Melvin Pearlson
-Scholar, Soldier, Nurse, Dentist, Husband, and Father-
By, Molly Shuman
*Drawing of the medical corps insignia and a dental chairMelvin Pealson, Present
*This drawing is of a dental chair and the medial corps insignia because my grandfather was in the medical corps while in the US army, and while serving, learned his first skills as a dentist which became his life career.


Introduction:
            Whenever I see my grandfather, Melvin Pearlson, he always has some new story to tell me. Sometimes it is about his childhood, growing up, or it's about how he and my grandmother met and raised my mom. No matter what the story is about, it is always detailed, funny and amazing. My favorite stories are about when he was a child or when he was in the army.

Background:
       Melvin Pearlson was born on January 13th, 1929, and grew up in Somerville Massachusetts. He was the second of four sons to first generation immigrants from Lithuania and Poland. His father, Jack, was one of fourteen children, including seven step-siblings. When he moved to the US, he became a tailor and was a very religious man. Jack was very bright, and used the bible to teach himself how to read. My grandfather’s mother, Freida, emmigrated to the US at the age of seven after her family became victims to pogroms in their hometown. She too, was very bright and became valedictorian of her high school graduating class.  They were poor when my grandfather was young, especially since he was born during the Great Depression, but education was still one of the highest priorities for their family. My grandfather was in the top three of his graduating high school class, and loved school. He lived in a prominently Irish and Italian area, and had a tough time with the neighborhood children because he was Jewish. Every Sunday, the local priest gave a sermon about how the Jews killed Jesus. Afterward, my grandfather spent the afternoon convincing the other boys he did not kill Jesus. When my grandfather saw that his family needed more money to put food on the table, he became a paper boy and ran two paper routes. He once told me that, “I did not know I was poor until someone told me.”

World War Two Breaks Out 1939:
       During the early part of the war, it effected him very little personally. His older brother was in high school and had friends who had been killed or were missing due to the war.  He and his family had lost touch with the remnants of his father's family in Lithuania and accepted the fact that they were probably killed in the war as well. His parents and the Jewish community knew what was happening to European Jews and hated what was happening but could do little about it.  As the shortages got more severe, my grandfather was personally affected and got a job in a supermarket to be able to get what he and his family needed. The store would pay him in produce, so whatever he brought home was what his family ate for dinner that night. For him, the stories of persecution and killing were more of an adult consideration.   After a summer in college, at seventeen, he realized that even with a scholarship, he needed more money to continue to attend college. He volunteered for eighteen months to get the college money from the GI bill that gave you twelve months of tuition added to your time in service. He had to threaten his parents that he would forge the authorization if they refused to sign. For a seventeen year old, thirty months of tuition was almost four years of schooling. His older brother had rheumatic fever and could not serve. His other two brothers were in the medical corps and in the dental corps of the army.
   
Army Service 1946-1948:
      Since my grandfather was so young when he was in the army, he was treated like a kid in an adult environment. He would fool around and get in trouble frequently, and often be put on kitchen duty. He was in the kitchen so often that the general would leave him in charge of the kitchen and getting all the chores done for the day. However, he and the other new soldiers were given a test and thirty of them were selected for special training. They trained these soldiers as nurses, and he went to serve in a German hospital, in Munich. When the thirty soldiers who had been trained for hospital work arrived in Munich, they took over a small hospital. My grandfather was assigned to be a nurse in the operating room. Since he was so inexperienced, the doctors and other nurses teased him. The patients he saw in the operating room included soldiers who had been in accidents after the war while serving in Germany, displaced people, as well as soldiers who had been injured during the war. They also treated some of the concentration camp survivors and were amazed at the cruelty and viciousness of their stories. Beatings and torture were always part of the survivors' experiences. One day my grandfather ran into the Chief Dental officer, and he told the officer that he would like to be a dentist one day. My grandfather ended up being transferred to the dental unit and becoming the Chief's assistant.
My grandfather in uniform
     
Dachau Internment Camp
       When he visited Dachau Internment Camp, the odor from the burning of the bodies was everywhere. "Even after all these years," he said, “I can still remember the smell. Only humans are this cruel to their own species." The hard part for him was the surrounding devastation from the war and the terrible conditions that the people lived with.
       
"The buildings in Munich were hollow frames and the streets and yards were filled with bricks and debris from the bombings and shelling. There were holes everywhere and people struggling to survive. The shortages made life impossible for many and they did whatever it took to live. They sold what little they had for cigarettes since that was the currency of the marketplace. They even sold themselves into prostitution. The children were always begging or stealing anything they could find. Everyone looked painfully thin and frightened." Fallen buildings in Germany.
    
Sign at a camp saying "This area is being retained as a shrine to the 238,000 individuals who were cremated here."
"This  is being retained as a shrine to the
238,000 individuals who were cremated here"
Ovens in a crematory
Crematory ovens.
Hiltler's conference room after it was destroyed
Hitlers conference room window after it was destroyed.

Post Service 1948-Present:
         When my Papa got out, he almost reenlisted because he had been befriended by a general who offered him tuition in a college and dental school, if he became a career soldier. On his way home that day, he made his cab pull over. He was deciding whether to turn around and reenlist or to go home even if home wasn’t a great situation there. He decided that being a career soldier meant his family would be an army family, which he did not want, so going home was the best choice. Since Tufts University was only two miles from his house, he went and spoke to the admissions office and said, “I don’t have the money to apply to another school, what do I need to get in here?” He got accepted and became top in his class. Melvin took extra classes, and earned enough credits after only two years, that he was able to graduate early. He then went back to the admissions office and said, “I am only applying to one dental school, what do I need to get in?” He spent four years in dental school, and while there met Bernice Libman, who in December of 1952, became his wife. He graduated dental school at the age of twenty-five, and opened his own dental practice in Dorchester, MA. My grandparents lived in Randolph, MA, where they raised their two daughters, Cindy and Ann. My grandfather practiced dentistry until he was eighty years old, and retired in 2009. He and my grandmother are now happily living in Florida.


       Still every time I see him, I have the pleasure of getting to experience his life through his captivating stories.

My grandfather's graduation
My Grandfather at his college Graduation, 1954
My grandfather at work
At work with a patient
My grandfather at his wedding
My grandparents in December, 1952 at their wedding
My grandfather, grandmother, mother and aunt in the 1960's
  Bunny (my grandmother), Melvin, Ann (my mom) and Cindy (my aunt)
!960's
All information and Pictures are courtesy of Melvin Pearlson, my grandfather.
Interview done on January, 16th, 2012