12 November 2007

Woolsey Hall, Memorial Walls, and Stacked Pencils

When she submitted her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Maya Lin was still an undergraduate at Yale, where she was no doubt partially inspired by the names on the walls of Woolsey Hall, which houses the university auditorium and the university cafeteria, and on whose interior walls one can find the names of Yale alumni killed in many wars, revolutionary (Nathan Hale), civil, and foreign. In November 1922, Yale dedicated its War Memorial, adding 225 names of Yale alumni killed in World War I.

The names on Woolsey Hall include military ranks, dates of death, and place of death, if known. The vast majority of Yalies served as officers, as befitted their elite status during most of Yale's history. (Nowadays our elites are too good to serve in the military.) But a minority of Yalies in each war served in the enlisted ranks. When the Far Outliers attended a baccalaureate service at Woolsey Hall last May, I found a few of those names of Yalies who apparently dropped out and enlisted before they graduated, for whatever reason. Here are just two, one killed in Vietnam, one in Korea.
  • Donald Porter Ferguson, class of 1969, CPL, U.S. Army, killed on 13 January 1968 in Bienhoa, Vietnam. (One of my classmates learning Romanian at Army Language School in 1969–70 graduated from Yale in 1968.)
  • Harold Ackerman Storms Jr., class of 1953 (or 1952), PFC, Infantry, killed 10 July 1953 on Christmas Hill in Korea. (The armistice was signed on 27 July 1953.)
However, the Ivy League veteran I would most like to honor on this Veterans Day is Marshall R. Pihl (1933–1995), Harvard class of 1960, who learned Korean courtesy of the Army Language School and used his G.I. Bill funding to become a renowned scholar of Korean literature, especially the "performed literature" he described in his dissertation, later published as The Korean Singer of Tales (Harvard U. Press). Here's the obituary posted to a Korean studies listserv in July 1995.
MARSHALL R. PIHL, renowned translator and leading scholar in the field of Korean literature, died at his home over the weekend of July 8. He was 61.

Since early spring his health had been deteriorating, at first gradually and then more and more rapidly. Nevertheless he diligently kept his appointments and continued his research. At least outwardly, he remained optimistic about recovery until the end.

After graduating from Harvard College in 1960, where he majored in Far Eastern languages, Marshall became the first Fulbright student grantee in Korea, receiving an M.A. in Korean language and literature from Seoul National University in 1965. He was the first Westerner to earn a graduate degree from a Korean university. He then entered the doctoral program at Harvard University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1974.

During another Fulbright year in Korea in 1970-71, Marshall was named the winner of the first annual Modern Korean Literature Translation Award, sponsored by the Korea Times. His first collection of translations, Listening to Korea, was published by Praeger in 1973. Later he produced The Good People: Korean Stories by Oh Young-su, published by Heinemann in 1985, and coedited (with Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton) Land of Exile: Contemporary Korean Fiction, published by M. E. Sharpe/UNESCO in 1993. He also published many articles and translations in periodicals such as Korea Journal and Korean Studies and in collections such as Peter Lee's Anthology of Korean Literature (1981) and Flowers of Fire (1986). But he was most proud of the beautifully produced work that originated as his dissertation, The Korean Singer of Tales, published by Harvard University's Council on East Asian Studies in 1994.

Because he was a pioneer in a then-tiny field, Marshall was unable to secure a full-time academic position and was forced to combine teaching with administrative duties until he joined the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Hawaii in 1989. Although he was an exceptionally capable administrator, serving as associate director and then director of the Harvard University Summer School from 1977 to 1987, he was thrilled to be able to devote full-time to teaching and research in Hawaii.

His contributions were well recognized at UH, where he received tenure in 1992 and a promotion to full professor in 1995. His administrative skills were also highly valued by his colleagues on the executive committee of the Center for Korean Studies.

Marshall was not just a fine scholar, but also a dedicated teacher and an unfailingly generous, optimistic, and energetic mentor for junior colleagues everywhere. He attracted a growing number of graduate students into Korean literature, and always gave higher priority to their academic advancement than to his own projects. Even in the two months before his death he chaired one dissertation defense, two thesis defenses, and served as outside member on several more.

He had planned to devote his upcoming sabbatical to finishing several of his own projects, including translating and condensing Cho Dongil's comprehensive history of Korean literature and coediting several textbooks in a series on Korean literature organized by the International Korean Literature Association, which he helped establish in 1992.


Marshall was an extraordinarily powerful person. I never spoke with him without feeling infused with some of his energy and obvious love of life. —Jonathan Petty, University of California, Berkeley

Not only was he a fine scholar who brought an incredible amount to the field, but he was also simply an extraordinary human being—kind, helpful, and generous to those around him and blessed with a terrific sense of humor. His passing leaves not only a large vacuum in the field but a huge void in the hearts of those who knew him. —Stephen Epstein, Victoria University, Wellington
Marshall used to say that at the end of each duty day in Korea, regular soldiers might stack arms, but his fellow translator/interpreters would stack pencils. His ashes are interred in Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Marshall R. Pihl grave marker

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