Few know that I spent four years behind bars.  No, I wasn’t a bartender, nor was I a criminal.  I was a Citadel cadet, attending the military college of South Carolina, where they locked us up at night.

Ground floor room windows had bars, and each barracks’ iron gates safely secured five hundred men each night.  We never figured out whether those bars were protecting the corps of cadets or the citizens of Charleston.

We lived Spartan lives in cell-sized rooms with bunk beds and without air conditioning.  Televisions and coffee makers were forbidden.  Air-conditioned rooms and computers have spoiled today’s cadets, but things get cushy over time.

Pets were unauthorized, though cadets broke rules.  It was rumored that one hid a snake in his room.  A classmate once showed me his pet alligator.

A Fox in the next barracks — my friend Larry Fox — urged me to get a female hamster to mate with Sam, his hamster.  Hamsters, though rodents, are warm-blooded and more fun than reptiles.

Larry told us about a flying hamster in his barracks.  Cadets had made a parachute, secured a hamster to it, and tossed the hapless pet from the top floor to its death.  Falling four floors to the cement quadrangle earned that hamster its heavenly reward.  Cadets who witnessed this event, some of whom would parachute when they entered the military, learned a lesson that day.  I’m not sure what the lesson was, because I wasn’t invited.  Maybe hamsters were not meant to fly.

Upperclassmen had choreographed this parachuting extravaganza, enjoying a privilege that they’d crucify a freshman for.  Afterwards, freshmen performed a burial ceremony for the hamster.  Chris McClure in the Regimental Band played bagpipes at the funeral.

I got a Charleston Pass one Saturday and went to a pet store, where the salesperson checked carefully and assured me that I was buying a female.  I couldn’t tell.  I didn’t know much about sex at that time.  I named her Juanita and smuggled her into the barracks.  During the day when roommate Dick Evans and I were in class or at drill, we’d hide Juanita inside our wooden shoebox.  That box, about as big as a cardboard box that new shoes come in, was for shining rags and polish.

Saturday Morning Inspections required the shoebox to be open, so I designed a hiding place for those few minutes.  After carefully emptying and enjoying the contents of a Whitman’s Candy box, I covered it with a book cover, put black tape on the top to cover the yellow, and punched holes in the sides so Juanita wouldn’t suffocate.  When we heard the room next door come to attention, we’d shove Juanita into her hiding place on the bookshelf and hope she wouldn’t make noise.

We took Juanita to Larry’s room one day, and left her.  He put her in the metal trash bucket with Sam.  Instead of breeding, they fought.  Seems both were females.  Larry apologized for not knowing Sam’s sex and renamed her Samantha.

We’d play with Juanita, letting her run on the bed while we lay studying.  We fed her milk and veggies from the mess hall.  We got her a wheel to keep fit.  She’d run while Dick and I wrestled on the floor.  Everyone exercised!

One day I heard a snap, like a toothpick breaking.  Dick had rolled over on his bunk and broken Juanita’s leg.  We consulted our medically inclined classmates.  One suggested that we buy ether and reset the leg, fastening wooden matchsticks as a splint.  I opined that we flush Juanita down the toilet.  Ether was expensive, so in the end, we did nothing.  Juanita shuffled for a few weeks.  Across the top bunk she’d hobble and then fall to the floor.  We didn’t let her on the bed after that.  Over time, she stopped limping as her leg healed.  Then it was back to her treadmill.

One evening, when everyone was out frolicking in Charleston (except for Dick and me, who were under restriction for three months for bad behavior), Bill Daniels staggered in to ask why we weren’t out.  He was intoxicated.  As he was slurring about what a great time he’d had, he saw Juanita dash from behind one bookcase to the other.

“A rat!” he hollered.  “I swear.  It was a rat!  It went behind this bookcase.”  Bill walked to the bookcase, where he saw and pointed to Dick’s ashtray on the floor, filled with milk, and a small dish of lettuce.  With horror in his glazed eyes, Bill concluded, “My God!  You’re feeding it.”

We’d lost his trust.  To Bill, it was as though we’d been caught nourishing the enemy.  We ushered him to the door telling him he’d had too much to drink, which was true, and that he was seeing things, which also was true.

We bade him goodnight as he lurched to his room.  He never mentioned the incident.

One morning we awoke but Juanita didn’t.  We buried her without fanfare in an unmarked grave on The Citadel campus.  Future archaeologists may wonder when exhuming her bones exactly what cadets of the old corps used for food.

Ronald Allan Charles ’65


  1. Dear Editor-in-Chief;

    I’m writing you to suggest that your newspaper begin covering a story about the coronavirus that has been largely under the radar thus far, but has major implications for our global public health and economic growth going forward.

    According to a 2018 World Health Organization, (WHO) report, of our planet’s health risks, the top three are; 1. global influenza pandemic (like the coronavirus), 2. antimicrobial resistance, and 3. high-threat pathogens, including disease x. What they all have in common is that these infectious diseases are zoonic in nature, and largely attributable to factory farming.

    In fact, at the 2016 World Health Assembly (WHA), outgoing WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, M.D., advised that the way to protect our global population from these threats is to acknowledge their origin in factory farming, and make the necessary changes.

    The 2019 coronavirus pandemic has revealed to the world just how dangerous influenza pandemics can be not just to public health, but to the global economy. As damaging as the coronavirus has been in a multitude of ways, COVID-19 may be deemed mild as compared with what future pandemics may bring.

    As far back as 2008, Dr. Michael Greger, then Director of Public Health and Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States, delivered a sobering YouTube video presentation on how the domestication and farming of animals has historically led to an increasingly more serious, and, since the 1980s no longer acceptable, risk to public health. He cites that the United Nations has ranked climate change and emerging infectious diseases as the two greatest threats facing humanity. Dr. Greger ends his talk with a serious warning; our ending factory farming may not be enough to keep us safe. We may have to abstain from eating meat, dairy and eggs altogether. I strongly urge you to view this hour-long, extensively documented and exceedingly well-organized, presentation.

    The good news is that Dr. Greger issued this dire warning five years before a revolutionary breakthrough in 2013 demonstrated the feasibility of producing meat, dairy and eggs in-vitro, a technology that has evolved from our medical advances in tissue regeneration. The science behind this new cultured meat technology is explained in depth by Ph.D. student in Biophysics, Frea Mehta, in her 15-minute YouTube presentation. I strongly urge you to watch this video as well.

    The history and current status of this new industry is described by Paul Shapiro in his 2018 bestselling seminal work, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. These foods are known as “in-vitro,” “cultured,” “lab-grown,” and “clean.”

    • In 2014 Perfect Day Foods became the first company founded to market these cultured foods, and the industry has since rapidly expanded.

    • In 2015 Clara Foods, Geltor, IntegriCulture, Memphis Meats , Mosa Meat, and SuperMeat were founded.

    • In 2016, Just, a plant-based foods company today valued at over $1 billion, began work on cultured chicken and The Wild Type was founded.

    • In 2017, Aleph Farms, Appleton Meats, Biotech Foods, Finless Foods, Higher Steaks, New Age Meats and Wild Earth were started.

    • In 2018 BioFood Stystems, BlueNalu, ClearMeat, Cubiq Foods, Future Meat Technologies, Legendairy, Meatable, Mission Barns, New Culture, and Shiok Meats were all founded.

    • And in 2019 AlphaMeats, Avant Meats, Heuros and VOW joined what are now about 50 startups in this revolutionary new industry, (A dozen of them remain in stealth mode for the time being).

    Uncontaminated by fecal matter and bacteria like E coli and salmonella, cholesterol-free, saturated fat-free, lactose-free, antibiotics-free, growth hormone-free, pesticide and fungicide-free, and free of pathogens that cause dangerous infectious diseases like bird flu, anthrax, swine flu, and listeriosis, these new foods are many times more healthy and safe than today’s farm-raised meat, dairy and eggs. Producing them takes about 45 percent less energy, 98 percent less land, and 90 percent less water. They also cause far less pollution.

    Equally important, factory farms emit 14.5 percent of the man-made greenhouse gasses responsible for global warming, and these clean foods could reduce those emissions by from 78 to 98 percent.

    The approximately 50 startups working to solve various research challenges before clean meat can be brought to market feel very lucky if they can secure even $160 million in Round B funding. At that level of investment, clean meat industry insiders have estimated that it may take up to a decade or longer for clean meat products to finally reach supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, the U.S. just spent $2.2 trillion on an economic stimulus package, but included absolutely no funding for this emerging technology that may represent our best, and perhaps only, hope against preventing future pandemics.

    I’m asking you to publish intelligent, informative, compelling pieces explaining that if the U.S. government were to dedicate $10 billion of the upcoming fourth economic stimulus package to fast-tracking research and development in this new industry, we could probably have clean meat, egg and dairy products on supermarket shelves within two or three years. By this you will be doing our world a world of good, especially in protecting us all from future pandemics.

    Thanks so much for listening to my idea. If you could send me a quick acknowledgment that I’ve reached you, that would be great!


    George Ortega, Director
    A Happier World

    2 Old Mamaroneck Road, 3I
    White Plains, New York


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