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It has been almost 50 years since I served in Turkey as a guest of the U. S. Army. I will try to relate people, places, and events as best I can recall. The years have blurred some memories as age has taken its toll. I will begin with my background and the events leading me to end up in Turkey to enable the readers (if any) of this narrative to get an insight into my interpretation of time spent in Turkey.
I grew up as an only child of parents who worked long hours and were seldom home before 10 PM. I would have been a latch key child but back then we had not heard of "latch key". Our home was in Detroit, bordering an affluent suburban community. The back yard was in the affluent community and the front yard faced a canal which separated us from the remainder of Detroit. Growing up I was viewed by the Detroit kids as a suburbanite since I lived on the other side of the canal and I was viewed by the suburbanites as a Detroiter since my address was a Detroit address. I attended high school in Canada commuting daily. The Canadians viewed me as an American, but the American students were mostly boarding students that viewed commuters as Canadians. I developed friends in the affluent and poorer communities, and in Canada and the U. S. This led me to understand that one's view of things was molded by one's perspective. A man working late every night is viewed as dedicated by those who like him, and struggling to keep up by those who don't. Either or neither may be true.
In 1967 I was assigned to the 52nd Ordnance Company stationed on Clarksville Base (a Navy installation) in the middle of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Fort Campbell was home of the 101st Airborne Division. Before enlisting in the Army, I had just graduated from college, found a good job, enjoyed two cars (A 1962 Triumph TR3 and a 1962 Chrysler), a boat, and had a beautiful girlfriend. Life was good. Then the draft notice came before I started grad school classes. I enlisted in the army to beat the draft and gave an extra year to the service to attend Officer Candidate School, hoping the Vietnam war would be over by the time I was commissioned. It wasn't. So I volunteered for another school. From there I was assigned to the 52nd Ordnance Company. By the time I arrived in the 52nd, I was ready to settle down with the girl of my dreams, but she wasn't. I remember my first officer's meeting in the 52nd. Dragging himself in was a lieutenant with bloodshot eyes that were barely visible through eyelids at half-mast in honor of the night before. One of the other lieutenants asked what happened to him. His brief reply, "Ranger women." And that was all that needed to be said. I remember looking at him and his appearance and thinking, "What a poor excuse for a human." Soon after the lieutenant put in for transfer to Viet Nam. This scene was repeated several times in the following year.
In 1967 the remainder of the 101st deployed to Vietnam leaving behind girlfriends, daughters, ex's, etc. I remember going to Officers' Call and seeing a fresh 2nd lieutenant look at me. I could read his thoughts: "What a poor excuse for a human." That day I put in my request for transfer. I was not desperate enough to request Vietnam. I figured I would not last long there based on my experiences in basic and AIT training. In training, I had stepped on a booby trap once, and spent Thanksgiving in the hospital with a gunshot wound to my face. Being in nuclear weapons, I looked at the map and decided that Vincenza, Italy. a cosmopolitan city, with a rich history and culture, and many museums, art galleries, piazzas, villas, churches and elegant Renaissance palazzi suited me. But what if there were no vacancies? So I expanded my request to the Mediterranean. If Vincenza failed I might end up in Athens - no so bad.
My request was denied at company level, denied at battalion level, denied at post level, denied all the way to the Department of Army which approved it - transfer to Turkey! I was shocked. I pictured Turkey in a desert somewhere (Camel cigarettes featured Turkish tobacco with a picture of a camel and pyramid). I pulled out the map and was astonished to find it right there on the Mediterranean.
After a short leave I boarded Pan AM flight with two stops. First stop was Paris. The cleaning crew all had little mustaches, wore dark uniforms with hats that reminded me of the French policeman in Casablanca. The uniforms looked like they had not been cleaned in months. The crew was somber, skin pale, and almost the shade of the overcast drizzling sky above. I felt anxious as to what Istanbul would hold. Next stop was Rome. Rome was bright and sunny. The maintenance crew were all well tanned and their golden skin contrasted against the immaculate white uniforms. They waved their arms as the shouted directions to each other in a jovial manner, and I enjoyed the sight and felt warm and comfortable.
Finally, Istanbul, where I debarked and was greeted by a throng of Taxi drivers all demanding I take their taxi. Every Turk I saw has a mustache. The day was sunny and people vociferous like Rome, but the dress and uniforms reminded me of Paris. The airport had one long runway which dipped in the middle. As a pilot, I thought you had better touch down in the right place or you could overshoot the runway easily. The terminal as I remember was medium size and there was a crew working on the ceiling. I was impressed by a worker with one tool, an adz. With it he cut wood strips to size and nailed them with the same tool. Taking it all in, I was rescued by an Army driver who greeted me and drove me to my new home, ÇakmaklĲ.
Çakmaklı was a short drive down a two lane highway, then on a back country road though what appeared to be farm land that was more like New Mexico or Colorado than Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, or Michigan. I was assigned to TULOG DET 67 for a few weeks. Det 67 was the HQ and a kilometer or so down a dirt road was Det 168 - an ordnance company, to which I was assigned shortly.
My first night was wonderful. A group of officers took me down the road to Büyükçekmece to a restaurant and introduced me to Burek (Börek). Burek is a pastry stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables common in the Balkans. These particular Bureks were delicious, the best I have ever had and I have had many since then. Day 2 found me going to a cocktail party in Istanbul at the home shared by the commander and executive officer from Det 67. That was the first and only time I used the calling cards the Army had insisted I purchase upon graduating from OCS. My assignment was turning out to be better than I expected.
Well, in a few days I was reassigned to a detachment in Erzurum Turkey. Once news of my assignment was known, my comrades began telling stories of how desolate the assignment was and followed with condolences. Going from Istanbul to Erzurum was like going from New York City to Lame Deer , Montana ( I lived in Lame Deer one summer and loved it). Erzurum was a small city of about 30,000 people in Eastern Turkey. The detachment was in the country side. You could look at the mountains for miles and not see a tree. In spite of the tales I had heard, my arrival was uneventful. I loved going into the city where I accumulated several pre 1900 samovars (tea urns), lamps, a puzzle ring, and an Erzurum Taşı ring, made with a beautiful polished black stone (AKA Erzurum Stone, Oltu Taşı, and Black Amber.)
Two events are etched in my memory from Erzurum:
The first remembrance:
First was an inspection of a Turkish artillery unit near the Russian boarder. Breaking for lunch, we stopped in a small cafe in Ağri, Turkey. The day was warm and sunbeams lit up in the dust as they poured through the windows of the café. Our interpreter left a little before us. We paid and left. As we were walking down the street, gunshots could be heard. Our interpreter came running down the street toward us fearing we were the target. It turned out that one of the diners shot another over an affair with the man's wife.
Returning to our inspection, The Turkish sergeant had laid markers for positioning the cannon the night before. As the trucks dropped the cannon, they missed the mark. The sergeant ordered his men to push the spades (spades are heavy arms that extend out to keep the cannon stable when firing). As they pushed the spades weighing over a ton across the ground, the spades acted like a bulldozer with the mound growing higher with every inch the spade moved. Finally in place, the cannon was aimed and breach opened to load. I looked down the barrel through the breach and saw a shepherd tending to flocks. I tapped the sergeant on the shoulder and showed him, whereupon he waived the shepherd away.
The second remembrance:
After a month or so, I found I was being reassigned back to Det 168. While awaiting my replacement, ( I think it was Carlos Bonilla, a roommate of mine from Albuquerque, but there is a haze in my memory) my fellow officers decided to make up for missing my initiation by doubling their efforts on my replacement. The Commander, a major, was away to a meeting somewhere. I remember he was a former boxer with cauliflower ears. So we told Carlos that he had gone crazy and went AWOL. One lieutenant dressed up in a straight jacket and slobbered. I wore an ascot, sunglasses and carried a swagger stick as escorted Carlos around. When Carlos asked about the soldiers carrying rifles wearing arm bands that read "DP", I warned Carlos about the wild dogs that frequently attacked the camp and that DP stood for Dog Patrol. We did have dogs, a pack of big white Anatolian hounds that would either be eating leftovers from the mess hall, be sleeping and stinking up the barracks as they slept recovering from a fight with another pack, or be out fighting.
Well as Carlos strolled down the street, the Turkish server called the dogs for lunch. Dogs burst through the doors as they came running out of the barracks for dinner. Carlos, seeing the dogs feared an attack and went running for the BOQ. He shouted and pounded at the door to be let in. The door was unlocked!
Oh, Yes. I remember the server. He was probably in his 30's but had a boyish face and always wore a smile. Very jovial. He had a daily breakfast routine. He would ask, "Sir, do you want an omelet for breakfast?" and then burst out laughing. Omelet sounded like the Turkish word "am", which meant "pussy". And Omelet was "little pussy."
BACK TO ÇAKMAKLI:
Things were pretty mundane with a few exceptions. CPT Knisely got into a traffic accident invovling a fatality and spent some time in a Turkish jail. In Turkey you are 100% guilty at first and work your way down to a lower sentence at trial. So he was judged only partially guilty and returned to the unit after a few months.
In their wisdom the government negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement which required the host country to accommodate the hosted to the standard of the host country. I am sure this grated on some Turks who saw us living with higher standards. I know if a Saudi officer were stationed here with extravagant, by our standards, amenities like furnishing a Rolls Royce and dining on Chateaubriand at our expense we would be pissed too. Water was trucked in from
sometimes. During the a dry summer we had a water shortage so we brushed our teeth with beer and flushed the toilet with coca cola.
Maintenance of our furnaces was a problem. Early one Sunday morning, I smelled smoke. Then I heard someone from another room yell, "The place is on fire." I arose from bed and brushed my teeth as I watched the flames in the ceiling around the heat vent. I began throwing my valuables out the window to save them. Never saw half of them again. The Doctor, CPT Bligh took charge and organized the firemen. As they manned their hoses the water valve from the emergency water tank was opened and out came a gush of water that was about as powerful as a shot from a cheap squirt gun. The BOQ was lost.
DARN! We had to move into the Çınar Hotel in Yesikoy. At the time Playboy Magazine rated it in the top 10 I was told. I had a room overlooking the Sea of Marmara. I got to where I could tell the time by which song the band was playing in the restaurant below my room. "Lucy in the Sky" was 9:45. The only downside to this was the morning drive. Listening to Turkish folk songs at 6:30 AM when you partied the night before was not as enjoyable as hearing them in the evening. I remember CPT Barber telling Warrant Officer Evans about washing his boots in the small sink next to the toilet in our room. We had never heard of a bidet before or know its intended use. The housemaids would laugh at us.
While most my fellow soldiers shopped at the PX and ate in the mess hall, I lived on the economy. Back then I would buy some of the best oranges (from Israel I believe) and have fresh squeezed orange juice at a fraction of the price of juice from frozen concentrate. I often ate under the grape vines (in warm weather) at Ispirio's, a small restaurant that made the best bon filet, and stroganoff I have ever tasted. A dinner with a filet, beer, salad, and dessert was about the price of 2 hamburgers back home. Ah, then there was Beyti's in Konya. One of the best restaurants in the world. One grilled meat after another.
The one depressing time I remember was a cold November or December day. I was Duty Officer so I had to stay at the headquarters. Well it rained for a few days and the rain froze on everything. It was several days with a blow torch before I could open my car door. Anyway, the ice on the power lines caused them to come down. So that evening I sat in the dark with no heat and no one around. I thought, as I looked at the hot line that linked us to NATO HQs, "As long as that green light is lit, the world can communicate with me in an emergency." I watched the light blink and then disappear. In a philosophical mood, I said, "Someday I will look back upon this and laugh."
I had a military green 1964 Chrysler shipped over. I used to drive to Istanbul daily. That was before they had expressways. Every day for a year, I would drive the wrong way down a one way street. At the end of the block, a policeman would stop traffic for me and salute. Then one day he made me back up a block down the narrow street. Shop owners had to move their awnings and goods as I backed up. The next day things went back to the normal salute and traffic stoppage.
I served under my favorite Commander, COL Walter J. Winney, and rose to Commander of the 168th when COL Winney's tour ended, and Weapons Officer for Det 67. COL Winney had his wife and children in Turkey with him. When I asked about that he replied that while other kids looked at pictures of St. Sophia, the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque, etc. - his kids have seen it! I replaced LTC Winney as commander of the 168th and when I was a Lieutenant. I made Captain before I left Turkey. Eventually made it to LTC. I lived in the Detroit area and became Materials Manager for the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department. Upon retiring from there I became Purchasing Agent for the City of Warren, MI, and retired from there in 2009. I also developed web pages and hosted web sites for several boiler companies in the 90's. Those were the days you had to type the hard code for HTML. I have a lot of pics of Turkey today. Found a few laying around but they are slides that have seen a lot of wear over the last 50 years. Will see if I can digitize any of them.
Lesson in Politics:
Once I accompanied a General and Senator as they inspected our subordinate units. I remember a young lieutenant proudly briefing the party. The general told the lieutenant he was doing a fine job and complimented the lieutenant. After we were out of earshot of the lieutenant, he turned to his aide, a colonel, and said, "Fire Him!"
I remember American Officers:
Jack Jewert - Told jokes every day and all day long and never repeated one. The most unmilitary looking but technically proficient WO.
COL Bischoff left in 68 or 69.
LTC Walter Winney - best commander I ever had.
CPT Bitterman at Çakmaklı who followed CPT Bligh as the Doctor.
WO Hector Gongora - made the best tacos. He was the master chef and supervised us sous chefs. My job was frying the taco shells.
WO Gasper - smoked his pipe sideways. I don't know how he kept the ashes in.
WO Evans in the S4 shop.
1LT Graham (Phil I think).
1LT Jim Morrow in the 168th. I remember he met a Christian woman and asked her out for a date. She accepted. When he went to pick her up at her house, she invited him in to meet the whole family. As they sat in the living room, the extended family chatted with him, then they huddled and announced - "It is ok if you marry her." After getting over the shock, he made some excuse and departed. Guess there were cultural differences.
1LT Richard Turner from Detroit was also at Çakmaklı.
I remember Turkish Officers:
Uğur Arıcıoğlu - Interpreter and friend.
Bengisu Potaboğlu - Interpreter.
LT Tolunay - did not care for Americans.
In 2011, Vincent revisited Istanbul with his wife Barb. On his website he discusses the changes to the city and speaks of the contrast between the Old and the New. Many great photos. You can go to his site here.
Also in 2011 Vincent and Barb visited Izmir and Epesus, where he took many fine photos. His descriptions of the various sites are very enlightening. You can go to his Izmir and Ephesus photos here.
You should visit his home page, "Travels Around the World", to see all the other wonderful countries he an Barb have visited.