ARMEN TASHDINIAN
Washington, D.C.
German Linguist
May 1958-May 1960 

BACKGROUND

My father, born in an Armenian Village in eastern Turkey before World War I,was sent by his parents  when he was 14 to join his older sister in Fresno, California, and, thereby escaped the Armenian tragedy of 1915.  After the war he settled in Sacramento where he met my mother (who was born in Canada to Ukrainian parents) and where I came into the world, joining my older sister.  My main college career was at the University of California at Berkley (BA and MA in history).  Tiring of school, I decided to do my military service and I enlisted in the army in 1957.  After an easy basic training at Fort Ord, the next step was ASA and the language school.  Initially disappointed in being assigned to German rather than my first choice of French (which probably would have put me in southeast Asia), I, like many others in the 280th, came to love the language, history and culture.

BERLIN DAYS

After a few days in Frankfurt, I was assigned to Berlin where I worked for about two weeks at Tempelhof on the machines.  I was then sent back to Frankfurt for training as a translator/transcriber.  The training class consisted of just three persons:  me, Doug Moore Jr. (correct name?), and John D. Miller III (I do remember this name, even the “III”, because I learned that John, who grew up on Long Island, had been a playmate of Jane Fonda!).  Doug and John, once back in Berlin, rented a house in the Wannsee area to which they would retreat when not working.  We were really a very privileged group; we had none of the usual Army duties and got a cash food allowance to boot.  When I was on base, I often was in the library where I discovered the plays of Bertolt Brecht, the music of Kurt Weill, as sung by Lotte Lenya, and other fascinating parts of Berlin’s pre-Nazi culture.  Now and then one of the USO gals who worked in the library would invite Doug, John, and me to an evening of bridge and would feast us with neat hors d’oeuvres, good beer (for me), and French wine (for Doug and John).

My Berlin days, beginning in May 1958 and lasting two full years, are among my happiest memories.  I feel lucky to have been stationed there during that period—one of the few periods it seems when the U.S. was not at war (or, at least, not officially at war).  I was also fortunate to have a college friend who, during my first year in Berlin coincidentally had a Fulbright at the Free University, and through him I was able to get a broader exposure to Berlin’s cultural life – theater, opera, musicals – than I would have by myself.  By my second year, I had come to know several echte Berlin families and got a better appreciation of their war experiences.

A few months before leaving Berlin, I was “best man”/witness for the wedding of a fellow ASA’er whose first name was Brad (I don’t remember his last name, but he was from Massachusetts—I think Brookline—and had attended Colgate University).  The photo at at the end of the bio shows the wedding party after the ceremony, which had taken place at the local “Standesamt.”  The bride, Brigitte (“Brixie”, was a stunningly beautiful girl, who was from an artistic family and who was an art student herself.  After the simple ceremony we repaired, along with the bride’s parents and two family friends, to the French restaurant on the Kudamm for the celebration dinner.  The restaurant, which was on the floor above the French film theater and was part of a French cultural center, was noted for its excellent food, dance band, and the fact that the Germans were allowed in only if they were accompanied by “Allied” personnel.

WORKING CAREER

After the army, having decided not to pursue teaching, I rattled around Sacramento trying to decide what to do with my life and eventually passed the Federal Management Intern exams.  I was offered positions in several Federal agencies—that was a time when the Feds were hungry for college graduates who showed potential for quickly moving up in administrative areas – I chose the training program of FAA, where I eventually specialized in staffing and management studies at their Washington headquarters.  After three years at FAA I was lucky to be able to move in 1965 to the Office of Education, then part of the old HEW.  Because Lyndon Johnson wanted to be The Education President and because I was working at a high level on long-term planning issues, regarding needs in education and the appropriate Federal role, this was an exciting, indeed heady, period of my life.  During the academic year 1968-69, I was awarded a sabbatical sponsored by the National Institute of Public Affairs and spent the year at Princeton University studying national education issues and able to take courses in any department and so I enjoyed many courses in humanities subjects.

When I returned to the Office of Education, it was now headed by Nixon appointees, and it seemed “reinventing the wheel” time.  Luck struck again when I was able to transfer to the National Endowment for the Humanities, where I eventually had a dream job, heading the office responsible for policy planning, budget and special projects.  I served directly under various NEH chairmen, alternating between Democrats and Republicans, who promoted me up the bureaucratic ladder to the Senior Executive Service, until one chairman arrived with whom I didn’t “click” and so I took an early retirement in 1985.  After a two-year vacation, needing some supplemental income, I became a licensed Washington tour guide,  and since 1987 I have worked on a part-time basis showing foreigners and fellow Americans this beautiful capital city.

I live in the Woodley Park section of D.C., near the National Zoo (pandas!) and have been active in the neighborhood association.  Health-wise, except for a broken hip incurred in Leipzig in 1983 (an experience which eventually involved our embassy, the DDR foreign ministry, and a rocky ambulance trip to East Berlin and finally West Berlin) and prostate-cancer surgery with a very messy recuperation, which partially grounded me 1997-98, I have been remarkably healthy—perhaps because of my tour-guiding, which keeps me active, especially in the spring and fall.

INTERESTS AND TRAVEL

Washington is a great place for persons interested in the arts and cultural activities as well as public affairs.  The offerings of this city, including lectures and symposia by outstanding scholars as well as the ever-changing exhibits by the many museums here and theater community second only to New York, make this town a wonderful place to live--even despite Taxation Without Representation!  (If any 280th-er is planning a trip to their Nation’s Capital, I would be happy to provide information and recommendations about the city and its many attractions.) 

In the way of personal interests: I buy many more books than I’ll ever read, concentrating on history and biography.  I am still fascinated by German history, especially the Nazi and Communist periods, and in the ethical issues posed by life in dictatorships.  I enjoy traveling, particularly in Europe:  In the 70’s and 80’s I concentrated on Berlin and East Germany where I have several friends. The last 15 years have included other Western European countries, Turkey, Russia and the Basltic lands. This year (2007) I was in Munich (after a 40-year) and Switzerland. I have a list of several countries in Eastern Europe slated for future years.


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