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THE TURKISH MILITARY SAVED MY LIFE
At Diyarbakir in 1962

Ray Thomas, A1C USAF (Ret.)

2003-2011 by Author

I graduated first of my class 304X0 (Ground Communications Equipment Repairman)and was the ONLY one from the class to receive an overseas assignment.  I had requested the Far East on my dream sheet but somehow however wound up in the Middle East.

I was assigned to Diyarbakir with the USAF in 1962 to replace a maintenance technician scheduled to rotate back to the US.  I went to TUSLOG Det. 59 (7122 Support Sqdn - Armed Forces Radio Service).  Det 59 was a tenant unit at Diyarbakir with our headquarters at Weisbaden, Germany.  AFRS was a part of the Continential Air Command at the time of my assignment but it was disolved a few months after my arrival in Diyarbakir with everyone re-assigned to AFCS, the Air Force Communications Service.

I was seriously injured on base and departed by med-air-evac before my assignment was completed.  Prior to that I had a pretty good job that didn't require normal duty hours... just keep the closed circuit radio station on the air for base personnel.  That closed circuit radio station didn't work very well so I came up with an idea to improve reception in quarters and office buildings.  I convinced Base, Civil Engineering, and Communications Commanders to allow a full wave antenna for 1510 KCs to be strung from a light pole outside the studio to the water tower.  After this was accomplished the radio station could be heard more than seventy miles away.

I had the pleasure of attending a concert in downtown Diyarbakir a few weeks later and the conductor mentioned the American radio station several times during the concert and how much the everybody enjoyed it.  This event took place shortly before AFRS personnel was transferred to AFCS.  When this change took place we all had to work normal shifts at receiver or transmitter sites.

My tour in Turkey was enjoyable.  Back in those days you could check a vehicle out of the motor pool to tour the countryside.  I did that on many occasions.  I went to Mt. Ararat as well a great many other wonderful scenic places away from the military.  We also had a very good recreation officer who managed to lease a building on a lake about 125 miles from Diyarbakir.  We had several motor boats and water skis to use when time off could be arranged.  I was the guy who accidentaly skied into the Turkish Army Pier at full bore.  Somehow I managed to survive a major head injury many miles from medical facilities.  Here's the story of that event:

   

My father remembers the
story very well, and would be
very pleased to tell you.

"It happened at Hazar in 1962.  Mr Thomas was skiing on the lake at about 13:00.  My father said that he was looking to the girls :), and suddenly he hit his head to a T-4.

"My father was the first one to take him out of the water.  Then, they went to the nearby town of Elazig (about 30 km northwest - ed.).  There the doctor at the hospital said they could do nothing so, my father called the Pirinclik Air Base and requested a helicopter.  But there was no helicopter, so they sent an airplane.  At 16:00, the plane arrived.  He was in Ankara at about 17:00, and the next day he was sent to Germany."

According to reports in my military records and what I was told afterwards, the accident happened at about 1200 hours 29 July 1962, at Lake Hazar near Elazig Turkey.  I collided with a steel pier in the military recreational area.  The last thing I remember before waking up in the USAF Hospital at Weisbaden, two weeks later, was seeing the last available motor boat leave our area towing a person on water skis.  About 45 minutes after that time a boat returned and picked me up where I skied for close to an hour before colliding with the pier.  I had learned to water ski when I was about 8 years old and at the time of the incident had many years experience.  I also taught many fellow airmen at the recreation center how to ski.

An officer at the USAF Hospital Weisbaden told me that there were many Turkish military personnel present at their recreational facility at the time of the accident.  A Turkish physician provided emergency medical care after I was removed from the water by Turkish military personnel (See Box at Right).  I'm told that personnel of the Turkish army contacted the Turkish Air Base at Diyarbakir and a TAF C-47 was dispatched to transport me to a USAF Air Base in Ankara.  I was told the pilot of the C-47 landed on a road near the lake since there was no airport anywhere near the lake.  I was moved to the aircraft and flown to Ankara where I was transferred to the care of USAF medical personnel.  After I was stabilized in Ankara, a jet medical air-evac plane arrived from Germany where I was taken for further treatment.  I remained there several months until transfer to Walter Reed in Washington, DC.

I owe my life to the Turkish military.  Had I not been provided effective and efficient medical attention and immediate transportation to medical facilities with capability of treating a severe head injury as well as a broken femur and many other injuries... I would NOT be here today.  I am unable to come up with the words to describe my appreciation and thanks to those Turkish people who saved my life that day in July.

By the way.... in Columbia, SC, in 1984, I crossed paths with an airman who was in my unit.  He was working in a Radio Shack store - I read his name tag and asked if he was ever in the USAF and he asked if I was "Ski King". :)  He was a DJ for AFRS at Diyarbakir at the time of the accident.  He and other guys in my unit never learned what had happened to me.  He was pleased to learn I was alive and well.  I haven't had contact with anyone else assigned to the base while I was there.


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