Greenville, South Carolina

Russian Linguist

June 1958-January 1960




Delightful memories of Germany and Berlin are cherished forever.  Being a Russian Linguist and having to work Polish related issues as well made things somewhat stressful such as the time M. Sgt. Mckillip took me to downtown Berlin one night to see the Brandenburg Gate and the Russian War Memorial.  Arriving back at the barracks, I was greeted by the CQ around midnight, who addressed me as, "Wells, the Polish Linguist."  I replied, "No, I'm the Russian Linguist."  He promptly stated there was a staff car waiting downstairs with a driver.  "Go, get in it and he will take you to Hqd. Berlin.  The car swiftly transported me to the Comm. Center at Hqd.  Four M.P.s promptly pulled open the hugh irongates.  Arriving, I was ushered to a room with a living room atmosphere where sat the Colonel in hi PJs and a Major in dress uniform who pacing back and forth.  One of the members of the Comm. Center handed me a teletype message and the Major said, "Translate it."  Well, you guessed it--it was in Polish.  Now, it is noteworthy, at this point, to say Russian and Polish are two different languages.


At the Presidio of Monterey, California, Language School, I studied Russian.  Even though all of the professors were native Russians, some being former military officers, this did not prepare us for reading or speaking Polish, nor for this the moment at hand.  Upon arriving in Germany, my first assignment was to Kassel, just north of Frankfurt.  One could see East Germany just three kilometers away.  When I checked in, they advised me the Polish linguist was going home in three weeks and I would have to work his position also.


After four months, I was assigned to Berlin.  When I arrived, they told me the same thing: I had to work both missions, which brings us back to the reason why I am standing with a teletype message in my hands, in Polish, as such a critical time.  The Colonel was getting impatient and the Major, still pacing and asking,  "What does it say?"  Fearing that I was in for serious embarrassment and perhaps worse, I attempted to unscramble some of the words and decipher the format.  It appeared that an alert was underway so I said it seems the Polish Army is on alert.  The Colonel jumped off the couch and asked, "It is real or practice?"  All I could do was stare that the paper of garbled, unknown meaning.  Then my life took a turn for the better when another member of the Comm. Center came out and reported there had been an alert by the Polish Army, but it had just been called off.  I never told anyone about this until years later while talking with a friend.  He promptly said, "Gee, you almost started World War III."


Many wonderful things happened in Berlin like the group we had called the Committee of Seven. This group was composed of short timers and we all went to dinner celebrating the one going home in two weeks.  With the extra pay for clothing, food, and passing the proficiency tests made life in Berlin very nice.  It would be good see some of the guys again and share many more stories.

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