|Dr. Oppenheimer sits down with Matt Marn|
Longtime Benevilla Supporter Dr. Max Oppenheimer Jr. will be the first to tell you he has lived an incredible life. And what’s more, he is very grateful. After years of serving his country and community in the Army and the CIA; as a professor at a number of universities; and as an author and columnist, he takes every opportunity to give back.
Max was born in New York City in 1916. When his father accepted a job overseas, Max went with his family to live in Europe. He spent time growing up in Germany and France until he was around 21.
“When my father accepted the job abroad, it produced for me a whole other life I never would have had otherwise,” he said.
He attended school in Germany and got his BA degree in Paris. In seven months he learned French and Latin just to get into the university.
“The BA test in France was very difficult,” Max said. “In Paris, the things they did, no American would make you do. Only 17 percent of students passed it on the first try. We really had to be devoted to learning. I have good genes, and a good mind, but a lot of it was very hard work. That helped make me who I am today.”
On his return to the USA, Max followed that first degree up with another Bachelors degree from NYU in 1941 and a Masters from UCLA in 1942. That dedication and commitment was shown in depth when, after Pearl Harbor, Max enlisted in the US Army. He said the Army was amazed at his background and fluency in so many languages.
He was sent a letter that told him that as soon as he arrived at his assignment, he was to be transferred to Military Intelligence. He was very useful to the cause, thanks to his dedication as well as his experience in many languages.
A Bronze Star recipient, he saw five campaigns from World War II. Max was in the pre-invasion maneuvers as well as the invasion on D-Day, where he drove one of the Jeeps ashore onto Utah Beach. He helped the
planning and intelligence gathering through many of the campaigns.
“I’ve spent more time in Europe than America,” Max said. “When I landed on D-Day, it felt like coming home.”
Max married his late wife, Christine, in 1942, and they were blessed with two children: Edmund Max and Carolyn Christine. He earned his PhD at USC in 1947, and went on to work as an instructor in foreign languages at San Diego State College in the mid-’40s and as an assistant professor of Romance Languages at Washington University in St. Louis in the late ‘40s.
In 1951, he was recalled into service to head for Korea. He also spent a number of years working for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. At that point he had also learned Russian, and he worked on interviewing Iron Curtain defectors. He remains grateful for his talents and the opportunities he has been given.
“I like to be well-educated,” he said. “I have a good knowledge of what’s going on around me. I am gifted for language; I know how to work the language… But it’s not just brains. You need the brains, but it’s also the willingness to work hard."
The drive inside of him has also taken him to eight universities, where he has served as professor for languages such as German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Latin. He even accepted a teaching position in China.
“It’s not about making a lot of money,” he said. “I was really valuable. I've gotten jobs that really meant something. I have no complaints.”
He not only has taught courses in many schools, but he has spent his time translating texts, plays and poetry into English from their native languages. He even translated a nautical text, and he was compensated for his time by a grant from the US Navy.
“I got involved in many other articles, writing things,” he said. “Now I write a column for the Daily News-Sun. I’m willing to write about anything.”
He attributes his dedication to his mother, who was always behind him. Now he feels compelled to give back, since he has been fortunate himself.
In addition to being a Bronze Star recipient, Max also received the French Jubilee Liberty Medal and several research grants. He also has established a scholarship at the Sate University of New York, the Fiat Lux Scholarship, which is Latin for “Let There be Light.” Max does not specify a required major in the scholarship. He only requires the students to be juniors or seniors – already showing the same devotion to their career as he has shown himself, looking for that same commitment in the next generation of learners.
“I believe in giving back,” Max said. “I don’t know how to say it, I've got my own way. I enjoy what I do. It’s one of the reasons I started that scholarship – I wanted to show my gratitude.”