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VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Joel Barry Aronson is a United States Air Force veteran who served during the Cold War and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958. He served from November 1956 until June 1962. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Aronson was the grandson of Russian immigrants who emigrated to the United States during the Russo-Japanese War. Growing up in Brooklyn with his mother, he attended high school in New York City, where he was introduced to the world of photography. His interest in photography grew, as he saw it as a method to become involved in the action of life. From this interest, Aronson ultimately developed skills to where he was awarded with a scholarship to Pace College.
After one year at Pace, Aronson enlisted in the United States Air Force. At the time, the United States was at peace, although there was an ideological struggle between the Soviet Union and its allies. The United States and its allies during the “Cold War” both maintained large military forces. Aronson’s cousin was in the Air Force at the time. Enlisting appeared to be a way to escape from the New York and Pennsylvania humdrum lifestyle and experience the world on a larger scale. It provided a secure salary and the access to adventure Aronson was looking for. Given his interest in photography, he had hoped to become a photographer in the service. Unfortunately, his aptitude test scores revealed that he failed the chemistry portion of the test. His options then became being a truck driver, cook, military policeman, or to engage in Chinese language training.
Aronson chose Chinese and went on to take courses in that language which would set him up for a position in military intelligence. His instruction took place in New Haven, Connecticut, at Yale University, where the military established a Far Eastern language school during World War II. Prior to going to Yale, he endured four weeks of basic training, and then waited an additional seven weeks. During those weeks, Aronson was interviewed, took sample classes and met with Chinese instructors in preparation for his language training. He attended Yale for 18 months and was awarded college credit for completing the courses. Military students at Yale lived in specific military barracks and attended class in their Air Force uniforms. Aronson and his classmates attended the Institute of Far Eastern Language (IFEL) where they completed specialized training in Chinese language.
He eventually rolled those credits over to Thomas Edison College, where he would receive a bachelor’s degree in Humanities.
After completing his education, Aronson went to Taiwan, Republic of China. There he learned Morse Code and interpreted messages intercepted from Communist China regarding military intelligence. The Air Force Base was the only place they could find American food, albeit limited to powdered milk. The food was prepared by Taiwanese cooks. Aronson’s experience differed from others in the military and was truly unique. His interview shares insight into his education, life in Taiwan, and exposure to unfamiliar foreign languages. He also showed the interviewer photographs which elaborated on his stories and experiences.
Joel Aronson is featured in a June 2011 article on army.mil.