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It was the summer of 1967 - the "summer of love," of long hair and love-ins, and I was in the Army. I had gone to college for several years, ran out of time and money. With my 2S student deferment gone, it was time to go.
I enlisted in the Army - "Choice, Not Chance" was the slogan. I was to become a clerk, and was sent for basic training at Fort Bragg, NC, about 140 miles from my home in Charlotte, NC. Eight very hot weeks later, in July, I graduated and was sent to Fort Dix, NJ for Clerk School. Considering my E2 status, the duty there was not bad. I would go to New York City on many weekends, living on bread and the occasional hot dog. My grandparents lived in northern New Jersey and I would visit them on occasion when the E2 pay ran out. Halfway through school we began to sweat out the inevitable wait for orders. Vietnam loomed in the backs of our minds. Adding to the stress of awaiting orders, my girlfriend dumped me for a 4F. It was shaping up to be a bad summer: no hair, baggy uniforms... I would sit on firewatch and listen to my transistor radio and Cousin Brucie on WABC, hearing The Doors singing "Light My Fire" - the long version.
And I waited.
Orders began coming in late in the eight-week cycle. Some of our soldiers went to Viet Nam, some to Germany. One guy who got orders to a military intelligence unit in Germany wondered aloud one night if his arrest for bank robbery would hurt him. We never found out if it did.)
Some strange things did occur: like one of us got orders to Ethiopia!
As orders came in, they were posted on the company bulletin board on the other side of the parade field from our barracks. One afternoon one of the guys said my orders had come in and were posted. It wasn't Viet Nam!
I ran across the field and looked for my orders. There they were! Several of us were assigned to some place in Turkey. TURKEY!! At last, some good luck in the summer of 1967! I literally skipped and ran across the parade field back to my barracks and told some friends. The orders had us leaving before school ended officially, but they gave us the MOS anyway.
There were four of us on the list: Jim Edwards, Ron Joswick, Gordon Hoar, and me. We would be leaving in September from JFK on Pan American Flight One. I called home and the folks were happy...almost as happy as me!
I had a conversation with a Sergeant First Class in the company office - the story got better - he said this was a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Assignment, that we would be living in hotels, wearing civilian clothes, eating in restaurants - could life be any better? I looked up Turkey in the post library and saw the usual camels, date palms and native dress along with photos of Istanbul. My luck had done a one-eighty, or so I thought.
I went home for leave. Then, on a Saturday morning, knowing I would be in Turkey for two and a half years, I left for New York City, and left for JFK in the afternoon. Our flight would leave at 7:00 p.m. and we would land in London, then Frankfurt, and on to Istanbul. I could hardly wait to get to Istanbul so I could join cafè society and discuss weighty issues with foreign nationals.
Our 707 took off, taking me - I was sure - to international intrigue and romantic encounters with dark-haired beauties. We were treated wonderfully by the stewardesses (can I still call them that?) The food was excellent. We flew on to our destiny, landing amid morning fog at London's Heathrow Airport and with a new crew and fuel we continued on to Germany.
I was disappointed that Europe was clouded over. By the time we landed in Frankfurt the novelty was wearing thin. Then the last leg of our Journey, flying over the Alps across Austria at about 40,000 feet. The mountains looked just like those in The Sound of Music. I nodded off.
I awoke as we neared Istanbul. We circled over the city and, looking down, I could see the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and various mosques. I was almost there.
We landed, and went through what passed for customs, just a chalk mark on our bags. We were met by a soldier in fatigues - no coat and tie, and he explained that we were in the country, not the city and that it was, well, different. The road from the terminal extended about a half mile until it dead-ended into a four lane road. If we turned right - downtown Istanbul, sidewalk cafes, great discussions on deep issues and romantic misadventures.
We turned left.
The trip was a quiet one for us as the reality began to sink in. The driver also mentioned cold weather. Cold weather? I had left my field jacket at home. (The date palms, remember?) We rode on and on. I remember rolling hills, small villages and most of all brown, brown, brown. Everything was monochrome browns and grays. Turkey, I supposed, was not in color.
We turned off the main road through a Turkish Army guard post. We were waived through and continued down a two-lane road for several more miles. Then we turned onto a small dirt road with a few scrub trees tilting sideways. We had arrived.
We went through the main gate, past buildings that were, shall we say, primitive. It was a Sunday afternoon. We had been in the air for, I think, 15 to 18 hours. We unloaded our bags, were given bunks in one of the barracks, and were told we would be reassigned the next day. I remember walking outside the gate, looking at the drab countryside of recently-harvested wheat fields. I tried to make the best of it: no one was shooting at us. Someone mentioned "short tour" for the first time. We asked what was the Army there for, just what we were doing, and did we have to do it HERE? Those we asked were evasive; they smiled and said that we would find out soon enough - and we did.
Several of us went to the NCO Club, a dark rundown place with a large poster of a Pan Am 708 over the bar. The "freedom bird" as it was called. We would, over the course of our year there, look at it longingly. It would, after all, take us home. No one seemed to mention the fact that it had brought us there. At the club on Sunday night, someone, I believe, mentioned nuclear weapons. I was stunned. Viet Nam had been such a large part of our life on the news that I forgot the cold war. Welcome to the front line.
The next day, the four of us processed in. We signed security documents (no diaries or photos inside certain places). I was assigned to TUSLOG Detachment 168 located within the same compound, and Headquarters Det. 67. I would work "on the hill." Still, no further details given.
By this time I was thoroughly confused. Where were my hotels and restaurant meals? A sergeant in the U.S. Army, no less, had promised them to me. I came to realize that either the good sergeant was just pulling our collective legs and that this was sort of a right of passage; or, he was just stupid. I came to believe the latter over time.
I was sent up the hill the next day. We went through at Turkish guarded gate into the white stucco building so common at this place they called Cakmakli. Then a problem appeared: I had no security clearance. Fort Dix was supposed to have arranged one before I graduated from Clerk's school. They had failed to do so. This error caused great consternation among Det 168's elite. I was not supposed to be inside the living compound, much less the hill. Even the cooks had clearances, I was told. What to do...what to do?
At last they agreed that I should stay. All the detachments were short of help and a clearance would be applied for in my name. In the meantime, I would take care of training records and be a "go-fer" I would carry jerry cans of fuel oil from inside the igloo area back into our operations office where I worked. I also came in early and swept out the inch or so of water that collected on the floor after evening rains. I was, in effect, a duty soldier doing the kind of jobs guys did after they had been court-martialed! I did it, having no other choice.
I worked under a Sergeant First Class DiFrancisco, AKA "Sgt. Di." There were one or two lieutenants and a captain who was an odd duck - and I shall not mention his name, fearing legal action. Then, there was the first sergeant - First Sergeant Leon Foster. If lucky, we meet someone like him. If we are even luckier, we work for someone like him. He was one of the finest soldiers and human beings I have ever met. More on him later. The Commanding Officer was Captain James J. Grimm, another good soldier and good officer who treated us well. I was in luck. I just didn't know it at the time.
I was assigned to type training records and schedule classes on Friday afternoon. These were taught by our officers, warrant officers and any others with needed skills. Sometimes I showed a movie. I quickly learned that I could order films from Germany and use them in place of a boring lecture. The old-timers loved them (many had fought in Europe in WWII and it was a homecoming of sorts for them.) We saw the Battle of the Bulge, Fighting for the Rhine, etc. I would show the Pacific Theatre for those who served there. Many films were about mission-related items: radiation, germ warfare, poison gas type stuff. Some were patriotic - one in particular, I remember, was narrated by Jack Webb and was about a midwestern town in Iowa, taken over by godless Russians, all because they had not been good citizens, in which some confessed to not voting or paying taxes. But the best of all was a young man confessing to not having attending his reserve meetings as he should have! There was a roar of laughter from all of us. If that's all it took to keep the Commies at bay, then, by God, let us go home and we'll all promise to keep our weekend duty! But the best one was still to come.
The winters were bad in the countryside west of Istanbul. Snow or rain occured every day, the heating didn't always work, we wore every piece of clothing we could get on, AND we were isolated. One Friday in the deep mid-winter, we sat, cold, in the theater for a class the chaplain gave us on chastity! What a disconnect from reality.
I was not the best of clerks. I didn't like the army too much. Then my clearance came in and I was given new duty. Still humping cans of fuel, I was now the official classified-trash burner. Let me explain, gentle reader, what a classified trash burner is: I would gather up classified waste, including old classified manuals, various papers, mimeograph masters, anything classified that needed burning. We had a 55-gallon barrel with holes cut in the sides and a small door with a latch. The barrel was mounted on a frame with a crank handle at one end. It looked like one of those lottery proceedings where the winning number would be picked from a barrel. I would put the papers inside, light them, and turn the crank to assure even burning. I was honored. I felt like I was learning a skill. Surely the want-ads back home were full of ads desiring a trash barrel turner, with high pay, good hours, etc. The problems came when unburned documents would fall out and blow away. I had to chase them down before the "commies" found them. I met the challenge. In fact, when I made E3, I felt it was, in part, due to my skills at the barrel. Still, there was time away from the office at the barrel so I often took my time there.
As I became slightly more proficent at my job - I was still a dud - the weather began to change. By this time I had written home and had my field jacket mailed to me. Of all the topics one can cover about his tour in northern Turkey, surely the weather would be one of the most prominent.
When I got to Cakmakli in September, the weather was cool and dry. Except for the drab scenery, it was great. As I remember, the wind always blew from the same direction. Perhaps that was why the trees - what few there were - grew sideways. The weather was allright until about January, when the cold and snow arrived. It would rain every day if it didn't snow. The ground turned to mud and stayed that way. And it got cold, very cold. We had the heat in the barracks but frequently it would go off for some unknown reason. To turn it back on someone had to enter the furnace room and reset a switch. The trouble was: the furnace room was controlled by the Turks and was under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), so we were forbidden to enter the locked room to turn on the heat. Whenever the heat went out, the Turk with the key was always in downtown Istanbul, leaving us to freeze. The bays were like refrigerators. We plotted breaking the locks off the doors and turning on the heat ourselves. We had our standard issue two green blankets to sleep under. During one particularly cold episode we asked the warrant officer who was over S4 if they had any extra blankets. "Sure," he replied, "we have plenty." We asked if we could have a few to sleep under, explaining how cold we were. (The Bachelor Officers' Quarters had heat, if I remember correctly). "No," he answered, because Army Regulations only authorized two per person. He suggested we sleep under the copies of the Stars and Stripes that were given out each day. There we were, thousands of miles from home, freezing, and our own officers refused to help us because of the Army Regulations. Several of us decided that if the "stuff" hit the fan and World War III began, the chief would be the first casualty in the conflict. We were serious!
I believe the snow came in January. It snowed. And it stayed! We had from a few inches to several feet. I have pictures of me in several feet of it. Our operations office had a stove fueled by diesel fuel. I would haul in a can, fill it and try to light it. It never seemed to work. We finally called in one of the warrant officers to fix it. Surely if he could fix a warhead, he could fix the stove. He gave up after a few minutes and we would work in the cold dark office. I remember trying to type with those thick Army gloves. It was at this time that I became a coffee drinker. If they served hot pee, I think I would have drunk it. I drank the coffee, hot and sweet, with lots of powdered milk in it. The water was treated with chlorine. When I returned to the U.S. I had to re-learn drinking it without the chlorine. During the few days that the sun was out, the scenery was quite beautiful with the undisturbed snow. There was a rail line near the complound and I remember several of us walking to it in the cold, clear air, over the snow-covered ground. It was like a picture out of nineteenth century New England. The clear days were few, cloudy overcast days were the norm with mud everywhere and inescapable cold.
In the spring the rains eased and the countryside turned green. The locals planted wheat and the sheep grazed under the watchful eye of the shepherd. I could shed the heavy clothing and walk on dry ground. It was great. The cooks had a cook-out one weekend with real steaks cooked outside in the warm air. Summer came with even warmer temperatures but the continual breezes made the heat tolerable. And best of all: I was getting short...not in height, but in time.
THE COMPOUND AND THE HILL
If memory serves me correctly, the compound was several hundred yards long with a gate at one end. One asphalt road ran down the center of it. On the right side of the road were the living quarters with the BOQ at the right of the gate. Det 67 barracks were next followed by Det 168 barracks. At the end was S4 and the Commo trucks. Near the corner was the water tower, the scene of much drama It seems that when one of us got depressed, drunk, lonely or all of the above they would threaten to climb the tower and jump off. While I was there no one did but we had to stop one or two who threatened. The other use for the tower was taking great pictures of the compound and the hill. Next to the tower was the NCO Club. The club was the gathering place for the enlisted men. We played the slots, drank and talked about going home. There was a large poster of a Pan Am 707 above the bar. We looked at it longingly - it would take us home. Of course it also brought us there, so I had mixed feelings about it. The inside of the club was dingy plywood, if memory serves me correctly. I remember drinking Mateus Rose wine there-about one or two dollars a bottle. Sp4 Draznin and I would sit for hours and plot our escape from "the Chock*" if the Turks tried to seize the weapons. We decided to make a run for the Sea of Marmara, steal a fishing boat and sail to Greece and freedom. Sail a boat. I couldn't even swim. Still, we had our dreams.
Further down near the compound was the movie theater which offered 25-cent movies each night. Next to it was the PX with the usual items: soap, soft drinks, film, batteries, new fatigues and boots. Big ticket items like stereo equipment was available there and I remember buying snack foods and spray starch each payday. We would get advance warning of a Quick Train and we would load up on food items to eat instead of C-rations. We were ready for WWIII with canned meats and Pepsi Colas. The barbershop and tailor shop were located at one end of the post exchange. A haircut was 2 lira. Laundry and tailoring services along with shoe shines were also available. Being an E3 for most of my time there, it is where I got my haircuts from the slender barber who was of average height. There was also the gentleman whom we called "Shoe Shine", a short stubby man who always seemed hunched over. Both men could curse the paint off the walls, then burst into Turkish song. I always suspected they were really Turkish spies, put there to gather information should the Turks ever decide to take over the base.
In one of the buildings next to the PX was a small library with a few very old magazines and some paperback books. The Army had what was called a CIUF Fund-Centeral Isolated Unit fun that supplied books to bases such as ours. The library had no heat and was little used in wintertime.
At the end of this line of buildings was the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (BOQ) and buildings S1 and S2. Next to S1 was the Mess Hall. We each paid about $5.00 per month to hire Turkish villagers to do KP for us. I'll always remember that we never got seconds, but the KPs would, literally piling on six or eight slices of meat, huge amounts of potatoes and each had half a loaf of bread. They ate better than we did!
Our off duty lives were spent inside the compound, with its barbed wire fence and Turkish guards 24 hours a day. I was never sure how old the buildings were, though some said they were of World War I vintage. I suspect they were from the 1950s. Each barracks was a stucco building with its own heating unit on one end. Inside were two bays for about 12 of us. Individual rooms for the NCOs were down the hall with a door leading outside at the other end. Next to the bays, which had a door leading out onto a small deck, was the bathroom and the main door. The bathroom deserves special attention: We had a huge barrel that was kept full of water for washing and the toilets. To take a shower, one would take a number 10 tin can and fill up the smaller barrel over the shower which contained an electric heating element - supposedly to heat the water, though it rarely did. In fact, several of us suffered electrical shocks from shorts in the heating elements. Even in winter we had many cold showers. The toilets were flushed the same way: dumping a #10 can full of water into the toilet bowl. A row of sinks and mirrors was across the room from the toilets.
We each had the standard Army bunk with a 4-inch mattress and two blankets. Each of us had an olive-drab metal wall locker and a footlocker. I always thought the footlocker was less for us to use than for the Army to inspect. I hated the footlocker crap! I never got the hang of rolling my underwear into tight rolls the Army loved. To this day, I still don't know what shaving powder was used for - it seemed to me the footlocker was more trouble than it was worth.
Half a mile from our compound was "the Hill," home to the weapons we stored, maintained and guarded. Usually we walked to work, showed our "Chock pass" to the Turkish guard and entered the gate for work. If I left my pass in the barracks, my driver's license would suffice. The guards were not too picky.
A large generator ran continually at the guard house that led inside a second enclosure where Maintenance & Assembly were located. We referred to it as M&A. The Nuclear Weapons Technicians, then called 55gs, and the warrant officers worked the weapons there. In the winter, it was heated. We envied them. There was also a warehouse with parts and equipment used by M&A.
Each of us had a badge with colored tape indicating how far into the weapons area we could go. We wore the badges inside the 168 work compound. To get to the igloos where the weapons were housed, we had to go inside and through a guardhouse staffed by armed guards. Each day we got a duress code to be used if we were being forced by some foreign bad guy to get into the igloo area. I felt it was a stupid idea since there were only a few dozen 168 guys, and the guards knew all of us well.
I worked inside the Operations building. The crypto section was on one end with the "Red Room" in the middle. The Red Room was really a jail cell that housed secure file cabinets. There was a piece of red cloth over the window giving the room its name. Next was the CO's office and next to it was the First Sergeant and Company Clerks office. With them was the clerk who kept the ARs updated and across from their office was operations. There was also a room for classified documents and menuals.
Next was my office, also staffed by the weapons sergeant and several lieutenants who worked there with us. I never knew exactly what they did.
At one end of the hallway was a large cardboard box filled with medical supplies to treat radiation exposure. At least, this is what I was told. I was never sure, but it had to be kept in the clear with nothing stacked upon it. The mimeograph machine was next to it and I was the mimeo guy. I always had ink on me. This was before copy machines so prevalent today. Now, I suppose mimeo machines belong in museums.
Outside this building was the metal barrel that had been made into a crude paper burning incinerator where I had to burn outdated classified materials.
Next to the guardhouse was a nose cone from an Honest John Rocket. One of the warheads we had went atop the Honest John. There was an Ordinance Corp insignia painted on the side of it - the "flaming piss-pot" as it was referred to.
Taking photos was not allowed inside the 168 area, but some of us sneaked in a camera and got a few snaps before we got our Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders.It is hard to give a running account of each day there as it seemed they all merged into a grey morass. Still, I'll try to recount some of the events that year.
I roomed in the Commo (Communications) bay where all the guys worked odd hours. They were always having a beer party at various times. In fact, one locker was designated as the beer locker. When the power was off - and it was off a lot - someone would stick a candle on top of their helmet and the good times would continue. Since I worked during the day, it was hard to get some sleep. Still, they were a great bunch. We bonded. There is no other way to express it. One person in particular deserves note: he is a Native American from Alaska and this was this third short tour. He was strange, to say the least. He would drink more than any person I have known. He'd come in very late, turn his Big lighter up to "flamethrower" level, go around to each sleeping person, wake them, and apologize for coming in late and waking them! Then he would lie down on his bunk, put the dustcover over his face and go to sleep.
He would then begin to have nightmares and would scream stuff in his native tongue. It made for a long night, yet it still was a good group to be with. We would have a few half-hearted inspections on occasion with only one or two serious IG inspections during the year.
THE TURKEY/GREEK CRISIS OVER CYPRUS
The centuries-old conflict between the Turks and the Greeks flared up during our year at Cakmakli. I'm not sure as to how this one began, but given what we had, and where we were, we could assume the possibility of trouble. I do remember the Turks putting the screws to us a little tighter each day. First the guard was increased around our areas. They brought in tanks. One afternoon while I was sitting at my desk, a tank pulled up to the window, the turret rotating until the gun barrel was pointed at me. Frozen in place, I mentioned to SFC DiFrancisco, the weapons sergeant, that there was a tank pointing its barrel at me. "Ignore it," he said, "they're just trying to scare you." And the succeeded in doing just that.
Another morning - before dawn - we were awakened by the sound of tanks and trucks passing by the compound. The Turks were moving up large numbers of armor and supplies to the Greek border, about 145 miles west. Several hundred vehicles passed by.
Things got even hotter with the threat of war between the two countries. Captain Grimm, the Commanding Officer of 168, got us all together and gave us the worst-case scenario that we would go to the airport and fly out or be picked up by the U.S. Navy. No mention was made of the one scenario in the backs of our minds: what if the Turks didn't want us to go? Would we have to shoot our way out?
Our situation was complicated by the fact that our M-14s were down in the compound and the ammunition was up on the hill. It could be a problem. We were also restricted to the base. No going downtown or even to the NCO Club in town. The Navy had a ship visit during this time and a number of sailors had been assaulted. One of our officers was downtown on business in a military sedan during a riot and the Turks pushed the car into the Bosphorus. (The officers made it out OK.)
At one particularly stressful time during the crisis, the captain opened the arms room in case we needed to arm ourselves. We had weapons, but no ammunition. I guess we would have to use some of those vertical butt strokes we learned in basic. A rumor floated around that one of the warrant officers had a meltdown, grabbed an M-14 and was going to shoot one of the Turks on the hill. A PFC took the weapon from him and saved us from "an incident."
We moved up a notch on the alert level. I can't remember all the details, but I think the igloos were wired for site destruction. What we had, of course, was the great equalizer. The Turks, I suppose thought they could unlock the weapons. At one point we had a blackout of the base. Word had it the Greeks were going to bomb the hill to keep the weapons out of the hands of the Turks. So much for our NATO allies. Eventually, things cooled down and we were released from our "imprisonment" and while we went to the NCO club downtown, we were still forbidden from wandering around Istanbul.
About once per quarter, we were to have a drill designed to keep us ready to live in the field in event of war. While it was supposed to be a secret until the last minute, we, in fact, got the word days in advance. Just enough time to lay in supplies of soft drinks, canned goodies and cookies for World War III. We moved out early in the morning, set up our tents and equipment, and placed our Cokes and Pepsis in the local shepherd's watering trough to keep them tool. Field expediency, we called it.
In reality, I always thought we would be bombed by the Warsaw Pact Forces without warning, and thus the drills were futile. In fact, one day, while coming out of the igloo area, I looked up and saw a pair of MIG 21s flying over our base! I ran in and told the officers. There were not interested. With a Nike-Hercules base nearby, I thought they were supposed to shoot down the enemy. As I looked over to the Nike site, I saw the Turks playing volleyball. I looked at the Cold War differently after that. Somewhere in the files of the Red Air Force are some really great photos of our base.
As part of these exercises, some of us would piece-together a three-man tent with our shelter halves. Cards were played, music was listened to and good conversation was the rule. A candle on a helmet provided lighting for the evening, we dined al fresco and watched the sun go down in a foreign land. The cooks provided C-Rations to supplement our PX goodies. At the end of the drill, we would pack up and return to base, clean our equipment and get some sleep.
I arrived at the "Chock" without a security clearance. Consequently I became the "gofer", carrying those
large cans of fuel oil for the stoves in the offices. I got soaked with the oil, my gloves were soaked, my jacket, boots and I had oil on my face and body that I could not get off. I left a dirty mark on my sheets. The showers didn't work, so none of us could wash on cold days. Finally one day I just had to take a shower. I went into the bathroom - it was at least in the 20s - and took what was the coldest shower of my life. But I was CLEAN! I had to schedule training classes on Friday afternoon and tried to order films from SASCOM HG in Frankfurt. One day, lighting the fire in the theatre for warmth while showing a film, I accidentally set the theatre on fire - not a big fire, we got it out, but I never heard the end of it from Captain Grimm. If you were there, then you remember the dingy, dark interior of the theater. It was like being in a basement. One Friday during the winter, on a really dark, rainy day, we were all in attendance to hear the Chaplain's talk. We had every piece of cold weather gear we could get on that day and were still cold. The heater didn't work. Then out came the Cahplain and announced the topic would be Chastity! It was an Alice in Wonderland moment. The Chaplan need not worry, we thought. Captain Grimm thought I resembled Gomer Pyle, going even so far as to cut out a photo of Pyle and tape it to the wall with the letters PFCICDSD. This sood for PFC In Charge of Dipsh*t Details. It fit my job description exactly.
One day Captain Grimm caught me practicing his signature so I could get memos out without waiting for him to sign them. He said nothing, but took a grease pencil and drew prison bars over Gomer's face on the wall. I got the message and was more careful with my forgery. Usually the day consisted of typing memos and running errands.
We all need rules to live by, but in the Army I learned to hate rules for the sake of rules. We used to have endless inspections by higher-ups. We had to clean up the barracks and offices. We had a Lieutenant Colonel in Det 67 who liked a clean street. We had to take brooms to sweep the street daily, before the inspectors arrived. Several of us complained that it would be better if we waited until the last day, swept the street and kept the trucks off the road. But no, the colonel had us sweep the street only to see a truck drive down it throwing clods of mud onto our newly-swept street. Then we would start again, finish, and watch another truck go by. Then, the last day, we would sweep in time for the inspectors.
To this day, I hate mindless rules. I've had clashes with others in my organization over what I see as useless rules. Rules for the sake of rules, busywork, give me a reason to do it and I'll cooperate. But sweeping the street mindlessly? No way! (The same went for Saturday inspections - I can see the purpose of keeping equipment ready, but the rolling of underware, placing items in just-so position is just crazy.
THE OFFICERS AND MEN
There was a slight, but noticeable, difference between those in Detachment 67 and those in Det 168. We had a mission: site detonation exercises - white clothesline and number 10 cans that simulated detonation cord and shape charges.
Our Commanding Officer, Captain James J. Grimm. Now he was personable and very likeable. He treated us well and was always cheerful. At the time I didn't know how good we had it with Captain Grimm. There were several lieutenants and another captain who were always working on some secret documents. One was incompetent, and one a horse's rear end, but most others were good to work with.
The first sergeant was one in a million. SFC Leon Foster, one of the best men I've ever known, ran the Detachment with a soft, even hand. I learned to appreciate his style. He never gave an order, he simiply asked you to do something, and you would fall all over yourself to get it done. He also knew everything that was going on, he was the consummate first sergeant, the best the Army could produce. When he rotated out, just about all the Detachment went to the airport to see him off. Had a war started, we'd have been late for it that day.
My immediate supervisor, Sergeant First Class Salvatore DiFrancisco was nearing the end of his Army career, having fought the North Koreans and Chinese in Korea. Somehow he wound up in special weapons. He was cheerful and patient with me, as a young, immature E2. I owe him a lot. He was the one who told me to ignore the Turkish tank as it pointed it's gun at me. He rotated out several months after I got there. We then got SSG George Cook. At first I didn't like him. He was airborne qualified and a bit "gung ho." He used to gig my M-14 during inspections, even though I had never fired it. It was pristine. But after a while, I grew to really like Sgt. Cook. He was a good man who took care of us. He was reasonable during preparations for inspection and quite simply, I liked him, respected him and could call him a friend.
There were several others in Operations: Wayne McCardle, a West Virginia native; David (?) Ratliff. He left a few months after I got there. My peer group cosnsisted of Dwight Coffman from Sparks, Nevada, Phillip Longyear (AKA Leapyear) from Victor, New York, Timothy Toland was the company clerk and Bill Botos, a Chicago native (I think) who kept the sacred ARs in order. We got a new first sergeant who tried his best to make a military organization out of us. He didn't measure up to SFT Foster in anyone's opinion. Then there was Harold Wayne Clark, like me, from North Carolina. He was a lot of fun to work with. We were a group who would have never met and become friends were it not for this special situation. Yet, in a real sense, we were a band of brothers who came together for a short time and left never to see each other again. I still feel that special kinship.
I had several friends in Det 67: Johnny Tidwell from Wichita Falls, Texas; Ron Josiwick from Delaware; Jim Edwards from Yorba Linda, California. We were at Fort Dix together and would go to Istanbul on weekends.Jim was larger than life, with a great personality. I was fortunate to have him for a friend. Neal Crowley, Michael Draznin and Tim Toland and many others helped me endure the year there.
We had the chance to take several side trips while at Cakmakli. During April, 1968, the chaplain put together a tour of the Holy Land. We were there, I think, about a week. Most of us had to go to the American Embassy in Istanbul and get passports. We flew down on Türk Hava Yollari - the Turkish airline, or as we used to say, "THY - the dolmus in the sky!"
We saw all the sights and I bought an endless supply of trinkets. what I remember most was how green and fragrant the country was. After a winter of dull shades of grey and mud, it was great to see green and smell the foliage. It was a trip of a lifetime with good friends. We flew back on El Al to live at the "Chock."
The other trip I took was to Troy. Again, the chaplain had put it together. We took an Air Force bus - actually a small school bus - south across the Dardanelles and stayed one night at Detachment 155 on the Aegean. The trip cost each of us about $3.50 for the ferry ride across the Dardanelles. We bounced for hours, then rode the ferry with sullen Turks and finally got to Det. 155. We were to spend the night there and drive to the site the next day. We found a place to sleep and each of us was given a mattress to toss on the floor. Someone obviously had consumed a huge amount of beer before going to bed on my mattress - there was a urine stain about 20-inches in diameter on it with the corresponding aroma. I was so tired after the long ride I didn't care.
Troy itself was great. We walked the streets where ancients had walked. I returned back to the base expecting an article 15 for being AWOL. I was scheduled for CQ (Charge of Quarters) duty the day of the trip. The rule was that you could pay someone to take it for you, but he had to be in the same Detachment as you. Another stupid rule. I had given $10.00 to my friend Ron Joswick to take it for me. He was from Det. 67. Back then, $10.00 was about 10 percent of my take-home pay. But again, this was the trip of a lifetime and I risked the Article 15. I was getting to be a short-timer by then and had the "attitude." I'm glad I did.
My time was getting short. Oddly enough, I had adapted to life at the Chock. It must be how convicts in prison adapt. Your world shrinks and you live within the confines of the enclosure. We were given a form offering a choice of locations for our next duty station. I knew better than to get my hopes up. I put in for several locations, one being Fort Dix, New Jersey. I reasoned that since it would be near New York City and other northeast locations that I would enjoy it. Since I had been through clerk's school there, I was familiar with the post. Little did I know that I would find that being a trainee there was better than being permanent party...but that's another story.
Since I had almost two years left and didn't like being a clerk, I put in for Journalism School at Fort Ben Harison in Indianapolis. Shortly before I left Turkey, I found I had been accepted at Fort Harrison and at Fort Dix!
Jim Edwards and I discussed leaving together and stopping in Paris and London on the way home, however he left before me and headed home to California. I began the process of leaving the Chock, turning in my equipment, signing all the documents, getting my ticket...and waiting.
There was an episode of MASH in which Radar finally got a discharge from the Army. The unit planned to throw him a farewell party but incoming casualties cancelled the party. While the medical staff frantically worked, Radar walked around in a daze, seemingly invisible to those around him. In just a few minutes he was to leave the place that had been his home and all those who helped him through the craziness that was Korea. I felt the same way that last day.
I wandered around in my Class As waiting for the bus to take me to the airport. People were rushing about, going to work, dealing with life on the Chock, totally ignoring me. It was odd and somewhat awkward. I had nothing to say to them and they had nothing to say to me. It took me a long time to figure out why: I was leaving and they were not. To acknowledge me at this time was to acknowledge that they had time - some, lots of time - to do at the Chock and I only served to remind them of that fact.
Oddly, I don't remember getting on the plane and leaving. I took a stop in London for the poor man's tour of the city, Stratford and Canterbury. I stayed in single rooms, ate at the cheapest places I could find, bought a few souvenirs, stayed six days and flew home for a few days leave. I have spent portions of the years since, trying to make some sense of that year out of my life, of trying to convince myself that it was not a wasted year. I'm not sure I've succeeded.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES
One night when we had just arrived at Cakmakli, we saw several guys dragging a drunk, crying GI into his barracks. One of them turned to us and told this was what happened to you after a year there. The scene really shook me. Could I do a wholeyear there? Would I crack as he did? As it turned out, I could...and did! A second shock came when they told us what was on the hill. No more duck and cover like elementary school, the enemy had us targeted and they were close.
I had trouble adjusting, until one night I went to the fence, grabbed the wire and went through some sort of meltdown there. After that, I had no more adjustment problems. While it was depressing there, I knew I could do it.
If you had a predisposition for depression, this was not the place for you. Fall and Winter were shades of grey. Even spring and summer were not very bright and colorful. There were a few flowers, and the wheat grown around our Detachment was it. The barracks were poorly lit and often dark. The power would go out and we used candles when we had them. There was no TV and very little radio. If I remember correctly, our commo stuff jammed Armed Forces Radio. I remember listening to Radio Moscow with its distinctive gong ID. What took the place of media was friendship. I felt a kinship to my buddies that is hard to describe: they were family is the easiest way to put it. I shall never forget them.
The only newspaper we got was a copy of the Stars and Stripes given to each bay. It was a sanitized version of the news of the day. For instance, I never knew that the 1968 Democratic Convention had been so violent. The news in Viet Nam was cleaned up and under-reported.
I grew to love Istanbul. I would walk around for hours with Jim or just by myself. Jim had met an American working for USAID who took us to the Park Hotel where we would dine overlooking the Bosphorus. White linens, wine, live music and great food at a surprisingly low price. A steak dinner was less than $5.00. It was elegant, with beautiful views. Then, like Cinderella, we had to return to the base. I walked the old city walls that had held off so many invaders for so long, saw the sights of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, the Old Bazaar and many of the city's mosques. We could see Russian ships passing through the Bosphorus, their only way to get to the Mediterranean. At night, subs would speed through with only one light on the tower. We were privileged to be near one of the most interesting cities on earth. It made life on the Chock a little more tolerable.
What to make of that year? I grew up a lot...made some great friends and most of all learned that I was tougher than I had thought. It seemed that the Army conspired to make the tour harder than it had to be. Yet we prevailed, did our tour, and came home. I've tried to tell my wife and daughters about life there, but they're not interested. They think I exaggerate. How could I? Sometimes I just wish they would ask.
Some skills learned in Turkey have lain dormant for decades until needed. In the late 1980s we had a hurricane blow through North Carolina that laid waste to much of the state and most of Charlotte.
We were without power for weeks. Many of my fellow citizens began to complain about the privation and unfairness of it all. Not me. It was just like one of those site destruction drills, a QuickTrain and a normal day at the Chock for me. I pulled out the Coleman stove and cooked meals for the family and put a candle in each room. I didn't complain because if there was one thing I learned at Cakmakli, complaining was useless and a waste of time. We got through OK.
I still don't know if my year at the Chock was worth it. I feel like a year of life was cut out and the two ends spliced together. I had a small - very small - part in the Cold War. Yet it was the people I remember most, some of the best I have ever met - and some of the worst. I shall never forget any of them.
Finally, I hope those who served with me are doing well. I hope life made up for the year taken from all of us. I hope they didn't succumb to alcohol addiction, that they are all well and leading good lives. I often think of them and where they might be, and what they did after our year. Recently I heard from Paul Martin who was at Detachment 168 for a while and was then transferred to eastern Turkey (Erzerum). He had done well. I'm not sure that being in The U.S. Logistics Group (TUSLOG) lends itself to reunions, but it would be interesting to compare notes with the "Class of 1967-68". If you were there, I wish you well and hope that year made you a better person.
Finally, to Jim Edwards who was a better friend to me than I was to him, I hope life was good to you.
*NOTE: Cakmakli is pronounced "Chock-mach-luh", hence the term "Chock Pass", as used in the story. The letter C with a cedilla (Ç) is pronounced CH in Turkish, whereas the C without a cedilla is pronounced as if it were a "J". The final vowel is an "i" without a dot over it (ı), pronounced "uh".