Adventures with TUSLOG Det. 97, Izmit, Turkey

Kevin O'Neill

© 2008-2011 by Author

Setting the Scene

I was an Army 1LT when I arrived at Yesilkoy Airport in Istanbul on 6 Feb 1963 for a 12-month tour and was met by a U.S. military rep. He helped me through customs and immigration procedures, told me the hotel where I would stay until the next morning, took me to the cabs, told me how much it would cost and not to pay any more than that, and said I would be a representative of TUSLOG Det. 67. [See this page for a history of TUSLOG.] TUSLOG, an acronym for The US Logistics Group included most of the military units in Turkey, was a cover name for their real unit designation. [Click to view the units located in Turkey.]

Det. 67 was the 528th Artillery Group in Corlu (later moved to Cakmakli—west side of the Bosphorous and past Istanbul). I was going to be assigned to Det 97 (14th USA Missile Detachment) in Izmit--east side of the Bosphorous.

When the cab driver got me to the hotel he tried to charge me some outrageous price. As instructed, I refused to pay and got the doorman from the hotel to come out and fight with the driver. I paid what the guy at the airport had told me to pay.

The next morning I was met and taken to the Headquarters in Corlu about 20 miles northeast of Istanbul. I stayed there a day or two for orientation and was then taken to Istanbul to meet the Detachment 97 mailman at the Post Exchange for the trip to Izmit. The mail run was the way most people got to and from Istanbul. While at Corlu, I noticed that a number of the officers drank a lot. I thought that being on a hardship tour—no families— might have something to do with this, so I determined I wouldn’t drink while I was in Turkey. I didn’t, either... except for a small amount the one weekend I visited Istanbul, and the even smaller amount I drank when I was in the field with the Turkish Battalion for their annual firing exercise at the Black Sea (described below).

Turks and Americans Working Together

Detachment 97 was stationed with the Turkish 550th "Honest John Rocket Battalion" about 5 km east of Izmit and the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara. We weren’t exactly at the end of the world, but you could see it from the Detachment area! Det. 68 was at the end of the world in Erzerum, far off in the mountains of Eastern Turkey. Det. 97 had three officers: the Commanding Officer and two team leaders. There were perhaps five Non-Commissioned Officers - a first sergeant, supply sergeant, a mess sergeant, and two team chiefs. There were approximately 16 enlisted personnel, as well. I was assigned as one of two team leaders until the end of May, when I became the Detachment Commander. I had a great time in the Detachment, but it was a lot of hard work. I worked every day except part of Sunday. I had one weekend in Istanbul during that time.

Det. 97 had been a commissioned location at Izmit for a year. The people who had come with the Detachment when it opened were mostly gone or in the process of leaving, and we were getting new troops for the first couple of weeks I was there. Our job was to get them trained so we could then train the Turkish Battalion on the HJ and safety procedures so we and they could be certified.

It was interesting to train with the Turks. They were good at what they did and anxious to learn. It was interesting, though, that when we took a break, our troops would sit down and talk or lie down and take a quick nap; the Turkish soldiers, however, would wrestle with one another.

I got promoted to Captain in June, 1963 while we were in the field with the Turkish Battalion. One of my officers got some first aid tape and put a strip of tape on my fatigues to make two bars instead of one.

I had good relations with the Turkish Battalion because I got along well with the battalion commander. Under the NATO arrangements - we were there as part of NATO - we were dependent upon the Turkish Army for security and for certain supplies and support (transport, fuel, etc.). In about June of 1963, one of the battalion’s interpreters came to me and asked me what I wanted to do with the two washing machines. “What washing machines?” I asked. It seems the people in the first group had ordered a couple of washing machines to do laundry before they discovered they could get laundry done at the Air Station in KARAMURSEL (about 20-25 miles, but nearly two hours away due to the bad road past the Turkish Navy town of Gölcük.Laundry, of course, could also be done in far west Istanbul about 60 miles or 1½ hours via a relatively good road west, along the north Marmara Seashore, but, in the days before the bridges, it was necessary to cross the Bosphorus by ferry, and then Det. 67 was another 15 miles or 45 minutes to the far west side of Istanbul near an estuary called Büyükçekmece, which, when a dam was completed in 1988 became Büyükçekmece Lake.

We had set up a routine to take laundry there. It took the Turkish Battalion probably 16 months to get the washers, but they did get them for us. I told the interpreter we didn’t need them anymore. The Turkish commander was delighted that his battalion got to keep them.

We went with the Turkish Battalion to the Black Sea for their annual firing test. They fired a rocket with a cement warhead, and everything went well. Everybody had a good time. It was a beautiful setting. However, I made the mistake of playing Açik Poker (open poker, or something to that effect), which was a sort of stud poker, but you could bet only what money you had on the table. You couldn’t get any more money except between the dealing of hands. If you didn’t have enough money to call a raise, you had to drop out and you lost your money. Let’s say I learned to never gamble with the natives. The officers with whom I played were drinking Raki, which is a clear, distilled alcoholic drink that has a distinctly licorice taste. They added water to it, which turned it milky. That’s why it’s called “lion’s milk” (an online site says “lion’s milk” is aslan sütü, although I thought the officers told me it was called aslan gibi). In any event, it was really strong, so I didn’t drink much of it.)

Atmosphere at a Small Outpost

The Turkish Battalion also supplied us with a mail truck every day except Sunday that took our mail clerk to Istanbul to pick up mail and do PX shopping when requested. We had a small PX on our site that we kept supplied with the basics from the Post Exchange at KARAMURSEL, but sometimes people wanted something more than the basics. We’d also try to let the troops go on the mail run on a rotating basis, either just for a night or for the weekend, i.e., go in with the mail truck on Friday or Saturday and come back with it on Monday. Once I went in with the truck and came back the next day. On the way back to Izmit I thought the driver was driving dangerously fast. I told him to slow down, but he didn’t pay any attention. I spoke about it with one of the interpreters the next day, and he said I should have hit the driver. I was surprised by his comment, to say the least. I told them I didn’t think that was my job. I imagine, though, that he took care of my problem.

Speaking of which: I saw Turkish officers hitting soldiers several times while I was there. Once a driver drove a jeep right past and below the rear end of a rocket that was loaded on the launcher. The Lieutenant, launching platoon leader, blew his whistle at him, and the driver stopped and jumped out of the jeep. The lieutenant punched him and knocked him down. The soldier jumped back up and put his helmet back on, and the officer hit him again. I daresay the soldier didn’t get near a rocket after that.

Another time a rocket transport truck driver drove through the area incorrectly. A Major ran after the truck, jumped up on the running board, and started pounding on the soldier while the truck was moving. Wow! The interpreter told me it was unusual for anybody above Captain rank to hit a soldier, that that would be beneath the officer's dignity.

I’ve mentioned the interpreters several times. There were two in the battalion; one First Lieutenant and one Second Lieutenant, and they were there to take care of all our language needs, including giving language classes to our troops on occasion so we’d have some basic vocabulary. They were university trained and were performing their compulsory military service. They were both great guys and very helpful. To this day I remember calling the battalion switchboard several times a day and asking, “Cumhur Teğmen nerede?” Where’s Lieutenant Cumhur? Or “Erdoğan Teğmen nerede?” Where’s Lieutenant Erdoğan?

left to right are LT Price, LT Erdogan, me, LT Cumhur.
left to right are LT Price, LT Erdogan, me, LT Cumhur.

left to right are me, the two interpreters LT Cumhur and LT Erdogan (in the foreground), and LT Price, one of the team leaders.

We produced our own electricity at the Detachment. There were two 25 kilowatt Deutz diesel generators. Two Turkish soldiers ran and maintained them. The generators worked most of the time, but were also, occasionally, down for maintenance. Then there was a problem getting them up and running again because their compressed air tank had a leak in it. Since there frequently was not enough compression to get the them started, the generator guys had to get a vehicle and go to Izmit to get the compressed air tanks refilled.

We tried to take care of the operators as best we could because we really relied on them. One episode involving the generator operators stands out in my mind:

One of our cooks sometimes had a drinking problem. One night he'd had a snootful and was wandering aimlessly around the area. He wandered down to the generator shack and got into an argument with one of the operators. The Turkish guard who was patrolling the area came by and told our guy to "get lost", or words to that effect. Our guy made the mistake of shoving the guard. He sobered up in a hurry when he realized what he had done, and he started running. The guard pulled his bayonet and threw it at the guy and caught him along the side of his head opening a great big gash. Somebody found him shortly thereafter in a ditch. I had a car, so I got him into the car and drove him to the hospital at the Turkish Naval Base at Gölcük, on the south shore of the Sea of Marmara (about 15 miles or 1¼ hours by road). There I very happily watched the Turkish Navy doctor sew him up without anesthetic. I was glad he was hurting because he was often a jerk. Nobody messed with the generator folks or guards after that.

Ekmek, anyone?

We had a great mess hall, and the food was really good. We got rations from the USAF commissary in Istanbul which I believe was actually in Üsküdar, which is across the Bosphorus from what most people think of as Istanbul, now a sprawling city of eleven million. We got bread and fresh vegetables and fruit from the local economy, and still think the Turkish bread, "ekmek," we bought, baked in a round loaf, rye-type bread, is the best bread I have ever eaten! (or maybe it’s just the memory that keeps me thinking that). The mess hall was well known among the U.S. military folks in the area. The Joint United States Military Mission for Aid to Turkey (JUSSMAT - Google it!) folks assigned with the Turkish First Army HQ in Istanbul frequently found a way to stop by for lunch or supper while out visiting units in the area. We got a new mess sergeant after my friend with the bloody scalp left, who had moonlighted near Fort Hood, Texas, as a baker, and the baked goods got even better. During the winter when we took a break during training with the Turkish Battalion, he’d have a big pot of soup for us and we’d have a soup break along with our coffee break.

There were also four to five U.S. Air Force folks on the site with us who were our communicators, although we did have two Army communicators who operated a radio-teletype rig when they could get it operating.

The USAF was building a system of microwave communications stations in Turkey, and Det 97 was getting one. The communications building they were putting up was a Butler (steel) building, and it was insulated to be able to maintain a constant temperature. One day during the summer of 1963 I went into the building while it was still under construction. The building had walls and roof, but the interior wasn’t finished. The door was open, but it was nice and cool and felt like an air-conditioned building. There was a thermometer inside the building near the door. I checked the temp, and it was 108°. It must have been 120° outside.

Scrounging for Cast Offs

I can’t say I got along very well with Det. 67. We didn’t see the people from there very often (except see Technical Proficiency Inspections top of right column), and they didn’t support us very well. We were pretty much on our own. A new Major came to Det. 67 as the Executive Officer, and he was a pain in the ass. The first time he came down was in about September or October. We had worked our butts off to get the site operational. I had even been able to get a Turkish Army road scraper from a nearby Army Engineer unit to come to the Detachment to dig a trench about 250 meters long from our Detachment HQ down to the ammo bunkers so we could install a wire to connect to the explosives we would arm in the event we had to destroy the munitions bunkers from the administrative area's Detachment Headquarters - otherwise we would have had to dig it by hand. We had painted all the required signs on everything, I had written all our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) (Det. 67 borrowed a copy so Det 98 could use ours as an example). I mean we had everything squared away!

Something else we did to get our unit squared away involved KARAMURSEL Air Station: The guys before me had been able to obtain two Quonset huts, which they erected. They hadn’t been able to finish them, though, because they didn’t have the electrical parts needed to wire them, and they hadn’t been able to get enough plywood to configure them the way they wanted.. So I went to KARAMURSEL on a "scrounging" mission. I went from place to place and nobody could help me. Ultimately my "mission" took me to a big warehouse at the office of a Major who was the Base Supply Officer. I told him what I needed, but he said that legally he couldn’t help me. On the other hand, he said when he was stationed in Korea he had been on a radar site on the top of a mountain. He wasn’t near any Air Force people, but he was near an Army unit, and they had taken care of him and his people. He said he had always sworn he would pay the Army back, "and today’s the day, Captain, you have five minutes in my warehouse. Whatever you and your people," I had two NCO’s with me, "can touch, you can have!"

We moved fast. Got our hands on all the BX armored cable, fuses, junction boxes, light fixtures, etc., plus the plywood we needed, and so, we were able to finish our two Quonset huts.

Actually, I had something to sweeten the deal with the Major. We had finally been issued a U.S. military vehicle, a flightline truck with six seats and an open cargo bed in the back. It had rough terrain tires on it, which we didn’t need. The Major said he really needed some of those tires to resupply some troops stationed at a communications site up in the hills, but he couldn’t get any. I gave him those tires, and he gave us some regular tires plus all the goodies for the Quonset huts. What was a great day!

To next column.


Continued from left column...

When the new Executive Officer came to our Detachment, I showed him around, and as he left he said, “Well, you people have a lot of work to do.” That was it. Nothing positive.

The Dreaded TPIs Roll Around

As mentioned earlier, we had Technical Proficiency Inspections (TPI) by our Group Headquarters each month. There was a Captain on the inspection team from the S-3 Operations and Training who would go through all our SOP’s and plans and inspect the Detachment area. Then he would write 15-20 pages of notes about what he had found that we needed to correct before the next inspection. He had access to all the regulations as references, and we didn’t, so we couldn’t verify what he wrote or get ahead of him. One month he wrote that some SASCOM (Special Ammunition Support Command, Det. 67’s—the 528th Group—higher headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany) regulation required that the main control panel in the generator building be painted blue. So, we painted the main control panel blue. The next month he wrote that the same SASCOM regulation required that the master switch on the control panel be painted red. When he gave me the stack of comments he had written and I saw that one, I said something to the effect, “You son-of-a-bitch! You could have told us about both those requirements last month! Instead you exercise us twice. You are really a sorry bastard!” He just smiled because he was the inspector and felt he could do what he wanted. I said something to the effect, “I hope you enjoyed your visit here because it’s your last one. I’m going out the gate behind you and then I’m going to the Battalion Commander and tell him you are no longer authorized to come on this compound.” He said I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but I did. I told the Battalion Commander not to let him on the compound ever again. Then I went and called Det. 67 and told them what I had done and why. The Captain never came back.

In fact, telling the Battalion Commander was a sure way to insure the Captain was banned from the Detachment. We were within his Battalion’s Compound, and he’d make sure the guards enforced the ban. Even as the Detachment Commander I had a problem with a guard once. I drove up to the compound gate one evening after dark and didn’t see the guard. I had the window rolled down, and I was looking all around for the guard. I turned to the left, and there was a bayonet on a rifle about six inches from my face. He didn’t recognize me in the dark and wanted some ID quickly. Nobody messed with the Turkish Army!

I should add that we passed the Technical Proficiency Inspections by the SASCOM inspectors. I believe the Ordnance Detachment passed also, but we were the only Artillery Detachment in Turkey to pass.

"Sir, I don't have any problems."

Having mentioned that I got along well with the people in the Turkish Battalion, I found other Detachments were not as lucky. Each month I visited the Det. 67 HQ to pick up the Detachment payroll and to report on what was going on in the Detachment. The Group Commander used to make the five or six Detachment Commanders stand in front of his desk and in turn tell him what was going on in our areas. I remember once each of my fellow Commanders telling all the problems they were having. A couple of them couldn’t get diesel fuel to run their generators. The day before, the Turkish Battalion had delivered twenty-five 55-gallon drums of diesel fuel to our Detachment, so when my turn came, I just said, “Sir, I don’t have any problems.”

On my trips to Det. 67 to pick up pay, I usually took the First sergeant with me so he could liaise with the Det. 67 folks on administrative matters, and also for security of the payroll. Once I had to take a Top Secret piece of crypto equipment to Cakmakli for maintenance. (We were in uniform as always, and armed with .45’s.) On our side of the Bosphorous we came upon a guy trying to flag down a car. I stopped, and several guys escorted another guy from a plant of some sort who had a mangled, bleeding hand. They apparently wanted me to take him to a hospital. I couldn’t do that because of the Top Secret equipment, but all I could think to do was tell them “Yok,” (“No”) and point to the equipment and say “Çok gizli,” (“Top Secret”).

Having crossed the Bosphorous we then came across a horse-drawn cart that had been hit by a vehicle. The cart looked like toothpicks, but the horse was still alive and flailing around on the ground trying to get up. One of his back hips was broken, and he was in a bad way. There was nobody around. I stopped and got out of the car and cranked a round into my .45 and was going to put the poor animal out of its misery. The First sergeant was all over me, telling me not to do that, that I’d wind up paying for the horse. Reluctantly I got back into the car and left the horse there. Later that day, as we were going back to Izmit, we passed the scene again. This time there a crowd of people there, and a guy was butchering the horse.

Meeting up with the Medical Field

I was in the hospital twice during my year in Turkey: Once in the USAF Hospital in Ankara, and the second time in the USA Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. Both times it was because of chronic diarrhea. I lost 20 pounds while I was in Turkey, and I was lean and mean when I arrived. (I could stand to lose more than 20 now, but then it was a matter of concern.) The Doctor at Det. 67 thought I might have something from the water, or dysentery. Anyhow, he sent me to the USAF Hospital in Ankara. They didn’t find anything, but it was an interesting stay.

One morning about 0100 I woke up and heard gunfire. It wasn’t real near, but it continued for some time. I thought the police might be chasing some bad guys. I went back to sleep. About 0530 we (in the ward) were awakened by two F-104’s screaming down the main boulevard (about two blocks away) that led to the Atatürk Mausoleum. We all hit the floor and went under our beds. I stayed there a minute or so and then got back into bed. I didn’t know what was happening, but I wasn’t particularly afraid. About 0630, though, I got scared: I was awakened by a sound that, once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget: The sound of the Vulcan, the Air Force equivalent of the old Gatling Gun—bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt—that fires about 6000 rounds per minute! I had seen and heard the weapon fired during a USAF firepower demonstration, and I never forgot the sound. When I heard the sound, I knew someone on the receiving end of the firing was in deep doo-doo.

The patients were told that the cadets from the Military Academy were trying to stage a coup d'etat. The troubles went on all day. Americans were told to stay off the streets, so the hospital staff that were on duty stayed on duty until the next day, and those who were supposed to report for duty that day were told to stay home. I never found out exactly what happened, but I remembered the coup attempt when my wife and I took a 2-week bus tour of Turkey in 2002. I didn’t know where the hospital was, but when we visited the Atatürk Mausoleum, I saw that the Military Academy wasn’t anywhere near there. I later Googled the episode and found that the Commander of the Land Forces Academy had unsuccessfully tried a coup in 1962. There, I found the following narrative near the bottom of the page:

"Nevertheless, Aydemir (NOTE: Former Land Forces Academy Commander), although a civilian, … initiated another attempt in May 1963 to overthrow the government, but that also failed. Believing that his popularity in the army was still existent, he and his supporters occupied the Radio Ankara building on May 20. But he could not hold the building for a long time. This time the revolt which lasted two days was crushed by force. Six people died and 30 were wounded. Marshal law was declared in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. Aydemir was arrested and he ended up at the gallows a year later. A lot of officers were expelled from the army. The military cadets who were eventually brought to his command during the revolt were also arrested and indiscriminately charged with treason pending execution. Later, they were lucky enough to be released, only facing dismissal from their schools."

So, the report we patients received was correct, that Military Academy cadets were, indeed, staging a coup, but I drew the wrong conclusion. The coup attempt wasn’t at the Military Academy, it was at Radio Ankara and the cadets had gone to the radio station.

The second trip to the hospital was to Germany via the regional MEDEVAC flight. I got on in Istanbul, and we stopped in Adana, Turkey; Athens, Greece; and Aviano, Italy. At Aviano we picked up a couple of sailors who had been injured on an aircraft carrier. One of them had lost a leg when one of the arresting cables snapped and whipped back at him. He was not in good shape. Carrier duty is very dangerous. The stay in the hospital accomplished nothing, and I went back to Turkey. The diarrhea stopped, oddly, when I got back to the States.

A Tragic Event

In November one of the interpreters rushed to me and told me President Kennedy had been shot. I had the communicators crank up the RATT (teletype) rig to try and follow what was going on. We finally began getting info about the assassination. We immediately started to lower both flags, but we didn’t have authority to lower the Turkish flag, so we got some black cloth and put a large black bow on the American flag and didn’t lower it. The Turkish Corps Commander came over the next day to pay his respects to me as the senior American commander in the area.

Me. It must have been a later trip because I'm a Captain here but a Lieutenant in the others.

Leaving with Mixed Emotions

I was supposed to leave the Detachment on 3 February 1964 to outprocess at Det. 67 on 4 February and fly home on 5 February. However, on 1 February Det. 67 called and told me to be there on 2 February because there had been a mistake on my ticket, and I was leaving on 4 February. Broke my heart! I had to call my wife from Istanbul on my way out on 4 Feb to tell her I was getting home a day early.

Although I had been away from home for a year, and missed my wife terribly, my time in Turkey was a very beneficial tour of duty. I gained much experience, I matured as an officer because of the diversity of my duties, and I enjoyed Turkey enough so that my wife and I went back there in 2002 on a two-week bus tour and had a marvelous time. I must admit, though, that I enjoyed the second tour in Turkey much more than the first!.

Kevin O'Neill

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