Syracuse University - Skytop USAF -  1962-1963

Memories of David Ullian Larson

Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, is where I went for language training. The classes were held at Skytop situated at the foot of the ski lift hill near the Drumlins Golf Course.  

Here is a vintage aerial view of the school grounds.

Three of my buddies and I tried several times to take a toboggan down that hill. We never made it. We always fell off on the way down. 


This nine month thirty-two semester credit,  Syracuse University series of courses in Russian Language, history, and culture, was taught by native Russia speakers. Infact they spoke very little English. Classes were taught in Russian. Even grammar analysis in Russian. Here is a list of our faculty to the best of my recollection. (none ready yet.)

If anyone can make corrections and improvements, send me an email at 


Here are eight pictures taken inside the building where we had classes. Give me a hand to identify these teachers and students by picture number. Send me an email and I will post the names as I get them.

From Jim Pennington: 
#1 - Skorodens (the boss) and Ubans
#2 - That's you in front & Strickland in back
#3 - 1) Gravchenko..  2) Igor (Novosolts?)..  3) Moses Tarasevitch.  I
remember Igor for encouraging me.
#4 - Ubans - love that gal!
#5 - 1) ??..  2) Tarasevitch.. 3) Orlova
#6 - Huszhcha
#7 - Ossipova with Kent cigarette  (Pochemu vyi ne dali mne vashu domashnuyu
#8 - I remember her & some of her story but not her name.

Click on each of these pictures to see them:

Picture #1
Picture #2
Picture #3
Picture #4
Picture #5
Picture #6
Picture #7
Picture #8

There are stories associated with each teacher. They will remain private. But I will gladly admit that these folks were dedicated. They had a difficult job to do. From the first day, we learned quite a bit of Russian Language in those nine months starting with nothing.

Classes were five days and homework was five nights per week. Homework was huge. Vocabulary and dictation practice seemed beyond anyone. Yet there were guys in the class who seemed to learn everything quickly. Not me. I attended many special sessions for extra help. Participation was voluntary. I have no specific memory of when or where these sessions were held. But I remember needing extra help. There were only a hand full of guys that did not make it through the program. Here is the set of orders for guys in the class that I was a part of.  Luckily I made it to graduation.

We lived in Quonset huts without air conditioning and only minimal heat. My favorite past time was hitchhiking up to the Adirondacks and the Thousand Islands area. So on Fridays before it got too cold, I'd set out to see how far I could get. Then on Saturday, I'd hitchhike back. This was a way to see the sights. It's a good thing I never got stuck somewhere without a way back to the school That would have been bad.

Click HERE to read the account of another airman from the late fifties. Ever wonder about the missing barracks where only a concrete pad remained? Read about the fire that killed seven in 1958. Chilling.

The military aspects beyond uniforms was minimal. No parades. No formations. No curfew. No passes. Just plenty of opportunity to study and pass or not study and fail.

The cafeteria had good food. I liked the vanilla ice cream with cashew nuts. One scoop at a time was the rule. So I kept going back. If the line got long, I'd get mine and get back in line. Buy the time I got back to the guy with the scoop, my bowl was empty. A worker at the cafeteria tested positive for hepatitis. So while I wads there. I had to line up and get a shot in the butt. This wouldn't have been so bad. But we had to watch as the nurse jabbed him with a huge needle. I guess it went in a couple inches. Then I knew the event would be painful. It was. Had I not watched, it would have been just as painful.

I turned 20 while in Syracuse. John Dodge (my roommate) and I lit up to mark the occasion. I do not smoke and didn't then. That cigar in the picture was probably my last. Diarrhea just isn't fun. That's how that cigar affected me. Note the short timer calendar of days to go.

We may look back with fond memories on those days. But while I was living through them, the times were pitiful, mostly. Thank goodness for rose colored glasses. I must have gallons of the brain chemical which lets a person forget bad stuff that happens to them. 

While students at Syracuse, four of us would go up to the Adirondack mountains to hunt.  Phil Alman, Miles Baker and John Likeric, David Larson (me).

We also liked to drive around and look for something to do that was exciting. Here we are at Lake Ontario in Oswego, New York. We ventured out on the ice flows. These photographs reflect our youthful ignorance. If anyone had fallen through the ice, they'd probably still be there. The rope was a nice touch, though. We did not venture out when the wave action was huge.


Once, on a Saturday morning, looking for something to do, I went down to the farm day labor office. Eventually a stake bed truck drove up. The driver said he needed twenty pickers. I followed the crown. We went out to Baldwinsville. The guy had a strawberry farm. So I picked strawberries all morning until the job was done. The woman next to me had long skinny fingers. She could coax those strawberries off a plant faster than anyone else. One minute we would be next to one another and the next she would be a way down the row. We were paid by the number of boxes we picked. She was paid probably five times what I was paid. I thought and still think that is a great method of payment.


To this day I remember more Russian than I do remember German even though I lived in Germany and have been back as a tourist probably fifteen times on vacation since 1966.

On occasion I have been able to meet and exchange a few words and phrases with Russian speakers, Infact the other day my wife and I had lunch at a small restaurant in our own little town. The waitress seemed like she had a Russian accent. So I asked where she was from. Riga, she said. She was Lithuanian but could speak Russian, seemingly wit ease. I managed to get off a few words and phrases. She was polite and said I did well. Well at least she ran across one American who knew something beyond da and nyet.

My experience finding golf balls came in handy at Skytop. I often went behind the campus to Drumlins Golf Course. I found the most balls in a small pond. It was just the right depth to allow me to bend over and feel the bottom for balls. The first several times I went through the pond looking for balls, I pulled out bottles, branches, and other stuff that got in the way. Then eventually I could find the balls quickly. And I found quite a few. I did this at night in the dark. The sound of sprinklers still reminds me of looking for golf balls.

Here's some background on the Defense Language Institute Programs:

Statue in Shadow The Defense Language Institute traces its roots to the eve of America’s entry into World War II, when the U.S. Army established a secret school at the Presidio of San Francisco to teach the Japanese language. Classes began November 1, 1941, with four instructors and 60 students in an abandoned airplane hangar at Crissy Field. The students were mostly second-generation Japanese-Americans (Nisei) from the West Coast. Nisei Hall is named in honor of these earliest students, whose heroism is portrayed in the Institute’s Yankee Samurai exhibit. The headquarters building and academic library bear the names of our first commandant, Colonel Kai E. Rasmussen, and the director of academic training, John F. Aiso.

During the war the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS), as it came to be called, grew dramatically. When Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were moved into internment camps in 1942, the school moved to temporary quarters at Camp Savage, Minnesota. By 1944 the school had outgrown these facilities and moved to nearby Fort Snelling. More than 6,000 graduates served throughout the Pacific Theater during the war and the subsequent occupation of Japan. Three academic buildings are named for Nisei graduates who fell in action: George Nakamura, Frank Hachiya, and Y. “Terry” Mizutari.

In 1946 the school moved to the historic Presidio of Monterey. By that time little remained of the original Spanish presidio, which had been established in 1770 to protect the San Carlos Borromeo Mission in Carmel. The city of Monterey had grown up near the mission and presidio to become the capital of the Spanish (later Mexican) province of Alta California. Commodore Sloat captured the town during the War with Mexico in 1846. Following the Spanish-American War the U.S. Army rebuilt the post, beginning in 1902, and after World War I it became the home of the 11th Cavalry. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck captures the spirit of Monterey during this period in his novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945).

At the Presidio of Monterey, the renamed Army Language School expanded rapidly in 1947–48 to meet the requirements of America’s global commitments during the Cold War. Instructors, including native speakers of more than thirty languages and dialects, were recruited from all over the world. Russian became the largest language program, followed by Chinese, Korean, and German. After the Korean War (1950–53), the school developed a national reputation for excellence in foreign language education. The Army Language School led the way with the audio-lingual method and the application of educational technology such as the language laboratory.

The U.S. Air Force met most of its foreign language training requirements in the 1950s through contract programs at universities such as Yale, Cornell, Indiana, and Syracuse. The U.S. Navy taught foreign languages at the Naval Intelligence School in Washington, D.C. In 1963, to promote efficiency and economy, these programs were consolidated into the Defense Foreign Language Program. A new headquarters, the Defense Language Institute (DLI), was established in Washington, D.C., and the former Army Language School commandant, Colonel James L. Collins, Jr., became the Institute’s first director. The Army Language School became the DLI West Coast Branch, and the foreign language department at the Naval Intelligence School became the DLI East Coast Branch. The contract programs were gradually phased out. The DLI also took over the English Language School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which became the DLI English Language Center (DLIELC).

During the peak of American involvement in Vietnam (1965–73), the DLI stepped up the pace of language training. While regular language training continued unabated, more than 20,000 service personnel studied Vietnamese through the DLI’s programs, many taking a special eight-week military adviser “survival” course. From 1966 to 1973, the Institute also operated a Vietnamese branch using contract instructors at Biggs Air Force Base near Fort Bliss, Texas (DLI Support Command, later renamed the DLI Southwest Branch). Dozens of the DLI’s graduates gave their lives during the war. Four student dormitories today bear the names of graduates who died in that conflict: Chief Petty Officer Frank W. Bomar († 1970), Sergeant First Class Alfred H. Combs († 1965), Marine Gunnery Sergeant George P. Kendall, Jr.(† 1968), and Staff Sergeant Herbert Smith, Jr. († 1965).

In the 1970s the Institute’s headquarters and all resident language training were consolidated at the West Coast Branch and renamed the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC). (The Institute continues to operate a small contract foreign language training program in Washington, D.C.) With the advent of the All-Volunteer Forces and the opening of most specialties to women, the character of the student population underwent a gradual change. In 1973, the newly formed U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) assumed administrative control, and in 1976, all English language training operations were returned to the U.S. Air Force, which operates DLIELC to this day.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Institute has experienced an exciting period of growth and change. The DLIFLC won academic accreditation in 1979, and in 1981 the position of Academic Dean (later called Provost) was reestablished. A joint-service General Officer Steering Committee was established in 1981 to advise on all aspects of the Defense Foreign Language Program. This function is now performed by the Defense Foreign Language Program Policy Committee. In the early 1980s, a rise in student input forced the Institute to open two temporary branches: a branch for Air Force enlisted students of Russian at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas (1981–1987), and another for Army enlisted students of Russian, German, Korean, and Spanish at the Presidio of San Francisco (1982–1988). The increase in student input also resulted in an extensive facilities expansion program on the Presidio. Support to command language programs worldwide grew, with greater availability of programs such as Gateway and Headstart.

Numerous academic changes have been made as well. More instructors have been recruited, new instructional materials and tests have been written, and a comprehensive academic master plan has been developed. Teaching methodology has become more and more proficiency-oriented, team teaching has been implemented, and the average staffing ratio has been increased to two instructors per ten-student section. A new rank-in-person personnel system for the faculty is being prepared for introduction in Fiscal Year 1996.

In recent years, the Institute has taken on challenging new missions, including support for arms control treaty verification, the War on Drugs, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Restore Hope. In the spring of 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission rejected suggestions that the Institute be moved or closed, and recommended that its mission be continued at the present location. An agreement with Monterey Peninsula College was signed in early 1994, allowing as many as 27 credit hours earned in any of the DLIFLC’s Basic Programs to be counted toward an Associate of Arts degree.

The DLIFLC has established itself as a national pacesetter in foreign language education, resident and nonresident, using cutting-edge educational technology such as computers, interactive video, and video tele-training to train and support military linguists. In the years ahead, the Institute will continue to provide top-quality language instruction to support critical national requirements.


Syracuse Links - Chronology of Events







More on Skytop History


More than 2,000 Air Force cadets come to campus for specialized training. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. they are not allowed to stroll the campus alone or say anything but hello or thank you to a co-ed. The punishment for disobeying this order is a 25-hour walk



More than one million World War II veterans started their college educations in 1946 under the G.I. Bill, which guaranteed tuition, room, board, and a small allowance for returning veterans. Not every university was willing to tolerate the disruption caused by an influx of thousands of new, and often older, students. Syracuse was an exception. SU set the national drumlins standard for welcoming veterans-and earned praise from President Harry S. Truman-by admitting 9,464 in 1946. Enrollment literally tripled overnight. Housing was a major effort. More than 900 Quonset huts, barracks, and trailers sprang up along Comstock Avenue, in the University Farm (now Skytop and Slocum Heights), and in the Drumlins orchard. More space was needed, however, and many veterans were forced into temporary off-campus housing. Chancellor William Pearson Tolley had to deliver his freshman address three times-once on campus, once in Baldwinsville, and once at the State Fairgrounds, where hundreds of veterans bunked in cow barns.

More on Skytop History

An early-morning fire at a Skytop Air Force barrack kills seven student airmen.


Syracuse University is still in the Russian Language Business. Check out some of these current links:

Russian Studies

Studying Russian at Syracuse University.

Ten Russian-Eurasian National Resource Centers.

Important Reference Resources at Syracuse University.

Topics of Special Interest at Syracuse University.

Librarian recommended related sites.

Selected favorite sites.

New Page: Kosovo


Studying Russian at Syracuse University


All about studying Russian at S.U. Don't miss the language lab where there is exciting research in computer-assisted language instruction.


S.U. Russian Club

S.U. Russian Club. Our hospitable students extend a warm invitation.


For a description of Syracuse University Library's research resources in Russian and East European Studies, consult Lydia Wasylenko,, Slavic Bibliographer.



Ten Russian-Eurasian National Resource Centers:

Twelve universities were designated comprehensive Russian-Eurasian National Resource Centers by the U.S.Department of Education, Title VI Program in 1959. Since then the program has grown so that today we have approximately 25 such university centers. Each of these resource centers provides a wealth of information. Links to ten of the centers are provided below. The eleventh link is to the University of Washington where a comprehensive listing of National Resource Centers throughout the United States is available.


Center for Russian and East European Studies

University of Michigan,Center for Russian and East European Studies.


REEIWEB Indiana University. Russian and East European Institute

Indiana University, Russian and East European Institute.



University of Iowa, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.


CSEES at Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley, Center for Slavic and East European Studies.


Harriman Institute

Columbia University, Harriman Institute.


KU Center for Russian and East European Studies

University of Kansas, KU Center for Russian and East European Studies.



Harvard University, National Resource Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies.



University of Pittsburgh, Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. According to an announcement by Karen A.Rondestvedt, this site, revised as of October 1998, features a powerful search engine, which indexes not only the contents of REESWeb itself, but also the sites that REESWeb links to and their links (3 levels total), and lists the results in relevance- ranked order.



University of Illinois Russian and East European Center.



University of Texas, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


University of Washington

For a comprehensive listing of National Resource Centers throughout the United States, visit the University of Washington's Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies website.



Topics of special interest at Syracuse University:

Communist and Post Communist Studies.(Formerly Studies on Comparative Communism.) Available full text online,03/95 --, on Searchbank.

East European Quarterly, 03/95--, available full text on Searchbank.

Europe-Asia studies.Bird 2nd floor, DK 266 A2S741, vol 45(1993)--.

Current Digest of the Post Soviet Press. Available full text online, 01/95--, on Searchbank.

Problems of Post Communism. Available by ILL from Utica College and Cornell.

Communist economics and economic transformation.

East European politics and societies. Available full text online, 03/95--, on Searchbank.

Note also that our databases entitled ABI Global and Lexis-Nexis have area specific materials. Check also Dialog@Carl, a vendor which offers Kompass Central/Eastern Europe.

To see what periodicals SU subscribes to for a specific country, search SUMMIT. Using "Build-A-Search", search by country name in subject field combined with "periodicals" in subject field.



Important Reference Resources at Syracuse University:

Center for Research Libraries. Soviet Serials ... PN5277.P4C46.



Librarian recommended related sites:

School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London

School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London.


Bucknell University

This site provides a summary of Russian history and many links to translations of primary source documents from Russian history.


Russia On the Web

A site to encourage understanding and working relationships between Russia and the West. Noted for exchange of persons programs.


Russian Story

Provides access to major Russian newspapers and magazines, online in full image and text, including photos and cartoons. Caution: this site is free to search but charges to download.



Selected favorite sites:

Russia - Friends and Partners

A true people-to-people effort manifested on the world wide web.



The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Note the list of Slavists who have personal web pages.



American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

The AAASS publishes a journal, Slavic Review, which is routinely read by all American Slavists.


Media Note. See Russia on TV. In Syracuse it is the International Channel, Channel 37. 3:30pm is Russian Entertainment, and 4:00pm is "Vremya", the news program from Moscow.

Click HERE to see comments made by others.