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Over 60...and Getting Younger: May 28, 2010

A Language Test

It was a beautiful sunny day in Seoul, Korea.

 

I was a dental officer working in the Marvin W. Carius Clinic. (He was a dentist who was killed in the Korean War.) The year was 1960 and the army base was in Yongsan, Seoul.

I was one of 40,000 American troops who was stationed there. Technically it was still a wartime situation. Only an uneasy truce at Panmunjam on the 38th Parallel differentiated us from the North Koreans. No civilian clothes were allowed, only military uniforms. The base was not much different than the stateside army camps, a movie theater, a library, a gym and a church.

The clinic was fairly modern and the dentists came from all over the United States. On this particular day, Colonel Arbuckle came storming into my operatory. He held a paper in his hand and he shouted out this message, “Greenberg, are you proficient in any language?” The colonel was a short, martinet of a man and he was always in a frantic state.

He continued, “Maryland University has opened a college division on the base and they are testing for language proficiency. “Half kidding,” I said that I was proficient in Yiddish. I could speak it haltingly but I could not read the Hebrew lettering very easily. I had to sound it out slowly before it made any sense to me.

The colonel left in a frenzy and I myself laughed at my answer to him. One week later he barged into my operatory and told me I was to be tested next Tuesday by Maryland University to determine my abilities.

On the day of my test I was relaxed. Yes or no I was still in the U.S. Army in Korea. I struggled through the test, reading and sounding out the meanings of words to the best of my ability. I had no great feeling about how I did on the test.

Three weeks later Colonel Arbuckle blew into my room like a tornado and said, “Greenberg you are proficient in Yiddish. It will be added on to your records.”

I smiled and said to the dentist in the next cubicle, “If we invade the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, I will go in the first wave of troops!”