Kararmürsel Common Defense Installation

Gerald McChesney

© 2003-2011 by Author

“Merhaba to all!” My name is Gerald McChesney, and this is my story. Karamursel C.D.I. was a very unique experience for my family and me. I was stationed at K/C.D.I. from June 1975 ‘til February 1977 . I’ll share it with you.

One morning, I woke up at Norton Air Force Base, Califormia and told my wife that I joined the Air Force to see the world, not just Norton AFB. Besides I was tired of working procurement support for the communications and avionics upgrades for Air Force One, and wanted to expand my horizons. So that very day, I went to personnel and applied for world-wide assignment. Sure enough, two weeks later I received an assignment to Karamursel Common Defense Installation, Turkey. I got the brochure for K.C.D.I. which said “that it was the best kept secret” in the Air Force. It painted a vibrant picture of recreational facilities, services, housing and travel opportunities beyond compare. Everything a person could want in an overseas assignment. Well, we started packing, and soon my wife Heide, my son Erich, and I were boarding Pan Am One at Los Angeles International Airport for the long flight to Istanbul.

While stationed at Norton AFB, I had purchased a “junk” 1960 sunroof bug that I found on blocks in a guys backyard, for $50.00. I fully restored it in the base auto and wood shop. It appears in “before and after” pictures below. When I got my assignment, I put in paperwork to ship the car to Turkey. I was told I’d have to deliver it to the port in Bayonne, New Jersey. Sounds like the military I remember – drive the car 3000 miles, then fly back to California!?! I contacted the port in San Francisco and got it booked on an army supply ship. It took six months for it to reach Istanbul. Oddly, it caught on fire the day before I was to deliver it to the port and I worked all night to replace all the wiring so it would make the drive to San Francisco.

We finally got all our arrangements made, attending all the “farewell parties”, and I even got awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for my work at Norton. We were on our way to our new adventure. “A strange man in a strange land”. Lots of new places, lots of new faces. We landed at Yesilköy International Airport (now Ataturk International Airport) and the culture shock started to sink in. Every door had an armed guard. Outside there were way too many porters all competing to carry your luggage. The brochure had warned against paying them very much or paying in U.S. dollars.

We cleared the airport and boarded the Blue Bus for the base. Night fell and we were surprised how dimly lit everything was. We crossed the new suspension bridge spanning the Bosphorus, and disappeared into the darkness that was Turkey.

We arrived at K.C.D.I. about 8 pm. We were surprised when an armed Turkish guard boarded the bus at the gate and asked to see our passports and papers. This would become routine, since the installation was secured by Turkish military personnel. We were directed to base billeting and were delivered to one of the little trailers down by the beach and the base commissary.

The next day I went to my new office. I met the Chief of Procurement, Capt. Robert Smith, and Sgt. Rene’ “Ace” Goyette, the Procurement specialist I was to replace. Ace was two weeks away from his rotation back to the U.S. so I was informed to “relax” and they would call me when they needed me. We stayed in the little trailer and spent our days familiarizing ourselves with the base. It was a big change and didn’t exactly “match” the brochure. The trailer was tiny and ancient, the beach had no waves and was littered with black balls of pitch from the boats that plied the Maramara Sea. The commissary was well stocked, but the cryogenically frozen meat left a lot to be desired. The two lane bowling alley lacked the other 20 lanes I’d become used to at Norton, and the airplanes……, well, what airplanes?

Somewhere along the line, it was explained to me that the Flare 9 antenna, “the elephant cage” was our “airplane” Finally, they called me to report for duty. I was now the airman in charge of base procurement suppies division. This would prove to be a demanding and challenging job. I wasen’t there long before Msgt. Tom O’Neill the logistic NCOIC came to my office and asked if I’d ever played football? I had played for 5 years in elementary and high school, so he asked if I wanted to play for the Det. 94-2 Trojans? I hadn’t touched a football in almost ten years, but I said, “sure”. Tom asked me what position I’d played and I told him I was a starting center. So I joined the team and embarked on some of the roughest, toughest football I’d ever experienced. Everyone on the base attended our games, and it was, without question the most popular activity at K.C.D.I. while I was there.

There was no base enlisted housing available, so we moved downtown to the city of Karamursel. We had been warned not to drink the water, so everyday I’d board the bus with 2 – 5 gallon containers of water. Our son Erich, was only 18 months old and required a lot of uncontaminated water for a variety of reasons. We moved into the newest building in Karamursel. The apartment immediately above the gift shop the owner ran. His apartment was on the top floor. It was a spacious apartment overlooking the produce vendors on Karamursel’s main street, and the vegetable boat docks. We would sit in our living room each evening and watch the sun set across the sea. The brand new boiler never worked, so there was no heat, and the Imam’s loudspeaker was mounted just outside our bedroom window so we were awakened by the morning call to prayer every morning at 5am. Sometimes we would go across the side street to the hotel “Otel ” and drink “chai” and watch Turkish television which consisted of two hours of political nonsense and an hour of Star Trek, and an hour of Bonanza, both of which were in Turkish. Hoss Cartright would never be the same again. No wonder the Turks thought that we were a bunch of cowboys in space.

I woke up, (to the morning prayer) and forgot about the water. I brushed my teeth with the city water. Oh yeah, I got a terrible stomach virus. I went to the base dispensary and they gave me some pills and told me I’d be better in about a week. Huh? I was playing football and making two buying trips to Istanbul a week. I didn’t need a lingering stomach virus. I went back after a week with no improvement. They gave me some more pills and said I’d be better in 48 hours. I was livid. Why didn’t they give me those pills to start with? They gave me some lame explanation about the cost of the medicine and that they were supposed to try the other pills first.

Living in Karamursel was an experience. The generator for the city was installed in the 30’s and couldn’t support the demand, so we had no power during the day. The water pump was about the same, so we had no water at night. The stove was propane gas, but you had to take your empty bottle and exchange it for a full one. Even the power generator on base had problems, too. One of my never-ending jobs was contracting a firm in Istanbul to constantly come repair a cracked piston. This generator somehow managed to stay up and running, but I don’t know why? It generated all the power and steam (remember all those above-ground steam lines) for the entire installation.

We still had no car, so we made short trips by “dolmush”, to Yalova, Izmir, and Izmit. I was going to Istanbul on Tuesday and Thursday of each week to get supplies for the base. I’d spend half the day getting the supplies with my driver and interpreter, and half the day sight seeing. I’ve managed to lose many of my pictures from Turkey. I photographed practically everything in Istanbul, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Yeni Mosque, The Golden Horn, The museum of Natural History, Hannibals Castle etc.etc. I’ve lost a whole photo album somewhere. My apologies.If I ever locate it I’ll post the pictures.

My first job in Turkey was to have lanyards installed around the flag pole in preparation for the arrival of Turkish General Staff. The lanyards were no problem. The brass finials were a little bit more difficult. They were to be brass with a hole through each one for a chain and would be fitted to each lanyard about knee high on each side of the sidewalk and around the flagpole pad. I had to have them custom made, and got called on the Base Commander’s carpet because the tips were pointed. I got a file from base maintenance and filed off the tips. I’m sure the Turkish General Staff couldn’t have cared less.

Finally, we were notified that base housing was available. We couldn’t wait. We had furniture that we had ordered from Germany through the BX and the car finally arrived. They said they would containerize it, but it was obvious that they didn’t. The paint was damaged and it was covered with salt residue from the ocean voyage, but it was there and that’s what mattered most. It was great having a car that hadn’t been passed down through many personnel, and that got great gas mileage since gas was $2.45 a gallon when we arrived.

The base veterinarian gave us his dog when he rotated. It was a pretty dog that he had rescued when a Turkish Army Officer ran over it on the road to Yalova. The Turkish Officer had gotten out of his car and kicked the dog. The dog loved my wife, but hated anyone in uniform, so whenever I came home the dog would get a really “growly” attitude. We were happy. Now we had heat, water, a vegetable garden in the back yard, flowers in the front yard, and neighbors that spoke English.

My wife was originally from Germany, so we befriended the owner of the factory between the base and Karamursel. He was very popular. It was a toilet paper factory. He spoke German, and had small children.

We went to the base theatre regularly, sometimes we got kicked out because Erich would make too much noise and even though he was in the “Scream room” he would holler to loudly.

We would put Erich in the base nursery and go to the NCO club and dance to the USO bands and drink 50 cent drinks. That was great until the Arms Embargo caused the Turkish government to deny entry of the bands into the country. Then we got this pathetic trio. They were all Turkish. One “tried” to sing American songs, another played the base fiddle, and the third played the violin. This went on until I left the country. It was horrible. Occasionally we would get a belly dancer, but no nudity. Besides there was a dependent wife and her daughter (more lost pictures) on the base who had won the Turkish National Award for belly dancing and were both excellent.

We would go to the recreation center on Wednesday nights without fail. They would air an episode of Star Trek, and an episode of Mash. Since there was no T.V. it was great. The base had all the equipment to broadcast T.V. but the Turkish government wouldn’t allow it since they couldn’t monitor the broadcast. We lost the base radio station for a while because they were broadcasting at 1000 watts instead of the 50-watts allowed.

One of my jobs involved purchasing new ping-pong paddles for the recreation center. I contacted a vendor in Istanbul and was told “no problem”. He shipped the paddles to us and every one of them had “made in the USSR” stamped into the handle. My interpreter Zurhap Avci and I spent a week, in our spare time, sanding the stamp off the paddles. They wanted the pool table recovered, so I went to Istabul and found a vendor who said he could do the job. I had Zurhap explain that it had to be a solid piece of cloth. A week later it came and was installed. It had a seam right down the middle, from center pocket to center pocket. I never found a replacement. I’ll assume it’s still there.

We did get to travel while we were there, and took two weeks of leave in Istanbul. All I have left from that trip is a brochure from Galata Tower pictured below. Also a picture of Heide in a dress I had made in Yalova when we were invited to the Officer’s Ball. I don’t remember why we were invited, but we were. They did a beautiful job on this dress. It cost 130 lira, or about $10.00 at the current exchange rate. The other picture is Heide at the entrance to a famous restaurant in Istanbul (down some back alley) that was owned and operated by two sister who had defected from Poland during the war. The food was excellent.

Some highlights of my tour of duty:

•  My wife found a cat in our back yard, brought it inside and was feeding it milk on the kitchen counter. The dog came inthe the kitchen, startles the cat. The cat jumps on my wife’s neck and claws her badly. The cat then escapes out the back door. Heide goes to the dispensary where they started the horribly painful rabies shot series. She developed a reaction to the rabies vaccine, and nearly died. I found the cat, took it to the vet, he kept it two weeks, determining that it didn’t have rabies and we also found it belonged to a neighbor who lived behind us. Heide stayed in the dispensary for a month before she was released.

•  Our son Erich had hearing problems since birth. They sent him to the U.S.A.F. hospital in Weisbaden, Germany. We went to the runway 13 miles away and the C-130 med-evac plane landed. Once we got on board, the plane wouldn't start. It had just come from reconditioning. They called in another C-130 flown by reservists on a training mission. They “jump-started” our plane. Somewhere over the Alps, the plane developed a huge oil leak in the cargo bay. The technician grabbed a roll of duct tape, put in some more oil and we kept flying……until we lost the starboard engine. We made it but it was one scary trip.

•  Heide was requested to provide support for a German oil field engineer who ran over a Turkish woman on his way back to Germany from Syria. He was in the Karamursel prison -a building consisting of four walls, no roof, a trench down the middle of the floor as the latrine, no fresh water, and only ekmek (bread) to eat. We took him blankets, food, books, and of course enough for the others who were imprisoned. The base managed to get him out briefly, and then, for some reason, and he conveniently escaped to Greece!

•  John, one of the Operations guys I knew who lived in the barracks, told me that he had never drunk Raki. So naturally he needed induction: we rode to Izmir on a bus, went to a restaurant where we ordered a bottle of Raki. It was served with a platter of fruit and water. As with Greel ouzo and the French pastis, when water is added, Raki turns milky. Traditional. We drank the entire bottle and ate the fruit. I knew what to expect, but John didn’t. When he stood up to leave, he fell flat on his face. We got on the bus back to Karamursel C.D.I. and slept all the way to Istanbul. That’s right, we missed our stop and had to take the ferry across to Yalova and a dolmus (cab) to the base. (Raki is spelled with the Turkish "I" without a dot over it. It is pronounced "Rak-uh", not "Rak-ee".)

•  Turkish students from Istanbul marched on Karamursel C.D.I during Sheker Bayram, the "sugar festival" celebrated by Muslims at the end of Ramazan. They were met on the road from Yalova by troops from Golçuk Naval Base and told if they came further the troops would open fire with the tank they had brought with them.

•  The Turkish Arms Embargo brought about by Turkey’s attack of Cypress resulted in the shut down of all support from the United States and eventually the closing of the Operations Center. 1,500 Operations center personnel were without work and had to be retrained upon their rotation back to the U.S. They were without jobs for over a year and The Operation Center was declared impossible to reopen due to the cost and the fact that much equipment was damaged beyond repair.

•  Colonel Bobby Bagley, a 6-year Vietnam P.O.W. takes over command of Karamursel C.D.I., and is a very friendly and pleasant guy... but, he tolerated no nonsense. The Turkish General Staff told him he could not display the American Flag during the Fourth of July Parade on base. The day of the parade came and where’s Bobby? Leading the parade with the biggest American Flag I think I’ve ever seen!

•  An excited Turkish employee came to my office to tell me the village where the base takes the garbage wouldn't let them in. I went to the village and was met at gunpoint by shotguns and muzzle loaders. We found out that they were upset because the “quality” of our garbage wasn’t good enough. So I went back to base, had everyone go through their closets and storage rooms and discard everything they didn’t absolutely need. Problem solved.

•  I had the duty of seeing that Turk Petrol Offici delivered gasoline and heating fuel to K.C.D.I. and 14 remote detachments. Turk Petrol lost two fuel trucks off the side of a mountain in winter. The third truck succeeded.

•  An Airman approached Tom O’Niell, the logistics NCOIC, and told him that he was involved with some sort of Turkish drug cartel, and that if he didn’t come up with some astronomical amount of money by a deadline, they were going to kill all involved. Tom told the Airman to name names or make funeral arrangements. The airman told all. A huge group of base personnel was detained temporarily at base Ops under military guard, and disappeared... secretly flown back to the U.S. to keep them far from the Turks.

•  The base couldn't get eggs. The health inspector had shut down our contractor because there was no sink in the hatchery. Capt. Smith and I went to negotiate with the Turkish Minister of Agriculture over installation of a sink. Captain Smith feared I may have offended the official because I had my leg crossed the entire time we were talking to him. (Showing the soles of the feet are a faux pas and personal insult in Turkey).

•  I was notified by PTT at the gate, across the street from my office, that there was a telegraph for me. I went to retrieve it. It was in German. I handed it to my interpreter, Zurhap Avçi, who read it and started crying. He was a very emotional fellow and detested loss of life. He told me that my wife’s father had passed away. The telegram had been sent to my hometown of Rome, Georgia, and when no one claimed it, they sent it to Rome, Italy. Finally somehow, it made it to me.. a month after my wife’s father had been buried. PTT had had the telegram for almost two weeks. The news was so devastating that I took the base chaplain home with me to break the news to my wife.

•  Five of us had rented the “Kismet”, a steel hulled yacht that belonged to base recreation, and we took it across the Maramara sea and went cliff diving. A great time was had by all. The boat was very sluggish and drank a million of gallons of fuel.

•  Finally, I was offered any assignment I wanted in the Asian or European Theatre. I had my eyes on Chicksands, England, but it wasn’t to be. The doctors in Germany said they could do no more for my son's hearing problem, and recommended that we return to the U.S., where he could get the surgery he needed. I put in for a “humanitarian” transfer to Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska, but ended up with orders to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, to support the newly acquired squadron of 76 F-15 Eagle air superiority fighters.

•  Well, as you can see, Karamursel C.D.I. was quite an experience for me and my family. I don’t know if K.C.D.I. is still operational.

It didn’t look like it had much of a future when I left Karamursel. If there’s anything you want to know, or if you just want to share experiences, feel free to E-Mail me at our contact address. (below)

Gerald H. McChesney
U.S.A.F. Disabled Veteran


(The U.S. closed the Karamursel base, and turned over the keys to the Turkish military not long after Gerald McChesney left there. Air policeman John Tudbury wrote about it on his page: HERE and, while the base remains a Turkish military post, it now features a large indoor arena, several housing tracts, some commercial buildings, as it is rapidly being absorbed by the city of Karamursel (now over 50,886 up from about 350 in Mr. McChesney's days there! -Editor. )

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