Palaver from Persimmon Crossingwith Warren Faulk
LANGUAGESThe Army gives a battery of aptitude tests when you join up or get greeted. They used to anyway. They have one called the Army Language Aptitude Test (ALAT). I had taken several of the tests in Montgomery, Alabama and done real well on them. So I set sail into the system thinking I had it made. (Seems a couple recruiters agreed with me.)
I got up to Ft. Jackson, SC and after a day or two of trying on new clothes and trying to walk in harmony with other young men, I was given two more tests. I didn't need to see the results to know that I had been humbled. The first of these was a test to see what kind of a student of morse code I would make. I was lost after the first DIT DAH. The second was the ALAT previously mentioned. I remember very well that I made 17 on this test. I also remember that it took a minimum score of 25 to even be considered for the German short course, which was supposedly the easiest course the military offered at the time. I don't think you could make lower than 17 if you spelled your name right and used the prescribed #2 lead pencil.
On to basic training at Ft. Hood, TX. No big deal. Then came Ft. Devens, MA and the US Army Security Agency for selection and processing into the next phase of individual training. Preparation for what you were actually going to do for the next few years while you were being a soldier. When I joined up I had no clear idea what happened to you between that time you finished basic training and got to go home and show off your new uniform and the time you left the service two, three or four years later.
Remember I said I was in Massachusetts. It was late December. The first morning I found myself in a line with several dozen others, outside in the snow, being asked what I wanted to apply for 058, 056 or 053?
Instead of asking what these numbers meant I asked where the schools were. The first two were right there at Ft. Devens and the last at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. I said I'll take it what is it ( having applied about as much thinking to this major career move as one does when flipping a coin)? One day later it was 90 degrees at Bush Field in Augusta, Georgia and even though I was in long johns, wool uniform with overcoat and liner and dripping wet with sweat I was sure things were going to get better.
Would you believe that a title like Radio Teletype Operators Course is really a cover name for a school where they teach -- and expect you to learn -- morse code? And send you to remedial training at night to make sure you do. And did you hear about the ice storms in Georgia the winter of 1959/60?
After my first hitch both the Army and I decided I might be better at telling people what to do than doing, so I went to Officer Candidate School.....and then to Ft. Devens Massaschusetts again for Jungle Warfare Training ... in the snow! And they weren't through making the best of those aptitude tests they had given me either.
Before too long I found myself in Vietnamese Language School where I helped them prove the efficacy of the ALAT mentioned above. But the Army slipped up on this one. The fact that I would meet up with one Lieutenant Lee of the South Korean Army contingent serving in Vietnam somehow escaped the decision maker's attention. Lee, it seems, had a low apptitude for languages too. He was sent by his Government to a Vietnamese course set up and run by the US Army in Seoul, Korea. The same text was used with Korean glued over the English translations of Vietnamese. Both of us had memorized the texts word for word, just to graduate ... barely.
At some point Lt. Lee and I found ourselves in a roomful of Vietnamese trying to make ourselves understood and found that we understood each other, only each other, and only in our own laboriously acquired version of the Vietnamese language. The Viets seemed to know we were speaking their language but they didn't have a clue what we were talking about. Lord what a war!
-- Warren Faulk
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