Tony Cote's Memories of
TUSLOG Detachment 3-2
Samsun, Turkey, 1961
© 2010 by Author
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OFF TO TEXAS
As a kid growing up, I used to listen to the radio news which described the latest exploits of our jet aces in Korea, so I long dreamed about joining the Air Force. I enlisted after high school without any clear idea of what I wanted to do once I got in. Off to Lackland I went with a home town pal from New Hampshire in November 1958 ready to do my part to help win the Cold War. Basic training was pretty uneventful and overall I rather enjoyed it.
As we approached graduation, I was informed that my aptitude tests showed I was suited for training as either a airborne radio operator, intricate equipment specialist or language specialist. When I learned that the latter might have me attending training and earning credits at one of the universities involved, I selected the language training.
After two weeks in grad barracks, during which I took additional language aptitude tests, I learned that I didn't score high enough to qualify for Chinese training at Monterey (my preference). However, learning Russian at Syracuse seemed like a good enough alternative, but it wasn't to be. After unsuccessfully waiting for a class slot to open, I was informed that I could instead go to Goodfellow AFB for training as a Radio Traffic Analyst. It sounded interesting, except for the location, so off I went to 202 school. My basic training buddy Ralph Divito, a fellow New Englander, also got assigned to Goodfellow. Ralph was later destined to spend the rest of his enlistment playing a lot of high level competitive baseball for the Air Force in Europe.
I really liked San Angelo, especially the hot, dry weather. My first encounter with one of those late spring dust storms, where it would blow in through tightly shut doors and windows to cover everything inside the barrack, was a bit of a bummer, though. I learned to golf at the municipal golf course, but it took me years to get over the bad habits I picked up from playing on the concrete hard fairways. Hitting down through the ball, like you would on a decent course, was a sure way to break a wrist out there.
Other potentially dangerous pastimes included trips to Villa Acuna and Nuevo Laredo, but they were worth it in order to absorb all that culture :)
Anyhow, training was completed in September 1959. I finished somewhere in the middle of my class, which wasn't good enough to qualify for one of those choice overseas assignments which were awarded on merit (you know, Germany, Japan, England, etc.) So I held out hope that one of the remaining assignments at Shemya, St. Lawrence or Peshawar might still be available when my turn came, but it wasn't to be. Off I went to Kelly AFB for an assignment with AFSCC. It seemed I was destined to spend my entire career touring Texas!
KELLY, NSA, THEN OFF TO TURKEY
So there I was, just a couple of miles away from where my Air Force career first began. I enjoyed my duty there, especially the work. I never expected I'd have the opportunity to see the "big picture" of what the USAFSS was all about and I especially never anticipated that they'd give a young kid like me responsibilities that seemed so important. It was at once fascinating to be involved at that level, with all the information I was exposed to, and daunting to think that I was being relied on to carry out seemingly critical work. I now know I must have been a very small cog in the machinery, but at that age, it made me feel very important.
In March 1961 I was beginning to hope that I might get an assignment to the new base at Brindisi, Italy. I had visions of myself zipping around on my Vespa scooter and tripping to Rome with my Italian girlfriend, who of course would have looked like Gina Lollabrigida. But once again, I was destined for less glamorous duty. I was assigned to TUSLOG Det 3-2, but first I would have to get some specialized training at NSA. Thankfully, it would be a fairly short TDY assignment. Late spring in Maryland turned out to be fairly unpleasant after spending the past two years in the relatively dry Texas climate. However, the time passed quickly and I was off to Turkey in early June 1961, along with buddies Dick Craver and Bill Smorley.
TURKEY - FIRST IMPRESSIONS
After flying from New York to Rhine-Main, my first impression of Turkey came when I boarded the THY Fairchild turboprop in Vienna for the flight to Istanbul before going on to Samsun. I was struck by the heavy odor of something inside the plane. At first I thought it was body odor. However, after takeoff, when the smoking light went on, I learned what it was that permeated everything on that plane, as well as everywhere else I would later be throughout my travels in Turkey - good old "Turkish gold", that essential ingredient in every smelly Lucky Strike or Camel cigarette I ever smoked.
After arriving at TUSLOG 3-2, I was assigned to Charlie trick, got my green cap and settled in for the next 15 months.
The first thing I need to say about the duty assignment is just how exhausting this airman found the shift work. I haven't read any other references to this by other contributors to this web site, but I think it bears mentioning just how alien the days-to-swings-to-mids-to-break routine is to a body which just wants to settle into a regular circadian rhythm. If it happens to me now, even occasionally, both my body and my mind get all out of whack and disfunctional. It was very hard to maintain peak performance under those circumstances, but we did it somehow.
The work itself never seemed to become routine or boring, though. There was always something challenging or exciting to do and you never knew what you might have to do some days or nights. As a 202, I loved working closely with the ditty-boppers and observing them doing their thing. We had a couple that I remember especially well for their great "ear" and their speed and accuracy. I just remember their first names, Leon and Skip. We were a good team. On slow nights, I even sat down to an empty station and tried my hand at finding something I could transcribe, but I never progressed beyond the relatively simple 5-digit structure and speed of international weather reports. I have great admiration and respect for the work the 292's did day-in and day-out under very difficult conditions.
I don't remember any of the 203's by name, other than their NCOIC, Sergeant Vickery. He was a great guy who enjoyed listening to classical music, as I recall. All in all, I found 203's to be a very "interesting" bunch - nice guys but a little bit distant, but maybe that was just me.
A highlight (?) of the night shift work was the arrival of the cake pan, or other such "goodies" from the mess hall. I sometimes volunteered to go pick it up because I would to linger in the kitchen and "browse" on some of the special treats the Mess Sergeant offered me. It turns out we knew each other from Kelly, where he was previously in charge, and he arrived at Samsun right after I did. I thought we had reasonably good food there, once the cooks learned what "over easy" means. I even got very accustomed to breakfast twice a day and I still enjoy it that way.
Besides the usual movies, gym time and other recreational activities on base, I've got to admit to spending far more than a little time in the airman's club. A lot of GI's manage to avoid falling into such bad habits, but TUSLOG 3-2's isolation makes it more than a bit challenging to stay on the straight-and-narrow, in my opinion. It seemed like there was always some sort of "special deal" going on, I think often times aimed at getting rid of a lot of unpopular items that weren't selling well. I remember one such example when they kept lowering the price of Blatz beer down to five cents a can and they still couldn't sell it.
Oh yeah, I could go on about going to the civilian club downtown, or the "compound" (lovely place, called "Kerhane" in Turkish), but perhaps better not to. Just one thing - does anyone remember that Gulan was not just the base mascot, but also the nickname of a crazy babe that was a favorite at the compound? Ah, to be young and foolish again.
I played third base on the Charlie trick softball team and also the base team, which was organized each year to participate in the regional tournaments. In 1962, Samsun hosted the regional tournament, which we lost to Trabzon. After my four year hitch, I went on to play some very competitive fast pitch softball in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and I can say that the teams we had in Turkey would have been very competitive at that level, especially the quality of our pitching. One of my memories was of traveling with the base team to KARAMURSEL in the base school bus to play in an invitational tournament. On the way down, I came down with a kidney infection and got very sick, but tried to tough it out and play. During the first game (on an extremely hot day), I looked up to catch a pop fly, stared right into the sun and promptly keeled over (and out). I had a hard time convincing the team manager that I wasn't simply badly hung over. I spent the rest of the tournament in the base hospital on antibiotics.
A few of us also liked to go on hunting and fishing excursions in the areas surrounding Samsun, using gear and shotguns which we checked out of base services. On one such wild boar hunt several miles east of Samsun, we pitched pup tents in the woods seemingly far away from any village. At daybreak the next day, we woke up to freezing weather and crawled out of the tents to start a fire for breakfast. To our surprise, and with some nervousness, we found ourselves surrounded by a large group of Turks, several with guns. They stared at us without saying anything - just standing and staring. After a while, I think we sensed that "hey, this is what Turks do when they encounter Americans - they stand and stare". Then one of us broke the ice and made some friendly comment, then everything seemed to become more relaxed. We offered coffee, they accepted. They admired our Winchester Model 12 shotguns and we examined their mostly ancient weapons, many with Damascus twist barrels. Before long we were having a shooting match with them, trying to hit various targets around our camp. Our guns really impressed them and they loved having the chance to try them out. After a while, they just drifted away. All in all, I thought the Turkish people were really likable and very sturdy.
One Turk I liked especially was our "house boy" who worked in the dorm. He appeared to be in his sixties, but I learned he was only in his forties. He had a large family and not surprisingly, they were very poor. We had a very friendly relationship. When my tour was over, I gave him some clothes that I didn't want to pack up and take home. Because of the prohibition on giving gifts or money to the Turks, he had to dress up with all I gave him underneath his clothes so he could get off base without being detected. When we shook hands goodbye, he started to cry, which would be considered unusual for the usually stoic Turks. This really made a lasting impression on me and I still have a warm feeling remembering him, even if I can't remember his name.
To say it again, I still have good memories of these people and am very happy that Turkey continues to prosper. I know what we used to say about Turkey's alliance with America back then - "it's not that they love us so much, but rather they hate the Russians even more". Regardless, I hope our countries will always remain friendly allies moving forward.
Looking back to those Cold War years, it's easy for a lot of Americans to today assume that this was a conflict in name only, that not much happened. Well, we certainly know better, don't we? But in addition to what everyone knows about the political tensions, arms race, propaganda, Gary Powers, Cuban missile crisis, etc., there was also the "hot" side of things in our little world too. Not many people outside of the USAFSS know about the shooting down of Elint aircraft, such as the one over Armenia in the '50's. We knew the potential was always there for things to heat up quickly.
From reading other accounts on this web site, I know that many remember the Soviet subs shadowing our Navy destroyer which visited Samsun while I was there. As an aside, having a tour of that destroyer reminded me of how lucky we were to only have to share our dorm rooms with just one other person (in my case, Bob Couchman).
Another time, during the night, someone arriving at the ops center noticed lights flashing between the shore near the base and a point out in the Black Sea. We got our best 292 out to copy the "code", but we couldn't make too much sense of the flashes. As I recall, we dutifully reported this incident up the line but nothing more came of it. Just an example of how you could get suspicious about things during that time.
Another such event was when we detected mysterious lights on the hillsides surrounding the base. Remember, this was during a period when the Turkish governments were none too stable and we never knew when a coup might bring an unfriendly group to power. I recall we went on some sort of alert, but of course without weapons to defend ourselves, all we could have done was to huddle behind an AP for protection. Well, it turned out that the lights were being carried by a lot of locals who were out netting and capturing migrating canaries to sell. Quite an exciting night!
Finally, I remember one night when shooting was heard on the base. Later another shot. The story I remember was that it was believed an intruder (Soviet?) penetrated our perimeter fence and was believed to be trying to steal a key component of one of our new antennas. An askari fired at him, but he got away. Has anyone else ever heard of this or able to confirm it actually happened?
And yes, I remember the time a Soviet fighter pursued one of our planes back over the Black Sea and buzzed the base. What I don't remember, perhaps because my eyesight wasn't as good, was that you could actually see the pilot looking down at us as he flew over. Maybe he was looking for a place to land?
Finally, I recollect the night we had an ACRP (C-130) radio down that they had lost an engine and were in the process of losing another and needed to make an emergency landing at the Samsun airport down the road from the base. As the airfield was unlit, it was decided that we'd get every vehicle from the motor pool to light up the landing strip so the pilot could find it. Well, they made it down safely,and I remember the looks on the faces of the air crew when they walked into the NCO club. Those guys deserved the binge that they went on that night!
As my fifteen months at TUSLOG 3-2 came to an end, I had to decide whether or not to make the Air Force a career, as I had thought when I enlisted. Maybe it was just fatigue or a desire to move on with my life, but I decided to finish it at one hitch. They did try to entice me to re-up with the following offers: Would I be interested in going to a place called Viet Nam, which had interesting duty, but more importantly, periodic R&R in beautiful villas with pretty servants in Bangkok, Thailand? No? Well, what about going to Berlin, Germany, with lots of benefits there too? That one almost got me, but in the end, I just wanted to get home and go to school, so that's what I did. I'll always remember with great fondness and a deep sense of "mission accomplished" my time in the USAFSS with one of the best jobs a 22 year old could ever look back upon.
Footnote: I wish I could have contributed my own photos from my time in Samsun to the many great images I've enjoyed on this web site, but while in the process of moving before I got married in 1968 all my memorabilia were lost when my car was stolen before I was able to unpack it.
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