Headed for Turkey

A2C Pete Johnson

© 2003-2011 by Author

I joined the AF in May 1959 and think I left for Turkey in April of 1960. Near the end of the first phase of basic training, we got our tech school assignments. I was supposed to go to Keesler AFB to train in MIO, as they called it. I was looking forward to that assignment even though I had no idea what MIO was. I was told it was a security assignment and that I'd learn what it was when I got there. Besides, I would be leaving San Antonio at the end of the first phase. However, at the last minute my orders were changed to San Angelo to train in NMIO... another security assignment and another unknown acronym. And now I was only going to get a couple bucks and a bus ticket to San Angelo. I'd have to pay my way back to West Virginia for leave. At the time I was really bummed, but later in Turkey I learned to be happy that I went to NMIO school.

At the end of tech school, we got our choice of assignments based on standing in the class. There was one assignment to Japan. Guess who didn't get that one! The rest of the assignments were pretty evenly divided between Libya and Turkey. For no particular reason, I chose Turkey.

I was scheduled to leave from Charleston AFB, South Carolina. Incidentally, my brother Alan (who joined the AF a couple months after me and actually went to MIO school) was to be on the same plane with me. MIO school was shorter than NMIO, and since second phase of basic training was done in conjunction with the tech school our shipping out dates turned out to be the same. His orders were to TUSLOG DET 3-2, Trabzon. Ralph Jobson was also on the plane. He had been in basic training and tech school with me and we had became good friends. Our paths remained pretty well parallel until about a year ago.

Our trip was very similar to that of A2C Chuck Maki. We also boarded a C-121 and, seated backwards, headed out to sea. I remember it was a night flight and I was fascinated with the fire exhausting out of the engines. Although I loved airplanes, this was only my second flight, the first being my trip to basic training in a spiffy new Lockheed Electra. We landed in the Azores (on a runway that seemed to take up most of the island) to refuel and I seem to remember going up a fair sized hill to get something to eat.

I donít recall much of the trip to Wheelus AFB outside of Tripoli...I guess I slept most of that time. When we landed at Wheelus I was impressed with the base. Obviously a lot of time was put in to keeping it looking neat and orderly. One of the first people I talked to that was stationed there commented that he had been assigned to Wheelus for a year and had never been in town. I thought that was pretty unusual but didnít question him about it.

After checking in and getting a bunk and since we were to be at Wheelus for a couple days at least, Alan, Ralph and I, along with a group of guys we had met on the plane (including Art Amato) jumped on a bus and headed for Tripoli. As I recall, we had to use military script rather than dollars. I think our driver was auditioning for a Mad Max movie as he screamed across the narrow roads. Iíll never forget the look on a localís face as we approached him in an underpass. He was flattened against the side of the underpass and I swear that his eyes were as big as saucers in pure panic. A Road Runner skit couldnít have been done better! As we approached Tripoli from a distance it was beautiful with all the white buildings. Like the base, it appeared to be picture perfect... Unfortunately, the closer we got, the less perfect the scene became. The beautiful white buildings became dingy and unkempt, and you started to see beggars around or just sitting or laying in the gutters.

To our surprise, when the bus stopped the streets seemed deserted. We piled off the bus and started to walk with no destination in mind that I remember. Immediately people seemed to come out of the walls and they all had "souvenirs" to sell. Although we tried to stay in a pack, Ralph was cut out of the pack, and his story is that a local put a knife to his throat and asked him if heíd like to buy a souvenir. Ralph gave him all the money he had and in return got a pretty silk scarf. We all decided we now knew why that person on base had never left base and we were on the next bus back to Wheelus. Apart from that incident, I enjoyed my couple days at Wheelus. I especially liked watching the F100 Super Sabers and F101 Voodoos taking off and landing.

We left Wheelus on a civilian flight aboard a French Caravelle. It was called the champagne flight and we too were also served caviar. It was also my first experience with caviar, and I canít say that I much cared for it. Ralph didnít either. He spit it out on the tray! Ralph never tried to hide his feelings! We stopped in Ankara where I remember my first impression was of the smell that permeated everything. As it turned out, it was cigarettes -- Yeni Harmons. I donít recall why we stopped in Ankara, but we were there for just a short time and then took off for Istanbul. The airport was outside Istanbul in an area called Yesilkoy. An Air Force vehicle (a van I think) took us into Istanbul where we checked into a hotel. I particularly remember the "bomb sites" in the bathroom. At first glance, I thought they might be showers, but couldnít figure out the reason for the two foot pads on the porcelain base. Turns out the foot pads were where you put your feet when you squatted to take a dump! The learning experience had begun!

The next day we were loaded onto a canvas covered Air Force truck and headed for Mainsite. It was a bumpy, dusty ride. Looking back on it now, most of the people we saw in the fields along the way would be right in style today in their baggy bloomers. When we got to TUSLOG DET 3 and checked in, we were billeted in one of a row of Quonset huts just across the street from the old gym that doubled as the base theater. Each of the Quonset huts had a pot-bellied stove in the middle for heat. You either froze or roasted, depending on your proximity to the stove. The last hut in the line was the showers. That was a real treat! I was in the hut farthest from the showers so you had to dash back and forth in a towel -- especially bad when the weather was cold.

Well, here we were for the next eighteen months. Turns out that Mainsite was short of MIO people so my brother was retained there instead of going on to Trabzon. Over those eighteen months we had quite a few good times and a few not so good. Iíll try to put some of them together in a separate story -- this is getting too long!

I mentioned earlier that Ralph Jobson and I had paralleled each other until just a year ago. We were in basic training together, went to tech school and then Turkey together. After that I went to San Angelo as an instructor while Ralph went to Headquarters at Kelly AFB. We were only apart for a year though. I re-enlisted for a guaranteed assignment to Fort Meade, Md. and Ralph went there just a couple months later on Project Quick Fox. Remember the Cuban missile crisis? Shortly thereafter, he separated from the AF and hired on as a DOD civilian. A couple years later I did the same thing. A year ago, thirty seven years after joining the AF, I retired from DOD and Ralph did the same at the beginning of this year.

NOTE: KARAMURSEL Mainsite alumni can join Pete's KAS60-61 group. Visit their Website

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