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Following herewith is the Boztepe (Trabzon) installment of my time in Turkey. When I can, I'll try to figure out how to download photos, etc., and get some to you.
It is hard to believe that it has been fifty five (55) years since I stepped off a twin propeller THY plane at the tiny landing strip in Trabzon in late 1961. My name is Gene Wolter, and when I arrived half an hour later on the top of "Boztepe" I was told by the First Sergeant that I had the distinction of being the youngest man (man? - hardly) on the base. I told him that I was also the poorest, as I had arrived without a cent in my pocket.
When I left Idlewild (aka Kennedy), I thought I would be going straight to Trabzon (wherever that was). I didn't know that initial indoctrination would last about a week and would be at Rheine Main in Germany, and after that I would spend two nights in Istanbul before moving on. I spent everything I had with me during that time and was really concerned about having enough funds to survive until my first trip to the mess hall at my new base. Obviously, I made it.
I was assigned to a room in the barracks with three other airmen - all of whom were on different shifts at Base Operations. I had the good fortune of drawing a day job at the Base Engineering Office. Although only seventeen (17), I almost immediately made my first friend. His name was Sadi Dinlenc and he was the Turkish Civil Engineer for the Tumpane Company. Although six years apart in age, we quickly became close friends - a friendship that continued to his death while visiting Istanbul last week from his home in New York CIty. More about Sadi later.
Within the first few months I also developed a close relationship with The Late Father Tarcisio and his assistant, Brother (later Father) Beningno. We spent many a weekend at the Rectory downtown chatting, eating, drinking Cinzano, and smoking American cigarettes. We were soon joined by a new addition to Boztepe, Dennis Totino. Dennis was a payroll clerk and had the advantage of speaking Italian. Our little group was later filled out when Bob White of Personnel joined us.
Many of the guys spent their entire fifteen (15) months without ever leaving the base - except to go on one or two hunting trips or to meet the weekly C-130, or the White/Black boats which travelled the Black Sea Coast. Some guys just took occasional rides around town so they could see the sights - most particularly the girl behind the green door. (The green door signified that the resident had made the Haj to Mecca). I'm sure those guys would find it interesting to learn that "The Girl Behind the Green Door" eventually married one of the German cooks on the base and that they now reside in New York.
Other than sleeping, eating, working and watching movies, I spent as little time on the base as possible. Primarily, I hung out with Sadi and his friends - only a few of whom were from Tumpane - in the Yeni Cami section of Trabzon. These young men were all in their early to mid-twenties and were among the finest fellows I've ever met. Several of them were on the Trabzon Sport Club and they included Yilmaz, Trabzon's top rated soccer player. They were all curious about the U.S., and were absolutely amazed that I was so much younger than them.
Back in 1992, some of the members of this group - decided to have a "reunion". They scheduled the festivities for Mount Uludag (the eastern Mount Olympus) near Bursa. Sadi and his wife flew in from New York and my wife and I flew in from Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. Everyone, of course, reminisced about the good old days. Several of the group remembered that we had played soccer once and that I had kicked Yilmas in the head with the ball so hard that I had knocked him out. The story had become part of local lore. Needless to say, I didn't explain that the story was true - except for the fact that Yilmaz had kicked the ball and knocked me out.
During my stay, I rarely missed an opportunity to explore either locally, or well into the countryside. Naturally, I made the obligatory trip to Sumela. The ruins there are suffering from neglect, but the trip through the mountains was certainly worth it. There is a tiny town nearby, which I visited briefly. It never occurred to me that I would ever meet anyone from this remote place again. ”Was I ever wrong. My wife, a Florida art dealer, sponsored a Turkish artist in Florida from Sumela. Coincidentally, last year my wife and I needed some documents from the Turkish Counsel in Miami - and he too was from there.
Additionally, I enjoyed trips to Istanbul and some of the surrounding villages with Sadi and other friends. Dennis Totino and I accompanied Father Tarcisio on trips to Erzurum and elsewhere so he could minister to the needs of servicemen in outlying areas. Bob White and I travelled to Giresun, where we met ex-patriot pirates and other very interesting people. Not once, in all of these travels, did I ever feel threatened or uncomfortable around the Turks.
Toward the end of my Trabzon tour in early 1963, I met the girl who would become my wife for the next fifty or so years. Her father was Deftedar (tax collector) for the Trabzon Province, working off a two year hardship tour. But, as I said, this was toward the end of my tour and we really had little time together. We corresponded between Turkey and my new assignment in Japan for two years. I then returned to Turkey (Karamursel) and we were married a few months later is Izmir, where her father had been reassigned.
Sometime in the near future, I'll write up my two year hitch in Karamursel. I left the Air Force in 1969 and managed to get both my B.A Degree and second honorable discharge on the same day. Inci (my wife), our daughter Melodie, and I then headed to New England, where I became an executive trainee in a commercial bank and welcomed our second daughter, Wendy, to the family. I had a two and a half decade career in banking that ended with a stint as president of a Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) bank.
Friends are fading fast from the old days. Dennis Totino has been gone for four years, Father Tarcisio for several months, and Sadi for just a few days. I've tried to contact Bob White in Horse Cave, KY, to tell him of the passings, but have not been fortunate enough to locate him. Fifty five years later, and I still consider that time in Trabzon to be the best in my life and the friends I made there among the most cherished.