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You Got To Istanbul...
But How Do You Get To Karamursel?

Jim Walsh

© 2012 by Author

My Arrival

I arrived in Turkey as a fresh-faced 18 year old. It was June of 1975. I got off the plane in Istanbul and walked into the terminal at Yesilkoy airport, only to be stunned to see Turkish military walking around with Rifles! I had been to Logan airport in Boston many times to see my aunt Mary off on one of her many vacations, and wondered at the size of Logan and it’s seemingly hustle and bustle of activity. Friendly people, all happy and moving about, getting ready to go on to some desired destination. No police back then. No military. Just plenty of anxious passengers waiting to board the numerous 747’s to fly them up into the friendly skies.

That’s what I thought would happen in Turkey, but I was in for a surprise! My first lesson in the school of “you’re not in Kansas anymore...”.

I was soon directed towards a long line of passengers who were having their luggage inspected. I was only carrying a duffle-bag, but when it was my turn, they were very thorough. They opened the bag and dumped out its contents. They “pawed” over every item, and then when they were satisfied all was ok, they marked an “X” with a piece of chalk on my bag, and directed me to place the items back in the bag and to move out of the way. Just in case, that “X” didn’t get wiped off for many weeks!

I was somewhat dazed and confused. No one was there to meet me. I knew no one. I understood nothing that was being said to me. It was a strange surrounding and I felt afraid. Then I spotted someone in a blue Air Force uniform. Sgt. Marti Martinez was being re-assigned to Karamursel and that’s where I was going. He could tell I had that “deer in the headlights” look about me and as I moved towards him, he was ready to answer my questions about where to go and what to do.

Feeling a little bit calmer, I sat with him as we waited for our transportation to arrive. I was hungry after the 15 hours in transit from my original flight from Boston. I saw a small boy walking around outside with what looked like large pretzels or bread rolls on a long stick. I asked Marti how much one of those items would cost. “Hepatitis Rolls”, he said and shook his head no. I said nothing, mostly because I didn’t understand if he was using slang or a nickname or if I simply misunderstood what he meant. A little while later, I understood. The young boy was running around the front of the airport, trying to sell his wares. In his haste to get from one bus to another, he tripped and fell and his “rolls” flew everywhere! He quickly gathered up all the rolls, from every mud hole and dirt infested nook and cranny on the street, gingerly dusted them off, placed them back on the stick, and began shouting, in Turkish, for customers to come and partake of his delicious Turkish Delights! One wonders how many pharmacies were visited that night!

There were buses, Taxi’s and Donkey carts everywhere, and here was this boy maneuvering between each one with the skill of a high-wire artist. I would come to learn that in this “land of enchantment”, it was not uncommon to see young boys trying to sell one thing or another in order to just help their families survive.

The almost three-hour bus ride to Karamursel left me wondering if I was dreaming. Where was I? How did I get here? What type of people would I meet and would I be able to deal with the change in surroundings, customs and language?

We traveled through what seemed like a mountain area, down by a large lake, and then along a coastline. Scene by scene passed by in a haze. By the time we arrived at Karamursel, I was even more tired then when I arrived. Not able to sleep on the bus, I sure hoped I would be given a room and some time to get some sleep.

Time would tell how I would adjust. I was still timid, nervous, and yes even afraid. Welcome to Turkey – the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime!

William J. (Jim / Bill) Walsh, Able Flight, Tuslog Det 94-1 (June 1975-June 1976)

First Duty

Arriving at Karamursel, we were immediately taken to a small building just inside the gate. Here, we were given a short talk about our responsibilities as Airmen, and as citizens of the United States. We were quickly warned that the Turkish authorities were not lenient in any way with those who violated their laws, especially in the realm of drugs. At this point, a special Invitation / Warning was issued: “If you do drugs or if you are involved with drugs, tell us right now and we will ship you out of here immediately, no questions asked.”!

I was still in the haze of our ride from Istanbul having passed one scene after another in a country that looked both familiar and foreign. When we got to the gate at Karamursel, I was stunned to see that it was guarded by the Turkish military! I would come to learn that the Turkish military had free run of the base, and that since Karamursel was on their land, they were first in the chain of command.

The comments about drugs, coupled with seeing the Turkish guard, made me all the more nervous about this new assignment.

Back at Goodfellow, everything had been easy. I arrived at Goodfellow on a Friday night, directly from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Somehow, the duty Airmen did not have my name on the roster of those arriving, and so I had not been assigned a room. I was placed in a dorm with four other guys – one Airman, and three Staff Sergeants. I was given my own room, in the three-story dormitory, which was used for students who were there on Temporary Duty (TDY).

Because of this “snafu”, I never roomed with any of my classmates! I did, however, enjoy being treated like the Sergeants – like an adult! When I heard stories from men who had gone to Keesler AFB, about marching to class and about “ropes”, it was all foreign to me. I did not march to class. I got up in the morning, put on my uniform and casually walked to the mess hall.

When I finished my breakfast, I would meet up with my classmates and we'd walk to the training area at the far end of Goodfellow AFB. In the afternoons, Bob Glatt and I would go bowling for a while, and, perhaps, we would find someone with a car and head out to Lake Nasworthy, or go downtown to San Angelo for a Dr. Pepper and Cheeseburger at the Sonic! At night, we headed out to “Western Skies” or “Twin Mountains” the Steak houses in San Angelo. Life was good, life was casual and, so... I was unprepared for what awaited at Karamursel.

Karamursel was Military life! It was by-the-book! This was the Air Force overseas. It was not prep school nor Club Med'. The warning about drugs and the Turkish authorities did what they were intended to do – sending shivers up my spine and fear into my mind! I had images of balls and chains and being carted off to a dark prison where no one knew my name and where, with long beard and dirty clothes, I would languish until eternity, breaking rocks with George Raft or Jimmy Cagney. Who knows why I thought this, because I had nothing to do with drugs, but the fear was there and it did its job of creating improbable scenarios which were to capture my imagination.

Maybe it was also my new surroundings. At both Lackland and Goodfellow, there were no closed gates. There were entrance gates and guards at those gates who ushered you in, once the proper identification was provided. When you showed them your military I.D., they waved their arm in front, as if to say, “Yes, come on in you are welcome here …” But here at Karamursel, there was a closed gate and an armed Turkish military guard standing by. From the initial view of the base, it was completely encircled with a chain-link fence of about 8 feet high. It was not “open”, but “closed” in its feelings. Maybe that’s why I was thinking of a prison.

Having given us the speech and found no takers for the Air Force’s kind offer, we were then assigned our rooms and told to report back in the morning for orientation. Maybe after a good night’s sleep I would feel better in the morning. I was led to a building that was two stories high, and was told this would be my quarters. I was assigned a room where there was another airman, but he was, regularly, not in his bed. Once again, I would be on my own to gain my initial surroundings.

As I walked down the hallway, half dazed and heading towards the “latrine”, I kept wondering: Why does everyone leave their shoes outside of their rooms? (to be continued...)

My Arrival

I vaguely remember rounds of meetings with this one or that one with regards to administration. I was given a set of orders, send around to get a post box for mail. Next, it was over to medical to be weighed and checked. Told I was overweight (I knew that), I was then scheduled for an appointment to see a Captain who was in charge of the “weight-control” program. Since it would take several days before I was allowed to go on the Ops floor, I tried to learn my way around the base. I had already found the chow hall, and learned where the Theater was, and the local snack shop, and where the Gymnasium was, and the ball fields, and walked down to the water front to see the Restaurant down there and what else was available.

At the ball fields I found some airman playing Fastpitch softball. I asked about joining the team. I was soon told when practice would be, and agreed to show up. Meanwhile …

Turkish and U. S. relations were in a fragile condition, due to what was happening on Cyprus with regards to Greece. Rumors circulated, but no one knew exactly what was going on. I tried looking for some buddies from Goodfellow, eventually catching up with them. It had been almost 2 months since I had seen them. (Due to a dental issue, I did not leave Goodfellow until 2 weeks after they did, and then spent about 3 weeks at home.) I had been assigned to Able flight, and only one of my buddies was on Able. I finally, from him, found out what the deal was with shoes outside the door of your room: this was left for a local Turkish national, who would come through the dormitory every evening to pick up and polish the shoes. I was not interested in that service, so I never left my shoes outside.

Finally after a little over a week, I was allowed on the Operations (Ops) floor. I was given an assignment which at first would have me sitting “side saddle” next to a sergeant, as I learned some of the duties I would undertake. However, this did Not last long, as within a couple of days, the orders came: shut down Operations. The Turkish Government had decided to reject the proposal by the U. S., and said they would close down all Military sites. We were given about 2 or 3 hours to transfer all our Operations to different Air Force sites in Europe before the doors would be locked and chained. I was actually on duty at that time. What struck me was first, how efficient everyone was. You get a feeling for some folks when you see them “off-duty”, but then there is a marked change when the uniform is put on. Off-duty, they let their hair down. When they are in uniform, they are professional. This was my impression. Everyone knew what needed to be done, and there was little to no complaining. Everyone knew how important it was to get the cases transferred and everyone was working at a high level, even though it was “crunch time”. When it was all done, one thing that I remembered was how Cold it was in Ops. With all the machines and teletypes and tape decks, etc. working, you needed the A/C to be running full blast to keep the heat away in the summer. Now that all the machines were silent, that A/C was still running full blast and it was like a freezer. We all walked out of the Operations center, and I remember a Turkish Soldier (possibly in the Navy?) putting some chains and a lock on the Operations doors. It would be the last time any U.S. airmen would be inside. I had not been on station two weeks, and I was already without a job! I had 17 ½ months of an 18 month tour staring at me, with nothing to do but wait.

Club Med

At first, there was a very relaxed atmosphere in dealing with our current situation. I seem to remember a busload of us going to a local seaside area to do some swimming and hanging out at the beach. I remember going up with some other guys on a cliff just above the beach area, and looking down into the water and being amazed at how clear and clean it was. You could see right down to the bottom. After drinks and some playing around on the beach, we headed back to KCDI. We all commented on how we could get used to this. But, I don’t think anyone realized that day after day of such activities led all of us to want something more challenging.

And a challenge for me was my weight. I had always been a bit on the “portly” side. In fact, as a boy, when I grew up in the Boston area, my Mom took me one time to Anderson Little to buy some very nice dress slacks. We were sent by the salesman into the boys area, to look at the slacks marked “Husky”. I always ended up with “Husky” size slacks. When I went to the Air Force recruiter at South Station, he said my weight would not be a problem. Well, at least, not or him. I believe I weighed at the time about 254 pounds. I lost some of it in basic, maybe about 10 pounds, but had no trouble gaining that back at all the wonderful restaurants in San Angelo at Goodfellow, and then the 3 weeks back at home eating what I wanted. When I showed up at Karamursel, I was right back at 254 pounds, and thus was on the “weight control” program.

I remember my meeting with the Captain in charge, and his condescending speech to me about how everyone loves their donuts and chocolate, etc. I actually had been working on my weight since I got to Karamursel. I had met a sergeant Bill Bucci from Rhode Island, and he and I struck up a conversation. He commented on my weight, which at first I did not appreciate. But his goal was to help, and help he did. We began a daily routine that would last the rest of the time that “Booch” was at Karamursel: we got up early in the morning, drank some juice, took some vitamins, and headed out for at first, a one mile run, that eventually worked its way up to 4 miles every day. We also played Racquetball in the afternoons. Strangely, there were plenty of guys who wanted to play Racquetball. Whether this was because it was popular or because guys were bored, I don’t know. What I do know is that you were not allowed to reserve a court beyond each day. So, it required Booch and I alternating each morning of going to the Gym, and trying to reserve a court for that day. Somehow, no matter how early we got there (I believe it did not open before 7:00 a.m.) some guys had already been able to reserve courts. This did not sit well with us, but it seemed there was little we could do. Anyways, we had a regular routine of eating our meals together, running together and playing racquetball. I mentioned this routine to the Captain, but he was not impressed. I was told that every Monday morning at 7:30 I was to report to the Medical offices to be weighed. If I did not lose at least one pound, I would be given further instructions and a verbal reprimand. All was working well for me, because I was losing about 2 to 3 pounds every week. However, one week there was no change, and after it was logged on my chart, I received a call to go to the Captain. I was, in fact, called on the carpet and given a verbal reprimand! Thankfully, I said nothing, but inside I was seething. I was working hard to lose the weight and had lost over a dozen pounds, but somehow, that was not sufficient. However, when it was all said and done, I had gone from 254 pounds down to 192 pounds, which I was able to maintain throughout my 4 years in the Air Force. {continued}