VENTNOR — The fact that Norman Berger finished law school and passed the bar by the time the U.S. Army drafted him altered his military service.
Berger's professional experience helped him avoid combat and dictated his activities from 1956 through 1958 when he served in Frankfurt, Germany, and Beirut, Lebanon.
"I was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for my basic training. I was sent to the infantry, a lawyer going into the infantry," said Berger, 87, who had three months of basic training, which included learning about rifles.
Somebody realized Berger was a lawyer, so for the next part of his advanced training he learned to be a clerk typist.
When Berger finished his training, troops were headed to either Europe or Korea. The fighting for the Korean War ended in July 1953 when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
Berger could have done three years at the Pentagon, but he decided to do two years overseas. Even though the fighting was over in Korea, he feels fortunate that he was sent to Europe.
Berger was assigned to the United States Army European headquarters in Frankfurt in the judge advocate division. He would have been an officer and not a private if he served three years instead of two.
"We were in headquarters. We worked five days a week. We had weekends off. I got to travel in Europe. I went to Switzerland, France. It was delightful," Berger said.
One of Berger's jobs was to attend special court martials of Americans under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and take notes. After the officers or judges decided on an opinion, he would write out the verdict. Because he was an enlisted man and not an officer, he could not sit on a court.
"One of my jobs was to assign judges. Some of these officers wanted to be judges. They would come into the office and said, 'Hey Berger, put me on the next court martial.' I would say, 'Yes, Colonel.' ... I got to know a lot of the officers," Berger said.
Berger spent 16 months in the military in Germany, but afterward, he was sent on a top-secret mission. He flew on a plane from Germany to France and then was taken on a military troop ship from a French port to a place where he was kept in the dark until he arrived.
"Gentlemen, welcome to Beirut, Lebanon" was the greeting Berger and others received when they arrived in the Middle Eastern city. He lived with an airborne division at the American University of Beirut, which is still there.
Berger was assigned to the judge advocate division in Beirut along with five other lawyers.
"Basically as I recall, my job was to primarily sit at a desk with an interpreter next to me and interview Lebanese civilians, who came in with claims," Berger said. "'Your tank ran over my cattle. Your truck rode over my crops.' I would say to the interpreter, 'What do they want,' and he would give me a number, write it down, and usually, we OK'd it, whatever they asked for."
Berger said they were allowed to leave for two or three hours as long as they had a buddy with them and their rifles.
"The Lebanese did not know this, but we were never given ammunition," Berger said. "When we would go out, almost on every corner, there were Lebanese selling ice cream cones."
Berger was sent to the Middle East under what was known as Operation Blue Bat. U.S. troops were sent to Lebanon by President Dwight Eisenhower under what was called "the Eisenhower Doctrine."
President Eisenhower might provide military assistance if any foreign country was concerned about infiltration by communists or a civil war and requested it, Berger said. Operation Blue Bat was this country's first overt military intervention in the Middle East. Eisenhower sent about 15,000 members of the Army and Marines there.
Berger was honorably discharged in November 1958, but he recalls he served weekends for six months in the reserve at Fort Meade, Maryland, following his discharge from active duty.
Even though Berger's stint in Lebanon was historic, he enjoyed his time in Frankfurt more.
"We could wear civilian clothes off base. I liked being there. I had never been to Europe before, and I was 26 years old," Berger said.