Pleasanton Weekly

Column - November 11, 2011

Thanks to the Army, I'm here

by Jeb Bing

As the reviewer and announcer at last Sunday's Veterans Day parade, I had the privilege of meeting scores of men and women in uniform as well as visiting again with many Pleasanton veterans assembled in and outside the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Pleasanton. Veterans always have stories to tell, either from the battlefields where they fought or while on peacetime duty here and overseas. I chatted with Danny Soria, past commander of the Pleasanton VFW post and one of our city's oldest veterans, who talked about the battles he fought in the Pacific in World War II and then again in Korea.

I was in Korea, too, although well after the shooting war. That war, which began in 1950, is technically still going on. No peace treaty has ever been signed with North Korea, which from time to time still rattles its weaponry at the South Koreans and even toward us. But I owe it to Korea that I'm here in Pleasanton today.

Short of funds in my sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, I joined the Army for a three-year tour that also promised college aid once I completed duty. After stints in Columbia, S.C., and Augusta, Ga., I was transferred to the Army Security Agency at Fort Devens, just outside Boston. One morning I was asked if I'd be interested in going to the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey. I also had a choice of several languages I could study, French or Portuguese for six months or Korean for a year. A year in Monterey out of a three-year hitch seemed pretty good, and I took it.

Although never a top student in foreign languages in school, I must have scored a bit better than the other 29 in my class. It may have helped that I wrote a favorable review of a book about Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor. The book was written by the head of the Army Language School Korean instruction program, who was also my instructor. My good grades and influence with the faculty had their results. At the time, the Eighth Army in Seoul was awash with GIs who could speak, read and write Korean, but in my case, there was always room for one more. The rest of my class went to Paris.

Army life in Seoul wasn't bad. I read the daily press and emerging business publications, filing regular reports on the rebuilding boom then under way. Connections with the Associated Press bureau and the Monitor's correspondent gave me a chance to hone my newspaper skills with stories that I was able to file about non-military conditions. The fact that the Eighth Army PIO was a Christian Scientist and liked the stories I was writing for the newspaper helped.

Although I had joined the Army in Knoxville, but later listed a friend's address in Carmel as mine, I was sent to a military base near Chicago for my discharge and given money for transportation back here. On Veterans Day, it's worth a thank you to the U.S. Army.

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