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Cigli (Izmir) and Ankara

Steve Hoffman

© 2011-2017 by Author

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I flew to Turkey in February, 1963, with two other, newly commissioned, Second Lieutenants. We were on our way to Cigli AFB near Izmir, where we were to serve as Missile Launch Officers. We flew from Idlewild Airport, New York City to Istanbul on Pan American's Flight 2, stopping in London, Frankfort, and Vienna. When we arrived in Istanbul, we knew we were in a country with a totally different culture than what we were accustomed to. We found our THY flight to Izmir and arrived after dark. Fortunately a Lieutenant met us at the airport and drove us into Izmir, where we checked into a hotel, and then walked to the officer's club for a late dinner. We lived in the hotel for about a week, taking a shuttle bus to Cigli, until there were quarters available for us on the base. We arrived on a Friday night, so we had the weekend to get acclimated to our new surroundings. We went to see the camel fights at the stadium, etc. This was going to be a great assignment! When we met with the commander on Monday morning, the first words out of his mouth were "Why in the hell are they sending me more men, when we're in the process of shutting down operations"? We knew we were in trouble then.

We got to go to the missile sites maybe three times, and then we escorted the personnel back to the base along with all the paperwork. For the next month, we worked one night a week in the Combat Operations Center and as positions opened in USAFE, we were reassigned. I was assigned to TUSLOG Detachment 30, in Ankara, as the assistant club officer at the Officers' Club.


 The Officers Club left and above.

 View from the Officers Club.

Officers Club Dining Room

When I arrived in Ankara in May, 1963, I lived at the Merhaba Palas, where a three bedroom apartment was being used as temporary quarters for personnel arriving in or leaving Ankara. On my second day there I was awakened early in the morning by the sound of low flying jets and machine gun fire. At the time I was sharing temporary quarters with two Bendix Corp. technical reps and an Army Lieutenant. We all went out on the balcony to see what was happening and found out there was a revolution going on!

We didn't know what to do, so I put on my uniform and got a taxi to go to the Officers' Club. To get there, the taxi driver had to go up a hill, turn right at the top, then drive past the Turkish Presidential Palace to the club. As we were getting close to the top of the hill, I could see tanks, and soldiers with bazookas lined up in front of the palace. When we got to the top of the hill, four Turkish Askeris (enlisted personnel) stuck their rifles - with bayonets - into the taxi and had a conversation in Turkish with the driver. After the conversation, when they removed their rifles, the taxi driver backed down the hill at about 50 miles an hour, and when we got to the Merhaba Palas, he told me to get out.

I went up to our quarters where the Army Lieutenant had locked himself in his room and the tech reps were reading. I changed clothes and we were trying to decide what we would cook to eat, since there was no place to eat at the Merhaba Palas. We stood in lines at the local stores with many Turkish people, and were able to get a loaf of bread, some lamb chops, and some artichokes for dinner. I had a bottle of Scotch, so that rounded out our meal.

The day after the revolution, things had quieted down, and my boss told me to come to his house, and not to wear my uniform, under any circumstances. After that, things got back to normal for us, except for the fact that for the rest of my tour we lived under Turkish Martial Law.

A guy from the housing office took me around Ankara looking for an apartment, and I found one, the grey building at left center, on Mesnevi Sokak (Street) which is about halfway up the Çankaya hill, and a block from the Russian embassy. The building had three apartments on the first floor. A USAF Major lived in one of them, a Turkish Colonel and his wife in the second one, and I took the third apartment. It was a good location for me as I could walk to work, or take a taxi. I had a five-gallon plastic water jug to get drinking water from the officers' club, or the hospital, as we were not supposed to drink the water in our apartments. Fruit and vegetables were bought "on the economy" had to be soaked in water that had some bleach added. If a vegetable was to be boiled for at least ten minutes, it didn't have to be soaked. My main food shopping was done at the Commissary, downtown, and the Base Exchange and Class VI store (liquor store) were down there also.

We were not supposed to eat on the economy, since many personnel had come down with hepatitis after doing so. As a result, the officers' club did very well. Our members included military officers, and US Embassy personnel, USAID personnel, Pan Am pilots, etc. The civilian members had to be of a certain grade level to belong, or else they could join the NCO club.

We could not spend American dollars on the economy, so the officers' club exchanged our Dollars for equivalent Turkish Lira. I had to go to Detachment 30 headquarters every day with an attaché case full of dollars and checks and exchange them for Turkish Lira, to replenish our supply at the club.

We had no TV in Ankara, and no newspapers - the only news we got was a two to four page, English translation of a Turkish newspaper.

On Friday, Nov 22 1963, I left the club after dinner, and went home to relax for the night. Around 9:30, I heard a banging on my kitchen window. A Lieutenant friend, whose boss was the Major living across the hall from me, was outside. He had a can of beer in his hand and his collar was open with his tie pulled loose. He was yelling to me that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. I ran to the front door of the building and let him in. He was still talking very loudly. I thought he was drunk and took him into my apartment. He insisted our president was dead. There was another knock at my front door - it was the Turkish Colonel who lived next door to me coming over to offer his condolences. The next few days were a blur. The "newspaper" did say Kennedy had been assassinated, and people came to the club to get news, and share feelings. On Sunday morning, I arrived at the club to see the day's headline that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot and killed. Now we really wondered what was going on back home! American military personnel were not allowed to congregate in large groups on the street, but the Turkish government did allow us to have a memorial service in the movie theater.

It was in 1963, also, that Bob Hope came to Turkey to entertain the troops at Christmas. He and his entertainers performed in Ankara, but I can't remember where. Anita Bryant was part of the group that year as well as Gary Crosby. I went to see most of the show, and then hurried back to the officers' club. We were having a reception for Bob Hope and the troupe. Hope rushed up to the club and had a meatloaf sandwich before the rest of the people arrived, and then returned to his hotel to rest (that was the year he had eye surgery). So the reception went on without him.

We had a New Year's Eve party at the club that year. Since we were still living under Martial Law, there was a curfew, and people were not allowed on the streets between midnight and 6:00 AM. That meant that the New Years revelers had to leave the party early enough to get home before midnight, or they had to stay at the club until 6:00 AM. A few left early, but the majority of people stayed all night.

As I recall, 1964 started out fairly quiet, but than later that year Turkey and Greece started to argue over Cyprus. Things got worse during the summer, and then the Anti-American demonstrations started. Americans driving downtown had their cars rocked by angry mobs of Turks.

Fortunately, the demonstrations never made it up to the top of the Çankaya hill, which is where the officers' club was!

I was reassigned back to the states in September 1964. Some of my friends were having a going away party for me at their house. We had heard there were demonstrations around the Greek Embassy, but we didn't have any idea where it was. We quickly found out the Greek Embassy was right behind my friends' apartment building. Fortunately there were no problems.

I spent my last couple of nights in Ankara at the Ankara Palas Hotel as there was no room at the Merhaba Palas. I just hoped that my boss would be able to pick me up the day I was supposed to leave, and that we'd get to Esenboga without a problem. We did get there on time and the plane left on time. I flew back on Pan Am. The plane from Ankara went to Rome, where I had to change planes for a non-stop flight to Idlewild Airport in New York City. My next assignment was Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado.

An afterthought...

Even though I was glad to leave Turkey in the midst of the Anti-American demonstrations, I have to say that my year and a half there was interesting, and for the most part, enjoyable. My apartment wasn't the fanciest in the world, but it was home. I got used to the fact that the electricity went off frequently, and that the gas and water pressure changed constantly. If the gas pressure was up, and the water pressure was low, the space heaters on the wall in the kitchen and bathroom turned into roaring infernos. But we adapted.

I used to go for walks around Ankara on Sunday afternoons and enjoyed the pace of living there. Sunday afternoons at Gençlik Park with friends were peaceful and relaxing. Shopping in the local shops was fun and I enjoyed having tea with the shop owners and haggling over prices.

I kept in touch with most of the USAF dependents that worked for me, and enlisted personnel that worked part time, and their families. We all became family. Unfortunately they have all died since then.

I had never wanted to return to Turkey. The Anti-American demonstrations were the last things I remember there, and I never wanted to get caught up in that again. This year I began to think it would be nice to go back, after all this time, to see how the Ankara has changed. I looked online to see if there were still US military personnel in Ankara. That is how I found Merhaba-USMilitary.com. After reading the article by the high school students that graduated in the 1960s, in which they said the only thing they recognized was the American Embassy, and further that the officers' club was torn down and replaced with a shopping mall and a sightseeing tower with a revolving restaurant, I decided there was nothing I wanted to go back for. I'd rather remember things the way they were, and the good times we had there.

Taken on a trip to visit the incredible sights of Ephesus in western Turkey. While Ephesus is one of earth's greatest religious sites, I am, by happenstance, standing in front of an ancient brothel!



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