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J. David Joyce "J.D."

SSgt

Trabzon

Tuslog Det 3-1

1957-1959

© 2018 by Author

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Assighment Turkey

It was the fall of 1957 and the first Russian earth satellite, Sputnik, had been placed into orbit; the technical revolution had begun. My participation in that revolution was to start with my assignment to Turkey. The reenlistment office provided me with military orders, the necessary travel money and sent me on my way. I flew by commercial airline from Los Angeles to New York City. From there, I made my way to McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey where I presented my orders to the operations section of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). The orders simply said to proceed to Trabzon, Turkey using any military transport facilities available. After a few days lying around the transient NCO quarters waiting to hear from MATS, I finally got the word that they could send me to Wheelus Air Base at Tripoli, Libya. That seemed to be on the way to Turkey, so I accepted the flight. Over the years, I’ve wondered if anyone in USAFSS ever notified the personnel section at the 6933 RSM, the parent organization of the detachment at Trabzon that I was on the way. It took me two weeks to get to Libya and I hadn’t encountered any search parties looking for me. There was no MATS desk at Wheelus, so I just showed up at Air Operations every day looking for a flight to any place in Turkey. I hadn’t even bothered to check and see just where Trabzon was located in Turkey, but I knew I had to find the parent organization, which I Thought was near Istanbul.

Finally, after two weeks, the clerk in operations told me I had just gotten lucky. Someone in the Air Force had been killed in an accident in Turkey and they had to send an aircraft to pick up his body. I caught a ride on that aircraft to the Istanbul International Airport. As I entered the terminal, it was as if I had entered a different world. The garb of the travelers was distinctly different and I stood out like a sore thumb in my Air Force blue uniform. I scanned the walls looking for a language I could understand and finally saw a familiar word; it was TUSLOG. My orders instructed me to report to TUSLOG Detachment 3-1 at Trabzon, Turkey. No one told me that using the USAFSS designation of 6933 RSM would mean little or nothing in Turkey. To reduce the visibility of our organization in Turkey, it went by the name Turkish United States Logistics Group or TUSLOG in military shorthand. The United States government found it useful to hire and assign to TUSLOG a large number of American and Turkish civilians to provide much of the maintenance and support needed to operate our facilities in Turkey. I found an Air Force two striper manning the office and told him I was trying to get to Trabzon but didn’t know where to go from where I was. He laughed and said it happened all of the time and that was the reason they maintained an office at the airport. He told me that the TUSLOG office in Istanbul was on the fifth floor of the building right next to the Hilton hotel and gave me the address. He then wrote down the information I needed to find a Turkish bus from the airport to Istanbul and headed me in the right direction. When the bus reached Istanbul, I stayed on it until the last stop because I hadn’t seen the Hilton hotel. The bus driver spoke no English at all but finally made it clear to me that he was at the last stop and I had take my bags and leave. Fortunately, I was in an area where taxis were abundant; I climbed into one and told the driver in English to take me to the Hilton hotel. He didn’t have any problem with that, nor did he have any problem accepting a twenty dollar bill for the fare. In those days, American money was accepted as legal tender in almost any city in the world. I still don’t have any idea if he over charged or short changed me in the deal, but I got to where I had to be.

The best thing that could be said of the TUSLOG office in Istanbul was that it was between the Hilton hotel and a great international restaurant called the Corte en Bleu. It contained the standard military steel furniture and had a large adjacent room with about twenty double deck bunks for use by military personnel stuck in Istanbul waiting for transportation. I asked the clerk there if he knew how to get to Trabzon. He told me to take a cab in the morning to the Galata Bridge where I would find a ferryboat to Karamursel, the location of TUSLOG Detachment 3 (the 6933 RSM). The clerk was an inconsiderate moron, an ignorant malcontent or, as a private joke, made the instructions sound simple.

I expected to see a bridge and a ferryboat when my taxi reached Galata Bridge. What I found was a bridge that was a third of a mile long over the famous Golden Horn area of the Bosporus Strait. The bridge was eighty yards wide, lined on both sides with large ferryboats destined for a myriad of ports, and alive with the constant hustle and bustle of a drably clad working class population. I looked around to find a place to buy a ticket and found a long row of kiosks. Although it was obvious I was a stranger as I stood there looking confused, dressed in my Air Force blue uniform, no one seemed to take special notice of me. When I reached the front of the line at one of the kiosks, I said, “Karamursel,” and shoved a hundred lira note toward the clerk.

The clerk took the bank note and said, “Yolava.” I responded with Karamursel and he replied with “Yolava” again. Realizing I was at an impasse, I took back my money, stepped out of line and went back up to the bridge. I looked around for someone who was well dressed and each time I saw one, I asked if they spoke English. After a number of failures, a Turkish man acknowledged that he spoke some English and offered to help. When I explained my problem, he laughed and told me that Karamursel was an inland town and to get there I would have to travel first to Yolava. He went with me back to the ticket kiosks and figured out which ferry I should take and told me how much to pay for the ticket. He was the rare nice Turk I was to meet during my fourteen months in the country. I thanked him and proudly said “Yolava” as I pushed the Lira toward the ticket seller. I found my ferry, a large ship filled with people, vehicles and animals. I climbed aboard for my trip across the Sea of Marmara, a link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and headed to the next stop on my odyssey.

As the ferry bumped into the dock at Yolava and the crew started to secure the vessel, people began jumping onto the dock with their belongings to hurry on their way as others jumped from the dock to the deck. Suddenly, a little boy about half my size, who had jumped on to the ferry, grabbed my bags and took off down the gangway to the dock. I struggled through the mass of humanity trying to catch what I thought was a thief. When I finally reached the little urchin, he smiled at me and said, “Okay GI, Okay GI. Karamursel” and pointed to a parking lot filled with about thirty buses. He had outrun his competition to carry my bags to the bus for a tip. When we reached the proper vehicle, he pointed to the sign above the front windows that indicated its destination was Karamursel and stuck out his hand. I gave him a five-lira note and he scurried off to find another job.

I must digress a moment to explain the use of Turkish lira. I had been using twenty-dollar bills since arriving and only received Turkish lira in change. Guessing at the value of food and services, I made a rough calculation that a dollar was worth about nine or ten lira on the street. The official exchange rate was 1.8 lira to a dollar but there was a flourishing black market for currency of all types in that part of the world at that time. To purchase currency at other than the official exchange rate was punishable by arrest and jail time, but the Turkish government ignored the activity and let the market set the unofficial rate.

The bus driver could see by my uniform that I was headed for the American base and stopped at the gate which was at the outskirts of Karamursel. I dragged my bags off the bus and entered a little bit of America built in this strange, ancient country. The guard at the gate called for transportation for me and a pickup truck came to the gate and took me to the personnel office. The First Sergeant directed me to a clerk to have a room in the barracks assigned and gave me instructions to return to the Personnel Office the next day. I told the clerk that I was only there to catch a ride to Trabzon and would only need transit quarters; he told me he had instructions to assign me to the Operations Section at Karamursel and that was what he was going to do. Apparently, someone really had passed the word that SSgt Joyce was en route to Turkey. I was too tired to argue and figured I would straighten out things in the morning.

I checked in with the personnel section the next morning and explained my situation. It was the middle of November in 1957 and I had been on the road to my new unit for over six weeks by this time and still hadn’t reached my destination. The personnel officer didn’t want to hear my story. He told me I was assigned to the day group of analysts in the Operations Section and that I should take up my problem with the Operations Officer, Captain Mock. I went through the process of clearing onto the base and showed up for work the next morning at Operations. My new roommate, Mike Everson, an Aleut Indian from Alaska, had already clued me in to the fact that it was a poorly run organization with no real leadership. The Non Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) of the analytical section pointed to the room where I was to work and told me to find a work space. When I walked in, it seemed apparent the organization did not need another analyst. Someone occupied every chair and desk. The next thing I noticed was that the place looked like a pigsty; it hadn’t been kept at the normal level of military order and cleanliness. That NCOIC was a poor excuse for a Non Commissioned Officer. I do not, nor do I want to, remember his name. I wasn’t assigned any mission and had no place to work. Rather than wander around like a dunce, I introduced myself to the other analysts and asked if anyone needed help. A couple of guys said they had more than they could handle so I went to work at the edge of a desk using fully packed burn bags, thick paper bags that contained classified information to be burned, as a chair. I realized right away that if I were going to go to war with Captain Mock, he didn’t have a chance given the way he ran the Operations Section.

I went through all the channels available to try to get orders that would send me on my way to Trabzon but ran into a brick wall everywhere I turned. No one wanted to hear my story or offer any solutions. I made some new friends in the outfit and we made several trips to Istanbul on weekends to get away from the base. On one of the trips, I was with Mike Everson and he told me about a small Post Exchange in the city. I needed cigarettes so we made our way there. As we entered, the Turkish guard, hired to ensure that only Americans entered, waved me through the door but stopped Mike. We were in civilian clothes and to the guard it was obvious I was American, but Mike had dark skin and looked like he came from the Middle or Near East. The guard thought he was trying to sneak into the Exchange. After Mike had his military identification card thoroughly inspected by the guard and his supervisor, he was allowed to enter. Mike and I got a kick out of the incident, but then I began to wonder if Mike felt insulted and asked him if he had been bothered by what had happened. He gave me his big, friendly smile and told me it was nothing compared to the old days. When I asked what he meant, he explained that when he entered the Army in 1950, the services were still segregated and he was assigned to a black unit because of his heritage and dark skin. He also served in the Korean War with a black unit led by white officers. Our conversation that day added to my education about our country. Through the wonder of the Internet, Mike and I still correspond. I had been enjoying my weekend trips to Istanbul to see the sights and learn about a new culture, but I wanted the extra money that went with the Trabzon assignment and the work at Karamursel was miserable. By late December I got the feeling that if I didn’t do something soon, nothing would ever be done and I’d be stuck at Karamursel for the full twenty-four month tour of duty.

On the following Monday morning, I sought and received an appointment with Captain Mock. He struck me as an angry man who was unhappy to be where he was and didn’t want to spend any time listening to my problem. He must have been asleep in the Officers Training School on the day they taught the students the famous lesson that “all enlisted men are stupid but some are crafty and bear watching.” He told me he was short of Analysts so he had changed my assignment from Trabzon to Karamursel. I told him that I had been given a guaranteed reenlistment assignment to Trabzon and that he wasn’t authorized to make the change. He accused me of being insolent and insubordinate and dismissed me. I think it was at that point I began to realize that just because someone is a military officer, it doesn’t mean he is more intelligent than I am.

I told the NCOIC of the Analysis Section that I had some matters to take care of at the Personnel Office and walked over to the headquarters building. When I got there, I told the First Sergeant that I had a serious personal matter I needed to discuss with the Squadron Commander. Normally, it is difficult to take a personnel problem directly to a unit commander, but when it is couched in terms of a personal problem, First Sergeants will acquiesce and make the interview happen. When the Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, asked about my problem, I turned it around by telling him that he had a problem with one of his officers. “Oh! What is that?” he asked me with a glowering look. I told him that it had become apparent to me that his Operations Officer, Captain Mock, had concluded that the success or failure of the entire operations section depended on me, a lowly SSgt, who had only been in the unit for a few weeks. I didn’t say anything about the poor conditions I had witnessed in operations; I simply explained that I wanted my guaranteed assignment to Trabzon but that Captain Mock felt my absence from Karamursel would lead to a disaster. The Commander leaned back in his chair and stared at me for several moments; I waited for him to blow up and jump down my throat for wasting his time. To his credit and my relief, that didn’t happen. He leaned forward, stared at me even harder and slowly said, “No organization of mine will ever depend on one person, no matter his job or rank. Go back to the barracks and pack your bags. Report to the Personnel Office in the morning to pick up your orders and arrange transportation to Trabzon. You are dismissed.” I stood up, saluted, thanked him for his decision and left his office. I have to assume that he must have had unpleasant dealings with Captain Mock in the past, because he never once questioned the details of my story and made his decision on the spot. Although I remained in the USAFSS Command for the following sixteen years, I never dealt with, or heard of, Captain Mock again.

My trip to Trabzon was aboard a Turk Hava Yollari (THY) Airlines aircraft. I can’t say for sure, but I think the aircraft was a very old, eighteen passenger Lockheed L-18 Loadstar. In aviation, there are Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR). IFR procedures are used in foul weather or when the pilot can’t see the terrain and VFR procedures are used when the weather is clear and the pilot can determine his location by viewing the terrain. On the day I flew to Trabzon, I don’t think the pilot was instrument rated or perhaps, in that backward country, there were no IFR aids available to help him. It was seriously overcast and raining when we departed the international airport at Istanbul. The pilot turned the aircraft eastward and located the coastline of the Black Sea and mainland Turkey. He couldn’t fly much higher than fifteen hundred feet above the surface of the water or he would lose sight of the coastline in the overcast. While the pilot tried to keep us airborne in the unstable air by countering the up and down and sideway bounces, the copilot, sitting at his right, kept him informed of their estimated position by comparing the coast line to a map on his lap. I concluded the pilot had come up with a new rule. He was flying IFCL; I Follow Coast Lines.

We finally completed the approximately 450-mile flight with a smooth landing in the rain at Trabzon. One look around told me I was in the middle of nowhere. We ran through the rain from the aircraft to the rundown terminal and waited for the bags to be unloaded. Before my bags reached the terminal, a taxi driver approached me and asked, “Hotel?” I knew there was no base in the city and quickly realized that I would need a hotel until I found a place to live so I said, “Okay,” a term understood everywhere in the world. He stood next to me to ensure some other driver didn’t poach his fare as we waited for my bags. When they arrived, he snatched them and put them into the trunk of his cab. The cabbie took me to a hotel in downtown Trabzon which was third or fourth class by our standards, but one of the best in that town.

As I arranged for a room, an American in civilian clothes who had been on the plane with me, asked if I knew where the American unit’s orderly room was. When I told him I didn’t know anything, the hotel clerk asked, “American Office?” We both said yes and the clerk shouted something in Turkish to a cab driver parked outside. The driver came into the hotel, and through international sign language and broken English, we arranged for him to take us to the orderly room. We found one person at the orderly room, an administrative clerk assigned to handle personnel matters for the unit. Fortunately, he had the time and inclination to brief us on the operation of the detachment. I began to feel welcome.

The unit had fewer than a hundred men assigned. There were no barracks so everyone lived on the economy with the Turkish residents of the city. He told us he was sure there were a few openings at some of the apartments that had historically been rented to Americans since the unit opened in 1953. He said he would pass along the word that new guys were in the hotel looking for quarters. The clerk told us the detachment Commander, Captain Carl J. Carlson, and First Lieutenant James J. Easily, the Operations Officer, were good men and smart officers. The unit used the standard four Trick schedule and the men worked at a compound on the top of a hill that overlooked the city. According to the clerk, every trip up or down the hill via a dirt road in one of the unit’s trucks was an adventure. He took our orders and told us to report back the next morning to meet the Commander and the Operations Officer.

Our meeting with Captain Carlson and Lieutenant Easily soon confirmed the opinion of the orderly room clerk. Both of these officers came across as men who would not put up with any nonsense from their troops, yet were officers who had the welfare of the men in their organization as a paramount concern. Jim Easily told me there was a Sergeant on duty in operations waiting to brief me on my job because I was his replacement and he was more than ready to go home. He also told me to find quarters before reporting to work. Carl Carlson told us that whereas there hadn’t been any trouble with the locals, danger did lurk in the alleys of the town and recommended that troops never walk around the town alone. The Turkish government did not allow us to have regular military weapons, but he recommended each man carry a hunting knife or oversized “church key,” GI slang for a beer can opener. This advice, of course, was informal. These were my kind of officers.

In the few days it took for me to find a place to live, I had a crash course in living in a remote Muslim town far removed from the secular area of the country. Based on the local garb, there seemed to be two distinct tribes. One wore traditional clothing in black and the other wore black and orange striped clothing. The women wore the customary chador, and carefully avoided eye contact with men. Although some local men wore traditional Islamic clothing, most wore western clothing in town. Unlike the women, men constantly sought out eye contact to the point of seeming rude by staring with their universally dark eyes. Women always walked behind their husband or male family member but were allowed to walk in front of any male hired to carry purchases from the market. There were many tea houses where men sat, drank tea and discussed the politics of the day. Women were not allowed in tea houses, nor were they allowed in the few restaurants in town.

With one exception, the only cars in the town of about thirty to forty thousand citizens were taxis. The Italian government maintained a consulate in Trabzon and the Counselor had a black Mercedes assigned to him. Other than the main thoroughfares, streets were unpaved and were little more than alleys. Even on the main thoroughfares, pedestrian traffic had the right of way. When moving on city streets, our trucks carefully avoided conflict with foot traffic. Ninety-six American men in a Muslim community constituted an oddity and the local people viewed us with interest. They knew we were sanctioned by the Turkish military, so we received tacit acceptance.

I got lucky and found a one-person unit on the top floor of a four-story apartment building. It was known as the “penthouse,” but that was an exaggeration. The room was about forty feet long and fifteen feet wide. There was room for a bed, a table and a few chairs. One end, with a door to the flat roof of the building where maids hung laundry, was dedicated to the kitchen facilities: a kitchen sink, a hot plate and a pantry. There was another sink with a mirror across from the bed, which I used for shaving. Just off the entry door on the opposite end of the long room was a small bathroom. It had a shower at one side of the room, and the other side, in lieu of a commode, contained what we jokingly called a bombsight. The bombsight was a slightly depressed tiled area in the floor with two raised footprints. Behind the footprints was an open four-inch diameter pipe to facilitate urination and defecation. A few inches above the floor, there was a water spigot.

I purchased the existing furniture and remaining canned goods from the man who was leaving and felt fortunate to have a place of my own. As he handed me the key when he was leaving, he said, “Oh, one more thing; before you go into the bathroom, make sure you kick the bottom of the door to scare the rats down the pipe.” He was not joking. The rats were so big in Trabzon, they had a mutual non-aggression pact with the cats in town. I can remember seeing a cat walking down one side of the street while a rat walked in the same direction across the street without either acknowledging the existence of the other. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photograph of the bombsight area for posterity but I do have a photograph of a modern one I recently took in Southern Spain while on vacation. I assume the strong North African and Muslim influence in that area accounts for the existence of this type of facility found in an up-scale restaurant in the city of Tarifa at the southernmost point Europe.


(Click to view larger image.)

Using the accepted black market rate for the Turkish lira, the accommodations cost me twenty dollars a month. I inherited a maid, an old, bent over Russian lady named Anna, who came in a few days a week to clean the place and do my laundry. I paid her ten dollars a month. We seldom spoke but we had an established routine. Clothing to be washed was to be left on the floor; it was important not to leave anything on the floor that I did not want washed. Anna would iron my clothes, but only if I inserted the plug into the electrical outlet; she thought electricity was magic and refused to touch the plug. If I placed any rock hard, stale bread in the trash, she would remove it and tell me Allah would make me go blind if I threw away bread. I learned to give her any bread I did not want. Anna would remove her veil while in my apartment but would replace it if anyone came to the door. Overall, living in Trabzon was somewhere between miserable and tolerable, but the mission of the organization made it worthwhile.

The trip up to the top of Boztepe, the hill at the edge of town, was indeed an adventure. The road was dirt and gravel and had three switchbacks so sharp that trucks had to stop, back up several feet and then start forward again. To run off the road was certain death. We used the standard military two and a half ton trucks nicknamed “six bys” because power can be applied to all six wheels. I soon realized it was safer to walk down the hill on the well worn path when I left work; the ride down in a truck was just too scary.

My work at Trabzon prepared me for future assignments as a Surveillance and Warning Center Supervisor, the most important position in any operational Security Service unit. Our job was to monitor the communications used by the Soviet missile development program. At that time, the Soviet Union operated three major missile test ranges. The Russians used Kapustin Yar Missile Test Range (KYMTR) to develop short-range missiles; Vladimirovka Lake Balkhash Missile Test Range (VLBMTR) was dedicated to intermediate range missiles; and Tyura Tam Missile Test Range (TTMTR) tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Although we had a non-Morse intercept operation on the site that worked in concert with the Morse intercept operation, the Morse intercept mission was the prime reason for the existence of the detachment.

Our operations building consisted of three, forty-foot long trailers, with rear doors removed, connected by a wooden frame passageway. One trailer held three Morse intercept positions; the middle trailer held a communications center and an office for the operations officer; and the Intelligence Analysts used the third. There was also a desk in the third trailer for the one Cryptanalyst assigned to the organization. I received a wonderful briefing from my predecessor that was as good as a training class; his forte was probably teaching. Each Trick had three intercept operators and a Morse supervisor who was responsible for their activities and the operation of the Morse link with our units at Samsun and Karamursel. Each Trick also had one Intelligence Analyst assigned who reported to the Morse supervisor while on duty but formally worked for me. In addition to the analysts working shift work, I was also responsible for the one Cryptanalyst who worked the day shift only. I reported directly to the Operations Officer and formally worked the day shift, but was available for duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The non-Morse intercept operation was in a building a few steps away from the Morse area. They had a similar structure to ours and reported to the Operations Officer. This was my first experience as an operational supervisor and I effortlessly transitioned into the position. I had an extremely strong work ethic and expected everyone under my command to work as hard as I did. This style of supervision does not always sit well with people but it leaves no room for misinterpretation. In Trabzon, and throughout my career, everyone under my supervision knew exactly what I expected from them. They also knew I would do everything possible for their well-being if they performed their duties as I directed. In two incidents during my Air Force career, I even allowed myself to be arrested while defending men under my command; those are stories to be treated later. Many men came to me over the years to confess that they really didn’t like me when we first met but eventually came to appreciate me and my style.

My participation in the mission of the unit was tremendously gratifying. Our job was to locate and intercept Russian Morse transmissions emanating from launch facilities at the three missile test ranges when they notified down range stations and Moscow of impending operations. It was a cat and mouse game. Each operator had one receiver tuned to the frequency last used by the Russian control station and one to search for missile related transmissions on other frequencies. The Russians knew we were listening so they changed frequencies and call signs from time to time to make our job more difficult. Although their transmissions of regular traffic, administrative messages and radio checks only took a few minutes to complete, our experienced intercept operators could recognize the sounds of specific transmitters and operator sending techniques and were able to identify our targets when they changed call signs and frequencies. Countdowns to missile launches were a little different; the transmissions lasted only seconds. The Russian control operator would transmit: CQ CQ CQ (I am trying to get your attention) DE (this is ? and transmit his call sign) BT (beginning text). At this point, he would transmit a three number group we interpreted as “X minus,” followed by a second group of numbers to indicate the number of minutes left until launch and then sign off. The number 120 would indicate two hours, 090 was 90 minutes and so forth. An example of the transmission would be, CQ CQ CQ DE ABCD BT 543 120 K (message finished) SK (signing off). This way of informing everyone that a launch would take place in two hours took very few seconds. It was not very sophisticated when compared to the present era of digital communications, but it was all they had in the 1950s. As a countdown got closer to launch, they would transmit at the 20, 15, 10 and single digit minute intervals. At launch, the transmission was NW NW NW which is international Morse code jargon for “Now.”

Besides having to locate the enemy on the bandwidth and identify him, we also had to determine if the operator was practicing or if the transmissions were valid. We accomplished this through coordination with the non-Morse people and other units. We reported each countdown, as it progressed, to our headquarters in the United States and associated units throughout the world through secure teletype communications with very high priority status messages. Our one Cryptanalyst and I were on call for all countdowns to make decisions as to the validity of the activity and to edit and approve outgoing reports. There were many times when I spent several days and nights at operations with only catnaps to sustain me when technical problems interrupted major launches from the Tyura Tam launch site. The ICBM launches, which included a thirty-minute flight to an impact site on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East Soviet Union, were complicated and could often take several days to accomplish.

As mentioned earlier, the Russians knew why we were at Trabzon and they liked to toy with us. Whenever our teletype operators told us they had a suspicious attempt at communications with our unit, we could check the signal with our direction finding equipment. It invariably came from a station across the Black Sea on the Crimean Peninsula. As far as I know, they never fooled any of our communications personnel.

They would also try to contact us through our Morse net by using the call signs from our units at Samsun and Karamursel but they were never successful because of the sophisticated identification procedures we used. Even without the identification procedures, the poor sound quality of their transmitters gave away their attempts to fool us. It was interesting to know that there were guys just like us across the Black Sea and the Turkish/Russian border working for the other side.

I absolutely loved every moment I was involved in the daily operations of the unit but there was more to Trabzon than the job. Surviving on the local economy had its challenges, as did living in a GI community of slightly less than one hundred men. Finding entertainment in such a remote area was difficult and there were the inevitable, surprise problems that were bound to occur. I’ll describe a few of the incidents that stick in my mind as either funny or scary.

Food and Drink

To help us survive our remote assignment, the Air Force assigned what they called an Independent Medic to our unit. “Doc” was a special guy. Real doctors enter the Air Force as Captains and nurses enter the Air Force as Lieutenants. Our “Doc” was a lowly Staff Sergeant, certified to perform many of the procedures assigned to doctors and nurses under normal conditions. He could sew up wounds, pull teeth, apply casts and prescribe medications. He even performed as a Veterinarian whenever one of our pet dogs got ill or puppies needed to have tails removed. “Doc” had the authorization of the Commander to lay down the law with regard to his areas of expertise. The city-provided water was not potable so he advised us to use iodine pills in any water we consumed. Some of us did and some of us didn’t. He told us not to purchase any meat from the local butchers because they didn’t have refrigeration in their shops. Some of us did and some of us didn’t. At one point, so many men had received ankle and knee injuries walking down from the top of Boztepe rather than risking the ride, he convinced the Commander to forbid that action. Some of us listened and some of us didn’t. Everyone got sick at one time or another. Many men contracted hepatitis-A and were shipped out and replaced on a regular basis. When I contracted some type of stomach ailment, “Doc” gave me a bottle of paregoric, an opium based medication. He told me to take it at specific intervals and not to drive. I did as he said and was in a fog for several days but recovered. After living there for a few months and having been acclimated, I can remember buying ground meat from a butcher in spite of the thousands of flies in his shop. It was better to watch him cut the meat from a fly covered carcass hanging from a hook and grind it in his grinder than to purchase an already ground package; there was no way of knowing what went into that grinder when no one was around.

Every so often, the Commander would send a truck to the American base at Ankara in Central Turkey to purchase supplies for us. Paramount during cold weather was the availability of kerosene for our space heaters. We could also order canned goods. I pretty much lived on a diet of canned crabmeat or tuna fish mixed with concentrated tomato soup heated on my hot plate. I never noticed the word “concentrated” on the soup can, so without dilution, my special recipe invariably caused heartburn. Sometimes, Anna would make a Turkish meal for me; I was never impressed with the flavor but ate to survive. Fresh bread from the local bakeries smeared with an imitation butter found in the grocery stores was always a treat. Turkey had a secular government then, and although the consumption of alcoholic beverages was frowned upon in the provinces, we were occasionally able obtain small amounts of beer on the black market. We also had beer illegally shipped in via military aircraft from Germany.

I don’t know if it was the food, the water, the remoteness of our small unit or some other cause, but there came a time when one of our men crossed over into some level of insanity. I was playing poker with some of the men in an apartment not far from the orderly room when they told me that one of the guys who lived there had been acting strange. He told them that when he was attending technical school he had been drugged by the government and taken to a dentist where a miniature radio was installed in one of his teeth. He said that now he was receiving strange instructions via radio transmissions to the tooth. I thought they were kidding me until the man came out of his room in a rage. He shouted that he had received orders to stop the poker game and throw the players out of the apartment. One of the guys who lived there shouted to him to shut up and go back to his room. At that point, the crazy guy jumped across the poker table and bit the man on the arm. We pulled them apart and held the offender down until we could get one of the few military policemen assigned to the unit to help us. The next day we shipped him to Istanbul in hand cuffs. I never heard of him again.

The QRC-45 Incident

Our operations area at the top of Boztepe was surrounded by a fence and we had a guard shack at the entry gate. The fence was about five feet high but was not topped with barbed wire which was the normal style fence around USAFSS installations. As the ranking man on duty one warm, summer afternoon, I received a call from the guard at the gate that a man, who appeared to be a Turkish National, had jumped over the fence at the rear of the restricted area. I rushed outside and saw a Turkish man starting to dig a hole at the base of our QRC-45 antenna. The QRC-45, a C-Band Wullenweber antenna, was used by our non-Morse electronic interception section to home in on the location of monitored emissions and was classified technology at the time. I considered this violation of our secure area a significant threat.

I instructed the military policeman in the guard shack to lock the gate and accompany me to the base of the antenna. Together, we confronted the intruder. Recognizing me as the ranking person, he stopped digging and looked directly at me with a questioning look on his face. I told him in English to climb back over the fence. With his broken English and my slight understanding of Turkish, he communicated to me that he had been told by his employer to come to this point and dig a hole. I really didn’t think he was a terrorist or a saboteur, but I felt required to evict him from the compound regardless of his excuse for being there. I told the military policeman to pull his .45 caliber automatic from its holster, jack a cartridge into the chamber and point it at the man to show him I was serious. This prompted a small grin on the intruder’s face that I tried to interpret. I didn’t know if it was a nervous grin or an arrogant grin, but it seemed to say, “You won’t shoot me. I am a Turk in Turkey and you are only a guest in my country.” We stood there eying each other for a few more seconds until I turned to the guard holding the gun; while pointing at the Turkish man, I told him to be ready to shoot if I so ordered.

I turned back to the intruder and could see that a transformation of his grin had occurred. He no longer looked confident and started to back toward the fence. My first instinct was that he understood English perfectly and had heard my instruction to the military policeman. When my eyes darted from the intruder to the military policeman, as the Turk climbed over the fence to vacate the secure area, I discovered the source of my success. The policeman’s hand holding the weapon was shaking; he was sweating profusely and had a terrified look on his face in anticipation of having to kill someone. Apparently, the intruder quickly concluded that an accidental escalation of the situation could be imminent and he might be killed.

When I reported the incident to the unit Commander, he made it clear that we had dodged a bullet. He went on and on about what an international incident it would have been had we shot the intruder, and I guess it would have been really bad. The civilian contractors at TUSLOG were chastised for their poor supervision of Turkish nationals near the guarded compound and I think the incident was buried. My career, and most likely, a stint in a Turkish prison had been laid on the line that afternoon. I don’t want to contemplate what my life might have been like if things had gone differently.

Arrested in Turkey

There was an outdoor movie theater in town that showed American movies dubbed into Turkish. It was funny to see stars like Randolph Scott and John Wayne speaking Turkish, but even that got old. We had many poker games and dice games, but mostly I entertained myself with reading and working. One evening after a poker game that lasted several hours, one of the players, Harvey, a man who worked for me, decided he wanted to find some female company. He must have been drinking after-shave as well as the few beers we had or he had an overwhelming surge of testosterone because he decided he wanted to go to the “compound.” The compound was a Turkish government controlled brothel in a less than desirable part of town. “Doc” and the Commander had declared the compound off limits and I think just about everyone obeyed that order; I know I did. Try as I might, I could not convince the young man that it was a bad idea. I couldn’t physically restrain him, nor could I allow him to go out into that part of town alone, so I went along with him, all the while trying to change his mind.

When we reached the compound, I figured my problem was solved because the doors and windows were closed and there were no lights to be seen. Just as I was telling Harvey we should turn around and go back, he started to beat on the door to get someone’s attention. We got attention all right, but it came from a six foot, four inch city police officer. He came around the corner straight up to Harvey and knocked him flat on his back with a right cross to the jaw. I was about fifteen feet away from where Harvey had been beating on the door and tried to intercede by shouting to the police officer that I could speak Turkish. He walked over to me and without a word, used his well practiced right cross to hit me square on the left side of my face. My head snapped back and hit the wall behind me before I crumpled to the ground. When I came to my senses, the officer was pulling me to my feet and my hands were constrained by a little gadget that slips over both thumbs and is screwed down to prevent release. Harvey was already up on his feet and constrained in the same manner. Still without any words, the policeman shoved us through alleyways until we came to a small police substation.

At the station, the officer and another policeman removed our money, cigarettes, wallets and belts, and required us to sign a ledger to record our arrest. Harvey signed in first. I don’t know whether it was because the drinking had made him giddy or because he was very bright, but it came to him to sign the register as T. L. Ranger. When I saw that, I followed suit and registered as Richard Tracy. After we were placed into a cell, the two policemen had a long conversation and made several telephone calls. Finally, one of them handed the receiver to me through the bars; I placed it to my ear and said, “Hello. Who is this?” The voice at the other end told me he was a translator hired by the Air Force to deal with Turkish officials concerning American activities. I told him that there may be a problem because the police officer had beaten us up for no reason. He then asked if they beat us on the street or in the police station. When I told him it was on the street, he said we were lucky because that wasn’t allowed and asked to speak with one of the officers. I guess it would have been okay to knock us around once we were in the station house but I was never able to confirm that.

After a lengthy conversation between the police officer and the translator, both of the policemen smiled as one of them unlocked the cell and indicated we could leave. They returned everything except our Turkish money and our American cigarettes. We did not protest and considered ourselves very lucky; all of us had been told horror stories about life in Turkish prisons. I never told anyone of the incident but somehow, part of the story must have spread. About a month later, at “Commander’s Call,” a monthly address to the troops by the Commander, Captain Carlson asked if anyone knew of a Dick Tracy or a T. L. Ranger in the organization. His question was unanswered except for a few barely audible snickers. I feel certain Captain Carlson knew the identity of the culprits, but in keeping with his style of command, he didn’t push the issue any further. He had a special way about him that earned our respect.

There came a time when the Commander, Captain Carlson, Jim Easley and I went to Karamursel to attend a mission planning conference. After our arrival at Istanbul International Airport, the Captain told me to call the Hilton Hotel and get rooms for us. In my naiveté, I identified myself as Sergeant Joyce from Trabzon and asked to reserve three rooms for the night. The clerk informed me that they were all booked for the evening. When I asked Captain Carlson what his second choice was, he told me I had messed up by letting them know I was a member of the U. S. Military, and that he would get the rooms. He called the Hilton Hotel and responded to the clerk’s greeting by saying, “This is Carl J. Carlson from Apache County, Arizona. I am here at your airport with an associate and my male secretary. We need three rooms for the night. Please make the arrangements with my secretary.” He handed the telephone to me and I disguised my voice as I made the reservations for the newly discovered vacancies. Captain Carlson had taken a page from Harvey’s book and misrepresented himself. I tried to imitate his style for the rest of my military career.

Stoning Incidents

Other than with shopkeepers, there were few social interactions between the local populace and the Americans stationed in Trabzon. We lived in two different worlds and did not understand very much of each other’s cultures. This was driven home to me one afternoon as I walked down the alley toward my apartment building. There, I saw a young girl of about thirteen years of age cowering behind a power pole as local women and children threw stones at her. She either deliberately went out into public without her face and head being covered or didn’t realize she had reached that state in development that required a veil and headscarf. Little girls played in the streets uncovered all of the time, but at a certain point in their development, custom demanded they be covered; this poor girl had violated the custom. I could not stop myself from protecting the frightened girl. Instinctively, I placed myself between the girl and the stone throwers and shouted in English that they should stop what they were doing. When that didn’t stop them, I reached down and picked up some stones as if I intended to throw them at the abusers. That stopped them for a moment and the girl took the opportunity to run the sixty feet to the entrance to her home and escape any additional injury. I feel certain she remembers that day when an unknown foreigner risked injury and possibly an international incident to save her from further abuse or perhaps death. I remain proud of my actions that day, even though they were instinctive rather than deliberate.

I witnessed another stoning event some months later, only I was the one being stoned. In violation of the Commander’s advice never to roam the town alone, I was on my way to visit some friends who lived near the dock area. As I crossed one of the many small neighborhood squares, I noticed a man standing on a wooden box speaking to a small crowd of men. I thought it was quaint, rather like the revolutionary days in America when politicians preached their opinions on street corners. My minimal command of the Turkish language did not allow me to understand anything the man was saying, but I knew enough to give the group a wide birth. After making my way around them and turning into the street I was seeking, I heard the speaker’s voice rise up to a shout. I had my back to them as I walked away so I was surprised when small stones started hitting me and the ground around me. Again, instinct took over and I took off running down the alley toward my friend’s place. After about a hundred feet, as I turned to enter his courtyard, I hazarded a look back. Only about seven or eight men had separated from the group in a half hearted attempt to follow me as they continued to throw stones. As I entered the doorway, they stopped and went back to listen to the speaker. Whether he was preaching against infidels or foreigners (I was both), I don’t know, but he sure took advantage of an opportunity when I wandered into that square. After a few hours at my friend’s place, we carefully checked the area of the square before I made my way back to my apartment. It seems a little frightening as I write about it now, but when you are twenty-four years old, you think you will live forever and little in the world intimidates you.

Aircraft Shoot Downs

On June 27, 1958, a United States Air Force transport aircraft, a four engine C-118, tail number 13822, strayed across the border between Turkey and Soviet territory and was shot down by Soviet fighters. Considering the type of aircraft, and its crew, six officers and three enlisted men, it is reasonable to believe that it was not a reconnaissance mission; intelligence collection missions carried many more enlisted men than officers. At that time in the Cold War, the Soviets didn’t care what the mission might have been; they jumped on every opportunity to shoot down our aircraft.[2] Now, fifty years later, it is generally accepted that the C-118 was operated by either the CIA or the State Department and was on a routine mission between the island nation of Cyprus and Tehran, Iran to transport classified equipment and documents. While trying to avoid thunderstorms in the mountainous area of southeast Turkey, the pilot became confused and crossed over the border into Soviet territory. The local Soviet air defense organization scrambled MIG fighters with orders to destroy the intruder. The initial cannon fire from one of the Soviet fighters caused a fire in the C-118 and the pilot ordered the crew to bailout. Five of them did but four were unable to reach escape hatches because of the fire and remained on board as the aircraft crash-landed at a partially constructed airfield in Azerbaijan. Immediately after the crash landing, as the four crewmembers ran from the aircraft, a huge explosion destroyed the burning wreckage. I suspect the explosion was part of a procedure in place to destroy classified information in the event of a force down in enemy territory, but I have no firm evidence to support my opinion. The incident occurred only a few hundred miles southeast of our location at Trabzon, but because we were so focused on or primary mission, we did not intercept any associated radio transmissions during the activity. Other Security Service units did copy radio transmissions and provided the intelligence to the highest levels of our government.

Security Service operated airborne voice and Morse intercept missions in the area along the Turkish border with the Soviet Union. The aircraft, normally a four engine C-130A Hercules configured as a COMINT (Communications Intelligence) reconnaissance platform, flew racetrack type flight plans between Trabzon in northeast Turkey and Lake Van in the southeast corner of the country. One sunny afternoon in late August of 1958, the interpreter assigned to a nearby Turkish military unit came to our operations area and asked to speak with the person in charge. That person happened to be me at the time, so I went outside of our secure area to speak with him. He pointed to the contrail of one of our reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying between Lake Van and Trabzon for several hours and asked me if I knew whose airplane it was. The collection missions were very highly classified and there was no way I could tell him the truth, so I told him I didn’t know. He told me that his commander didn’t know either so he was going to try to shoot it from the sky. I was personally aware that the local Turkish outfit didn’t have the guns to reach an aircraft flying at 25,000 feet; I also felt secure that his headquarters knew why the aircraft was there and would not approve of any anti-aircraft action. Nonetheless, I reported the situation to the Commander and the Operations Officer and notified our chain of command up to the National Security Agency of our predicament. I didn’t hear any gunfire that afternoon, so I assume people at a much higher pay grade than mine interceded and calmed down some Turkish nerves.

Sadly, we were to lose one of those reconnaissance aircraft only a few months later. On September 2, 1958, Soviet MIG 17 fighters shot down one of our aircraft when it strayed across their border. The C-130A, tail number 60528, crewed by four officers and thirteen enlisted men left Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey and flew toward Trabzon to begin a planned mission between Trabzon and Lake Van. Instead of turning south at Trabzon, the aircraft flew straight past us toward the city of Batumi, just across the border in Soviet Georgia, as if the navigator confused the radio beacon from Batumi with the radio beacon emanating from Trabzon. Just before reaching the border with Soviet Georgia, the aircraft turned south on a path that took it across the Soviet Armenian border on a vector toward the city of Yerevan, Armenia. The route flown paralleled the intended route between Trabzon and Lake Van. These facts, analyzed after the incident, led some to believe that the Soviet intelligence services arranged for the radio beacons at Batumi and Yerevan to mimic the beacons from Trabzon and Lake Van to lure the pilot over the border. To my knowledge, this reason for the border penetration has never been substantiated.

Busy working on our own mission, we were unaware of the plight of 60528. After it crossed the border, the Soviet Air Defense Command scrambled four MIG-17s and gave the order to “destroy the intruder.” The eleven Security Service crewmembers that perished included nine linguists skilled in three different languages and two equipment maintenance personnel. After this incident, Morse intercept operators were included on flights to monitor the enemy air defense communications. The Price of Vigilance: Attacks on American Surveillance Flights, by Larry Tart and Robert Keefe, includes gun camera photographs from the MIG-17s taken as they destroyed 60528 and a transcript of the conversations between the fighter pilots and their ground controller. We at Trabzon heard about the destruction of 60528 a few hours later through normal advisories from headquarters. During the cold war, our reconnaissance activity was highly classified, so USAFSS-related aircraft losses due to enemy action were formally reported as transport or weather aircraft that had strayed over borders. Below is a photograph taken from the gun camera on one of the MIG-17s that attacked 60528.


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The Germans

During my tour of duty at Trabzon, a lifelong friendship began when I met a German couple who lived in that city. Did you ever meet someone and instantly know that you would become friends? That is the way it was with the Zahns and me. It is now fifty years later and my wife Sylvia and I are still close friends with Peter and Uschi. Over the years, we have exchanged correspondence, telephone calls and visits, lived in the same city, celebrated births, suffered through family deaths and grown old together.

The Siemens Corporation of Germany assigned twenty-four year old Peter Zahn to supervise the installation of the electrical portion of a grain elevator under construction on the sea front. Peter, specially trained to operate in underdeveloped areas of the world, was primarily an electrical engineer. He was able to pick up foreign languages, fashion tools as needed, work with area tradesmen and deal with local political situations when necessary. He was, and is, a very special person. His twenty-one year old wife, Uschi, joined him shortly after he established residence in Trabzon. Uschi, the lone western woman in the city, and Peter had to survive the same conditions that faced us but with even less support from their employer than we received from the U. S. Government. We had the advantage because of the commissary runs to Ankara, where we obtained our canned goods and the kerosene needed for heating and cooking.

Not long after I arrived in Trabzon, George Mudrak, one of the men who lived in the apartment below my humble abode, asked me if I had met “the Germans” yet. When I said I hadn’t, he arranged for us to meet on a Sunday afternoon; I was impressed by their friendliness. Both Peter and Uschi spoke very passable English, had perfect manners and pleasing personalities. Uschi, although rather thin from living on what was available on the local economy, was stunningly beautiful. Every normal man in our unit who met her lost a little bit of his heart to her, but always treated her with the utmost respect. To Peter and Uschi, the men in my unit represented everything that is good about America and Americans. Over their protestations, we gave them canned goods and American processed coffee when we could. The Germans were the antithesis of the Turks who always knew when a truck had made the round trip to Ankara and would seek out Americans to offer black market prices for our goods.

Uschi and Peter loved swimming and we were living on the coast of the Black Sea so the temptation to swim there was overwhelming for them. They asked for our assistance because Uschi risked being stoned if seen on the beach in a bathing suit. On several occasions, fifteen or twenty of us would use one of our large trucks to transport everyone to the beach. During those outings, we staked out a portion of beach as if it were our own for a few hours. The occasional Turkish women on the beach remained completely dressed with veils in place but would remove their shoes and walk in a few inches of water. Turkish men, on the other hand, romped in the waves completely naked to show their disdain for Uschi’s perceived brashness. It did not take much effort on our part to ignore the “asheks,” the Turkish word for jackasses, and we went about our own business. Peter and Uschi expressed extreme appreciation for our efforts on these days; the lonely American young men were happy to spend some time on the beach with a beautiful young German woman. It was a great deal for all of us.

One evening in Trabzon, when they were visiting with a few of us, Uschi got the wild idea to have her photograph taken in an Air Force uniform. We were both five feet eight inches tall, so she chose mine. Peter took the photograph but I never saw it until a few years ago when they sent a copy of it to us. The light was poor and the photograph is not what it could have been, but I think it is well worth including in this work. The following photograph is of Uschi Zahn wearing my uniform some time in 1958.


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The beautiful Uschi Zahn. (Courtesy: Peter and Uschi Zahn)