Thursday, April 17, 2008

We were Soldiers Once ... and Young

There were 27 of us: Darrell and Dhale, Dennis and Dwight, a few Toms and a few Bobs, a Bruce, Larry and Lee, Harry, Steve, David and John, two different Als, Gary and Ray, Steve, Tony, Joe and Marc, Carl and Karl ... and me.

Lee holding forth

We went through a second 9 months at DLI (now called the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center) in Monterey together, wearing the uniform during the day but otherwise all but forgetting that we were really in the Army. Most had some college, a few had degrees. We had an accomplished violinist and a

Госпожа Чебышова and Ray

talented pianist, and Harry could play almost any instrument after only a few hours practice.

Harry and Bob
Sittin', Shittin' and Singin'

Harry on bass

These were all interesting and interested young men. All of them took the instruction seriously, not for what it might do for the Army, but for what it might do for them. Most of us have continued to use the Russian we learned there in one way or another, off and on. Larry became a professional translator. Dhale hosted a Russian family or two at his home in Scarsdale. A couple of them continued to use it in government service. Tom married a woman who became chair of a university Russian department. I dated a Russian girl for a while, and have recently acquired some new immigrant friends from Russian and Ukraine. Bob married a Ukrainian woman and, last we knew, was in Georgia (the country).

They were all (or, like me, became) readers. Harry loved singing and its poetry. Al was a troubled actor, but a fairly good one; he was in love with the theater. One made the Army a career and went back to Monterey to teach.

These guys taught me a lot, every one of them. They were from everywhere, and they went back to everywhere when they left the Army. I don't think there are more than two in any one state now. A few of us got together a while back to indulge in nostalgia. Darrell retired about the same time that Tom fell off a ladder and was forced to retire. Together, with their wives, they tracked down almost all of the old crew using the telephone and the Internet. A few didn't want to be found; a few others quickly disappeared once they were found. They're older, but just as interesting as they were 35 years ago.

Sadly, Harry, Tom, Al and Lee are no longer among us.