© 2003-2011 by Author
When I first received orders in 1964 that I had been assigned to Turkey, images of endless sand dunes and camels first came to mind. Fortunately I was traveling with a couple of other guys out of Chicago to New York. Boarding Pan Am 1, a flight that traveled around the world, was quite an experience for a guy who had never been anywhere but Texas air force bases, Indiana University Russian Language School, and Ft. Meade, where I enjoyed my first encounter with our national's capital.
Arrival in Turkey
I was glued to the plane window as we circled Paris and Rome. There were great views of the Alps and Italy "kicking" Sicily just like the geography books pictured it. Finally we touched down in Yesilkoy outside of Istanbul and took our first cab ride to a hotel outside the city. The next day we took another taxi into the city. I guess someone was escorting us to the ticket window for the ferry boats at Galata Bridge. "Bir tani bilet." (I never learned much Turkish) and we were on our way to Yalova. Then a ride on those infamous Turkish buses to KARAMURSEL. Glad the driver stopped at the base. Thank God somebody knew where we were.
The barracks were pretty comfortable even though there were four of us in a room. Once all the paperwork and security clearances were processed we got our assignments at ops. Who was the nut who put all those antennas in the middle of a runway? I always had to remember to leave the work at ops .
Those Turkish shoeshine boys in the barracks looked a little suspicious. We became a close knit group of 203's, 202's, and 292's. I had no idea in basic at Lackland that we'd all be working together some day. It was a little disappointing to have some of the guys I came over with assigned to different flights. You quickly learned who the short timers were with their black and gold Seagrams ribbons wrapped around their name tags. It was warm and summer rains always brought out the frogs on the runways. We tried to make sure we took big steps but you'd always squish a couple while walking to work. Before we went on mids, a shift I hated, we'd head to the cafeteria for a sandwich and fries. Swing shift was the best - off all day, lots of action at work, and maybe a movie after work. I was really surprised when snow covered the surrounding hills and the base for a few days. I thought I was back in Illinois. What I still wonder about today was if those ruins across the bay really were Hannibal's Castle???
I was detailed for security work. After all, I did have my once a year target practice with an M1 and I did hit the target a couple of times. One day at ops there was an alert and we grabbed our helmets and M1's and were told that there had been a security violation of the perimeter. It was all over in a few minutes when we were told that some asker (Turkish soldier) had been walking about without a security badge on. What a thrill. At least I didn't shoot anyone.
Exploring the Country
Some of the guys who were there for awhile showed us the ropes and how to get around the countryside. Without TV you had to find something to do with those three day weekends. Trips to Bursa were common as was a relaxing visit to Buyukada. We actually walked down to KARAMURSEL just to see what the local town looked like. We usually stopped to have some chai. In the town restaurants, Russian was helpful in understanding at least some of the menu.
Who can ever forget those ferry boat rides from Yalova to Istanbul. The bazaar was always a good place to pick up something for the folks back home. I couldn't leave Turkey without a few towels. Meerschaum pipes were also on the shopping list. I had no idea of what these pipes cost back home. I should have bought a bunch more. Being a photo nut, I always had my camera with me. I never guess that someday I would be showing those slides to a class of high school work history students.
On one particular occasion, George Fritz and I thought we'd have a little fun and went down to the Russian Consulate. We heard a rumor that the CIA was stationed in the building across the street. So after a few minutes of checking out the opposition we turned around and waved at the CIA. Hope they got a good picture. I worried more about our homebound plane being forced to land in Bulgaria or Yugoslavia. Who would want to defect anyhow? Russia is a hole. I know because I've been there. To this day I still hate traitors who give away secrets. I have no pity at all for American turncoats. I can see why they trust lowly 19 year old airmen a lot more than career diplomats.
One of the sergeants organized a three-day trip down to Izmir and Ephesus for our ops flight. I finally got my first pictures of some camels on the road to Izmir. We came off of mid's and immediately boarded a bus. When we go to the hotel, we had to learn how to use a bomb site Turkish toilet since the plumbing was not quite up to the Hilton quality I expected. We enjoyed the evening in the cultural center in Izmir and the next day headed out to Ephesus. It would have been a heck of a walk to Sunday morning church from Mary's house. It really made you stop and think of what life was like for the early Christians. It was too bad that some much of the city lay in ruins. I've seen some new pictures of the same streets and the Turkish government has really done a lot to restore the city.
I remember those rides to the base from Yalova and always wondered what those old ruins were in a field next to the Sea of Marmara. One day George Fritz and I got off the bus and walked across the field to get a better view. There wasn't much to see so we went down to the water's edge and found a Roman style pillar half submerged in the water. Fritz went for a swim looking for artifacts. I found the corner to the base of a pillar with some neat carving on it. One of my regrets was never getting a chance to see Troy.
Counting the Days
We enjoyed our days-off on base by heading down to the boat dock. I would have like to gone for a swim but those darn jellyfish always seemed to be floating in the swimming area. So we just rented a boat and went out fishing. I bought some deep-sea gear at the BX and went big game fishing but never got a bite. I left the pole and reel in my room for the next guy to enjoy.
The airmen's club was also great. Those belly dancers always put on a good show til the wives got after the chaplain to put some curbs on the topless dances. It just wasn't the same. I'll never forget that music. I'll always remember my 21st birthday. My buddies knew I wasn't a big drinker so they had some fun buying me one vodka collins after another for 25 cents a pop. I made it back to the barracks with only a headache. Not everybody could boast of making it back.
They also had a tradition of giving you a steak dinner when you were a shorttimer. Being at the end of the supply run, the club only had one steak left, but my buddies insisted that I have it. What great friends I had! It was a lot better than the chow hall. The meat was pretty bad and powdered milk and powdered eggs were hard to get down. At least the German cooks came up with pretty good deserts.
Christmas was the loneliest time of the year. This was my first time away from my family. I had always managed to get home for Christmas. Language school was good about closing down for a week or two. My folks had sent me some presents ahead of time, which I stashed til Christmas morning. One of the best presents was a recording of Christmas greetings made by my family through the Red Cross. Letters from Chicago and home made the 18 months bearable.
The Best of Friends
I made some great friends at KARAMURSEL - George Fritz, Bill Gordon, Steve Hamilton and Patrick Murphy. Other friends like Mike Cline and Bob Bonyman ended up at different bases such as Sinop and Trabzon, I keep hoping that someday I will be able to make contact with them.
Earth Shakin' Rock and Roll
Other memorable events included hearing about the Kennedy assassination and going through my first earthquakes. I woke up and saw the lamp swaying back and forth and somebody yelled to get out of the building. The second time it happened I was working at ops. We could feel the rumble and then I saw a chair rolling across the floor and waves rolling under the tile floor. We just rode it out. They were over before you could get to a door. It was interesting how the epicenters always missed us until 1999 (reports from Turks indicate that KAS buildings did not receive any damage). I teach earth science now and when that quake hit in August '99, I could pinpoint exactly where the base was in relation to the epicenter.
What an Education
It was an unforgettable 18 months. It seemed to be a very long tour and I was anxious to get back home. I got a lot out of it though. I have stories that I still don't talk about today. The kids at my school think I was 007. I learned a lot about Turkey and am glad they're on our side. I got about one and a half semesters of college work completed on base which really helped me to finish college a lot earlier. Our Turkish teacher and lawyer got us an exclusive tour of Dolmabache Palace.
Thirty years later, a Turkish foreign exchange student came to our school and I greeted her with a "Merhaba" that astonished her. I can still count 1-10 in Turkish and am just waiting for the next chance I have to yell "yok abi!" when a shoeshine boy tries to polish my sneakers. I was wondering if the bar girls in Yalova are still available for 25 kurush and what's the price of a bowl of champagne today? I loved my job and would have re-enlisted but there were greater adventures ahead for a civilian.
KARAMURSEL Photos & Features
KARAMURSEL Air Station at Night, Looking Across the Water to
the Antenna Field.