The Marine Corps training mission forced the three young men to endure nights with little sleep in California's broiling Mojave Desert. For a stretch during the 13-week infantry course that ended June 23, they subsisted on packaged meals eaten from plastic pouches. During a stint in the Virginia woods, days of will-sapping rain soaked them to the bone.
The three Chaminade High School graduates say they got through the harrowing Marine Corps' Officer Training Course in part by bolstering one another with memories of the Mineola-based Catholic school.
Recalling items from the school's lunch menu often did the trick. "We'd just look at each other and say a pork rib hero or a Flyer Special would be perfect right about now," said 2d Lt. James Prial, 22, of Wantagh, citing two favorites from the Chaminade cafeteria. "Stuff like that would make each other laugh and keep our spirits up."
Prial is one of three newly minted Marine lieutenants from Long Island who say the shared experience of having attended the academically rigorous high school helped them prevail during the training program that qualified them to lead infantry troops. Last week, looking buff in green Marine Corps service uniforms, they returned to Chaminade to again walk its halls and recount its place in their lives.
As the three men trained against a backdrop of war in Afghanistan, so have other graduates of Chaminade. Since its founding in 1930, thousands of the school's graduates are believed to have served in the armed forces. At least 56 have been killed in battle.
2d Lt. Kevin Murphy, 25, of Rockville Centre; 2d Lt. Jimmy Rooney, 23, of West Islip and Prial -- graduates of Chaminade's classes of '04, '05, and '06, respectively -- were in the same 100-member Infantry Officers Course that completed live-fire training two weeks ago at the Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., after earlier training in Virginia.
Though they were not acquainted at the 1,600-student high school, they said knowing that Chaminade grads were among them during training helped convince them they could overcome numerous hurdles -- obstacles that washed out one in four of their fellow trainees.
"The Marine Corps values -- loyalty, integrity -- are very similar to those instilled at Chaminade," Rooney, a West Point grad, said during his visit to the school. "Coming from here, I felt I had a pretty solid background and that made it easier. It was like being back at Chaminade."
Chaminade president Rev. James C. Williams said the school takes pains to build character in its students. Reading material that includes "A Man For All Seasons" -- a play that explores Sir Thomas More's willingness to be executed rather than endorse Henry VIII's divorce of convenience -- challenges students to weigh loyalty against personal morality.
A glass case near the school's Darby Auditorium displays a replica Medal of Honor donated by then-President Ronald Reagan commemorating Lt. Stephen Karopczyc, of Chaminade's Class of 1961. Karopczyc earned the nation's highest military honor by sacrificing himself -- he covered a grenade to save fellow soldiers during a 1967 Vietnam War battle.
'Men of integrity as leaders'
"Chaminade is all about service, and certainly military service fills that role," Williams said. "War should always be the last option, but in situations where power can be abused, you want men of integrity as leaders."
Prial, who rowed with the crew team while at Chaminade, said the school played such a meaningful role in his life that he returns there every time he comes home. Prial, a Naval Academy grad, encourages current members of the crew team to apply there, and drops in on his old rowing coach, John Callinan, Chaminade's dean.
Murphy, who played free safety on Chaminade's football team and graduated from Loyola College, says he still craves the school cafeteria's "Flyer Special" -- a chicken cutlet sandwich topped with melted cheese and bacon.
"I still get delis to put them together for me," Murphy said. "During officer training, when we were out eating MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], Flyer Specials reminded me of lunchtimes at Chaminade, when you could decompress with friends."