PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (July 20, 2021) – Children from the Porter Youth Center kept the questions rolling for Cameron Binkley, command historian for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, as he spoke here July 15.
More than 30 children in grades first through third met Binkley at the Brig. Gen. Harry Dwight Chamberlin Library, and throughout his talk, they asked about local history, military history and artifacts such as a musket on the wall. Although the facility once served as the Fort Ord library, today it is a military history archive and visitors are not allowed to remove materials.
By the time Binkley let it slip that historians have a “notorious reputation” for being boring, one child begged to differ.
“History isn’t boring!” he called out.
The DLIFLC is the main tenant on the Presidio of Monterey, and its roots go back to 1946. Not only did Binkley speak about the history of the language school and the U.S. military in the area, he also included information about Native Americans, the Spanish colonization in 1770, and the Argentine pirates who attacked Monterey in 1818 and took it over. He spoke about the importance of history as well.
“How do you think historians study history?” Binkley asked the children.
“A time machine?” one child ventured.
“That’s actually right, in a sense,” Binkley said. “We don’t actually have a time machine here, not a real time machine, but we have a kind of virtual time machine, and you know how we go back in time? We use records.”
“What historians do is they read those records,” Binkley said. “They put information that they get from those records and they tell stories. They tell stories about the past. Because we don’t have a time machine, we use records and photographs.”
Binkley explained the difference between a library, such as the Chamberlin Library when Fort Ord was an active Army post, and an archive, its current role.
“The big difference for you all to remember is that you can’t take anything out of an archive,” Binkley said. “You can check out books from a library, but you have to come to the archive and you have to sit here, and you have to use the records that we have right here, and we’re going to watch you very carefully because we don’t want it to disappear.”
It is necessary to preserve records so historians will have access to them, Binkley said.
“If you’re not careful about saving records, you won’t have any,” Binkley said. “They’ll disappear. Everything disappears in time. Buildings disappear, forts like the Presidio of Monterey disappear, and so do records, and so that’s why we have an archive here.”
In addition, so the children could gain a sense of continuity from the past, Binkley displayed panoramic photos of Soldiers lined up in large formations. One was from 1912, and another from five years ago.
“What commanders in the Army like to do is they like to get everybody together,” Binkley told the children. “You guys have probably had a class photo. The Army likes to have class photos too, but the Army has lots of people, so they need to get out on a big piece of terrain and they take a photograph, and they’ve been doing that as long as there have been cameras.”
Binkley also showed the children a record player and played a record from 1955 that officials from the language school had made. Binkley explained that teachers had a recording studio so they could make records and provide students with recordings of the languages they were studying. The recording he played included audio from a groundbreaking ceremony and the language school’s choir singing in Russian.
Meanwhile, Joseph Ryan, deputy command historian of the DLIFLC, showed children a picture of a language school mascot that Tech. Sgt. Chris Ishii, who had previously worked for The Walt Disney Company, created in 1943. People simply called the mascot “The Gopher.”
The visit was one of three in June and July from the Porter Youth Center, which is in close walking distance to the archive.
Tiffany Riley, a child and youth program assistant with the center, accompanied the children on the July 15 visit and said she and the children enjoyed learning about the past and how time advances.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t know about Fort Ord,” Riley said. “I’ve been living here my whole life, but there are things I don’t know.”