military was falling out of favor in a society that was tired of the war in Vietnam. Permissiveness and nonconformity were the new rules of the culture. With enrollment dropping and debts increasing, Greenbrier Military School, like their sports rivals Staunton Military Academy and Augusta Military Academy, found itself without the finances needed to make it through the lean times.

A nation that once had as many as 400 military-style private schools, today has far fewer than 40.

The Greenbrier Cadet Program

A decade ago, the remaining alumni of Greenbrier Military School formed a valued partnership with Fork Union Military Academy. Those GMS alumni wanted to do more than get together for reunions and remember past times. They wanted to actively participate, to be involved in the active continuation and fostering of those ideals and values they learned together in military school. They wanted a spot where they could plant the seeds of Greenbrier's historic legacy and see it continue to grow and bear fruit today and into the future. Thus was born Fork Union's Greenbrier Cadet program.

Each spring, a cadet from Fork Union is selected to serve as the Greenbrier Cadet for the following year. The selection process is stringent, and only the best of the best are considered for this honorary position. While some preference is given to cadets who have some connection to Greenbrier or West Virginia, the most important criteria revolves around selecting a cadet who best exemplifies the ideals and values represented by Greenbrier Military School and who will best serve to honor that school's memory by his performance, achievement, and conduct. The Greenbrier Cadet wears a special cord on his uniform with the green and white colors of Greenbrier Military School. The cord is presented to the selected cadet at one of the Academy's spring parades.
Cadet Robert "Bo" Barnes, Greenbrier Cadet

The Greenbrier Cadet selected for the 2015-2016 academic year is Robert "Bo" Barnes, the son of Robert and Mary Barnes of Richmond, Virginia. Cadet Barnes is a senior in his fourth year at Fork Union Military Academy. He currently serves as a Second Lieutenant in Alpha Company.

He is the grandson of Eric Nelson, who was born in Charleston, WV, and is a 1947 graduate of Greenbrier Military School. Mr. Nelson's brothers also attended Greenbrier, Oscar Nelson in the Class of 1940 and Tom Nelson in the Class of 1944. Mr. Nelson graduated The Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1951 and attended law school at Washington & Lee University, but was drafted into the armed forces in 1952. Mr. Nelson attended the Leadership and the Armed Forces Information School and served with the 5th Infantry Division during the Korean War. Mr. Nelson then pursued a successful lifelong career in banking and finance, including founding and presiding over South Hills Bank, founding Nelson Enterprises and Nelson Company, and owning and operating Morlunda Farms in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Mr. Nelson served two terms in the West Virginia legislature.

Cadet Barnes struggled in school as a young student with dyslexia. He came to summer school at Fork Union Military Academy following his 8th grade year to pull his grades up. He came home from summer school and told his parents that he needed to come to Fork Union in the fall because he knew he could do well in the school's environment. Bo made good on his prediction, as he has grown from a struggling middle school student into a senior ranked 17th in his class with a GPA of better than 3.5.

His mother, Mary Barnes, says, "The One Subject Plan has been great for Bo. We as parents are so proud of him. This has been his choice and he has done great!"

His grandfather was in attendance at this past spring's parade to help attach the green and white Greenbrier Cadet cord to Cadet Barnes' uniform and to take the review of the parade, continuing a ten-year old tradition that is appreciated by both Fork Union Military Academy and the remaining alumni of Greenbrier Military School.

Parade to Honor GMS Alumni

Each year in late April or early May, alumni of Greenbrier come to the campus of Fork Union Military Academy during the school's "parade season." There they will be the guests of honor on the reviewing stand as Fork Union's Corps of Cadets pass in review. As the cadets march in front of the GMS alumni, the officers will present their sabers in salute and give the order, "Eyes right!" More than four hundred cadets will turn their heads toward the reviewing stand in silent salute.

This special "Eyes Right" salute is believed to originate from the middle ages, when the serfs and slaves were not allowed to look at their feudal lords, but were required to avert their eyes and bow their heads or kneel as the lords of the manor passed. In contrast, the soldiers in the service of the feudal lords were given the privilege of looking their leader right in the eye and raising their hats or helmets as a mark of respect.

Passing in Review remains one of the highest honors the Corps of Cadets can offer to one chosen to "take the review" and is the way the Corps of Cadets "salutes" or shows respect and appreciation to those persons.

GMS Alumni as Benefactors

This respect and appreciation demonstrated by the Pass in Review is well earned, because each year the alumni of Greenbrier Military School remain among Fork Union's top benefactors, contributing much needed funds for the Academy's scholarship program.

It is truly a unique and valuable partnership, as Fork Union helps keep the name of Greenbrier Military School active and alive, and the GMS alumni help provide much-needed financial aid money for students seeking the benefits of a military school education.

Full Schedule for Reunion Weekend

The GMS alumni have a full schedule of activities planned for this weekend in Lewisburg, West Virginia, ranging from golf, to dinner, dancing, and finishing off with a church service at Old Stone Presbyterian Church led by the Reverend Vernon Thompson, GMS Class of 1946.

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Dan Thompson
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