A Texan takes French

I started the French class with a lot of confidence, but, on the first day the teacher (I forget her name) who heard the first words out of my mouth, said that I would never make it. She said she could tell that I was from Texas, and Texans could never get the accent right. I am from Texas and I never got the accent right, but I passed anyway and can still carry a conversation, after a third of a century, with very little chance to practice in the interim. One of the fellows in our class was a Cuban who had been in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and before that, under Batista, had been a University Professor (Romance Languages) in Havana. He was taking the course to validate his academic credentials. He was the only person whose accent was worse than mine, but the teacher didn't tell him he wasn't going to make it.

The Benefits of Strong Drink and Having a Good Time

They issued each student a tape recorder (a big box then) and a bunch of tapes for us to practice on every night with stuff like... Et vous le professeur? and there was a space on the tape for you to record your answer, after the narrator gave it to you...something like... No, je ne suis pas le professeur, je suis un eleve. There were dozens of these and you were supposed to take them, and listen to them and answer the questions every night for homework so that you could hear and improve your accent. The only thing was, nobody did it (at least in French class). Except me. I worked for hours every night after six hours of classes and I never seemed to improve.

There was also what they called a dialogue everyday, which was a little play between a couple of French speakers at a laundry or a restaurant or having a discussion about the philosophy of 16th century French literature, or the plays of Eugene Ionescu, you know, stuff you talk about every day, and each night we were supposed to memorize it. Then, each morning, the first thing, we did these, taking first one part, then the other with other members of our class. Each morning I bombed on this. This situation went on for about a month until they called me in the office and said that I was doing so poorly they were going to flunk me at the first opportunity after a test, so I had one grade. Well I was floored, I had always done as well as I wanted to do in school and here I was a failure. That night I said to hell with the tapes, to hell with the dialogue. If I was going to flunk anyway I might as well go out and have a good time. So I went down to Fisherman's Wharf to a piano bar and got absolutely, completely shit faced, and sang "Come and Sit on My Face if You Love Me" (to the tune of "Red River Valley") and picked up the prettiest redheaded waitress you ever saw and we had a great time in the back seat of my '57 Chevy (really, but it was a four-door sedan). As an aside, she left a stain the size of a plate on the seat, and when my girl friend back in Texas saw it during the summer break I told her that I had been duck hunting (get it?) and got one and put it down on a towel on the back seat. I think she believed it was the sort of duck that waddled and went quack, quack. Anyway I got in the barracks at about 7:30 in the morning, hit the shower, then the mess hall, and got to class just as it was starting without having looked at my dialogue. I read it over as the teacher mumbled a bit, then she called on me first, and, still feeling the effects of that strong drink, I aced it. My accent was never better, the teacher complimented me, and said something about what a little bit of study would do. What a joke. I'm sure that French faculty congratulated themselves on the clever motivational speech they had given me, but I didn't care. Anyway, the last four months of language school were a lot more fun, and I didn't do any work after class at all, and finished with an 80 average. And, I can tell you, Northern California in the Summer of 1966 was a damned fine place to be, great music, fine, fine women, and even better weather. What a vacation. I went out pretty often with that waitress, whenever she would, during the last few months, she was a free spirit. I hope she's had a wonderful life, as far as I'm concerned she sure deserved it for the very excellent way she treated a Texan for a few months in 1966.


Several of us who hadn't been to the gas chamber since basic training, had to go to Two Rock Ranch Field Station and go through it one day. We had some time of it, one fellow collapsed in the room and had to be dragged out. Anyway we got back to barracks at Monterey and our uniforms were so full of gas we filled the whole building with it, and caused everyone to cough and tear up. So we had to take off our fatigues and throw them outside on the ground until the gas drifted away. People could smell it, though, for miles around. At Two Rock Ranch I ran into Duane Long, who I had gone to High School with. He had graduated from Texas A&M and was a Captain. I was reacquainted with Duane and his lovely wife Roberta, when I helped plan our 40th high school reunion.

Pick another assignment below, to read more of my memories...

  1. USASATC&S (Radio Traffic Analysis) -
  2. The 3rd RRU -
  3. Vint Hill Farm Station -
  4. Defense Language Institute (French) -
  5. Kagnew Station -
  6. US Army Intelligence School (Area Intelligence) -
  7. Headquarters, US Army Security Agency Europe -

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