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Phil Toth

© 2003-2011 by Author

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It was in late May or early June 1985 when I reenlisted off the coast of Cyprus. We had the USS Dewey (DDG-45) alongside for fuel and a personnel highline transfer. This is a means of sending people between ships in a chair that slides along a line between the two. I took a hand held radio and the Captain said the oath from the bridge while I repeated it in the middle of the two ships. Our next stop was Golçuk, Turkey and the ship, USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6). was in for repairs. I was set to transfer back to the states and had received my fourth Sea Service Ribbon.

I remember the trip up the Dardanelles. It was some of the most beautiful coastline I've ever seen. Nothing really majestic, but it was bright and looked well kept. At the time, I didn't know about the battle at Gallipoli but it's hard to believe that such a bloody affair was conducted in that area. We came directly into the harbor at Golçuk in the early morning and saw many of the Turkish ships were anchored out. It was like seeing the U.S. fleet from back in the 50's and 60's. Many of our old destroyers were there including ex-USS Piedmont.


Golçuk had a ship repair facility which was why we were pulling in. Our captain had rank pulled on him by the captain of another ship (can't remember which one) which went to Toulon, France while we got Golçuk. It was quite a chore getting us pierside. We were much longer than any of the ships they had pierside so it took until early afternoon before we were fully moored. Our bow stuck out from the end of the pier and was secured with a rig of anchor chain and towing hawser. Because I was about ready to transfer Stateside, I had already turned over my shipboard duties but I still had to stand shore duty with my section. I pulled Shore Patrol every third day. We did this duty with our Turkish counterparts and it didn't take long for me and my American partner to figure out the communication problem. Not only could we not speak the same language, we didn't even use the same hand gestures for the same meanings! But, after a couple times, we did figure out a few things.

The Turks are very strict with military courtesies. I had a problem with their junior seamen saluting me because I wasn't accustomed to being saluted. If they didn't salute one of their officers, look out. Usually they would receive a backhand to the head. If you're wondering whatever happened to all the Thompson .45 caliber machine guns.....they're in Turkey! I wanted so much to bring one back, but I had heard of the toughness of Turkish prisons and wasn't about to risk it.

I developed a passion for Turkish rugs. I like the whole process of looking for them, haggling over price and eventually buying. Every shop would serve hot tea in small clear glasses. There was a young boy who did all the tea getting, rug folding and general chores. The owners (there always seemed to be at least three per shop) would throw the rugs out for inspection faster than I could check the pattern and the boy was continuously folding behind them.

I recall there were only two bars in the whole town. A friend of mine and I used to sit at one of those 6' by 20' newstands and drink beer and watch American TV shows in Turkish. The Turks are great people! We traded ship's items (lighters, ballcaps, t-shirts) for beer. I got a Turkish flag (bayrak) from one of them. One night when I went into one of the bars, I saw a fellow crewmember (already lit up like a christmas tree) sitting in the midst of a crowd of locals arm wrestling with them. All of a sudden, I'm in the middle, arm wrestling what seemed like the whole crowd. I'm no Charles Atlas but I was beating all of them. I'm imagining a riot breaking out over this and thought I'd "throw" a couple, to calm the crowd but they could tell I wasn't trying and insisted I go for it. I retired undefeated and didn't buy a beer all night. Afterward, I would walk down the main street and be recognized by some of them. It wasn't what I call a great liberty port, but I had a great time there.

I met a Turkish policeman who spoke English. He grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and was a Christian. I was surprised at how moderate Turkey was for a Moslem country. There were still the women in traditional headress but many in western clothes also. I didn't go more than 10 or 15 blocks in any direction from the Main Gate because there was nothing but residential areas away from the city center. Golçuk was a nice little town.


I had been given a letter, from the Air Force Liason Office at the Istanbul Airport. It explained why these 12 Americans were leaving Turkey, but had no passports because they arrived by ship. When we got to the airport, early in the morning, nothing was opened up. I started sweating the load about being delayed. It never occured to me that all these other people were waiting for the same flight.

Anyway, I decided to take a walk over to the Air Force office and see if they knew about things running late. It had just begun to turn daylight. A Policeman, armed with a small automatic weapon, asked me where I was going. I gestured toward the building across the parking lot and said that was my destination. He raised the weapon, without actually aiming it at me, and said that I couldn't do that. Without any question, I said, "O.K." and returned inside.

When things started moving inside the terminal, we checked our luggage and got our boarding passes. No one ever asked to see my passport letter. I was somewhat disappointed.

As we left the building, I could see our plane on the tarmac. We were guided up to the luggage cart, which was very near the cargo hold of the plane. Each passenger picked their bags up and handed them to the attendant. This way, if you were placing a bomb on the plane, at least you were getting on with it. The whole aircraft was surrounded with armed guards. Even though there were quite a few shady looking characters in our crowd, I wasn't worried too much about any hijackers being one of them. Once aboard, it was a fairly normal flight. The meals were all certified to be "Pork Free." They even had little tags showing a cartoon pig with a circle and slash drawn over it, like a no smoking sign.