TSgt Ollie Frank Cook, USAF (Ret.)
© 2001-2014 by Author
Frank passed away on 19 Mar 2002.
At Wheelus Field (Tripoli, Libya)
I joined the USAF in 1947, the year it was created as an independent service.I signed in to the 1603rd ATW at Wheelus Air Field just outside of Tripoli, Libya in June 1954. Since I had a flying AFSC, I was assigned as a Flight Engineer/Crew Chief on the Gooney Bird (C-47) aircraft. At that time Wheelus was a MATS base but was reassigned to USAFE later. Wheelus was later to become headquarters for 17th Air Force. After being on flight status for about 6 months, my flying slot on the UMD was lost and I ended up as NCOIC of a Transient Alert crew (a crew consisted of about 6 men to park, refuel, and take care of any maintenance problems on transient aircraft passing through Wheelus). . A friend of mine (same rank and AFSC) had put in for a transfer to England but when it came thru (Feb 55) it was to Turkey and since his wife was in England, he didn't want to accept it so he ask me if I wanted to go to Turkey and I said "yes" I would accept the assignment. . So in March 55, I and another SSgt went to Ankara via Rome, Athens and Izmir.
On to Rome
On or about 14 March we boarded a C-47 for the first leg of the trip to Ankara. We landed at Valletta, Malta to off-load passengers. Two hours later we took off for Rome and landed at Ciampino Airport where we were to RON and leave the next day for Athens. At AF Ops we were told to call in tomorrow morning to find out when our flight would leave for Athens. We got a ride on an AF bus to one of the hotels downtown where military personnel stayed when in Rome.
Our modern hotel in Rome
We checked in at the front desk thru a clerk who didn't speak much English and was assigned a room on the third floor, he pointed to the elevator and said something we didn't understand. We had our duffle bags and B4 bags which had all of our belongings in them so they were heavy. We thought the elevator was a little small (it was designed to hold two people without baggage and started moving when the door shut). Well, two big men with duffle bags and B4 bags squeezed into that thing and shut the door. When we slowly got to the third floor and tried to get out, the brake wouldn't hold all that weight and before we could get the door open and get out we started moving down below the floor so we pushed the third floor button again and started moving up again, the same thing happened. During this time, we could hear the clerk downstairs going ballistic and hollowing something in Italian (I'm sure it wasn't very complimentary to our ancestors). We tried one more time and still couldn't get out of that thing, so we mustered up our courage and pushed the first floor button and fell about one floor before the clutch/brake took hold and slowed us down and gently stopped on the first floor. We finally got out and our bags were carried up by a bellboy and we rode the elevator laughing nervously all the way up. What with paying for the hotel room, sightseeing, taxi fare, and food, it didn't take us long to run out of money.
Need money? Just ask the U.S. Army for It
Since we had our pay records with us, we went to Army Finance (which was in an office across town from where we were) and got $75.00, half in Italian Lire. We still had some sightseeing to do so the next morning when I called AF OPS at Ciampino I asked if we could be bumped from the flight to Athens. The NCOIC said yes he could bump us because they had a number of people to go to Athens but to call in the next day, I said thanks and we would. We took in more of Rome, ran out of money again, went back to Army Finance and got $75.00 more and the major there told us that was all the money we could get while we were in Rome, we said "Thank you, Sir" and left.
The next day I got us bumped again. Then the next day after we paid for the hotel room we were broke again and since the major said he wouldn't let us have any more money, we decided we had better get on to Athens. We caught the AF bus to the airport and checked in with OPS, got on the manifest and sat down to wait until the flight boarded thinking we could probably get some more money when we got to Athens. About 20 minutes before flight time, we were called to the OPS desk and the NCOIC told us he had to bump us from the flight. We said "No! that can't happen, we're out of money and have no food or a place to stay". but he said, "Sorry bout that! that's the way the mop flops, come back tomorrow and see if you can get a seat."
It just so happened there was a civilian standing at the counter and heard the whole thing. He said it looked like we had a problem and we agreed with him. He said he was with the American Embassy and could give us a ride back to town and we could go to Army Finance and get some money, so we told him what the major had told us. He said he could take care of that little problem, so we rode with him in the Embassy limo to the Embassy and he took us to the Air Force Attache (a bird colonel) and told him our tale of woe including what the major at Army Finance had said. He said, no sweat! and told this MSgt to type up a MPO for $75.00 each and he would sign it. When the sergeant returned with the signed MPO we told him the finance office would be closed by the time we got there by taxi so he picked up the phone and told whoever answered the phone at the finance office that he was sending two AF sergeants over with a MPO and to stay open and wait for them and hung up, told us to get going. So we took a taxi across town hoping the office would be open as we didn't even have the money to pay the taxi driver. When we got there, who was waiting for us but the major that had told us he would not give us anymore money (he had to honor the MPO) and he recognized us but didn't say a word as he counted out $75.00 each and we signed for it and when I asked him to exchange half for Lire, I thought he would explode as he counted it out.
Flying on to Ankara
Anyway, we got out of Rome the next day and spent the next night in Athens, went sightseeing there for a day and went on to Izmir, went thru Turkish customs and had to declare all the gold (rings and watches, etc.) and money. We were told we could not take out of the country more than we had when we came in. After a couple of hours we continued on to Ankara. While flying over the mountains to Ankara we went thru a grand daddy of a snow storm which made the three Turkish Army officers we had on board nearly use the burp bags and they were quite nervous. As we were about to touch down at Etimesgut Air Field (Turkish Air Force) in Ankara the pilot gunned the engines, banked to the right so sharply the wing almost touched the ground and went around. That did it! the three Turkish officers used the burp bags that time. As we went around, everyone on the aircraft seemed to look at me for an explaination of what had happened, I guess it was because I was the only one of the 15 or so in the passenger compartment wearing wings on my uniform. We found out later that a Turkish gas truck started across the runway just as we were about to land and we had to go around to miss it. Pretty scary! We finally made it to Ankara after a journey of several days.
Reporting In at 7206 ABRON, Ankara
On 1 Apr 54, HQ USAFE activated the 7206th Air Base Squadron as host unit at Athenai Airfield which was shared with Athenai International Air Port at Athens, Greece. ( Athenai Airfield was renamed Hellenikon Air Base 25 Feb 76 and closed 28 Jun 91). The unit was upgraded to an Air Base Group on 15 May 55. The 7206th relinquished command of JAMMAT TUSLOG Det #1 (our Detachment) at Ankara, Turkey on this same date to the 7217th Air Base Group which was activated at Ankara and assumed command. I still have
orders dated 25 July 1955 showing all 42 of us relieved from assignment in the 7206th ABRON (headquarters in Athens) and reassigned to the 7217th ABRON, duty station, JAMMAT TUSLOG Det #1, Ankara, Turkey with no funds or travel involved. We were the first unit to be given a cover designation--the US Logistics Group-- as perscribed by US European Command. I can recall a 3 story building w/basement on Ataturk Blvd. It was being remodeled for the 7217th ABRON & ABGRP. In fact, I pulled CQ in the building. There was no electricity and I had no flashlight. There was a field phone connected to an office three buildings away in which there was nobody and to make matters worse, there was no locks on the doors. I remember it was a very long night.
Briefing by Commanding Officer
As we stepped off the aircraft we immediately reported to the CO of the detachment (Major Abdulha, an Arab/American) and were briefed by him.
First, the SOFA with the Turks held that if any American broke any Turkish laws and was arrested, you might as well write home and tell Ma to sell the outhouse because the Turks had your butt.
Second, since there was no base, we lived on the local economy and had to find an apartment or room & board for ourselves.
Third, our duty as aircraft maintenance personnel (5 or 6 of us) was to maintain the detachment's L-20 aircraft and turn around the daily C-47 from Athens (weekends excepted). I was ranking NCO so I was the line chief and flight chief and since I had a flying AFSC I was also the flight engineer on the L-20.
After the briefing and a welcome aboard, we were on our own.
Our detachment space consisted of 2 or 3 Quonset huts on the Turkish Air Field, but we needed more room. During that period of time, the only way you could fly commercial to the interior of Turkey from the outside was to fly to Istanbul and take a Turkish airline to the interior, e.g. Ankara. It seems that the US Government, Turkish Government, and Pan American Airways got together and built a new airport in the mountains about 10 or 15 miles from Ankara called Esenboa. PANAM could then fly direct to Ankara. The airport was finished but the Turkish Government was dragging its feet on opening it, so they (the powers that be) used us to force the Turks to open the new airport.
Not so routine opening of the new facility :-)
We received orders to move to the new airport and start operations to turn around our daily flight from Athens (I don't know if the orders came from JAMMAT HQ or Washington). So we loaded all our furniture and equipment on 2 1/2 ton trucks and started out. We were stopped by the Ankara police and the Turkish Army at the city limits and told to turn around and go back, which we did. Major Abdulha reported the turn-a-round to HQ. (I believe one of the the reasons he was CO was because he could speak Turkish). We tried again the next day and the same thing happened. On the third day we started out, our orders were not to stop at the roadblock and just keep driving. We had 3 trucks, 2 staff cars and 2 jeeps led by Major Abdulha but when we got to the place we had been stopped twice before, neither the police nor army was there to stop us so we went on and opened the airport. In hindsight, the major may have known they would not be there and that was the reason he told us to keep driving. It was pretty tense awhile for us but things worked out and we moved to a beautiful airport and opened it to air traffic.
Our L-20 pilot
It was my understanding that Second Lieutenant Delbert M. Thomas had been a F-86 Sabre Jet pilot training to go to Korea when the armistice was signed. So he ended up being was sent to our detachment to fly the L-20 which was a station "hack" to ferry men and supplies from one base to another. One could imagine the let down of being assigned to fly an aircraft with a top speed of 163 mph after flying a fighter aircraft with a top speed 685 mph. This was the situation the good lieutenant found himself in and he tried to make the best of it, but at times he did rack that poor L-20 around like it was a fighter. Like the time he buzzed JAMMAT HQ which then was in a large stone building situated on a hill near the end of Ataturk Blvd. He pulled out of a dive that pulled so many "Gs" that out popped both plexiglas panels in the top of the cockpit. They came fluttering down and landed on the grass.
He was dating a colonel's daughter and knew she was there that day and naturally wanted to impress her. Well, he impressed her AND the colonel AND the general and everyone else who ran outside to see what was going on. The general picked up the panels and sent them back to the airfield with a "mandatory" invitation for the lieutenant to see the general in his office ASAP. Lieutenant Thomas went to see the general and got a royal butt-chewing. Back at the airfield we re-installed the panels. He was the only pilot the detachment had so I'm sure that is why he was not grounded. It was exciting flying with Lt. Thomas re-supplying radar sites and other fun things.
The Lieutenant Gives Me The Stick :)
Lieutenant Thomas was a real party animal and a real nice guy. He had been partying the night before and hadn't gotten much sleep that night. I was flying with him the next day to Eskisehir, a base about a hundred miles west of Ankara. After take-off and a climb out to about 7000 ft. he decided to take a nap. He set the throttle and told me the heading to keep and gave me the controls and proceeded to go to sleep. The L-20 had a single control wheel which could be used by either person in the cockpit by pulling a pin at the bottom of the control column and pivoting it to either seat. After about 15 minutes, I noticed that if we stayed at the altitude we were flying , we could hit a mountain up ahead. No problem. I adjusted my elevator trim and applied a little power and I climbed about 500 ft. But when I tried to level out, the A/C just kept slowly climbing. I pushed on the wheel but the plane kept climbing. I began to feel fear creep up my spine so I woke the lieutenant. He got me out of the mess when he re-adjusted the elevator trim for level flight which I had forgot to do. Well, it was my first time flying a L-20!! The rest of the flight was uneventful and we returned to Ankara that day.
Sharing The Runway With Cows
Another time, we were flying to a remote radar site (I forgot where) and the procedure was to buzz the site to let the guys know we were there and were going to land. There was a grass strip next to a few buildings that made up the site. The buzzing also alerted the guys that we had spotted cows on the runway. They would jump in a jeep and chase them away so we could land safely. Well, one day as we were lined up with the runway, we could see that our point of landing would be ahead of where the cows were. Just as we passed over them, one of them must have panicked because she started running toward us. Lieutenant Thomas couldn't see her because she was coming up under our right side but I saw her out of the corner of my eye and yelled for him to go around. We circled while the guys on the ground chased them farther away this time and then we landed safely. We completed our mission, ate lunch with the site crew, and returned to Ankara.
The big weekend - what to do?
It was the 4th of July week-end. We had Sat., Sun., & Mon. off, but Ankara had lost it's luster, we had seen Ataturk's tomb, the old city, and other sights, been frog hunting so it seemed we had nothing to do. Having just been paid, we had a little money so about 2000 hrs. Fri. night we decided to go to Istanbul.
First we called the Turkish Air Line: nothing out until the next day. Next, we called the train depot: nothing out until the next day. A Turkish bus was out of the question, so what to do? I had a brainstorm! lets go by taxi! Good idea: only 220 miles northwest over the mountains! So we called a taxi to come to the apartment. When he got there we approached him about how many Lira to take us to Istanbul, after he did a double take and in broken English confirmed we said Istanbul he started figuring and came up with a figure, too much! Figure again. Still too much. More figuring and finally a figure we could live with and we said O.K. (I have forgotten how much).
He said he had to go back to the garage and fill up with gas so while he was gone we got our AWOL bags packed and waited. He soon returned in a 1952 4-door Chevy and about 2230 hrs we started out on our great journey.
Driving to Istanbul - not quite the Oh My God Highway in Colorado
Since we had never been out of the city, we didn't know that once you left the city limits the paved roads ended and it was gravel and dirt roads, but we found out ALL THE WAY TO ISTANBUL! Daylight comes early in Turkey, so about 0400 hrs. it was just turning light as we topped a rise on the side of a mountain when we saw an old man waving a stick at us, the driver didn't know whether to stop or not (kidnappings had taken place in the area before, a fact we didn't know until later) so as we passed him he shouted something that made the driver quickly stop, slam it in reverse and started backing up to where the old man was. About that time the whole side of the mountain exploded and rock and dirt rained down on us. Rocks dented the car and cracked the windshield, we thought; this is it, we've bought the farm! It seemed they were blasting the side of the mountain with dynamite to make the road wider. We had to wait while a bulldozer pushed a path through from the other side before we could go on.
The rest of the way was uneventful (thank goodness, as that little episode was enuff). We finally made it into the Asian side of the Bosphorus which separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. We took a ferry over to the European side.
We had heard that Conrad Hilton was having the grand opening of the Istanbul Hilton Hotel that week-end so we told the driver to take us there. We drove up in front of this luxury hotel with wrinkled, dusty suits and needing a shave, paid the driver the rest of his money and dismissed him, walked in to the beautiful lobby and asked for a room. The clerk asked if we had reservations, we said no, we had just arrived from Ankara. He said "sorry, but just the first five floors are finished and they have been booked for months." So we had to find another taxi and another hotel! I think we stayed at the Hotel Tivoli, anyway we could sit at a table on an outside balcony in Europe having a drink and look back across Bosporus Strait into Asia.
Going back home to Ankara
After seeing some of the sights in Istanbul, we needed to find a way back to Ankara. We went to the train station to see what the schedule was and got right on a train leaving that afternoon. While sitting in the club car having a drink, a Turk who spoke english quite well asked us if we wanted to go up to see the train's engine. He said he was a railroad official, so we followed him to the cab. He introduced us to the engineer who even allowed us to drive the train for awhile, which was very interesting. In fact the whole trip was very interesting!
ID cards, paperwork, etc, etc
When we had arrived in Turkey, we were issued a "Red Book," a small 2½ by 4-inch booklet issued by the Turkish General Staff, Aid Liasion Bureau. It was a Military pass for JAMMAT personnel, printed in Turkish and English and stating that:
1. "This Military Pass is to be used as an identification card when dealing with Turkish authorities.
2. It is to certify that the owner is a member of JAMMAT, and that he or she is working with the Turkish Ministry of Defence.
3. This Pass does not authorise the owner to enter forbidden zones unless proper clearance is obtained and such permission is properly entered and indorsed on the pages set forth for this purpose.
4. Any Military owner of this Pass is privileged to receive a 50% reduction on railroad fares provided the owner is on Official Leave.
5. Call 25535 (TGS, Aid Liasion Bureau) when necessary".
There was a commissary at JAMMAT HQ but certain items were rationed (coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and whiskey/beer for which we were issued an European Exchange System Ration Card). I still have a ration card and a library card.
Tragedy brings me back to Texas early
The Lieutenant and I had orders to fly to Athens to coordinate traffic matters and to pick up maintenance records. When we arrived in Athens we were to leave our L-20 there and proceed by train to Milan, Italy to pick up another L-20 and fly it back to Ankara. Our departure from Ankara had been delayed because of a maintenance problem with the detachment's L-20.
We were to leave the next day but that night at approximately 2300 hours, there was a knock on my apartment door. I looked through the peep-hole and saw my CO and another officer I didn't know standing there. I let them in and the CO said he had some bad news for me. They had received a Teletype message from AF HQ stating that my mother had died, and that I was granted a 30 day emergency leave effective the next day; and since I didn't have enough time to return to my overseas duty station, I would be re-assigned to the base nearest my home which was Carswell AFB, Ft. Worth, Texas (which was my home). The CO said my orders were being cut that night and would be ready by 0700.
There was an Embassy flight due in the next morning - which I knew about as I and my crew was supposed to turn it around when it arrived - so I needed to get all my belongings together and a staff car would pick me up which carried my orders, and it would take me to the airport.
The next morning the detachment adjutant picked me up and drove me to the airport and I left Ankara about 1030 hours headed first for Athens. I was able to keep my Red Book as I only cleared Turkish customs to leave. I spent that night in Athens and then went on to Tripoli where I was held up 3 days because a hurricane that was hitting the east coast of the USA - my landing area. I missed my mother's funeral due to that hurricane, but finally made it home to my wife and three daughters who met me at Love Field in Dallas.
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