First Lt. Darwin Sator
© 2003-2011 by Author
Thousands of American military in Turkey spent their tours of
duty in Ankara. While much different from "the sites" -- the front
lines of the late 1950s -- their duty also was challenging, strangely
rewarding and spent in the most interesting country in the world.
I'll begin by telling you that I studied Russian language two full
years in college. Only a handful of people did that 60 years ago.
You probably say, "Big deal, that's how you wound up in
Turkey," but think again. You know that's not how military personnel
works. Completely ignoring my supposedly critical language
skills, they sent me off to personnel school, of all places. And
when it came time to assign graduates, they placed an alphabetical
list of troops to be assigned next to an alphabetical list of
assignments. My name, which begins with an "S", fell opposite the
"T" assignments. I was lucky; the guy before me got Thule. That's
how Air Force personnel really works, and I'm afraid I probably
furthered the tradition.
More Bars in More Places
My Turkish adventure started in March 1956. A few days
after being delivered by MATS from McGuire to Wheelus, somebody
decided to send me and two other Air Force lieutenants --
George Rollison of West Virginia and John Williams of Georgia -- on
to Turkey via British Overseas Airways, carrying only orders, no
passports. When we landed at Cairo, Egyptian soldiers dragged
us off the plane and threw us into jail. Mentioning the Geneva
Convention didn't impress them at all. They tormented us
unmercifully for two days before they got bored and let us go.
Istanbul was fantastic, but the first glimpse of the treeless
Anatolian plateau in winter was extremely depressing to this
Ohioan. Although a lot of the world is like that, I had never seen
such a thing. I would not have believed then that one day I would
come to love that place, those people and that particular moment
in time. In fact, I would write a book about them. And 50 years
later I still would think that way, white cheese, ekmek and rosepetal
jam is the perfect way to start a day.
My first Ankara home was the Turist Otel in Ulus, where every
morning an endless stream of horse-drawn wagons, carrying the
city"s drinking water in huge wicker-encased green bottles, clipclopped
by my window on cobblestoned Ataturk Bulvari. My
second home was a shared house overlooking the original Kavaklidere
vineyards. In all, I would live in seven places in the city. The
Sheraton Hotel now stands where the vineyards were. The rumble
on Ataturk Bulvari today is not from wagon wheels on cobblestones,
but from the subway trains running below the street. The
city"s population, which was 500,000, is now an incomprehensible
4 million. The horse population is zero.
Darwin seen today.
Lt. Darwin Sator, 1956 - the first man assigned to TUSLOG Det 30.
1956 Stars and Stripes story about Maj. E. G. Frederick's TUSLOG Sunset Express, which operated out of the Ankara carbarn and supplied all of our remote sites.
Photos from Stars and Stripes Newspaper showing the Sunset Express in action.
A Barn Is a Barn
Assigned initially to Det. 1 TUSLOG, I soon would become the
very first man assigned to the newly activated Det. 30, where I
would be in charge of the personnel records of Det. 30, Det. 1,
HQ TUSLOG, and a couple of other units we didn"t talk about. The
next winter we worked out of offices at an old streetcar barn,
use of which the Turks traded us for a road-blacktopping machine.
The carbarn would become the home of Maj. E. G. Frederick's
Sunset Express, the truck line that supplied all of our remote
sites (see Stars & Stripes story).
Like any barn, our offices were unheated, only it was
because the Suez crisis interrupted the oil flow. The icy cold
made signing three morning reports exactly 133 times every day
with gloved and numb fingers an interesting exercise. I still can
see the carbarn gang at their desks in that Thule-like atmosphere,
dressed in heavy winter coats, exhaling steam: M/Sgts. Tucker,
Bergman and McNair, Simonovich, Saddler, White, Kennedy, Larson,
Rapske. . .
PM a Bad Neighbor
Of course, we all lived off the local economy and, because
the Suez crisis cut off the oil supply, our house that second winter
also was unheated. That made bathing difficult, as did the
sometimes total lack of water. As it was, during those driest of
years, water was rationed by being turned on only an hour or so
in the middle of the night. But our house had the added disadvantage
of being on the prime ministers water line. That was
because every time the prime minister went away from home, they
shut down his line completely, and we didnt even get what others
got. Fortunately, he took short vacations and we kept an emergency
supply in 55-gallon drums borrowed from the motor pool.
The shortages were bad, but there was a more-than-offsetting
Dollar Was REAL Money
It would be months before we would get a BX, commissary or
any other amenities, so the Air Force considered even Ankara a
hardship assignment. True, living off a local economy is always
challenging but, in this case, our government was way too generous.
While the official exchange rate was only 2.8 Turkish lira to a
dollar, we were receiving as high as 15 TL for a dollar. So, we all
could afford to live it up a little.
A child of the Great Depression myself, I seized the moment,
having lunch daily across the street from TUSLOG HQ, at the
gleaming white-marble American Embassy. Evenings, I dined at
Karpi, which was Ataturk's favorite, or at Serge's, where they
served up mounds of caviar (the good stuff), or Bekir, or Club
Washington, a glitzy place owned by a personable Turk who once
ran a restaurant in Washington DC. After dinner, we would move
on either to the Ankara Palas, another Ataturk haunt, or to the
Gar Casino, both of which featured some of Europe's best cabaret
Now I'm sure that some of us didn"t belong in those places
(I"m afraid I didn"t) and sometimes showed it, but the Turks bent
over backward to treat us with kindness, courtesy and respect.
Stamps Saluted America
While I was in Ankara in 1957, Turkey issued postage stamps celebrating Turkish-American cooperation.
Bolu Earthquake story from 1957 TUSLOG Times
Turkish-American relations actually were pretty good in those
days. We had kept Russia from grabbing the Bosphorus and the
Dardanelles and probably occupying Istanbul itself, and the Turks
had rescued us from being surrounded and slaughtered in the
darkest days of the Korean War. And the things we were doing
together in 1956-57 made our relationship even stronger. In 1957
Turkey issued postage stamps celebrating Turk-American Isbirligi
(cooperation). That was the start of my Turkish stamp collection.
which I assembled with the help of a savvy old dealer in Kizilay.
Unfortunately, our military, like all of the armies of all times, is
made up mostly of kids, and the world ends up judging us all by
their behavior. On my watch, for example, a drunken airman
urinated on a monument to the founder of the republic. Another
airman, as neighbors watched in horror, managed to strangle a
goat outside his apartment after several bloody but failed
attempts to dispatch the animal with a bullet and by clubbing.
Another airman and his live-in Turkish girlfriend committed suicide.
Sadly those are the kinds of things that are longest remembered,
not the contributions we made to the victims of the Bolu
earthquake (a campaign that I ran), or the volunteer work the
military wives did at the orphanage, or the rodeo that TUSLOG put
on for Turkish kids. It"s nobody"s fault; it"s just that bad news
always trumps good.
Beating Tourist Season by Years
Snapshot of Darwin Sator, ugly American, at Ephesus on Easter Sunday, 1957BT (Before Tourism)
Horozluhan caravansary near Konya under restoration, 1957.
Katy Sator sits in the much-traveled Det. 30 special services Jeep (1957), shortly before someone else totaled it.
Ankara"s altitude and climate were extremely invigorating for an asthmatic like me and I never felt so good. I soon was exploring the walled town and archaeological sites of the city.
Then I discovered our lightly used special services Jeep and, when no one else was out shooting wild boar or pulling man-size catfish out of the Euphrates, I made sure the vehicle didn"t just gather dust. Guide book in hand, I started exploring some of Turkey's 10,000 historical sites and natural wonders.
In 1956-57, Turkish tourism hadn"t started; not even Turks visited sites that later would attract millions of foreign tourists. There were no tourist-grade hotels, and almost no asphalt roads. You may think I"m exaggerating, but I made multiple visits to Cappadocia, Bogazkoy and Konya in 1956 and 1957 without seeing a single tourist. Not one. I visited Ephesus and Pergamum without meeting a single tourist.
Turkey a Young Nation
Picnickers (L-R)Katy Sator, Capt. Marty Munin, 2nd Lt. Larry Alkire, 2nd Lt. Bob Burden, bebek Niels Sator and some young Turkish friends who dropped by.
Our picnic guests and our son. Everywhere you went in 1956-'57 there were small boys. Turkey was really growing. Its population was about 22 million then. Today, it is around 72 million!
While there were no tourists, I"m sure I"m not the only
American that was amazed at the number of small boys who popped up everywhere you went. You could pitch a tent or lay out a picnic in the seemingly most isolated place and immediately be surrounded by small boys, curious and eager to try out their English. Turkey was growing faster than we could have imagined. Between 1956 and today, the nation"s population has soared by 50 million -- from about 22 million to about 72 million.
"Sarap, Dans, Sarap, Dans"
Some of my best memories actually involve car troubles. For example, returning from Konya one night, my Jeep"s headlights conked out and I almost was hit by a careening truck. Luckily, I spotted a single glowing light bulb, which turned out to be a coffee house. Also luckily, the place was the village garage. While my lights were being fixed, the men and I "talked" about Ankara. Learning that I lived in Kavaklidere, they grinned knowingly and kept repeating, "Sarap, Dans, Sarap, Dans" ("Wine and Dance, Wine and Dance" I guess that was Kavaklidere, all right. But they also had heard something else about the city that winter: "Yok yumurta" (an egg shortage). So as I was leaving, they presented me with a gift of a dozen eggs. I must say, that was "ok iyi! Truly wonderful!
Driving King Midas
That brings me to perhaps my most memorable experience.
A neighbor, who was a USIS cultural affairs officer, wheedled an invitation for me to join a Gordium excursion headed by the U.S. Ambassador Fletcher Warren. At King Midas" just-opened tomb, Dr. Muzaffer Senyurek, Turkey"s leading anthropologist, and famed archaeologist Dr. Rodney Young of the University of Pennsylvania crated up the bones of the 2,700-year-old monarch of the golden touch, placed them in the trunk of the vehicle I was driving, and I personally chauffeured them to Ankara University. The dirt road was rough, and I drove carefully, so as not to jolt him unnecessarily. Regrettably, nothing turned to gold, but our visit turned out to be a Life Magazine cover story.
Gift That Kept Giving
That crazy lira exchange rate was almost as good as gold,
though, making it possible for me to visit nine countries in Europe and four other countries in the Middle East. The Euopean tour was great despite my breaking out with three-day measles on top of
Notre Dame Cathedral and arriving back in Turkey with only a silver half dollar in my pocket. The Suez crisis also turned out to be a blessing by keeping tourists out of Lebanon, Egypt and the Holy
Land. Can you imagine seeing the Cairo Museum and the Pyramids with no other tourists around? I did, and it was great.
Where Is Bebek?
Eventually, I was joined by my wife Katy and infant son. They came over on the same passport, and that later proved to be a problem when she and I left for sightseeing in Europe. Customs officials looked at the passport picture, frowned and said accusingly,
"Where is bebek?" It took a while to explain. It wasn"t as serious as a car missing from a beyanname, say, but it was very embarrassing. Apparently Turkish mothers were more responsible. They didn"t just fly off to Europe and leave children with sitters, even if it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Turkish dressing screen that stopped traffic on Ataturk Bulvari.
One day, in the back of an Ulus antique shop, Katy found a
perfect birthday gift for me, a brightly painted three-panel, canvas-and-wood dressing screen more than a hundred years old.
Maybe owned by some 19th Century Turkish Hugh Heffner, each panel depicted a bare-bellied dancing houri, one with arms akimbo, another also bare-breasted and twirling a veil and the third holding a flask in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other. It was unquestionably Turkish, but also unquestionably out of place in 20th Century Ankara, certainly in the light of day.
"I"ll take it with me," Katy said. The shop owner looked doubtful but summoned a taxi, loaded the shoutingly conspicuous object into the back seat and helped my wife into the front. The driver was so openly amused that all of the way home to Guven, several miles down Ataturk Bulvari, he continuously honked his horn at other tax drivers, signaling them to come alongside and to look at what he had in back. Katy had found the perfect gift for her husband.
About Iki Buçuks
Among my extra-duty assignments was to write and publish a
guide for Americans being assigned to Ankara. There already were about 5,000 Americans in the city and, up until that time, there had been no guide. The price of gasoline, readers learned, was about
25 cents a gallon, which probably meant an "iki buçuk" (one of those pink 2½-Lira notes that, if you were a good haggler, also might get you a taxi ride).
Oh, yeah. I was the guy in charge of changing dollars into lira for VIPs who arrived in Ankara at odd hours. I kept a bucket of money under my bunk and I met some interesting people who were brought to my place in the middle of the night. In the case of generals, I delivered, like the pizza guy, to their hotels. Funny thing. Keeping a bucketful of money in Turkey didn"t worry me for a minute. Back home, I wouldn"t have been able to sleep.
No English Required
The TUSLOG Times was miraculously produced by printers who spoke only Turkish and a foreman who spoke only French!
Another of my extra duties involved working with Lt. Larry
Alkire of Iowa, who created a newspaper called The TUSLOG Times, which was distributed throughout the country. The most interesting thing about the Times is that it was printed in Ulus by an all-Turkish crew who understood no English, and whose foreman spoke only French. It was fun for me, because I was a journalist in civilian life and, hey, the paper wasn"t half bad!
We Missed Elvis
A lot of scary stuff happened in 1956-57: Hungary, Suez,
Sputnik. And by being overseas, we almost completely missed Elvis. The big event in Ankara was the grand welcome for the Shah of Iran and Queen Soraya. Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie made a much appreciated goodwill appearance at the Buyuk Cinema and Johnny Ray sang "Little White Cloud That Cried" and "Cry" from a flatbed truck in the JAMMAT parking lot.
"You Guys Do What?"
I"ll mention one not-so-great moment: Early in my tour of
duty, three jet aircraft mechanics wandered in from Wheelus. "We don"t have any jet planes, only prop-driven aircraft," I said reflexively, sending them packing, right back to Libya. Anyone reading this will guess what was wrong with that decision. The trio just as quickly reappeared, after I was strongly advised to get myself up to speed on our mission.
Call Me a Turcophile
Darwin, having seen a tree fountain (the final picture on Fred Moore's page) realized he also had a picture of an ancient tree with a "fountain" - a spring or perhaps non-visible plumbing. If anyone knows where this tree is, let Darwin know. Gazoz, anybody?
That's Darwin on the left in Hollywood, CA, the beginning of a Route 66 memory road trip, Summer 2008. The pic reminds him of (not surprisingly) a Turkish proverb: "When Allah wants to make a poor man happy, he first causes him to lose his donkey (eşek pronounced "EH-shek"). Then, he allows him to find it."
Although I was proud of what we were doing, I was never
meant to be in the military and, unfortunately, proved it about every chance I got. As I departed Esenboga the last time, with Ankara receding from view, I said to myself, "I"m never, never coming back." I didn"t realize it at the time, but I meant I was finished with the Air Force, not Turkey. Turkey had cast a spell over me, and I have returned there five times. I have thousands of pictures and own a couple hundred books about Turkey. I"ve even written a book myself, titled The Turcophile File, "555 Reasons Turkey Is Easily the Most Interesting Place on Earth."
Some travelers take it with them to Turkey.
FYI: Turcophile isn't in the dictionary, but I say it"s a word, and I"m sticking to it. It means somebody who loves all things Turkish. You can call me a Turcophile.
The other day I was enjoying thinking about Turkey, which isn't unusual,
except this time I made some notes:
I remember the time my car battery died in Iznik. I walked and
walked until I found a garage and they loaned me a bicycle to ride
back to my car. It had been years since I had ridden a bike, so I
promptly fell off -- right in front of a moving truck. In America, the
truck driver probably would have leaned on his horn and yelled
epithets at me. In Turkey, the driver got out, picked me up,
dusted me off, and put me back on my bike.
Then there was that time about 10 years ago. I had rented a car
in Istanbul and immediately found myself in morning-rush-hour
traffic. The car had a shift pattern that was unfamilar to me, so I
was having a hard-enough time just driving. Then, I touched
something wrong, which made the windshield wipers race a mile a
minute. It wasn"t raining, and I couldn"t figure out how to stop
them. I had gone a few blocks like that, in that horrendous traffic,
when a police car stopped me. I thought, "Uh-oh, What have I
done?" The officer walked up to my car and, recognizing a tourist
when he saw one, reached inside my open window, turned off the
wipers and, without comment, just walked away. Whew!
Another time, my wife Katy and I pulled into a gas station in some
really out-of-the-way place in central Turkey. The owner asked
where we were from and when we told him, he asked, "Would you
talk to my daughter?" She was 12 years old, the man explained,
and she was learning English in school. Sure, of course, we said,
so he brought out a table and four chairs, placed them between
the gas pumps and we sat, had tea, and talked for an hour. Katy,
it so happens, was an English teacher and she enjoyed it, and so
One of my most challenging driving experiences resulted from the
mistake of entering an extremely narrow street in old Ankara on
market day. By the time I recognized what was happening ahead, I
had gone too far to back out and the street was too narrow to
turn around. I was considering abandoning my car when about 10
men took me on as their project. After much discussion, they had
me back up to a spot where there was an open-front shop on
each side. First, they had me pull up a foot or two, actually into
the shop on the right, then back up a foot or two, actually into
the shop on the left. Gel! Dur! Geri gitmek! Dur! Gel! Dur! Geri
gitmek! Dur! Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It
seems like I did that a hundred times before the car finally was
pointed in the opposite direction. It was The Great Escape.
So many of my favorite memories of Turkey are of things that
would be unimaginable in the United States. One such memory was
50 years ago when my wife Katy and I visited the Seraglio with
our year-and-a-half-old son Niels. At that point, the baby was
really tired and a little irritable, as were we. Seeing that, the
guards at the gate said, "Leave him with us; we"ll take care of
him." We did. Then, after we toured the Seraglio and were
approaching the exit, we could hear our son laughing loudly -- the
guards were teaching him to play peekaboo. They must have
been entertaining the kid for two hours, and they were still
I don't quite know how to say this, but I want to try, because it
bespeaks the hospitality of our Turkish friends. My wife and I
were on a bus tour a few years back and, as we often did, we
wandered off on our own, away from the bus. Well, Katy had an
unexpected emergency and had to dash up a little hill, into some
brush. There's no way to do that gracefully, of course. When she
came back down the hill, a woman who had been watching all of
this, came out of her house with water and a towel and personally
washed the stranger's hands. In Turkey, we met quite a few Good
Have you seen the television commmercial in which a guy scares
his wife by picking up a hitchhiker carrying an axe? Well, once we
were hunting for an ancient Phrygian monument far off the beaten
path. I stopped to ask a farmer, the only human being I had seen
in miles, if he knew where the monument was. Yes he did, he said.
He'd come with us and show us, but he"d have to bring along
something. Of course, I said. That something turned out to be a
pitchfork so large and intimidating that, with the rear car windows
rolled down, the wood handle stuck out one side of the car and
the knife-like steel prongs out the other. When the ruts got too
deep to negotiate, the farmer would get out and fill them with
stones, so we could continue on. We found the wonderful
monument we were looking for, took pictures, drove our new
friend home, and he invited us to dinner.
I remember, about 20 years ago, calling my family in Ohio from a
telephone in Diyarbakir. The connection, through Izmir, wasn"t the
best that night and I"ll never forget the operator urging me:
"Speak up, Sir. America is a very long way." I chuckled about
that, accepting it as meaning that telephone calls between
Diyarbakir and the U.S. were really rare. Months later, however, I
was sound asleep in my Ohio bed at 3 o"clock in the morning when
the phone rang. Expectiing the worst, it was instead, to my great
surprise, two 12- or 13-year-old boys I had met on a street in
Diyarbakir and they apparently were calling me as a school
assignment. America and Diyarbakir weren't that far apart after all.
About 50 years ago, again, something happened that I wish hadn't
happened. We had a small baby and we had a maid from the
country to help out. We also had a refrigerator in which we kept
milk for the baby and a few other perishables, some of which came
from the base exchange. The maid was welcome to whatever she
liked, but what she liked best, she confided one day, were
American hot dogs. It hadn"t occurred to us, but hot dogs are
usually pork, and she evidently had eaten a lot of them. We didn"t
want to tell her that, so we didn"t. We just felt very guilty, and we
didn"t buy any more hot dogs until we left Turkey.
Another unfortunate incident long ago was this: I was living in one-
half of a little house in Ankara, and I came home one day to find a
neighbor throwing trash over the fence into "my" yard. Well, that
made me mad, so I started flinging the stuff back over the fence
as fast as he tossed it at me. The man announced in perfect
English, "You have no rights, because you are not a Turk." Well,
he was absolutely right but, you know, he must have decided that
although I was a damned foreigner, at least it was good that I
wanted to be neat and clean, because he never did it again. I'd
like to talk to the man today. Maybe we could become friends.
An American friend of mine, who happened upon that ludicrous
scene 50 years ago, still calls it one of the funniest things he ever
The world has turned completely upside down in the intervening
years. For example, "my" house and my would-be adversary"s
house are both gone now, replaced by large office buildings.
Another thing that brought the dramatic change into focus came in
2000, as I recall, when Katy and I treated ourselves to a fancy
lunch at Pandeli's in Istanbul's Spice Market. I remember vividly
that the cost of that lunch, including tip, was 100 million Turkish
lira! I can"t even begin to imagine how much suffering that kind of
inflation must have caused.
More memories of the road:
Back in 1957, when all American cars had balloon tires with
innertubes, my Jeep had a flat at Sungurlu. Fortunately, I made it
to a garage, but it would be a long day. An obviously yeni (young
and inexperienced) garage employee took the wheel off the Jeep,
took the tire off the wheel, took the tube out of the tire, tested it
for a leak, patched a hole in the tube, put the tube back into the
tire, inflated the tire and put it back onto the Jeep.
"ok fena!" the garageman said. The tire was still leaking. So he
took the wheel off the Jeep, took the tire off the wheel, took the
tube out of the tire, tested it for another leak, patched a second
hole in the tube, put the tube back into the tire, inflated the tire
and put it back onto the Jeep.
""ok fena!" The tire was still leaking, so the garageman took the
wheel off the Jeep, took the tire off the wheel, took the tube out
of the tire, tested it for still another leak, patched a third hole in
the tube, put the tube back into the tire, inflated the tire and put
it back onto the Jeep.
Are you tired of this story? Well, it's only half of the story,
because that sequence was repeated three more times --six
times in all. There were six holes in that tube! I didn"t lose my
cool, though. I was just thankful that the garageman stuck with it
to the end. But I did learn a lesson: Never leave home without a
Then, back in 1988 I rented a car in Antalya and drove it for a
week before dropping it off at the company's office in Ankara. As I
was leaving the Ankara office, I was called back in by a man with a
frown on his face. I was sure he was going to want to charge me
for some scratch or dent that I didn"t cause, as sometimes
happens in the United States, but that wasn't why he was
frowning. It turned out that he was concerned that I had been
OVERcharged in Antalya, and he proceeded to count out a stack
of lira notes and hand them to me. Now I may be wrong, but I
can"t imagine that ever happening in America.
I've always tried to book hotel rooms far in advance --maybe
months in advance --especially in small places. Trouble is, it is
extremely difficult to estimate times of arrival when planning a trip
from 7,000 miles away. Heck, sometimes it's difficult estimating
the DAY of arrival. So, several times I've approached my
destination in the Anatolian darkness, typically around midnight,
dreading that I won"t be able to find my hotel, that the hotel won't
have received my reservation, or it had given up on me and had
given my room to someone else. What invariably happens, though,
is that I am greeted at the door with something like: "Welcome,
Mr. Sator. We were worried about you." Now, that's music to the
Lastly, that brings me to my favorite road experience --in 1957 --
during a bleak winter of fuel and food shortages. I had vehicle
trouble between Konya and Ankara but managed to reach what
turned out to be a teahouse/garage in a tiny village. While the
vehicle was being repaired, I tried to tell the men, in my best pidjin
Turkish, what Americans were doing in Turkey and what life was
like for us in the big city. Well, they had heard about all of the
shortages in the cities that winter and, learning that I had a wife
and small child in Ankara, they sent me off with a dozen fresh
eggs. That gesture still warms me.
Thinking about Turkey is always heart-warming.