© 2003-2011 by Author
Corlu was a Turkish Army artillery center in the late 1950's, located not far to the west of Istanbul. My unit, FTT-1A1, was part of MAG, JUSMMAT, effort in training the Turkish Army. We were regular USA, about 22-in the training section and about 100-in the support and munitions security section. As indicated, the training section reported in July 5, 1958, and were mostly rotated out in April, 1959, after completing our mission. We trained two Rocket Artillery Battalions. I heard afterwards, in 1960, that FTT-1A1, then primarily a service and munitions security unit, was moved to a site between Corlu and Istanbul, probably near another Turkish Army site.
There was also a very small Coast Guard outpost (A listening post?), with about 14-Coasties, about 10-klicks from us, towards the Sea of Marmara. Also, I heard that later on in the 1970's, Corlu became a TUSLOG site, with real barracks and USA buildings.
Our camp was all Belgian Quonsets, peaked roofs and all, built especially to house my unit, in 1958. It had the appearance then of being a temporary camp just for purposes of training those two battalions. I've never seen any references to FTT-1A1 in the old AMIT web site but exchanged emails with people who were there in the 1970's. Also, AMIT didn't have any other references to other FTT units. FTT stands for Field Training Team. 1A1 stands for 1st Army, 1st team.
FYI, then Corlu was a smallish town, almost like a village; population size unknown to me then. It's changed quite a bit since then from what I've heard.
My Memories of Corlu
July 1958 to April 1959
I have many good memories of my tour of duty in Turkey while serving in the U. S. Army. I was assigned to FTT-1A1, part of JUSMATT, stationed at Corlu, Turkey, then an artillery center. There were over 160 officers and enlisted assigned to that training team.
My Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) was "artillery weather observer." My job included working with a team of other artillery weather observers, recording weather conditions aloft, which were then provided to Fire Direction Control units for artillery units to adjust for wind speed and direction, atmospheric density, and temperature, all of which affect the accuracy of ballistic missiles and cannon fire. I arrived in Turkey as a Specialist 2nd Class, E-5, full of fire and some brimstone, innocent of many things and particularly of how the Army selected people for orders; the rank nomenclature was changed to Specialist 5, same pay grade, by spring, 1959 as, apparently, the Army was getting ready for the rank expansion transition that finally occurred in 1960-1961.
The following contains many of my memories of that time, even though the mist of time has dimmed what memories that remain. I wish I could clearly recall the names of my many buddies from those days and how to correctly spell the names of all those mentioned below. But, life was good then and the tour of duty was a great one.
The Army, in its infinite wisdom, selected me for Turkey to serve in a U. S. Army team, training Turkish Army artillery units. This assignment seemed like a gift sent from heaven, plus I was impressed by the fact that General Maxwell Taylor had signed my orders; even if it was simply a facsimile signature. The date of the order was mid-May, 1958. I had been stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, with the 285th FOB, for about seven months and was bored with my duty there. As I found out one year later, duty at Ft. Bragg was not terribly bad because I was kept quite busy and did little of the Army’s favorite stateside duty, cleaning and beautifying the post. Also, of great personal importance, my orders provided for a 30-day leave before reporting to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, for movement overseas to Turkey.
After a great 30-day leave visiting with my family and friends, I took a Greyhound Bus to Ft. Dix from Minneapolis, a miserable 36-hour bus ride to Philadelphia, where I had a brief stay until a connecting bus took me to Ft. Dix. The most exciting part of the bus ride to Philadelphia was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the bus driver had to swerve to miss a car whose driver had fallen asleep. The good news was that the bus driver used his horn to alert that car driver to his peril, and the result was no accident. We then stopped for a short rest break at a nearby Howard Johnson’s Restaurant about a mile away and had coffee while discussing the perils of driving on that Turnpike, an otherwise uninteresting journey.
Fort Dix seemed a very alien, strange place. The transient barracks had a constant turnover of soldiers arriving and leaving. No one there seemed to have orders to Turkey, so I chummed around with a soldier from Minnesota, who had been on the bus trip with me. He and I went into New York City one night and found the Big Apple to be dirty and seemingly hostile to foreigners like us from other parts of the country. The only strange incident in New York was when I went to a bar just off Times Square. There were two men trying to knife fight each other. Since each of them seemed unwilling to actually use their knives, the fight was only a brief hindrance to my getting inside that bar, an experience not worth even that brief holdup.
Finally, I was told to gather my things and report for shipment to Turkey. There were 22 of us on orders to Turkey, including a Mustang - an old First Lieutenant in charge of the Detail. He had about 18-years service.
We left on a train, headed south to Charleston Air Force Base, a place of great wonderment to an Army guy. The Air Force enlisted mess was like being in a restaurant or a civilian cafeteria, so unlike the Army mess halls of those days. However, the only part of the City of Charleston I visited was its port, which was not then a fit place to be even when completely sober. After a stay of two days, we boarded a MATS four-engine troop transport plane, maybe a C54, headed east. The plane was a noisy propeller driven plane, with passenger seating on the port side of the cabin and cargo space on the starboard. We had all the comforts of a commercial plane, coffee thermos with butter and cheese sandwiches, with maybe a few bologna sandwiches too. Also, there were flight attendants on the airplane, two USAF WAFs; this was before the days of true integration of women into the armed forces.
The First Lieutenant who accompanied us on our travel to Turkey from Ft. Dix was a Mustang who had received a battlefield commission and did not feel he had to be concerned about being RIF’ed, as did so many officers who had not been promoted. He was a great guy, a good artilleryman. RIF stood for “reduction in force” and was used to force out reserve officers who had not continued to climb the promotion ladder. Many officers were busted out of the service or else elected to serve out the remainder of their 20-years at their permanent pay grade, even as an enlisted man, and then retiring at the highest rank held.
The previous year, I had met a Corporal at Ft. Carson, Colorado, who had been busted from his temporary rank of Colonel down to his permanent rank of Corporal. He had about 18-years service at the time of his RIF and decided to serve his remaining time as an enlisted man and then retire at 20-years as a full Colonel. He was very bitter, especially after a Major, who had served under him years before, made the Corporal jump through hoops when they met on the sidewalk; the Major dressed down the Corporal for his sloppy uniform appearance. While I was not terribly concerned then about the problems of officers, and the trials they went through, the situation was amusing and the old soldiers there also enjoyed watching the skinny little Corporal’s discontent.
The plane ride east started out as a pleasant affair, somewhat boring, but it was acceptable, and I could get some needed sleep. Our first destination, for refueling the plane, was the island nation of Bermuda, which looked like the greenest emerald I had ever seen, vast stretches of green grass and lush looking trees. Our arrival in Bermuda was marred when the outboard starboard engine caught fire just before our descent to the airport. So, rather than simply refueling the airplane, we had to wait in the airport terminal building for the engine to be repaired. Finally, we were off, without having an opportunity to see Bermuda itself, away from the airport.
Our next refueling destination was the Azores, located in the mid- Atlantic and which is part of Portugal. The sky was quite overcast and we saw little of the ocean itself, much less anything else, like a ship or perhaps other islands. When one of the flight attendants told us that the Azores were close by, we started to look out the windows, hoping to see that group of islands. Finally, we saw islands below through a break in the cloud cover and felt that now our pilots would not have any worries about landing, so neither did we. However, once again, that same outboard starboard engine caught fire. While we did not have real worries about the flaming engine, it did make the landings more critical. No one had a camera ready to take a picture of the beautiful flames sweeping around the engine cowling, with the evening sky as a backdrop.
We landed safely in the Azores and were told that the stop over would be longer this time in order to adequately repair that flaming engine. This time, we were not able to simply walk over to the airport terminal and wait out the time there. For whatever reason, the Portuguese government did not allow transient U. S. military personnel to wander where they liked, so we had to board a USAF bus, with armed Portuguese guards at both bus doors.
The bus took us to a nearby USAF mess hall, which could have been an Army mess hall for all of that. The wait this time was much longer and more boring; maybe about four-hours long. We were not allowed to exit the mess hall building, so we sat, ate, smoked if we had cigarettes, and we waited. Our Portuguese guards waited at the mess hall exits, preventing us from even opening the doors for a peek at the nearby base buildings. For all we knew, the entire island was one big military base, or there could have been the most exciting and colorful city in the world just outside the base gates. We had arrived in two foreign countries and not seen even one local sight of any interest.
At some point - God knows how long the wait really was - we were told that the airplane’s engine had been fixed and the plane refueled, so we took the bus back to the airplane and boarded for the continuation of our flight. The USAF had changed plane crews again in the Azores, as it had done in Bermuda. This latest cabin crew proved how terribly inadequate the airplane’s air circulation was, since there was a noticeable foul odor in the flight. I had never smelled anything like that odor and was only enlightened when one of the married men told us single guys what was happening; so be it; personal hygiene is important!
The remainder of the flight was uneventful. We flew over Spain at night and saw only a few cities that were well lit, followed by the blackness of the Mediterranean Sea. Our flight reached Wheelus AFB during the morning. Wheelus was near the port city of Tripoli, Libya, and was jointly used by the British RAF and our USAF. Our officer checked in at the air base and was told that there were no scheduled flights from Wheelus to Turkey and that we would have to wait until there was space available on an eastbound flight. So, we were put up at the air base’s transient barracks and were allowed to travel into Tripoli, after being cautioned about staying out of the Casbah.
A small group of us decided to visit Tripoli and took an USAF bus into the city. We saw the Casbah across a large city square and stayed far away from it. The Casbah entrance was guarded by British military police and USAF air police, in addition to local police. We wandered around town, but did not see anything of interest. Tripoli was, for us, a very bland and uninteresting city, which looked to be in an advanced state of decay. Someone on the base had warned us to avoid street vendors, however one of our party, who wanted to look at a Fez, accepted one from a young boy, who had a tray full of odds and ends for sale. It took about a half an hour to return that Fez, all the while two Tripoli policemen watched our progress from across the street, following us as we followed the street vendor and his friends.
We did see many signs of Italian influence in Tripoli, in the shop signs and restaurant names, but in general, there was nothing we wanted to do in the city and we returned to Wheelus later that day on the USAF bus. The next day, we were told that a flight was going to Athens and our officer told us to pack up and move out to the plane. A MATS plane was waiting to fly us across the Mediterranean Sea to Athens, Greece. As seen from the air, the Mediterranean Sea was beautiful, but as untouchable as a movie star on the silver screen.
The Athens airport was a joint civilian and military run operation. The USAF, which ran logistics for U. S. military in the Eastern Mediterranean, directed our group to a nearby hotel, which was across a highway from a beautiful sandy beach. There was a Greek restaurant on the beach side of the highway, which looked like it was from the movie “Never on Sunday!” I never saw the inside of that restaurant, which was to be a personal regret later on.
The enlisted members of the group were doubled up in the rooms, most of which had a balcony and strange looking things in the bathrooms. This was, for many of us, our first exposure to a bidet and unfortunately, while most of us knew what a bidet was not to be used for, one idiotic enlisted man totally misused the one in his bathroom. The showers also were interesting: nothing more than a raised, lipped area on the floor, with a flexible water supply hose. The idea seemed to be to hold the shower nozzle close to your body and stand in the raised area on the floor. In practice, we sprayed water all over the bathroom. When the Greek hotel proprietor found out that we were traveling to Turkey, he decided to tell us how sorry he was for our extreme misfortune. He might have rejoiced in our pending misfortune when he saw how we mistreated his clean rooms and bathrooms; we were just messy but did not trash the rooms.
We spent two nights in Athens, seeing many beautiful sights but not seeing the historical sights except from afar. At the time, that oversight of my youth was acceptable because of the benefits of my otherwise misspent youthful activities. I did see the Parthenon high above a city square, but never traveled up the hill to visit that sacred site. Athens was truly a wonderful city to visit and Greek women were very attractive and friendly too. Taxis were cheap and plentiful and I liked riding on the public transportation system; whether I used just buses or streetcars is lost in the mist of time. I did walk on the beach front across the highway from the hotel and ate on the hotel’s patio, a small pleasure to later mix in with my regrets about a misspent youthful visit to an ancient city.
After those two wonderful days and nights staying at that hotel, we were told that a plane finally was available to fly us to Turkey. So, once again, we took off for another destination, which turned out not to be our final destination. The plane landed at Istanbul’s airport and we asked whether we were to depart there. The answer was that we had to go to Ankara and check in with the USA Embassy. Then the airplane took off from Istanbul and we flew across the Anatolian Plateau to Ankara; a beautiful and harsh looking landscape presented itself far down below.
When I got my orders for Turkey, I had filled out forms for a USA Special Passport, in addition to having undergone a security clearance check. However, no enlisted man had a passport in hand. We were told to present our individual travel orders when we cleared Turkish Customs. These travel orders became our visa and entrance papers, which we had to retain until our departure from Turkey.
A USAF bus took us all to the Ankara Transient Airmen building, I never did know its true name, nor did I then care. We found we could get breakfast, lunch, or dinner at any time of day and were free to move about the town. Also, we were told that we were not allowed to wear our uniforms outside the building. However, since most of us had little money and we would not get to our post until long after the Army payday on the first of the month, we had been able to draw a small advance pay, courtesy of the USAF. I had drawn advance pay in Athens and could draw down a bit more in Ankara, so I felt I was flush with money.
Since we had landed in Ankara on July 3rd, mid-afternoon, we could not leave for our duty post until July 5th, at the earliest. Our officer said that we had to report in at the USA Embassy and since we had arrived in Ankara late in the afternoon on July 3rd, the earliest we could report in was on July 5th.
By now we had checked into the Airmen’s Transient Billets, had supper, and were raring to go out and see Ankara. However, first the staff at the billets explained that one of the rooms in the billet was off limits. That room housed a young airman who was scheduled to be sent very soon to the USAF Hospital at Frankfort am Main, Germany. The airman had contracted a form of syphilis not treatable by U. S. military doctors in Turkey, given the medical resources then available in country. The story of this young airman scared the living hell out of all of us, especially us young single guys who were looking forward to meeting young Turkish women. It would be nice to say that this scare limited our youthful activity during our entire stay in Turkey, but we quickly forgot about this very real scare; except when we woke up some Sunday mornings after a hectic night on the town in Istanbul.
Six of us from the traveling team got directions to a nearby city park, which I believe was named “Gençlik Parki,” and had been told about the nightclubs and restaurants there. Two of the guys were in winter uniform, the old “Ike Jacket” ODs, and the rest of us had scrounged a mixture of civilian clothes. We looked like the tourists we were. The park was huge, with a lake in the middle, surrounded by various low-lying buildings. Our walk around the park allowed us to get a view of the restaurants and clubs, which we mostly evaluated from the outside. There was a small amusement park, like those we would have seen in a shopping center parking lot or a small county fair back home. Since it was early, we big kids went on some of the rides and nodded at the Turkey families there; none of us yet knew a word of the Turkish language. Finally, darkness fell and we headed for a likely looking club for drinks and whatever.
The six of us sat around a table watching beautiful young women dancing with old men and wondering what the attraction was for these very beautiful young women! Then a waiter came over and in a mixture of English and Turkish got across the point that two Turkish officers asked us to join them. The two Turkish officers did not know English nor did we know Turkish, so we shouted at each other, in a friendly tone, and raised our glasses many times in toasts to our two countries, to each of us, and to our military services. A flood of liquor was served that night. Finally, one of the Turkish officers got across the idea that we all should leave and accompany him to wherever.
There was a Jeep parked outside, with a Turkish Private sitting behind the wheel; he’d been out there the entire night waiting for his officers to show up. All eight of us climbed in and we rode into Ankara, stopping outside a military like building, where one of the officers got out. It turned out that the officer who stayed with the Jeep was a Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the Ankara garrison. The officer who left our Jeep was his executive officer, a Major. I might have learned the names of these two fine Turkish officers, but with the callousness of youth, have long forgotten them.
The Jeep drove us out to the country, where we got out at the Colonel’s home. The Colonel explained through words and gestures that his family was away on vacation, so we toured his house, drank his liquor and watched the darkness fall away as the sun began to rise over the nearby mountains. The Colonel then gestured for us to follow him down to the nearby road, where we found an Army ¾ ton truck waiting. The Major had returned with a truckload of Shish Kabob on huge platters and large bottles of Black Sea wine. All of us sat on the highway, eating, drinking, and watching the sun complete its rise over the mountains. After that, the Colonel had us driven back to the Airmen’s Billet. This was a great introduction to Turkey and we had met two outstanding Turkish gentlemen, whose names I still cannot recall.
Later that day, July 4th, a group of us went to visit a family in an apartment complex somewhere on the city’s outskirts. This was the family of one of the U. S. servicemen based in Ankara. The family’s apartment was on the third floor of the building and was a walkup apartment. The building, and the entire complex, was clean, but very sterile compared to apartment buildings back home. One interesting aspect of the apartment was clothesline rope attached to a pulley, just outside one of the apartment’s windows. The family said they would attach a basket to the rope and lower it so the water vendor could fill the basket with water bottles. Also, while we were there, a rag peddler went by on the street calling out his cry, in Turkish, for “Rags for sale.” The remainder of the day was spent very quietly and low key. My energy was totally spent after the previous evening.
Early on the morning of July 5th, we traveled in a group to the USA Embassy building and waited outside while our officer went in to report. He came out with good news that we would be leaving at mid-day for our post. We went back to the airport and got onto a C47 transport plane, flying west to Corlu. The friendly airplane crew told us that Corlu had a woman behind every tree. That flight was the first, and only, time I ever flew in a C47. The C47 seemed small compared to other passenger planes, with side facing seats along both sides of the plane. The flight was uneventful and we idled away our time waiting for the plane to get to Corlu. Finally, the pilot announced that the Corlu base airstrip was in sight!
No trees were apparent as our plane circled the small landing strip at the Turkish Army base. When our plane came to a stop and we off-loaded and stood around not knowing what would happen next. A truck with USA markings came down to meet us after a bit of a wait and off we went to the great unknown, the start of what was supposed to be our year in Turkey.
The US Army detachment compound at Corlu consisted of funny looking Quonset huts, shaped more like wood frame buildings than the rounded Quonset huts we were used to seeing. These Belgian Quonsets had peaked roofs with vertical sides and plywood floors. There was an oil- fueled space heater at each end of the barracks and a latrine and show room at the back of the building. Our Quonset hut had space for 23 single bunks, plus individual wardrobes and footlockers for each of us. In the middle of the row of barrack huts was a building used as a day room, a medical dispensary, and a small room used as a PX. There was a very large Quonset style building used as a supply room, with space for the Motor Pool Section. The two Bachelor Officers Quarters were like our barracks huts except the officers had individual rooms. The mess hall Quonset building also was shaped like a barracks hut with a mess for the officers at one end, the enlisted mess at the other end and the kitchen in the middle. About a block away, east, there was a collection of buildings for training classrooms and one used for the EM and NCO clubs. Next to the supply building was our team’s headquarters building, an open bay except for the commanding officer’s office at one end and communication rooms at the other end. The USA compound also had an “ammunition” bunker about three blocks, or more, away from the barracks.
I’m told that shortly after I left to return to CONUS (Continental U.S.), another large two story Quonset was built to house large food refrigerators, managed by a German, accompanied by his wife. It would have been strange to have had a woman in our original camp.
The team consisted of the supply section, cooks, medics, mail, logistics, motor pool, security section, headquarters section, and the training section. We were Field Training Team, 1st Turkish Army, 1st Training Team, FTT-1A1, JUSMMAT. There were about 160 of us in total. I’ve lost my copies of all my various orders, so many of the names of my friends in FTT-1A1 are lost to me; but there is a complete roster of the officers and men.
After we had all settled in, we discovered that the advance party had been in country for about two weeks. The people in the group I traveled with mostly were part of the training team, replacements for previously selected trainers or additional members of the team. There were four of us assigned to the artillery meteorology training section, which only needed two soldiers to actually train the Turkish Metrology section. Since the PFC who had traveled with me and myself were the two junior members of the section, we were initially put on the laundry detail while the section chief and a Staff Sergeant went to work training the Turkish Army. I absolutely hated working on the laundry detail and let everyone know how much of a waste of Army training money it was to how have me not work on my military specialty.
Actually, I didn’t mind the laundry detail work itself, it was just the idea that I was assigned to do such skuzzy work. One fun aspect of this work detail involved getting on the daily water detail. We had a standard Army water trailer, a Water Buffalo, which we hauled about 20- kilometers west to an artesian well, often twice a day. We filled the water tank, had a medic add a bottle of water purification to it, and returned to the compound. We usually took time after filling the water tank to stop and fish in a nearby stream. We never caught fish, but spent a few minutes relaxing and enjoying the scenery. There were many trees near the well but we never saw any women behind them. We had to bring in drinking water because the compound’s water system did not have potable water. The German Imperial Army built a water system, installed in 1914. Our team overloaded the capability of that old German water pump and the water pump broke down quite often.
After the team had been in Turkey several months, the US Army shipped in a new pump and our water supply system seldom failed after that. However, the water still was not potable. Our two medical officers had analyzed the water system and found it was filled with fecal matter visible to a high power optical microscope, resulting from the sanitary habits of Turkish farm families. We bathed in that water, but many of us never felt clean. We would get a canteen filled from the drinking water supply and use that for brushing our teeth and washing our faces (At least, at first!).
After I had been on the laundry detail for two weeks, during which the weather was extremely hot, I was ordered to report to the HQ building and there was assigned to the meteorology training section. It turned out the two sergeants in the section did not know how to develop a training curriculum and I did. I missed the daily water detail, but not for long.
By the way, just to show how our priorities would work, our initial NCO /EM Club was a tent setup to the south of the laundry equipment. This was gratefully replaced by the NCO / EM Clubs down in the training area some time later.
SFC Hargen and S/Sgt Bunger each had meteorology MOS, but with little actual experience doing the work. I still had my textbooks from Artillery School, along with my class notes, so I dug right in and developed the curriculum. After that the two sergeants generally sat around or watched me do the training. Our training section had a Turkish Third Lieutenant assigned as an interpreter. 3rd Lieutenant Bulent was single and he was a good guy, except he was also a playboy and lived for his weekend trips to Istanbul to visit his family and then to visit the nightclubs. Lt. Bulent’s English was impeccable, although it was the Queen’s English rather than American English.
The Turkish meteorology section was led by 3rd NCO Veli Yelumen, a slightly rusty phonetic version of Veli’s name. Veli was a career soldier, extremely dedicated and thoroughly in charge of his troops. The other members of Veli’s section were conscripts, including two conscript sergeants, who did not have NCO status in the Turkish Army. Veli and I worked out a kind of language to use when Lt. Bulent was not around. Our language consisted of sign language and a mixture of English and Turkish words. Lt. Bulent did a great job of interpreting for us, but sometimes he was pulled off for other duties.
Veli and Lt. Bulent were great people. Veli ran his section with discipline, but did care about his people. I never saw him lose his temper with his people, although he did lose patience with me on several occasions, justifiable so too. Veli’s family lived in Corlu and he took a lot of pride in his family. Veli also was a traditionalist and I never did meet them. I guess he wanted to separate his military work from his family life. One thing Veli was very proud of was being an NCO. He had worked very hard at becoming an NCO and he was also good at his job.
Lt. Bulent was marking time in the military. He had a mandatory one- year obligation to serve and wound up in the army. Bulent had gone to school in England, although I do not recall which university he had attended. After returning to Turkey he was called up and assigned to the artillery battalion to serve as an interpreter. Bulent liked fast cars and attractive women, perhaps in reverse order. All that changed later when he became engaged and later married while we were in Turkey. I met Bulent on several occasions in Istanbul, including the day of his marriage feast.
On one occasion, he drove us out to a nightclub along the Straits of the Bophorus. His nighttime driving skills almost gave me a heart attack. Bulent would speed along in the dark with only his parking lights on. Then, when he saw an oncoming car, he would switch on his high beam lights; and so would the oncoming car. Bulent explained that was the protocol for country nighttime driving. It was a very scary experience indeed. SFC Hargen, S/Sgt Bunger, then an E-5 pay grade in the “old army,” before the great rank expansion period, and myself all got to meet Bulent’s fiancée and her family just before the wedding and later at the marriage feast. We three Americans were honored guests at that feast. I had visited with Bulent previously at his family’s apartment and enjoyed meeting his parents, who truly adored him and welcomed me with warmth.
All the Turks I meet were great people and generally very warm people. My welcome to Turkey was tremendous and totally unexpected and unplanned. Sitting in the middle of a highway, eating Shish Kabob, and drinking Black Sea wine was an experience I have often thought about.
Our training program did meet the schedule set for us, as did the training for the other sections. After we had been in training for over a month, the Turkish and USA staff decided that the Turkish battalion had to see an actual rocket shoot. Our training mission was to prepare a Turkish battalion to shoot the Honest John Ballistic Missile, which had a range of about 30-kilometers. Headquarters staff selected a firing range towards the west, in the direction of the city of Kirklarei. The impact area was about a five by five kilometer square with a village at the far end of the impact area and villages on two other sides; we were firing into a u-shaped impact area but with a dummy warhead. None of us Americans felt comfortable about the impact area, but our Fire Control officers were assured that the villages would not be a problem. So, the Turkish battalion formed up and we traveled with them to the range. The American advisors would conduct this firing, the only shoot we had during my stay in Turkey.
Since Turkish Army convoys traveled at the break neck speed of up to 15-kilometers an hour, that relatively short trip seemed to take forever. We had several other jaunts, all at the same high rate of speed. Those old U S Army ambulances made great motorcade vehicles.
Our actual firing position was just off a dirt road, with a berm across the road from the firing position. My position was to the left of the rocket launcher, with S/Sgt Bunger manning the meteorological observation transit. I had prepared the balloon and then was going to release the balloon when the rocket was fired; Army regulations required a PIBAL weather observation every time an HJ rocket was fired. After the position was fully prepared and the rocket, with its dummy warhead, mounted on the launcher rail, the Turkish battalion was marched down the road and positioned on the berm, well away from any danger from the rocket’s back blast. The Turkish staff gathered around the FDC, which was simply a deep hole dug into the ground, and we were ready to fire the rocket. I had no problem releasing my balloon when the rocket fired, in fact I do not recall even trying to release it, it simply went. The rocket flew straight downrange, although we could not see the impact area from our position. A safety team had gone downrange and reported that it struck safely in about the middle of the impact area.
However, the rocket did create quite a stir when it fired. The Turkish officers standing around the FDC hit the dirt and the battalion on top of the berm took off running. No one there except for our cannon cockers had ever seen an HJ rocket fire before and the noise was immense. I cannot blame any of the Turks for being surprised and frightened by the noise; I know I was very surprised in spite of knowing what to expect.
One note is that while our presence was supposed to be secret and we were told not to discuss our duties and especially not to mention the Honest John Rocket, after rocket launchers were paraded in Istanbul and Ankara, the whole world would have had to know what we were doing. David Raymond kept copies of Turkish newspapers, with pictures of the launchers; so much for being secretive about our mission.
That winter, the battalion went on night maneuvers near the town of Tikradag, on the Sea of Marmara. We traveled during the day and set up our positions near a sea wall. The wind coming off the sea was very cold and waves were crashing against the sea wall. As it became dark and the meteorology section had set up its equipment, I retired to the shop van the section used for its recording equipment and for plotting weather data. My feet were frozen and my hands and ears felt like they were going to fall off. The cold wind coming off the sea felt damp against my face and my body felt like it was totally exposed to the wind. The Army’s field jacket and winter field trousers did not help protect against that cold at all. My hope was to get out of the wind and to warm up before checking on the Turkish section’s performance. However, the shop van was crowded to overflowing with Turkish officers and my two USA NCOs who contributed nothing to getting the battalion ready for its practice shoot exercise. So, after standing inside for a few minutes I politely left before losing my youthful cool. Man, that was perhaps the coldest night I had ever spent, even worse than some of the coldest nights back in Minnesota.
Everything was not always rosy during my tour of duty, however. One weekday night I washed out some of my boot socks and hung them on the clothesline near our barracks hut and then forgot to bring them in that night. The socks were gone the next morning. A nightly Turkish security guard patrol had walked past the rear of our barracks hut as it posted the guard detail. Each private soldier had taken a pair of socks off the line at the patrol walked past. While I was pissed about that, I finally realized that those poor souls did not have much in the way of a uniform allowance and probably did not have more than one well-worn pair of boot socks. So, I quickly cooled off and forgot about that experience. Besides I could replace the socks at the Istanbul PX in the TUSLOG Building.
Shortly after my traveling group had arrived at Corlu from the States, probably in July, 1958, there was a rumor that Turkish security guards had captured four Bulgarians near our compound. FTT-1A1’s compound was about a half mile away from the main part of the Turkish Army compound. The rumor also continued that the four Bulgarians were questioned extensively for several days and then were hung. We never knew if the rumor was based on fact, although the scene around our compound was tense during that period.
Later that year, the situation in Lebanon heated up. There was a civil war, insurrection, and President Eisenhower felt he needed to send in US forces to keep Lebanon from going Communist. Army Airborne units from Germany and the 6th Fleet Marines were sent in to stop the communist insurrection. Our team command did not issue specific instructions about the situation nor did it issue any information regarding Lebanon, so all we knew was from Armed Forces Radio in Germany and from English language newspapers, including Stars and Stripes, which were old by the time we got them. One day, I asked a Turkish Colonel if there was a concern about the Bulgarian Army crossing the border. The USSR had mobilized an army on Turkey’s eastern border and the Bulgarians had mobilized an army on the western border, which was very near us. The Colonel said that there was nothing to worry about because there was a Turkish armored regiment between the border and us. My thought was: “Just one little old regiment against an army!”
Since we were not getting official information, several of us went wandering through the supply building to see what armaments the team had available. We found a CONEX container, a large metal shipping box, with enough M1 rifles for each of us, two A6 (Infantry model) caliber 30 air cooled machine guns, one ammunition box of belted caliber 30 ammo, and enough caliber 30 ball ammunition for about two clips or slightly more per rifleman. The other information we got, in the form of an semi-official rumor, but never confirmed by our team’s command, was that in the event something did happen and the Bulgarians did cross the border, our team was to get to the Sea or Marmara and wait for a pickup. While we never in real danger, the lack of information did cause most of us to feel unwanted and unloved and mostly we felt like unhealthy mushrooms, left in the dark.
Lebanon did demonstrate that the world situation was unpredictable, but it was not as scary as the future 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
After the Lebanon crisis was over, the Army Airborne units flew back to Germany and the Marines embarked back aboard their troop ships. The 6th Fleet troop ships then headed for Istanbul for shore liberty, as the Marines called it. The Marines totally interrupted our weekend joy on that occasion. The Navy Shore Patrol and Marine Military Police came ashore first and shut down the PX, or at least shut down sales of many PX items, like civilian clothing. The SPs and MPs also posted guards at the entrance to the Istanbul compound ("Kerhane" in Turkish), a semi-government sponsored whorehouse. One enterprising young Marine tried to get into the compound by going over the roof. My buddies and I watched him stuck on the roof of a three story building, sitting on roof top, until we got bored and moved on to our usual haunts; we never did know how that Marine got down from his perch and frankly didn’t care. The compound was about one block long, with three-story apartment building lining the street. The only entrances to the “Compound” were at each end of that short street.
My usual haunts included the TUSLOG Building NCO club, the Moulin Rouge nightclub, the Wagonlit nightclub, the Park Otel bar, and a little nightclub up an alley just off the main street running through the nightclub district. That little nightclub featured a couple with a belly-dancing act, advertised as Egyptian Belly Dancers, and an abundance of cute young ladies. The woman belly dancer was unlike any I had seen in a Hollywood movie. She was completely covered up from head to toe. The male part of the act would stick a large Turkish beer bottle in the broad sash wrapped around his waist and gyrate around the woman, who was kind of attractive under her many layers of clothing. In order to get a young lady to join our table, we would have to buy her something called a BOL, essentially a fruit flavored punch. The joke in the team was that we all were 300-BOLers; bad joke. The two champion BOLers were two married guys, who also kept the medics busy discovering new ways to treat hangovers and other assorted illnesses; especially what are now called STDs.
My primary plan each weekend was to spend as much time as possible away from other GIs and to enjoy myself to the fullest. I usually succeeded in my goals. So did most other GIs, most of the time. Most of us, at least in the training section, kept a bottle or two of liquor locked up in our wardrooms. The command did not seem to mind or at least never told us we couldn’t keep liquor in the barracks; it was against regulations however.
One weekend, mid-August, 1958, many of us stayed in camp because we did not have the money to spend the weekend in Istanbul. Starting at about Noon, on that extremely hot Saturday, we had a number of the usual poker games and dice games going on in the barracks. While many of our games were low stakes, I did win the equivalent of $400.00 US one time, but not that weekend.
As we played poker and rolled the dice, we also broke out our stash of liquor, starting with whiskies, progressing to liqueurs, and ending up drinking straight gin. SFC Hargen had spent the afternoon down at the training building, writing to his family, and when he returned after dinner, he found most of us passed out, lying all over the barracks, across bunk beds, under them, on top of our footlockers, and in the aisle. Piles of vomit were everywhere. Hargen, good man that he was, covered up the offending piles with buckets of sand. The place had a rotten stink to it for the rest of the weekend. I woke up Sunday morning not knowing what had hit me and was still very nauseous; the smell of gin bothered me for years afterward. We had been short of money that weekend because our travel advance pay had caught up with us on the August 1st payday, reducing our customary “take home” pay amounts.
We still played poker and dice, but usually thereafter most of us headed for Istanbul on the weekends. I tried to join in a few dice games but never did learn how to interact in an active dice game. There were too many hands tossing money into the pile and too many pulling money out. The basics of dice were well understood, but not the playing etiquette. Besides, I didn’t trust several of the most active dice players and two especially were not trusted by anyone else either. We never had fights over dice or cards, but harsh words were said many times. The same two jerks who caused problems at dice also joined in many of the card games. They had to be told to start playing it straight or get the hell out. They would get upset, but we never backed down. Life was generally cool in our barracks. Those two jerks were both married and also the biggest whoremongers in the group. The women’s organization NOW had to have been created especially because of those two jerks and their attitude towards women even though the rest of us were not saints; we did have two saints and one other who was until towards the end of our tour in Turkey.
The other activity many of us did, and especially me, was to read. One of the first things I would do Saturday morning was to head for one of many used bookstores in Istanbul and buy an armload of books and store them back in my hotel room until Sunday evening. I probably read about 200 books of all kinds during my tour, mostly pulp fiction, science fiction, or history; few of these books were great literature, but most made for interesting reading. I would then take my carton of cigarettes and bottle of Scotch whiskey and take a taxi somewhere, anywhere, down the avenue.
One of member of the support team got into major difficulties with Turkish laws because of his smuggling. While many of us engaged in minor forms of “smuggling,” this fellow went to extremes. He was buying stoves, refrigerators, radios, and many other large ticket items from the Istanbul PX on “consignment” for Turkish citizens. Turkey had major restrictions against, and huge tariffs on, importing so-called luxury items, including cars, in the country. I recall he was arrested by the Turkish police after we had been in-country for about 6-months. This soldier was still in- country when the training section returned to the States. He would go to court once a month, accompanied by one of our officers for a hearing. His charges seemed to change every month. One month the charge was smuggling, the next month is would be violation of import duties, the next, it would be currency violations, and so on.
After I had been back in the States for over a year, at Ft. Benning I met a returning GI who had been assigned to Corlu. This GI said that poor misguided soul was still traveling to court once a month. The miscreant soldier originally had an ETS set for about 2-months after his planned rotation back to CONUS. We had all been advised that being in a Turkish prison was not fun, and perhaps he found out how true that statement was. While many of us felt he was getting what he deserved, we also felt a small amount of sympathy for his plight. However, we continued to traffic in cigarettes and liquor, on our same small scale, just enough to finance our weekends. Perhaps Istanbul was as the Stars and Stripes had indicated, that its black market was larger than Berlin’s of the late 1940s, and perhaps we were just fortunate not to get caught ourselves.
Life in the barracks evolved around card games, dice games, and our incessant reading, but sometimes we had good times too. Towards the end of that summer, the Mess Sergeant had an idea of holding a barbeque. One of the two doctors inspected two calves and had them quarantined for a time. When the doctor felt the calves posed no health problems for us, the barbeque was planned. The First Cook, a SFC, from Texas, had volunteered to put on an old fashioned Texas style barbeque. The truth of the matter was this First Cook was a spice monster. Two huge spits had been setup outside of the NCO club building, with the slaughtered calves turning over hot coals. The aroma was marvelous and we were all hungry. The barbeque was a bust. The damned meat was too spicy for most of us, although the First Cook thought we were all pansies for complaining. The day was otherwise a great one and we drowned our sorrows with beers and other assorted liquids.
That First Cook also was responsible for the great VD scare during that summer of 1958. Our cooks served great food, especially breakfast often cooked to order. The morning coffee was fresh and hot, the milk was chilled and we had plenty of chilled orange juice to drink, and that was the problem. The First Cook made it his personal task to prepare orange juice for us. Our orange juice was made from cans of concentrate and we drank copious amounts at every meal. We would fill a mess hall coffee cup from that large open bucket of juice and usually drink a second cup too. After about one month many of us were complaining because it hurt when we would urinate. Our urine was yellowish and it stung, the classic symptoms of gonorrhea. Our two doctors were in a state of shock at the thought of over half of us showing those symptoms. One doctor felt something have to wrong and discovered the orange juice problem. The First Cook had not fully diluted the concentrate. The recipe called for diluting the concentrate with two cans of water for each can of concentrate. Our personal problems were at an end, but the cook received a warning from the doctors to follow instructions thereafter.
We did have another problem resulting from our mess hall food. For the first two months the cooks only had field stoves upon which to cook. Since they could not bake bread in the field stoves, they arranged to buy bread from a local Turkish baker. The Turkish sunflower bread was great; flat round loaves of sunflower bread, tasty and chewy. However, we developed what we called the “trots,” usually a minor inconvenience. The doctors felt the problem was due to the coarse nature of the sunflower used to make the bread. Once the Army delivered our ovens, the cooks made bread, typical white loaves of bread or sometimes rolls, buns, and sweet rolls on occasion; our “trots” disappeared.
The Mess Sergeant was an old timer and quite the character too. He usually left running of the mess hall to the First Cook while he planned for his weekends in Istanbul. The Mess Sergeant was a highly skilled poker player who wasn’t interested in our penny-ante barracks poker games. He would head for the NCO Club at the top of the TUSLOG Building and spend his weekends seated at the poker table. The Sergeant won big consistently and sent his winnings home. One memorable occasion was when he was up against a young Air Force stud out to beat our Sergeant. I watched the two of them battle until in their final game everyone else had folded. After the final cards had been dealt, the Airman made his bet, the Sergeant raised and the Airman raised back. The Sergeant then raised the bet by a large amount. The Airman took his time, looking at the up cards held by the Sergeant, before folding. Usually our Mess Sergeant would not show his down cards in such a situation, but he was pissed at the Airman, so he showed his down cards. The Mess Sergeant had a bust, probably a King high nothing. The Airman had a small pair showing, probably with nothing more to back it up. The Airman had him beat, but didn’t have the courage of his convictions. That young stud left the table very upset. Our Mess Sergeant continued to win big for the rest of the time I was over there.
The winter of 1958-1959 was cold and miserable. Army cold weather gear had not been issued to us, but we did have winter parka shells and liners and gloves. The winds off the Black Sea whipped down through the valley in which the Army Base was located. While we didn’t have heavy snowfall, it did snow. Several times I woke up in the morning to find snow had blown in through the cracks in the Quonset hut. My sleeping bag and blankets would have a dusting of snow on them. Many times we would wait until some brave soul would get up and turn up the dial on the space heaters. Filling the space heater oil tank was a task we all took up. We also had to spread sand over the frequent oil spills on the plywood floor. Our barracks hut was a foul smelling place by winter’s end.
The Army hired local Turkish citizens to clean our barracks and to perform kitchen police (KP) duties in our mess hall. The KPs did their job well and kept our mess hall sparkling clean. The same could be said about our barracks. While we always locked up our personal belongings, in our footlockers or wardrobes, that was done to protect us from our mates. The cleaning people kept our hovels clean and organized. I often felt like I was trespassing when I had to enter the barracks hut during the day. If they had to move something when they were cleaning, that object was always returned back to its original position afterwards.
We did have two saints in our training section, one was a WWII veteran who had received a head wound and who later was sent home for treatment. The other was a Special Forces (SF) Sergeant, a communications specialist, who was highly religious and who probably was the only man to spend his time in Istanbul visiting museums and historical sites. We had two Sergeants from the Special Forces, previously stationed in Ft. Bragg. This was before Special Forces got their Green Berets and we referred to them then as “Sneaky Petes!” The second SF Sergeant was a hell raiser and continually banged heads with the “Saint.” They had a fight one night when the second idiotic Sergeant had a little too much to drink and harassed the other Sergeant. The “Saint” wound up dragging the idiot around the barracks hut, using the idiot Sergeant’s penis as a “come along!” The idiotic SF Sergeant had been waving his dong towards the other Sergeant who finally had enough and took action. Life was peaceful after that. Never screw with a highly pissed off Special Forces Soldier.
SFC Hargen was a good man who had fallen on hard times. His drinking led to his wife to divorce him. Hargen worshiped his wife and daughter and wrote to his daughter frequently. When I won the NCO Club’s record player before shipping out, Hargen said he would pay me for the unit. I did agree but then reneged later on, for which I felt guilty. Hargen had been in Korea commanding a tracked twin 40mm gun. His track would pull up to the front, let loose with H&I fire and then quickly retire. The infantry on the line would curse at Hargen, but he had his orders and his job. Hargen didn’t feel good about using his tracked vehicle in that manner, but it was his job. Hargen also wound up later at Ft. Benning, in the 2nd Infantry Division Artillery, in H&HQ Battery, as did the Staff Sergeant. But, Hargen was quickly transferred out. He did try to mentor me on minor things. Mostly I think he wanted a young stud around so he could pass on his words of wisdom. By the way, I have referred to myself as “young stud” several times; I was young and thought of myself as a stud. But, no way in hell was I going to join the Special Forces or Airborne, since my goal in life at that time was to enjoy my life and its many comforts. Grunting in the field, and sleeping on the ground, was then beneath me.
After we had been over there several months, the Turkish NCOs threw a party for all the American NCOs. We had a good time even though most of us knew little of the Turkish language, nor did they know much English. The Turkish NCOs provided Black Sea wines, Raki, whiskies, and beer. Raki was something I had tried earlier and did not like too much. Adding water to Raki turned it milky and it tasted terrible to me. SFC Hargen was a hard drinker and could go through a fifth of whisker in an evening. So Hargen drank Raki all night long. I had told him to go easy on the Raki, but he did what he wanted. The next morning, Hargen was out of it and was not quite right for two weeks. Raki was only 45-proof, but contained a low-grade narcotic, which hit Hargen right in his stubborn head. The rest of us had a good time at that party and were good to go the next day.
One of other Sergeants in the training section had been in a tank destroyer unit during WWII, serving in Italy in the Anzio campaign. Sergeant Mollica was a mover and shaker in his own mind. Just before we, the members of the training section rotated back home, Mollica had agreed to carry back a bottle of “rose oil” for someone he had met in Istanbul. Mollica got cold feet just before our departure on the USNS Roy Geiger troopship, and asked me to hide him from the view of his Turkish cohort. Mollica’s choice of friends was remarkable because he and I did not like each other. Mollica had cold-cocked me one evening in the barracks. He knew I had served with the Minnesota ARNG prior to my active duty. Mollica blamed the 34th Infantry Division, which then mostly consisted of Minnesota Guardsmen, for his unit’s losses during the Anzio campaign and I was guilty by association in his eyes. Mollica also was from the State of New Mexico and claimed superiority over all others. None of us knew why his claim should have been acknowledged by any sober person.
During one of Mollica’s ever-present harangues, I told him to go to hell and that he was a “bastard!” When I turned away from Mollica, this is my story and I’m sticking to it, Mollica hit me on the jaw as hard as he could. I was momentarily stunned and dazed, but otherwise fine. SFC Hargen jumped in before another punch could be thrown. Mollica sobered up quickly and I told him to go to hell again, but the so-called fight was over. Good SFC Hargen, responsible NCO that he was, made sure the fight was over and then the next morning reported the incident to Headquarters. That morning Hargen marched Mollica and myself in front of the team commander, Lieutenant Colonel Wilson. The Colonel chewed out both Mollica and me and asked if we were willing to end the matter now, which we both very wisely agreed to do. LTC Wilson was an interesting character, seldom at the compound, with civilian quarters in Corlu. The Colonel’s primary activities seemed to be public relations with the Turkish Army and our own brass. Near the end of our tour of duty, we had been told that the team had been awarded an Army Commendation Medal. The truth was that the Colonel got the medal and we got our orders for home, a good trade off. The Colonel deserved this award because FTT-1A1 did its job superbly.
The rumor about the commendation medal was just one of many such rumors. An earlier rumor, which I heard about on the airplane trip to Turkey was we would be getting “per diem” of $7.00 per day, more in a month’s time than what many of the lower pay grades would have made in a month. Another rumor was that we would all be issued a “Red Book” identification each American GI was supposed to carry while in turkey. We never got our red books. Also, our passports did not arrive until after we had been in country for about 6-weeks. The passports were kept in the unit safe and not handled out until just before we left. Since we had to use our enter visas, our original travel orders, when we cleared Turkish customs on the day of our departure, our passports were clean. When the USNS Geiger neared Naples, another rumor was that the passports could be sold on the black market for up to $1,000, huge money in those days. I still have my expired Special Passport, which I had tried to return three years after my ETS, but Uncle Sam sent it back, saying it was expired and no longer valid. God, my picture in that expired passport looks like a different person from my image today.
Another time I got in trouble in Turkey, counting the Mollica incident as the other time, I chewed out Turkish 3rd Lieutenant Bulent when he failed to show for a critical training session. When Bulent showed up late in the afternoon, I blew up and braced him in front of everyone and chewed his ass out royally; Bulent had been out on the town the previous night and was in no shape to be our interpreter that day. Bulent took offense at my intemperate behavior and somehow the incident was reported to our command. I was ordered to report to our S2, Captain Shambowa, who did a real tongue lashing on my sensitive soul. The Captain told me that the next time Bulent screwed up, let the Captain chew out that young playboy’s ass. I learned then to treat all officers, even the dumb ones and the screw-ups, as mortal enemies, a few good ones excepted. Never chew out an officer unless you do it in private and unless you can intimidate him. A good First Sergeant might have provided sage advice on how to get officers to behave without stepping over the boundary between enlisted and officer ranks. Unfortunately for me, given my temperament, SFC Hargen was not First Sergeant material then and certainly not one to give advice to a young stud as I then thought of myself. Captain Shambowa was a great officer and I was saddened to hear two years later that he had died. His father was a general in the medical corps and the rumor was that the Captain had a tough act to follow, with high expectations placed on him. The Captain was missed.
It is sad that the only officers I can clearly remember are the Colonel and the Captain, and the First Lieutenant who led us on our trip to Turkey, whose name I cannot recall. The Communications Officer was another Captain French, but whose impact on the team was minimal, except for one memorable night from hell. The Commo. Officer was rumored to have brought two large streamer trunks filled with used clothing. Apparently he thought that used clothing could be sold at a good price on the open market; I never knew whether he actually sold any clothing. He was a Headquarters’ puke and had little to do with the training section or me. Except on one of the night’s when I had the duty as Charge of Quarters (CQ). All of us in pay grade E-5 and E-6 were on the CQ duty roster, staying in the Headquarters Building and answering the phone if it rang, plus sweeping up the floor after everyone left for the day. The only persons who had normal access to the building were those who worked in it, including those in the communications section. On that fateful night, one of the Communications men nodded to me as he entered the Communications Shack, which he was allowed to enter. Later that night, perhaps about Midnight, I got a call to get the Communications Officer pronto.
The Communications Specialist who had entered the Commo Shack earlier had flipped out and was sending a large monograph of a religious nature out over the Armed Forces Network. This man had received a severe head wound in WWII and suffered from delusions. The Communications Officer came in the HQ Building, answered the phone and then ordered me to summon several other people. The Communications Specialist was sent to Germany, for treatment several days later. The Commo. Officer was in a state of high dungeon, clearly concerned for the safety of his own scalp and somewhat less concerned about the fate of his flipped out warrior. We never knew the fate of the Communications Specialist who had flipped out, although we all felt he would have been hospitalized in Germany and then sent home for release.
Another WWII veteran who had received a head wound during that war was a member of the training section. It was common to have WWII and Korean War combat veterans in units in those days. This person was an artilleryman and had lost his buddy during WWII. The story was that he and his buddy had both been hung up in German wire and he had wiggled free somehow. His buddy was stuck and both had been wounded severely. The buddy was a live target for the Germans to fire upon and our comrade could not help his friend. Some nights he would start screaming and tossing in his bunk. Finally, during that winter of 1958-1959 he got worse and had to be shipped out to Germany for treatment. He was a good man whose severe wounds finally caught up to him. One sad aspect is that we also never knew his fate and whether he got the treatment he deserved.
Those three, the smuggler, and the two veterans who had suffered from head wounds received in WWII, were the only ones to have serious problems during that tour of duty. However, one member of the Meteorology Team, at least technically, went overboard late during the tour of duty. The training section got orders for an early rotation back to CONUS. Our orders had specified a year tour of duty, which meant we would have stayed in Corlu until the end of June, 1959. However, our training mission was done. We had successfully trained two Turkish Rocket Battalions, and with nothing else to do, the Army did the sensible thing and cut orders for our early return. There were about 23 of us on the original orders, but then two soldiers were cut from the orders, a Master Sergeant and the fourth member of the Meteorology team. The Master Sergeant was highly pissed off and let everyone know it. He was anxious to get back to his family and to plan for his retirement. The young Private First Class was devastated and totally lost control over his behavior.
This PFC had been in my travel group, arriving in country July, 1958. The PFC had never been in Istanbul during his entire stay in Corlu up until then. The PFC went down to the Enlisted Club the evening he got his bad news and got drunk for the first time in his life. One of his buddies carried him back to our barracks like a sack of grain slung over his shoulder. The PFC was put into the latrine where he threw up into a messy toilet, losing his false teeth in the process. One of the medics retrieved the false teeth, soaked them over night in a solution and then brushed them clean the next morning. The PFC visited the Enlisted Club each night thereafter with nearly the same result until the next weekend. This soldier then bought a gross of condoms from the compound PX and got on the weekend pass bus. That Monday, we all asked how his weekend went, but he had no time for any of us.
Prior to his being removed from the return orders, this PFC had been very quiet. He never worked with the Meteorology team, but was assigned either to the laundry detail or as the Day Room Orderly. He had always seemed very cheerful previously, except he was passing time until he got back home to the hills of Kentucky. The PFC had never been more than 5- miles away from home before he enlisted and never had held anything larger than a $5 bill until he joined the Army. During our travel to Turkey, he kept to himself and did not join the rest of us on our wicked tours of the cities we had passed through. As far as I know, that PFC kept up his drunken ways until the rest of the training section departed and very likely afterwards too. As for me, I had been disappointed that my tour was cut short, but also was glad to be getting home again.
Corlu was a quiet little village when I was over there. It seemed like the perfect place to live if someone wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle of a big city. I met an older Turkish resident of Corlu who had been a taxi driver either in New York City or Chicago. This gentleman retired back to his home village, living off of his Social Security pension. During the summer of 1958, I went into Corlu several times, usually just to wander through town and see how the villagers lived. The side streets were quiet and some were dirt roads. There was a small town square, with a Chai House nearby. On several of those visits, several of us met with the family of a Turkish 3rd Lieutenant, who lived on the local economy. His wife was college educated and expressed her dislike about being stuck in the small town. Her discontent was accentuated by her wearing the black robes so typical of the village women, some of whom also wore a veil, which practice was officially outlawed in Turkey, but tolerated in the small villages. I’ve heard that today Corlu is a bustling city, with a Volkswagen factory, several movie theaters, a shopping mall, and a “Burger King” outlet. A recent correspondent, who now lives in Corlu, sent me pictures of the modern city, which would now best be described as a thriving metropolis.
While I spent many weekends in Istanbul, I also obviously spent other weekends doing other things, like visiting Corlu. Also, several of us went swimming in the Sea of Marmara that summer. I bought swimming fins and a snorkel and made a fishing spear from a piece of iron rebar I had found. Iron rebar is a soft metal, easily formed into a spear, which easily became dull with little use. But, the team had a wooden rowboat, which we could check out, and use for our swimming ventures. The beach we used was just east of Tikradag, mostly a sand beach, with very shallow water near shore. We had to wade out quite far before getting out to water deep enough for swimming. One concern was the stingrays resting in the sandy sea bottom, so we would kick up the sand as we waded out to deeper waters. The shallow water was a problem too because we had to drag and then push the little rowboat far enough out so it would float freely once we boarded it. The damned rowboat leaked so we had to keep a bucket handy for bailing that poor almost useless piece of equipment.
However, swim and fish we did and we enjoyed our time at the beach. I was able to spear several fish, but never any species I recognized as being eatable. One weekend, we rowed around a small headland just to the east of our beach and came across a small bay, with other adjoining bays. One of the other bays had a large cabin cruiser anchored in it, with a beautiful young woman sunning herself on the front deck. We waved at her, but she didn’t wave back. On that occasion, I speared a fish shaped like a guitar, with a long tail and a flat circular body, with several apparent flutes about a third of the way back from its mouth. Since we didn’t have cameras with us and since I did not recognize this fish, I proclaimed it to be a new species, previously unknown to mankind; it was probably a member of the ray family. When we returned to our beach, we almost sank because the rowboat was leaking faster than we could bail with our little bucket. We did make it safely to shallow water and waded ashore from there. Those weekend days were good times, very lazy, warm and a time for relaxing.
There was one time when we were authorized to wear our uniforms off base when not performing official duties. Since the national colors were flown only once, on the 4th of July, which I missed because I was still in transit to Corlu, wearing our uniforms was an issue with many of us. Of course, when we went to Istanbul for the weekends, we liked to dress in civilian clothes. But, our uniforms were a visible way of telling the world who we were, so this one occasion was meaningful to us. For Turkish Armed Forces Day, which I recall was in the fall, the Honest John Rocket Launchers would be paraded both in Ankara and in Istanbul. One team would escort a launcher to Ankara, accompanied by its Turkish Rockteers, and another launcher would be sent to Istanbul. The Ankara team was sent east about two weeks in advance of Armed Forces Day. The Istanbul team was sent to town several days before the day. Those of us in the training section, and I guess those on the support teams, could accompany the team sent to Istanbul, where we would be permitted to wear our Class A uniforms, the new Army Greens; our old ODs were phased out during our overseas tour.
Since I didn’t have an official duty to perform during the parade, I joined up with several of my buddies and took a position just southwest of Taksim Square, in the Beyoglu District. While watching the various units pass by, I kept on looking into the window of the restaurant behind me. There was a delicious sample of a wedge shaped piece with what looked like cheese on it. Pizza! So, I went inside and ordered a piece of that mouthwatering morsel and bit into it. It was cold fish pizza, or something like that; maybe cold anchovies. Horrible, but I ate it anyway. After being overseas for what was then about 4 or 5-months, I missed pizza. Unfortunately, I had to wait until April, 1959, before I was able to eat real pizza, in Naples. Otherwise the parade was peaceful, with mounted police to make sure the crowd behaved itself and that the scene was one of peace and tranquility. Besides, the mounted police had wicked looking short whips, with pieces of lead embedded in the whip tip, for use on those persons unwilling to keep the peace.
The Ankara team told a fascinating tale when they returned to the compound after being gone for over a month. The team’s road march followed Turkish Army convoy rules, traveling slowly and cautiously. The team bivouacked each night near a village and the Americans usually bought out the beer supply of these small villages. The people they met along the way were friendly and cheerful, but the team was a heavy burden on these villages. There were no reports of trouble along the way, as there had been with some of the listening posts along the Black Sea. But, some of the vehicles did need repair, although nothing serious. Mostly, the trip to Ankara, and the return, was slow and boring, climbing up to the plateau and then on to Ankara.
After Armed Forces Day, we settled into our routines of training Turkish soldiers in our respective specialties and playing poker or dice in the evenings, and then usually going into Istanbul on the weekends.
Istanbul was a fun city to visit, full of historical sights, which, because of my youthful proclivities, I seldom saw. Our favorite mode of transportation was the unit’s Army bus, a large city type bus, which was in for repair as much as it was in service. Once, the damned bus failed on the trip into Istanbul. The driver tried to repair it, but could not, so he radioed for help. When the bus was out of service, we rode in an Army 6x6 truck, a most uncomfortable way to travel over dusty roads and in cold weather; it really got cold in that part of Turkey, especially when the winter wind came off the Black Sea. The only Turkish towns I recall traveling past on the way to town was the town of Silivri. There was a curiosity just east of Silivri, an old shelled out tank, between the road and the shore of the Sea of Marmara. The tank looked like a German Panzer model II or perhaps a model III. I was always curious why that tank was there, especially as Turkey was neutral during WWII. Perhaps it was postwar surplus and wound up there for whatever reason.
One time I rode the train to Istanbul, a slow moving local train, which stopped at each small village on its way to town. Food vendors would crowd onto the train or sell their wares from along side of the train. I did buy a small piece of goat cheese, sold on a small square of wax-paper, otherwise I avoided the local foods. Another time, a buddy and I got a ride out to the highway and rode a Turkish bus to Istanbul. The bus was filled with people, goats, and chickens, some of which were in cages inside the bus with other cages riding topside in the baggage rack. The bus ride was fun, even though we could not speak much Turkish. The people both on the train and on the bus were very friendly and liked to exchange cigarettes. The common Turkish cigarettes were too harsh and strong for my taste and they were very strong smelling too. On several other occasions, I rode into town with one of the soldiers who had a POV. My orders did not specify that shipment of a POV was authorized, but some of the support team were so authorized. One enjoyable aspect of riding in the private car was the ability to see more of the countryside, and especially of the old city wall surrounding Istanbul. You could where the city walls had been breached in those final days of 1453 and where the wall had deteriorated since.
Finally, our return orders came and we fully prepared for the trip home. The training section members, who had been on orders for the return, packed up footlockers or other parcels, and cleared them through Turkish Customs several weeks before our actual departure date. I don’t recall much about that last day in the compound except that we left for town early in the morning. Our bus headed right for the docks near the mouth of the Golden Horn. I had passed over the Galata Bridge many times so had seen parts of that famous historical location, but this was the first time I had actually ventured near it. A Navy troop transport would carry us home, via Izmir, Naples, Barcelona, and Cadiz. The ship was the USNS Roy Geiger, a small single screw twin stack ship. The Geiger had a troop berthing area with second and first class cabins on the upper decks for military dependent families.
The Geiger, in the good old days, would pick up military families when it entered the Mediterranean Sea and drop them off at Cadiz on leaving the Mediterranean. The Geiger was the nearest thing the Navy had to a cruise ship operating in the Mediterranean. The good ship carried us right to Brooklyn, arriving on a Saturday afternoon, like a shipload of unwanted visitors; no one met us and no one had arranged for surface transportation for the dependent families.
The USNS Geiger carried us through very heavy seas in mid- Atlantic, when the Queen Elizabeth, a half day ahead of us, lost over $35,000 of china, and our ship seemed like it would capsize at any moment. But, home is the sailor, and we had some of those lost souls returning aboard ship too, so it was a great trip home. The only obstacle then was to figure out how to travel back to Minneapolis and the family. A small thing called buying airline tickets and then convincing Northwest Airline to tell me which airport to use was finally accomplished and I arrived home late that same evening, the start of a well deserved furlough. My immediate future after that would be at Ft. Benning and the 2nd Infantry Division; H&HQ Battery 2nd DivArty, located on beautiful Sand Hill; post beautification details our common enemy. We did get to do our job when the gun battalions went to the field for their final exercise of the artillery AIT course; never often enough and never too demanding of our time or skill.
Even the thought of a posting to Korea seemed ideal after being at Ft. Benning for a few short months. The Army however had other ideas and told me I had to stay in CONUS for one year, actually 2-1/2 years later I got out upon my scheduled ETS.
However, I first had to get home to Minneapolis, which I was longing to see again, along with eating out at my favorite pizza restaurant. Four of us left the USNS Geiger together and walked up to Brooklyn Boulevard, at least that is what we thought it was called. We flagged a taxi, whose driver dumped us out after two blocks saying he was going home to Momma. So, once again we flagged a taxi and headed for the Port Authority Bus Depot in downtown Manhattan. Once we go to the bus depot, we individually called the airlines seeking ticketing information. Northwest Airlines said I could get a plane from Newark Airport and since the other three were headed that way, we all rode a city bus to the airport. After arriving at the airport I could not see a counter for Northwest Airlines. A woman at an information counter said that Northwest did not fly out of Newark but let me use her phone to call, again, those wonderful NWA folks. This time NWA told me I could fly out of Idlewild Airport, now the JFK Airport, and I could buy a helicopter taxi ticket to get to Idlewild. The person at the information counter handled the tickets for me and I paid her.
The helicopter taxi was a yellow banana shaped helicopter, which had about 10 to 12-passenger seats. We lifted off from Newark, flew to downtown Manhattan, and landed on top of the Pan Am Building. After exchanging passengers there, the helicopter lifted off for LaGuardia Airport and from there flew to Idlewild. I had to take a taxi from the Idlewild terminal building where the helicopter had landed to get to the NWA terminal. It was a very long walk within that NWA terminal to my waiting plane; with about 10-minutes to spare. The plane was a four-engine propeller driven plane, with few passengers. We flew over Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and landed at Midway Airport, in Chicago. Then, we flew to Wold- Chamberlain Airport where my folks were waiting and we drove home.
Nothing on the trip over to Turkey or the trip home was either easy or direct. When the USNS Geiger left Istanbul, it headed for Izmir, Turkey, NATO Southeast Command. We picked up several troops there and proceeded to Naples, picking up a load of land-locked sailors and some Marines too. Our passage to Izmir included passing through the Straits of the Dardanelle’s at night. I had heard about the Straits having mines and that a pilot was needed to navigate the Straits, but I missed seeing anything because of the dark nighttime hour. During the 4-day passage to Naples from Istanbul, we ate in the dependents’ dining hall since there were less than 30-troops aboard at the time. The food and service in the dependents’ dining hall was superb. When our ship pulled into Naples Harbor, the ship docked near a huge carrier, the USS Ticonderoga. For the two plus days we in the Port of Naples, our meals aboard ship continued to be served in the dependents dining hall. It had taken us over four days to get to Naples.
Of course, once we left Naples, the troop mess was opened and I regretted having all those landlocked sailors and Marines aboard ship. However, our last meal in the dependents dining hall was no picnic either. The ship’s crew, all civilians, had port liberty, including our trusted waiter. Our waiter was suffering from the previous night’s celebration and slipped when delivering food for the seven of us at our table. Six of us had ordered steaks and one person had ordered a curried shrimp dinner. The replacement waiter first bought out six curried shrimp dinners and one steak, so we sent him back for the correct order. When the replacement waiter brought tried to bring out our correct dinners, he slipped in the mess left by the first waiter, so we had a further wait for our food. A third waiter finally succeeded in serving our meal, after a wait of about two hours.
As frustrating as that last meal had been, it was heaven compared to the troop mess food. Breakfast consisted of greasy eggs served on greasy mess hall trays, slopping all over the place in the heavy seas we were experiencing. Coffee cups were a danger to us all because that hot liquid would spill on the tables and on ourselves. However, none of us starved and perhaps we even gained weight from that terrible greasy troop mess food.
While in Naples, several of us decided to look around town, including the ancient buried city of Pompeii and a small park overlooking that fabled bay. I bought numerous cameos while touring Pompeii, some of which I gave to my Mother and other cameos I kept for other purposes; most of which were lost in my several moves thereafter. One decent experience in Naples was eating at a small pizza restaurant somewhere up the hills sloping up and away from the port. That pizza was delicious, thick, juicy, full of sausage meats, melt in your mouth goodness.
Some of our party decided to take the train up to Rome and then to rejoin the ship at Leghorn. I stayed with the ship and did get off at Leghorn, but saw nothing of interest there. From there we went up north around the island of Sardinia and experienced a major Mediterranean Sea storm. Barcelona was our next stop, for another two plus days. I left the ship and looked for a place to exchange American money and found a bank right near the port itself. The rate of exchange was extremely favorable, much better than what we were told abroad ship. That was a communist bank as we later found out, so I was helping to finance the USSR in spite of my feelings against a communist form of government. Barcelona was a beautiful city, unlike Naples, which seemed so crowded and dirty. A wide boulevard sweep led from the port area through the city towards mountains in the distant background. The Spanish beer, San Miguel, was very light and tasted good. We found a plaza just off the boulevard, behind an office building. The Spanish people we met were friendly and seemed to like their nightlife. I knew about the Spanish desire for later evening dinners, but the reality seemed strange regardless. I had a chance to wander throughout Barcelona and for once took advantage of my opportunities. The city was one I would visit over and over again.
Our next port of call was Cadiz, where the dependent families from the European Command left the ship. We had to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on the way to Cadiz and nighttime was the best time to make that passage. We could see navigation lights of all the ships headed for the Straits, a magnificent sight. It was like the ocean was marked with streetlights of all shapes and some colors, spreading out from beyond the horizon. Cadiz itself was not in sight where the Geiger docked, only a wharf, with an oil pumping station nearby.
Once we left Cadiz, we were out in the ocean itself, headed generally northwest to New York and our docking at Brooklyn. Storms greeted our entry onto the Atlantic itself, storms which rocked our boat like the worst roller coaster ride anyone had been on. I had two jobs aboard ship, running the music room during the day and running a movie projector for the dependents at night. During the height of our mid-ocean storm, I couldn’t understand why the needle didn’t fall off the records until I realized the phonograph, on gimbals, was flat and I was instead at a forty-plus degree angle. The optical illusion seemed just the reverse. Several of the landlocked sailors, all communications technicians from the command at Naples, got very seasick and our troop berthing area stunk, almost making me feel sick myself. As mentioned, the Queen Elizabeth had heavy crockery damage during this storm but our ships weathered it nicely. I was able to go near the top of a ladder leading to a topside hatchway and look out at the high waves crashing down on our ship and that was as far as I could get, thankfully.
The young children staying in the dependents area enjoyed the rough seas, but their parents got terribly sick. The area set aside for the movies was enclosed on the boat deck. The little kids ran around like crazy and their parents kept whoopee bags handy. These were families returning to the states from various Mediterranean locations. The parents had further reason to complain about their treatment aboard ship when they saw how we troops treated their delicate baggage when we had to stage their bags on a hatch cover. We resented that assignment and simply tossed the bags on top of each other until the pile became quite high. The bags on the bottom must have been squashed flat. They had one last complaint when they found out the Army and Navy had not arranged for transportation when we finally docked that Saturday afternoon.
When the ship neared the States, I was able to get on deck and look for signs of land. I saw a nearby shore, which might have been Long Island. As we neared New York Harbor, several of us looked for the Statue of Liberty, but we were too far north to make it out from the background clutter. But, the pier was visible ahead and the absence of crowds apparent, so we snuck in unnoticed, yet glad to be there. We were appreciated however, because soldiers in uniform were appreciated, especially by veterans and others like them, when we were away from our duty station. Taxi drivers also appreciated us returning servicemen because we didn’t know New York City and they could earn extra fares driving us the long way to the Port Authority Bus Depot! Since the Army didn’t have a greeting party at the Army Pier when our ship arrived in mid- afternoon on that long ago Saturday, we were left to our own devices. In spite of that, I made it home safely the next morning after a long trip across the USA.