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TALKING TURKEY (Trabzon, Turkey) WITH A2C PATRICK FERO, January 1959 - January 1960
January 1959 - When I got on the plane in Detroit, MI, bound for the initial stop in my journey to Trabzon, Turkey, I had no idea how long it would take to get there and into work for the first time.
I had graduated from the Russian Language Program at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) at Syracuse University on 19 December 1958. Back in Michigan, I celebrated the 1958 holidays at home after spending the 1957 holidays in a casual barracks at Lackland Air Force Base. If I were to compare the two experiences, I'd say home was preferable.
On 6 January 1959, as I readied for the trip by visiting the town barber, I heard the news on the radio that a dorm (nee barracks) had burned to the ground the night before. I immediately had premonition that I was one very lucky guy. Soon I learned that the building had indeed been the one I'd just left after living there for eleven months, and that the two men in the room I had just vacated two weeks before were among the seven airmen who perished. On 4 October 2013, my wife and I were able to attend the dedication of the Skytop Memorial Monument that now sits on a knoll across the street from where Barracks 7 once stood. My wife had been there in 1958 when she accompanied my parents for my graduation. You can find a video of the ceremony here.
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Patrick & Skytop Memoriam
The first leg of my journey to Trabzon, Turkey, where I spent most of 1959, riding on relatively slow prop-engine planes with shorter ranges than aircraft today, consisted of a short flight from Detroit to Charleston, SC, on January 28th where I stayed in the YMCA on a frugal government dollar. We stayed there long enough to tour the lovely city and see my first Civil War site, Fort Sumter. From Charleston we flew to the verdant Azores (Santa Maria Island-Portuguese territory) in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. I still have a vivid picture in my mind's eye of the intense and ubiquitous green that covers so much of Santa Maria, the main island of nine that make up the Azores. Flights in those days of yore were real trips with lots of stops and starts, slow but due to the low and slow flying, visually exciting. We flew over four continents on the trip: North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The flight over Portugal and Spain were very interesting. The flight across Malta and up the Italian coast to Rome also striking.
The next hop brought us to Tripoli, Libya, where we spent the better part of the week on Wheelus AFB living in a hot Quonset hut. We spend some time touring Tripoli. Once, probably because it was after dark on a Friday night, eleven of us were mobbed by Libyans trying to sell us trinkets and pickpocket our wallets (a couple were successful), (Hint: Do not take an item from their hands because they'll refuse to take it back but demand money in return.) Just as we were about to panic, we reached a cop standing on a corner. He advised us to enter the bar he was standing next to. (That's where I had my first clumsy introduction to a bombsite restroom. There is one pictured above right.) After our pursuers gave up, we hightailed it to the air police station where we thought we'd be safe until the bus returned to pick us up. Later we learned that a sailor had been killed in front of that very station!
From a distance Tripoli appeared to be quite beautiful, all white-washed buildings with orange tile roofs. But up close not so much. Very dirty and garbage strewn. Very small shops dominated the commercial districts. There were some tourist traps, though. We took a horse-and-buggy tour of the city, and visited a swank night club. The club featured a swinging jazz combo with piano, drums and guy who played bass and an accordion. Oddly I thought, we were the only ones in there, that is until the owner must have rounded up eleven girls to match our eleven guys. They came over and sat with us for a while and then we left much, I'm sure, to the disappointment of everyone we left. They must have thought we were rich Americans, as relatively we were, and I could see that this party would get very expensive very fast, and probably end badly.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, some of us caught an Alitalia flight into Rome, Italy, where we spent the weekend paying a cab driver to take us on a tour of the city during a quiet Sunday after a Saturday evening bar hopping (an essential attempt to get the flavor of the city, of course). We did so in the company of two Italian and four French soldiers. None of us spoke each other's language but we got along fine (maybe because of it). From Rome we flew to Istanbul and the obligatory check-in at "Mainsite" Karamürsel Air Station where we stayed in another brutal Quonset hut. The weather was freezing and the nearest toilet, water and shower were about two miles away! But the Air Force building in Istanbul was amazing. One could live there without ever leaving it. Eight modern stories containing a Base Exchange (BX), chow hall, sleeping quarters, and an NCO club on the top floor. The club was very plush with roof to floor windows on two sides through which to view the city, and a terrace to enjoy in good weather. We slept there one night and all but me, since I had enough money to buy a bed for the night, slept on the floor. Since we landed at Ataturk Airport (called Ye?ilköy at that time), which is across the Sea of Mamara from Mainsite, we enjoyed a beautiful ferry ride to Yalova (pictured on the left) on the other side. I don't remember the processing in, but I know we then had to return to Istanbul, more sightseeing, to await our flight to Trabzon.
I was feeling down and unlucky. We met fellas who were on their way out of country. They filled us full of horrific stories of the places they'd been stationed, especially Trabzon. But then came word for those going to Samsun that those places were over-manned and were even sending some airmen back to Mainsite. That meant that they lost money in remote pay and gained six months on their tour of duty. Suddenly I felt luckier.
Trabzon is a city on the Black Sea coast of northeastern Turkey older than Rome. It is located on the historical Silk Road, became a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries and a trade gateway to Persia (Iran) in the southeast and the Caucasus to the northeast. The area has been religiously significant since ancient times. There are four sacred fountains on Bozetepe Mountain where the American Air Force Station was located.
Finally, Sunday, February 8, two weeks from when I left Detroit, our plane landed at the small Trabzon airport where the carcasses of previously crashed planes were a reminder that we had entered a different world. As Dave Acre and I were processing in at the orderly room downtown, we ran into George Poulin (http://www.merhaba-usmilitary.com/2POULINGindex.html) who we had known in Lackland AFB casual or grad barracks in November and December of 1957 as we waited for language school (Dave and I went to Syracuse, George to Monterey). George lived in an old house in the old part of the city, on the hill and with a view of the city and bay beyond. He had room for two more! So, even though we had checked into the hotel (probably the Trabzon Palas on Taksim Square, which the guys who stayed there said it was dirty and bugged in the worst way (the multi-legged kind) with no heat or hot water. (The hotel is pictured on the right courtesy of Tom Karjala.), we picked up our bags and checked into the Poulin Palas instead. The house was several blocks from the HQ building and bus station for trips up the hill to Ops. At the house, I roomed once again with Dave Acre, a fellow Michigander. (Dave and I first met when his high school and mine shared the same train on our respective high school class trips to Washington DC in 1957. We met again when we enlisted and then were processed together into the Selfridge Air Force base in Detroit. We were in the same flight at Lackland, and were chiefs of the same casual barracks for seven weeks after basic as we waited for the next class to start at Syracuse. We roomed together at the AFIT, and then PCSed (changed stations) to Trabzon together and roomed there in the houses downtown. We finally split up when we left Trabzon and eventually landed in Detroit. We had jointly purchased a suitcase with five fifths of Jameson's Irish Whiskey at the duty-free store at Shannon Airport in Ireland. It cost us $11 dollars (and I still have the case and one of the bottles). Dave drove to my house to pick up his bottles a week after we arrived in Michigan. I didn't see him again until July of 1965 when I entered service with NSA as a college grad. I found him on my first day at work on his last day before PCSing as an Air Force sergeant. I bet few people have been thrust together by fate as many times as Dave and I were.)
Living in Trabzon:
On February 12 it began to snow and soon traffic ground to a halt, the shuttle between town and ops ceased running (and the guys in ops were snowed in), I remember a large snowball fight between we airmen and the neighborhood boys, maybe 20 or more of them. It was a friendly if vigorous fight. Our Turkish neighbors invited for dinner, so we felt fairly safe in our friendly little neighborhood on a street narrow as an alley with walled houses as far as the eye could see in either direction. I also remember a house near the HQ that we would pass every day that featured two pretty Turkish girls who would laugh and wave at us as we passed by. We had to be careful, though, not to stare at women in the streets or even acknowledge our own maid when we chanced upon her in public.
I was fortunate to be stationed in Trabzon before the station on Boztepe Mountain was finished, which was separate and up the dirt road from our operations area. Our first house downtown was a two-story very old wood place surrounded by a high stone wall with a stout wooden door for an entrance. (We sometimes had Turkish guards standing there when Muslim feelings about us infidels occasionally ran high.) There were nine rooms and a basement. We entered through the big door on the street, turned right in the small front yard, and climbed the stairs to the first floor. We had a view of the street, city and bay beyond as we climbed the stairs. There was a patio in the backyard, which you can see in several of the pictures I've included. There was no central heat, or A/C, of course. Water ran only a few hours a day. The electricity was intermittent and we played many a card game by the glow of candles and even cigarette lighters. The bombsite room was upstairs and we fitted an American style commode over it. The kitchen was rudimentary with counter, table and chairs, an American fridge and a two-burner camp stove, and an oven. We had wood stoves in the living room (where we spend most of our time playing cards (we moved it out for more room when the weather warmed), kitchen and one upstairs. The stoves were handy when we ran out of kerosene, and we could cook on them. The wash room was a large concrete affair with a large water tank in one corner with a shower hose running out of it. We, or usually Bina, our maid, heated the water using wood burned under the tank. Showers were a big deal.
We had a bar with mahogany finish made for us and stocked it with 10 cases of beer and 12 40-oz bottles of Canadian Club whiskey, and then ordered from the next commissary run to Ankara half a case of vodka, half a case of brandy, half a case of gin and some scotch whiskey. Two of our housemates were certifiable drunks. I watched them in amazement and foreboding of short lives as they seemed to exist on little more than alcohol. Pay was erratic-there was no electronic payment and we received paper checks via the official Air Force mail service. So those who didn't get paid had to borrow from those who did. Round and around the money went until it finally ended up in the BX or club.
I had been playing poker since high school and was pretty good. I was able to save money, even sending whole paychecks to my girlfriend in Michigan. She later became my long-suffering wife (and still is with 56 years of married life behind us), and bought a car when I got home (some of it the rest was used to live it up in Istanbul and stay at the Hilton, on the way home).
Bina was good to us. She worked hard for what we thought a pittance but was actually munificent in her estimation. She had a pretty teenaged daughter who sometimes came over to help on cleaning days. Bina was good to us despite how hard six young slobs, always coming or going or making a mess, can make it in an old house with unfinished wooded floors. The walls were plaster and the ceilings and floors were unfinished wood. I don't remember ever meeting her husband, but he must have been better to her than the husband of the maid, Hirea, in the picture below: Her husband used to rent her to his friends when he was out of town. Bina's husband died 22 April, but she came right back to work even though we said she could have time off. She was sad at first and then started acting crazy sometimes. This may have been one of the reasons why I left for another house in June (Dave had left already to a different house).
On our patio: Bina, her maid friend down the street, Hirea, me, and a housemate, Art, whose last name I've lost.
George Poulin, Patrick Fero, Charlie Spraur; Pat and Tom Sabri in front of his tailor shop; Pat in patio of first house: Trabzon 1959
Patrick Fero in front of 2nd home in Trabzon with Orderly Room in background, 1959.
Dave and I took the bedroom on the first floor. My original bed was a steel frame with plastic ribbons wrapped across the frame. I put a thin mattress on it. One night I dreamed I was falling, falling, always falling. When I woke up I was on the floor; the straps had broken under my weight. After that we had a Turk build me a wooden pallet upon which I put the same mattress. Good thing I was young. It got so cold that we finally bought a kerosene Aladdin's Lamp to heat the room. Someone had thrown a rock through our bedroom window, which faced the street, and we suffered from the wind and snow that piled up in the room under the window. One night we set it wrong and woke up the next morning with black suet over everything including us. Bina was not happy that day.
Jewelry, especially gold, were very inexpensive. We all visited the jewelry district and bought rings and such for ourselves and for gifts back home. Rugs were also popular. I actually hauled one back home and gave it to my future mother-in-law. It's now hanging on the wall of my office since she bequeathed it to me a few years ago. Still looks like new. Tailored clothing was also very inexpensive for us and we all had clothes made at Tom Sabri's tailor shop.
There was a significant black market going on around the Americans. We had access to a considerable amount of electronic and electric gizmos. German tape decks (Grundig), a newfangled item in those days, were very popular. German radios (Telefunken) were also popular. Refrigerators were highly prized if they were modern and functional. I resisted the urge to participate out of concern that the operations were so widespread as to bring attention from the authorities eventually. I did weaken enough, though, to allow another airman to sell something for me. I think it was a tape deck. I then lived in fear and disgust for weeks afterwards.
Radios were popular to be able to listen to shortwave stations. Radio Luxembourg was the most popular because it played the popular American tunes. I enjoyed surfing the radio. We'd get jazz and pop from Germany, classical music from the Soviet Union, England, France, and Italy. I remember getting the Voice of America all the way from Honolulu, while the Munich VoA was often available. We even listened to Radio Luxembourg it at work and taped broadcasts. I was working 12 on 12 off for a while transcribing the tapes that had piled up so much that they were stacked everywhere even in the CO's office. I was taking a break one evening and had switched to a Radio Luxembourg tape when the CO came by and asked how it was going, whether or not I'd get those damn tapes out of his office. He must have heard the music but said nothing, but I got back to work quickly. I also liked the Soviet Union's national anthem, and when I was working at midnight I would dial my R390 to Soviet radio stations as they signed off for the night with the anthem.
There were six of us in the house (plus four dogs and one cat). Three of us were day workers (until I went on shift with the arrival of my clearances), and three worked shifts, so the comings and goings were hectic. The shifts varied over the year but were generally from 7 am to 3 pm, 3 pm to 11 pm and 11 pm to 7 am. We worked three shifts (3 to 11, I think), a day off, three days, a day off, three mids, and then three days off. It varied but there were usually about eight guys per trick. (Nope, no females in those days.) Bina was there Monday through Thursday, I don't remember about Friday, but I think she was there most of the time she wasn't at the Mosque. She had the weekends off and that's when we had to shift for ourselves in the bare kitchen. I lived on scrambled eggs and the large tins of Dinty Moore Beef Stew or made pizza for all of us. I don't remember much of what Bina cooked other than beefsteak and hamburger and an occasional roast. The hamburger was always a risky choice, but Bina must have been a shrewd buyer. She apparently didn't buy the older meat, which was cheaper, and pocket the difference like some maids did. (By the time we found the meat on our plate, the flies that populated meat in the butcher shops had been neutralized. I still remember the sound of Bina pounding the devil, and hopefully the flies, out of the meat she bought. Our butcher killed his wife and turned her into hamburger. He was found out when someone found a thumb in their burger. They hung him in the main square and left him there, face turning purple and then black, for several days as a warning to the others (presumably not just butchers. As far as I know, we didn't eat any of his wife.)
Most of the time we had meat or chicken, potatoes, and assorted veggies like peas. Dairy products were off limits because all Turkish cows had TB. We all learned enough Turkish to get along, but a couple of the guys really got into it. They helped us when we dealt with the landlord, local tradespeople, etc. We felt fairly safe (most of the time) wandering about the town and visiting shops, going down to the port to watch the ships and their passengers coming and going. We could even play chess with Russians from the ships. But, all in all, the favorite pastime for most of us was drinking anything and everything. We were able periodically to order hard liquor by the case, which was hauled in from Ankara via a regular truck run. The beer was all in cans-I remember Schlitz and Hamm's as two regularly available-and pretty old as well as poorly handled-by the time we got it. We got used to it, though, and even forgot what a fresh beer tasted like. The public water was not safe to drink, bottled water had not yet become popular, so we, very much like early American settlers, drank mostly alcoholic drinks or soda. Nonetheless, I found time to read many books since we had a library, a small but real library.
A boat from Istanbul brought our mail once a week. I think it was what we called the White Boat and it arrived on Tuesday or Wednesday. [Tom Karjala took the picture of the Black Sea Steamer at the left.] Mail call would then be either Thursday or Friday, that is if the Turks didn't hold up our mail for reasons of their own. Mail from home was a big deal. Most of us looked forward to it with pleasure. I because I was looking for letters from my girlfriend, Mary Jo, back in Michigan and for packages from my mother. Mary Jo's college friends and my brothers also corresponded with me. My mother sent me an Easter Basket full of goodies that got me a lot of raucous kidding We picked up the mail at ops and I carried the basket down the hill one dark night after a swing shift. I stumbled and almost lost it over the cliff. That's how my mother almost got me killed. Maybe that package should have been stolen. Many of ours did, both coming and going. Or they were opened and valuable items (such as records and Playboy magazines) stolen.
But occasionally something would happen to worry the authorities and we would find that Turkish guard I mentioned before at the gate to our house. We would then restrain our travels to back and forth to HQ where we visited the Class VI, BX, Kismet Bar downstairs from the Orderly Room (where a can of beer was twenty cents and a mixed drink a quarter, cigarettes twelve cents a pack), and took the bus (a 6X6 army truck), the "Blue Goose" to work and back. The truck trekked up the mountain every half hour. The trip took ten to fifteen minutes and could be thrilling because of the steep slopes and deep drop-offs. On dry days dust was everywhere. We would choke on it sitting on the benches of the truck with the dust swirling into the back through the open back. One day transportation decided to break in a new truck, one without a top on the back. Of course that's the day it rained and we all got soaked going to work. Turkish kids liked to throw stones at us as we road through town in the back of the truck to the local soccer field where we would set up a softball diamond. We often drew large crowds of kids fascinated by our strange game (and they sometimes couldn't resist throwing stones like baseballs, which we ignored. The only truly grim circumstances I remember is that one day in July a Turkish driver who had driven some guys down to the Black Sea where we enjoyed a secluded place to swim, was found beaten badly when the airmen returned from the beach. Their truck was totally destroyed. One afternoon, as we returned up the hill crowded into the bed of that deuce and a half, some goofball whistled at the two women walking along the road with a man between them. The man pulled out a small silver-plated pistol and emptied it at us. Fortunately, he was a bad shot (or the truck's gate was bullet proof).
We often walked down the mountain after work instead of taking the Blue Goose (and occasionally walked up when we missed the bus). On a clear day the view was spectacular. The sun would be rising above the eastern horizon, which in our case was Georgia, then a republic of the Soviet Union. The path wound down the cliff overlooking the panorama of the city, which stretches along the coast for miles in each direction. The mountains close in on either side and back it up from about half or three-quarters of a mile inland. From the top we could view all of Trabzon and surrounding lands, the harbor and Black Sea beyond. The sea would be bathed in a golden glow that made distinct and glistening every boat and wave upon the waters. The city, with its orange tile roofs and white or yellow walls, would appear ablaze with bronze flames. It would seem as if we could see every bird or spider amidst the myriad roofs and minarets. The pristine illusion was quickly dashed, though, when we reached the cobblestoned streets and alleys closely guarded by walls on each side. Rubbish piled in the streets and water (of unknown origin) running down their centers. Ragged kids and ragged peddler were everywhere. Every once in a while, we had to step into doorway to allow a horse and cart to come tearing past safely. I even say once a man making cotton candy in an ancient manual machine that a boy was cranking. No wonder Trabzon was officially hardship duty for airmen.
Views from the trail down the mountain
Looking west as we go down the west side of the mountain.
While in Trabzon during Ramadan, the highlight of every evening is waiting
for the cannon to be fired and the holy men to sound off, so the devout could dine.
In June 1959, the Stars and Stripes published an entire issue about Turkey. The American Ambassador to Turkey, Fletcher Warren, wrote a cover letter to all Americans in Turkey and included a copy of the newspaper. I still have my copy of both. I assume it was an attempt to warm up relations between Americans and Turks. They mentioned Trabzon, describing it as isolated and in fact accessible only by air and water. It wasn't isolated from world events, though. In April our ops chief, a captain, got us together for a talk discussing the possibility of a conflict with the Soviet Union precipitated by the Berlin Crises then at its height. Khrushchev wanted the western powers out of Berlin. It was very lame attempt at relieving our minds. He told us that Trabzon would be the first place the Soviets would hit in a sneak attack, but we will have nothing to worry about because we'll never know what hit us. What a relief! But, still, we did get an evacuation plan and extra arms were brought in.
The ops compound was located on the northern end of the Boztepe Mountain overlooking the town, harbor and vast Black Sea beyond. Boztepe means Grey or Blemished in Turkish. We found it blemished alright but otherwise green, not grey, except when the frequent fog or low clouds moved in. In the recent photo below left, the ops area was situated at the smaller red rectangle, but it appears that much of the base is still extant within the larger red square. (The green ellipsoid encompasses the area where I lived.) The site was about 800 feet above town. It looks like the sheer cliff and trees are pretty much as they appeared 58 years ago. I don't know who or when the picture below right was taken, but it is a view of the relative positions of the station and ops, which is on the right at the end of the road. The picture appears to have been taken since I left in December1959, although the large ops building was finished when I was there.
A barbed-wire fence surrounded the ops area, which was guarded day and night by Turkish draftees ("Askeris") who led a tough life that included being marched back and forth up and down the steep miles from their barracks to our ops and then back again (see picture on the left). No wonder they were often surly and we had to be careful not to bother them. Inside the wire, we had a mobile communications center, and some Quonset huts and trailers contained supply and ops. The whole place was powered by I think three diesel engines. We were not quiet.
For some reason I never learned, my clearances did not arrive by the time I was due to report to work as a 203 Russian Linguist. I was only 18 years old and, though I had moved with my family several times, we were in just three states (Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania). Perhaps it was just the large number of records that had to be checked throughout that region. During the six weeks or so that I waited, I simply stayed in town reading, sightseeing and running the poker game that went on most hours of every day in our house. The exception was the few times I had to work in the antenna field putting up new antennas. Much of that work had to be done by hand!! But there were so many people to do the work that hours were short and they really didn't care if I showed up or not (so I usually didn't). I also pulled CQ duty (Charge of Quarters, a guard duty that in this case meant only sitting in an office manning a phone). Finally went to work by 31 March as a Russian linguist voice operator and later transcriber, then almost immediately volunteered to go TDY in early April to the next hut over where they engaged in ELINT (Electronic Intelligence, radars, etc). I must have been prescient since many years later I became the civilian boss of an ELINT shop. Anyway that was an 89-day assignment for which we received letters of appreciation, always good to have in your records. (During all this, I took the language proficiency test on 21 April, and much to my amazement because I had not been working in my field, passed it and received the next level in my AFSC 20350.)
There was always something going wrong with the buildings and equipment. I remember especially a cold and rainy spell in August during which the new Ops was freezing because, we were told, no one could figure out how to turn off the A/C! That ops building was finished in July but the unstoppable A/C hadn't arrived yet. Since it was so hot in July, we stayed in the vans even after the building was done.
Sometime during the summer four of us rented a friendly Turk and his cab, and drove to Samsun (the next detachment 300 miles west of us at Trabzon). We stayed with friends from San Antonio and Syracuse days during a three-day break. We were two Turks and four Americans. The cost each was only the equivalent of $75 total, which we divided five ways. To prevent dehydration and scurvy, we packed six cases of beer in the trunk. We left at 8:30 am on a Sunday morning and arrived about 6 pm that afternoon. The trip along the Black Sea coast was spectacular if often barren, but the condition of the small towns and farms along the way were worse. The gravel road ran along the cliffs looming over the sea and our driver drove alarmingly fast. Samsun was considerably more cosmopolitan than Trabzon and made us jealous. The houses were newer, everything in better condition, the women unveiled and able to converse in public. We made the most of the trip, hardly sleeping (about six hours in total), and by the third day we were punch drunk. A couple of the guys had the bright idea to race two of the horse-drawn hansoms that were usually used only for tourists and cabbing. That earned us a four-hour tour of the city jail until the base exec bailed us out. We were released on condition that we left town immediately, which we were going to do anyway, and the cops escorted us to the city limits. (Our "punishment" back in Trabzon was to spend a day of break fixing up the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ).)
Otherwise, our "daze" were spent working shifts, sometimes six, sometimes eight hours in length, sometimes 12 hours on 12 hours off, and one time at least I remember sitting at my position for 24 hours straight. We generally took the truck to and from work, but if we missed it, or just wanted the exercise, we'd walk up mountain trail with its drop-offs, and even down it at night with flashlights. We were eight fearless or stupid or both. And certainly lucky. We had some close calls.
The card games were ubiquitous: poker mostly, but also double-deck pinochle or Whist. Sometimes we played craps. Money changed hands during all these games. Food was mostly Turkish during the week, but mostly canned American and eggs on the weekends and during Ramadan (The ninth month of the Islamic calendar; the month of fasting; the holiest period for the Islamic faith). (Ramadan ended on April 8, 1959, We enjoyed the energetic festivities in town, partying, cannons firing, drummers and horn players marching through the streets (except when they did it while we were trying to sleep off a shift).
In late May or early June (for some reason I didn't mention this in my letters home and don't have details) some of us moved to another house much nearer headquarters and transportation. It was a modern house by Trabzon standards and much more comfortable. We had it rough, though, with only two maids, one for upstairs, one for downstairs, one to cook and one to do other things. The cook was Greek and our meals improved greatly. (The other maid was Turkish, which made for some fun times as the two women didn't get along very well.)
A real Air Force detachment:
But the fun came to an end in July of 1959. That is when the base was finally finished. (My memory is that Bendix Corp had something to do with the installation, but the company we all knew was Tumpane, an American company, that held what were called Base Maintenance Contracts providing many of the basic support functions at TUSLOG installations. The contractor hired a combination of U.S. and Turkish National employees. Many of the American personnel were retired from the military and had served previously in Turkey.) The complement of Trabzon's airmen had grown to almost 300 souls by this time.
We moved into a three story barracks, three to a room, airmen on the first two floors (both my rooms were on the second floor). NCOs were on the third floor. I think George Poulin and Ron Pilchard, also Russian linguists were my first roommates. Byron Tesch, a good friend, was in there at some point and a fellow named Smiley something. By October Ron, George and Tesch were all leaving and a fellow named Fields moved in unannounced. We just found him sleeping in the room totally covered by pillow and blanket. Didn't meet him until four days later! And apparently even that was too soon because I up and moved into #212 with Sam Baker, another good friend.
There were hiccups along the way. For instance, I remember we were given bed lamps that hooked onto the beds. Problem was they did not have light bulbs in them. The officers had their own one-story BOQ. There was a chow hall (the food was excellent, especially the steaks and the hamburger and French fries but food deliveries were not always on time and then the we ate spartanly), PX, club (with slot machines), a small gym that doubled as a movie theater, and headquarters building. We had a recreation room in the barracks that contained ping pong tables and at least one pool table (no coin slots). The club was a quantum leap forward from the tiny Club Kismet downtown. I still have my trusty Club Kismet cigarette lighter (picture below right). (I learned to smoke in Trabzon but quit many years ago, so the lighter sits in the midst of my memorabilia.)
The weather was usually mild in Trab although it could rain for days at a time. The Turks ran into one of those periods of cold and wet while trying to put in the road on and off the station. What a mess! A quagmire! They had taken off the top of the old road in front of the station right down to the clay. But they persevered during the monsoon, putting down a mixture of rock and material dredged from the Black Sea to form a riprap said to be very good. The impervious of the "soil" there is the reason the buildings on the station were built on five feet of dirt encased in concrete berms.
From a letter to my wife then girlfriend.
The club was broken into on 21 October and $300 was stolen by an American and we heard the authorities had prints. They checked everyone's outbound mail for a while afterwards. In a December letter I report that the fellow had been caught, taken to Mainsite where he promptly stole a truck and wrecked it. Apparently they only took his stripes and fined him.
Some folks couldn't take it: In December just before the holidays, a guy got drunk, beat up a Turk and the hit the commander on the head with a beer can. Last I knew he was under armed guard. I found out that my next assignment would be Plattsburg AFB, NY, on this same day.
The Club Kismet was always busy especially when an American Navy ship would dock at Trabzon. They'd bring the sailors up in two-hour shifts, which was enough time for them to get roaring drunk before returning to their ship. I also stood my last CQ duty in October, one of the last for airmen, since someone realized that we had 24-hour switchboard operators who could take the duty. Better late than never. By the fall of 1959, which was cold, the club opened up a lounge with a fireplace, bar and overstuffed lounge chairs. Nothing but the best for the Air Force! Tom Reilly and I played chess in that lounge for beers.
With life on the station came requirements such as firefighting. We received instructions and hands-on practice. I was on the fire team. We received instruction from a German expert brought in for the initial start-up. Fortunately, there were no fires for me to fight.
Life in barracks "Boztepe Hilton:" was in stark contrast to the lazy "opulence" of living downtown. I have to hand it to the Air Force, though, because they did much of what they could to give us comfort and something to do (other than walk over to the club). We added ping pong and pool in the day room to our card games but still spent a lot of time in the club when not in the gym for basketball or movies. With people coming and going on shift work, the barracks could be a hard place to try to get some sleep. It could be hectic.
The airmen's rooms were setup for three people. We had three lockers built into on wall with a door. The three beds set in each of the other corners. We had a large table and three chairs in the middle of the space. The latrine was just down the hall. Along about October we had to wash our own sheets even though the clothes washers didn't work. We had wash them in the sink and find a place to hang them. One day I found two notices from the first sarge: one said there would be an inspection that day so make sure the beds were made; the other said the medics were going to spray the beds that same day so leave them unmade. It turned out not to be a problem, though, since neither action was taken that day.
Alcohol had been and remained a real problem for the airmen on this "remote" site as it did elsewhere as well. My most disgusting memory was the big party that started out in the room across from mine in the afternoon. Someone came over to invite me but I took one look (and one beer) and got out of there fast. First of all, it was illegal and second of all it was going south fast and they'd only gotten started. When I got back from work I found the hallway on our floor strewn with toilet paper and a lot of damage. Later I heard the room had been completely trashed. Turns out that some of the NCOs were supplying the booze from their top floor bar. A bunch of people were busted. As a final indignity for me, as I was standing in the foyer of the barracks, bags in hand, waiting for the truck to pick us up and take us to the airport for our long awaited departure, a runner from the orderly room ran up to me. Seems someone had remembered seeing me in that room and given up my name. I told the runner to go back and tell them I'd already left for the plane. I never heard another thing about it, but it was a worry.
More pleasantly, we were visited by Air Force USO troop on November 9 and 10. They performed in the gym-music, jokes, acting-and were actually quite good we thought. Afterwards we entertained them heartily in the club. We also had our own bear cub mascot.
Scenes around the station
We received a raft of new linguists in in early November and we old timers got a lot of time off afterwards. I hardly worked at all during my last 40 days. I started out really liking the experience of both living as a Turk and working as a United States Airman with a duty and interesting jobs. But life on the station became very boring and the bureaucracy intolerable. I volunteered to go anywhere in the world as a linguist, but the only options I had were to stay in Turkey or become a clerk-typist (in my case a Strategic Air Command site at Plattsburgh AFB, NY). This was the fate of many of us; the Air Force of this era wasted huge amounts of training money for people they didn't us because of poor planning. (The selection process was highly technical: The simply took an alphabetical list of those airmen leaving country and drew a line after the last name filling the number of billets available. My name was the next one below the line.) By this time, though, I was already set on getting a university degree and starting a civilian career. So, it was great joy and relief that I stepped into that truck one more time and bid goodbye to Trabzon Air Station forever.
But first, before reentering the world we'd missed for so long, we lived it up in the Istanbul Hilton over the New Year.
Then it was the long trip home, this time via Trabzon, Ankara, Istanbul (out processing), Athens, I think Frankfurt, Shannon Airport, Gander Newfoundland (where we nearly landed in the trees of a socked in airfield), Charleston, Detroit. It was good to be home.
Written in August 2016
916 Calhoun Rd
Glen Rock PA 17327
By an unknown American circa 1958/9
In the country of Turkey,
Trabzon is the spot.
We are doomed to serve our country,
In the land that time forgot.
Up on hell's hilltop site,
Where we airmen work and roam;
Right in the middle of nowhere,
A few thousand miles from home.
We sneeze, we shiver, we freeze;
All the things that men can't stand.
We aren't convicts,
But defenders of our land.
We're airmen of the Air Force,
Counting our miserable pay,
Guarding people with millions,
For two and a quarter a day.
Living with our memories,
And parting with our gals,
Hoping that they won't go and marry
One of our best pals.
Nobody knows we are here,
And nobody gives a damn.
Soon we will be forgotten
While serving dear old Uncle Sam.
The time we've spent in the Air Force
Are good times surely missed.
So, don't let them draft you,
And for God's sake DON'T ENLIST!
But when we stand that last formation,
Saint Peter will surely yell,
"Fall out all you men from Trabzon;
You've served your time in hell."