Conversacion: Spanish for the Army and Navy of the United States

By Henry V. Besso and Solomon Lipp

of the
Spanish for Army and Navy Project
Work Projects Administration

Assisted by
E. Chastain Naylor

Sponsored by
The Army Air Forces of the United States
The United States Navy

Hastings House Publishers New York 1942

Army Air Forces of the U. S. and the U. S. Navy-sponsors of the Spanish for Army and Navy Project O.P. 265-2-00-3

Second Printing 1943

Federal Works Agency
Philip B. Fleming, Administrator

Works Projects Administration
F.H. Dryden, Acting Commissioner
Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner

Copyright 1942 by Walter Frese
Printed in the USA

When the Great Depression hit the United States in 1929, the American economy hit rock bottom. The value of the dollar became nearly worthless and millions of Americans lost their jobs. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced "The New Deal", a series of new programs designed to pick America back up on to its feet and get the economy moving again. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one of those programs.

Initially designed to fund the building and improvement America's infrastructure, it also funded the arts, history, and culture of America. In short, the WPA employed out-of-work Americans who were certified by local agencies as meeting certain qualifications. The WPA was responsible for building structures, such as airports, seaports, and bridges. It paved 651,000 miles of road, built 78,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 800 airports. The WPA also funded some programs in the humanities, including the Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers Project, Federal Theater Project, National Health Survey, and the Historical Records Survey (HRS).

As the years went by, government officials became highly critical of the WPA, arguing that money was being spent to fund projects that people did not need, such as tap dancing lessons, and murals painted in post offices. Roosevelt claimed the high morale of the workers was well worth the money. The book "Conversacion: Spanish for the Army and Navy of the United States" was a WPA project, written in part by a prominent Sephardic Jew, Henry V. Besso. The book was a hardcovered 294 page volume filled with fundamental lessons on grammar, spelling, verbs and their usage. It contains over 1800 Spanish words, and a very good Spnish-English vocabulary in the end. This small green book is not much different then what you would find in a freshman Spanish class, however it varies greatly that it was put together to "overcome" the language barrier of the people of North and South America, as the United States Navy was protecting "both continents from totalitarian aggression" as the Secretary of the Navy wrote in his Foreword of the book.

Illustration from the book.

Outside of the familiar lessons on Spanish syntax and sentence structure, are black and white plates of military aircraft such as the P-59 Mustang, and outboard and deck views of a battle ship. The main features of these war machines are written in Spanish. There is also a section on Spanish military rank equivalencies, Facts & Figures about Latin American countries, and a section on common military terms such as "airplane carrier = portaviones" and "Man Over Board! = Hombre al Agua!" The chapter heads of this book which were put together "on many Monday mornings" are filled with small witty illustrations, which the book attributes to the Pennsylvania Art Program of the WPA.


Introduction to the WPA from the article "WPA Historical Records Survey"
by S. Johnson, page assembled and researched by S. Alfassa.

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