PASSING IN REVIEW article for the Greenbrier Military School ALUMNI RECORD
Antonio Higuera Freiria 15 May 1932 – 25 July 1998
Greenbrier Military School from 1948 to December 1950.
By Lieutenant Colonel Tony Higuera, USAF-Ret, Florida Air Academy '79 (Son of Antonio Higuera Freiria)
Forward by Deak Roberts:
Many of us know former Cadets that, for one reason or another, left Greenbrier Military School before completing the graduation they originally came there to achieve. My own roommate for my first two out of three years, Jack Zirkle '55, left after his Sophomore year (his own decision) and went on to graduate from his hometown high school. He later said leaving was the biggest mistake he made in his life, but also said it was what he took with him from GMS that made him the successful man that he was. Antonio Higuera Freiria did not have a choice of leaving or staying. He had to leave before he wanted to, but, like Jack Zirkle, he went on to become very successful in life due to what he took with him from GMS. The story you will read below was written by Antonio's son, Tony, who could not go to GMS because it no longer existed; however, Tony not only benefited from going to the Florida Air Academy, a military school much like GMS, but he benefited from GMS as well as you will see in the story below. I will add at this point that Lieutenant Colonel Tony Higuera is retired from the United States Air Force after 26 years in the service of our Nation. Colonel Higuera is a much decorated Air Force Officer who holds the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Joint Service Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster and many more. He was awarded Outstanding Young Men in America in 1988 and 1989, and American Red Cross Volunteer of the Year at the U. S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa, Japan. Colonel Higuera is a Master Air Battle Manager with more than 2,600 hours in the E-3 B/C Airborne Warning and Control System and E-8C Joint STARS including 321 combat hours in support of Operation ALLIED FORCE and IRAQI FREEDOM as a Mission Commander in Joint STARS. His flying and operational experience is global. He has deployed in support of major US operations and exercises in the United States, Far East, Pacific, Central America, South America, Caribbean, Middle East, the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. Colonel Higuera currently resides in Missoula, Montana, and is married to
the former Elaine Harlow. They have a daughter, Dominique who is 13 years old, and a son, Anthony (TJ)
who is 6 years old.
Prologue by Tony Higuera, Lt Col, USAF-Ret
First, I want to thank James E. "Deak" Roberts Jr. '56 and Herb Pearis '56 for the great honor of allowing
me to pay tribute to my father's life by writing his biography. Also, I want to thank Mr. Pearis for putting
me in contact with Don Richmond '52, now retired in Florida, who remembers my dad. Don was in 8th
grade when my dad was a Junior at GMS. They both smoked cigarettes and that is how he remembers
him because Don used to "go around and bum cigarettes off all the upper classmen." Don also sent me
yearbook pictures of my Dad that I had never seen.
Antonio Higuera Freiria: This is the biography of a common, imperfect man who was neither famous
nor well known by many but to his family. His life was not heroic by our current societal way to measure
heroism, but to me, his son, he was a hero. He influenced my life in many ways; he is the reason why I
consider my life so far as a great success. He instilled the values of hard work, honesty, perseverance,
loyalty, self-accountability and love for God, family and Country. He was not born a U.S. citizen, but he
considered himself a very patriotic American, while still being proud of his Spanish heritage. In my
opinion, his life was defined by two major events. One was the death of his father, whom he loved
dearly, when he was just 12 years old; a death that he sadly witnessed with his own eyes in the
afternoon of 25 December 1944. I remember Dad telling me that the Christmas tree was removed to
make way for his father's casket. How sad for a young man to witness such a terrible event on Christmas
Day. The other defining event was the two (2) years he spent as a Cadet at Greenbrier Military School
(GMS). Dad loved GMS. He spoke to me of GMS many times. He was proud to have been a Cadet. He
enjoyed the sense of belonging to something bigger than himself; a place that gave him values by which
he could live his life. But his dream of graduating from GMS was halted/shattered when his Mother just
ran out of money and had to withdraw him half-way through his Junior year. Dad was the oldest of three
boys and there was just not enough money to take care of all three kids. He had to return home and
become the man of the house. This was a heavy blow to Dad, but one that directly had a positive effect
on me many years later. This is not only the biography of a former GMS Cadet, but the story of how his
two and half years at GMS influenced my life. This is very powerful and speaks volumes on how GMS
positively influenced its young men, the positive effects the institution had on a former Cadet's Son
almost 30 years later.
Dad was born in the capital of the Province of Albacete, Spain in 1932. The Spanish Civil War fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939 had a major impact on my father's family. The war ended with the victory of the Nationalists, the overthrow of the Republican Government, and the founding of an authoritarian state led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists received the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. After the War ended in 1939, the losing Republicans were persecuted by the victorious Nationalists. Dad's Father, Antonio Higuera Monje, was from Tobarra, a municipality in the province of Albacete, and a well-known hard core Republican in Albacete. Because of the persecution, the family fled to Puerto Rico where Dad's mother had family. Once in Puerto Rico the family settled in San Juan where Dad's Father started an import/export business. Dad's two younger brothers were born in San Juan. On 25 December 1944 Dad's father passed due to a massive heart attack at the age of 50. Dad was 12 years old and his brothers were 7 and 4.
Dad's Father, Antonio Higuera Monje
Dad with his mother, Anna Maria Freiria
In 1948, Dad entered GMS. The details on how he went from
Puerto Rico to GMS are not known to me. I do remember him
showing me a small scar he had in his leg from a ricochet
bullet that struck him while working the pit in the rifle firing
range. Prior to his premature departure from GMS, he held
the position of Second Squad Assistant Squad Leader, 1st
Platoon, Company C. Again, his early departure from GMS was
a blow to dad. He truly loved the place.
He returned to San Juan and started working as a salesman traveling all over the island. In 1955, he
attended the Television Workshop of New York, and then had a stint working in television as a Director
and Cameraman for a local TV station in San Juan. He married and had 3 children (one girl, two boys).
Soon after the birth of his third child, that marriage ended. The reason for the split is not known to me.
Dad was a high school graduate with some University training in marketing; still, he reached the Executive level at age 23, after 2 years as a salesman for a battery company, where he became a Sales Manager. In 1960, he met my Mother and soon after they were married. At the time my father was working as Executive Sales Manager for a Volkswagen dealership. I was born on Oct 29, 1961 and my sister in 1963. Dad continued working in sales and soon landed a job as the District Sales Manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean at Johnson and Johnson.
Dad training at the Television Workshop of NY in 1955
In 1971, at age 38, while an executive at Johnson and Johnson, Dad was struck with a massive heart attack while attending a management convention in San Juan. I was 10 years old. It was a very scary event in life for me and the family. History almost repeated itself again. During most of his career, Dad had successfully taken on positions of authority and responsibility. He was used to working long hours; 12 to 14 hour days were common. No one believes he can become disabled or even be so close to dying when he's young, but many years of smoking and an unhealthy lifestyle took a toll on his body. That he survived the heart attack was a true miracle. While in the hospital, he was shocked back to life several times and a temporary pacemaker was inserted. The first year after his heart attack was the most difficult period of adjustment. He went from 19 years of working hard, leading people in the sales industry, and working long hours, to being at home taking care of his health and wondering how he was going to support his family with a social security check which amounted to just a fraction of what he was making as an Executive for a chemical company.
23 April 1984 – Dad pinning on my Second Lieutenant bars
Dad went back to school after about a year recuperating at home and became a licensed Interior Designer. He was successful at it, but after about 15 years at it his health started deteriorating and he had to slowly give up the work. In 1976, I was entering high school and doing well, but I still could not speak English; something that Dad found to be totally unsatisfactory. The English education at the time in Puerto Rico was not very good. I joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1977 and showed a lot of interest in the Air Force and the military in general, and in 1978, he decided to send me to a military boarding school for the summer in order to study English. So off I went, name tag on my chest, he handed me to the flight attendant and I found myself being picked up by a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant who worked for Florida Air Academy (FAA) in Melbourne, Florida. The school, until recently, had been a young men's military boarding school. The three summer months at the school were intense for me, but I knew that it was not cheap and I needed to do as well as possible. I wanted to make Dad proud and be worthy of the financial sacrifice that he made to send me there. At the end of the summer, just a few days before I was supposed to go home, one of the faculty members asked me if I was planning on coming back for the regular year and finish high school at FAA. I told them I would love to, but I knew Dad did not have the money to pay the tuition. Well, the day prior to my departure, the same faculty member approached me and said that the Board of Directors had met and had decided to give a scholarship and that they wanted me back. I could not believe my ears. I was very excited but held the news from my Dad until I saw him at the airport. I remember like it was yesterday; when I told my Dad the news, he hugged me for a long time and started crying. It wasn't until much later in life that I came to the realization that this event was total vindication for my Dad. I was going to be able to realize what my Dad was unable to and had so desperately wanted. He was glowing with pride, and he was living
vicariously through me. Well, I graduated from Florida Air Academy, went on to college, and received
my commission as a butter bar in the USAF the same day I got my college diploma. This event was the
key event that allowed me to pursue my dreams of serving as an officer in the USAF. I loved every day of
the 26 years I spent serving my country. I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel on 1 Oct 2010.
Dad and Mom relocated to Central Florida in 1990, and unfortunately, this also marked the beginning of
my Dad's failing health before he passed away. Dad passed away in July 1998. Dad had been a very strict
man. He never let me get away with anything. He also held me to a higher standard than all my friends
and relatives. He always pushed me to the limit. At times, I did not understand why, and sometimes I
resented it. But, it was done for a very good reason and I owe him my success in life. Dad taught me the
meaning of loyalty, hard work, honor, commitment, duty, self-responsibility and perseverance. I have a
six-year old son, which I totally adore, and I am crazy about. Unfortunately, Dad passed away before I
started my family. My son and I are best of friends and I have already started passing on my Dad's values
to him, values and virtues that I know Dad learned at GMS. So, thank you GMS for having such an impact
on my Dad and me.
Editorial Comment: What a great accounting of the life of one of our own. It was a classic example of how GMS has influenced our lives and the lives of our children and our children's children. This is the true legacy of Greenbrier Military School, and the one we should take the most pride in. We can rightfully be proud of our large Greenbrier Military School Alumni Association (GMSAA) "http://www.gmsaa.org/" with its substantial group of Life Members, dedicated Officers, and 20 member Board of Directors to guide it; and our Greenbrier Forever Museum and the GMSAA Memorial Plaza with its cannons to be the only ones on the campus of a Medical School; and the four-day Alumni Reunions we enjoy so much every year back in Lewisburg on the campus of the old school in mid-October when the leaves of the West Virginia mountains are at their colorful best; and the excellent scholarships we provide for students of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) "http://www.wvsom.edu/" and Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA) "http://forkunion.com/" and our subsidiary Greenbrier Forever Society (GFS) organization for families and friends to join and be a part of us; and our relationship with the Greenbrier County Historical Society "http://greenbrierwv.com/" who will maintain our physical assets after we are all gone; and the "Greenbrier Leadership Institute" that provides future leaders in Public Schools with "Principle-Based Leadership" Education that will produce leaders like the thousands of Cadets that attended Greenbrier Military School; and the fact that GMS is the 2nd oldest military school in the history of our nation, second only to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, and the oldest private military school in our nation's history; and our long historical relationship with the great Greenbrier Hotel and Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV "http://www.greenbrier.com/" where so many of our magnificent Final Balls were held. Yes, we can rightfully be proud of all these elements of our Legacy and GMSAA activities, but what we should be most proud of is what Greenbrier Military School gave us. Every Cadet that went to GMS for any appreciable length of time went away from there with an appreciation of Duty, Truth, and Honor; the skills of Leadership, the virtues of honesty, integrity, responsibility, morality, decency, respectability, ethical behavior, and the desire to work to achieve and succeed. These are elements of "The Greenbrier Spirit" that transformed us into leaders in all walks of life and further translated into personal success for us, and it is those qualities that we pass on to our children, and they on to their children. Antonio Higuera Freiria, '50, and his son, Tony Higuera, Florida Air Academy "http://flair.com/", Class of 1979, are perfect examples of this ultimate legacy of GMS. We are most pleased they are a part of it, and thank Tony for providing us with this wonderful story of his father's life and part of his own. Further, we are proud he is passing on "The Greenbrier Spirit" to little Tony (TJ). We hope he will someday bring him to Greenbrier and show him where it all began, and is still carrying on 38 years after the doors closed for the final time at Greenbrier Military School. Greenbrier Forever, Deak Roberts '56.