Local does dental duty for his country
December 11, 2003
Whatever you call it – a brush with death, sheer luck, divine intervention – his son’s scary proximity to the Sept. 11 attacks inspired Goldberg, an avid skier and dentist who divides his time between Avon and Scranton, Pa., to join the fight against terrorism.
“My son was in the building when it was hit, but luckily instead of being where he should have been – the 105th floor – he got tied up in an accident in New Jersey. Fortunately, he was late,” says Goldberg. “But it was a defining moment for me and I volunteered for the services.”
Goldberg’s inquires about how he could help led him and his companion, Lois Schwager, to the U.S. Marines base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where they lived for seven months.
“They called from Washington in March, 2003, and asked me if I would serve and I said, “Absolutely,'” says Goldberg, who was a dentist in the Air Force from 1958 to 1960.
At Camp Lejeune, a sprawling base the covers 75 square miles, Goldberg treated troops both on their way to and returning home from the war in Iraq.
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“They’re real heroes, those boys and girls,” Goldberg says. “They’re very ready down there. They’re at the ready to do whatever’s required.”
The base is home to the Second Expeditionary force, which led the invasion from Kuwait. But, Goldberg says, the Marines he treated did not talk much about their experiences in Iraq.
“They don’t discuss it. They might discuss it with one another – I heard them talking about where they’d been and what they’d done and they’ll answer your questions,” Goldberg says. “But they don’t seem to want to discuss any emotions about where they were and what they did.
“I would ask about equipment,” he adds, “but I didn’t want to bring up any bad memories.”
At the base are psychologists, chaplains and nurses who meet with the Marines that served to help them readjust to normal life at home, Goldberg says.
“It’s a different world, the battles and the fighting,” Goldberg says. “But there are people to help calm them down, to bring them back to reality, to prevent problems at home with their family.”
During Goldberg’s stint in the Air Force in the late 1950s, he says, there were not many women in service and certainly none in positions of authority. That has changed drastically, he says.
“Now there are a lot of women in very important positions – as a matter of fact, the commander of my clinic was a woman,” he says. “From whence I came, 1958, there were not women in positions of authority or responsibility. Now, women play a major role in the services.”
Though Goldberg says he felt welcomed and comfortable at the base, there was some confusion about his status at Camp Lejeune.
“Everybody was confused as to my status. I had to meet with the commander of the base, a general, who gave me the greatest greeting could imagine, but I didn’t know whether get a Marine uniform or a Navy uniform and at work, we wear scrubs,” he says.
Lacking a uniform, Goldberg wore a dark suit and black shoes for muster, when all the Marines line up in their dress blues.
You also have to watch what you say on a Marine base, Goldberg says.
“They don’t allow cursing – it’s not permitted. It’s posted on bulletin boards,” he says. “And if you curse in front of a 16-year-old or younger you could spend two years in jail and get a dishonorable discharge.
“You don’t hear cursing on the base,” he says. “People express themselves in a responsible manner using the English language as it was meant to be used.”
Any type of sexual harassment is also not tolerated, he says.
“There’s a lot of women, everywhere and if you curse at work or use phrases to try to intimidate a woman, that’s six months in jail,” Goldberg says.
A motivated mood
Despite the continuing hostilities and fatalities in Iraq, Schwager said morale is high among the Marines at Camp Lejeune.
“They’re amazingly upbeat, there’s very high morale,” she says. “It’s quite impressive that these young adults are very eager to go, very eager to serve their country.
“Many of the young Marines I met are over there now, they’re deployed,” she says. “I pray and I have hope for them and for their families.”
Schwager has deeper connections to the war. She has a 22-year-old goddaughter in the Army who’s serving in Iraq. She’s in charge of a convoy of 48 trucks, Schwager says.
About the insurgency, Goldberg is brief.
“I hope they settle it very quickly,” he says.
But, he adds, he has no doubt the Marines and their fellow soldiers, sailors and pilots are up to the task.
“We can all take pride in the professional army that we have,” Goldberg says. “They can do they job – absolutely. There’s none better in this world and unfortunately, we need them.”
Despite the fighting that continues in Iraq, Goldberg says, the troops are fulfilling a complicated, sometimes conflicted, mission.
“They have them doing a lot of positive things. They’re playing ball with the kids,” Goldberg says. “On one one hand, they’re getting rid of the insurgents and on the other hand, they’re helping people rebuild.”
Goldberg also says he believes the invasion of Iraq is making Americans safer.
“The World Trade Center was beyond horrible,” Goldberg says. “So far, I think Bush is keeping the terrorists busy – they are not over here.
“Iraq was one of the biggest money groups there was,” he adds, “and we’ve cut them off. It’s probably a deep bite.”
And in case you were wondering, Marines have pretty good teeth, Goldberg says.
“They’re into themselves physically,” he says. “They take care of their teeth.”
And in the Marines dental hygiene is more than just a matter of bad breath at a business meeting or a painful trip to the dentist to have a cavity filled.
“Their teeth have to be in perfect condition,” Goldberg says. “They cannot go overseas if they’re going to have a dental problem.
“Their teeth have to be in proper condition and they want them to be in proper condition because they are very upset if they don’t go with their unit,” Goldberg says.
As proud of the troops as Goldberg is, Schwager says she takes as much pride in Goldberg’s seven months of service, which ended in November.
“He’s very patriotic, very honorable. He’s the only dentist or doctor who has ever done this,” she says. “Usually they get paid, but he did it totally on his own.
“I respect him a great deal,” she says. “He’s a hero.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.