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My Diyarbakir, Turkey, Experience 1958

Bruce P. Barrett

© 2003-2011 by Author

As part of my genealogical research I recently did a Google search of Diyarbakir, Turkey, my first permanent Air Force assignment. I found what I had known as TUSLOG Det 9 APO 294 was also known as Diyarbakir Air Force Station and Pirinçlik Air Force Station. After reading others' stories on Merhaba-USMilitary.com I decided to include my own memories. I can’t remember everyone's names and in some cases the appropriate spelling.

I joined the Air Force, 1 May 1957, with one of my friends, Teddy N. Jackson. We both attended Honaker High School (HHS) in Southwest Virginia which recently gained some national recognition when the Pittsburg Steelers signed Virginia Tight End Heath Miller who also attended HHS. On completion of basic training I was sent to Francis E Warren AFB to Supply School. Teddy went to Kessler AFB for Radar Operator School and was eventually stationed at Wheelus AFB, Libya.

After knee surgery and too much fire guard duty I finally got in and completed the Supply Course. Then three of my classmates and I received orders for TUSLOG Detachment 9, APO 294. I later learned that someone had signed my name to an overseas volunteer form indicating Turkey as my 1st choice. Guess they probably did the same thing to everyone. On 24 Feb 1958 I left Charleston AFB, SC for Turkey. On landing in Morocco I got my first and last taste of reconstituted powdered white milk. From then on it was chocolate only. At Wheelus I looked up my buddy Teddy Jackson. Foyce G. Garnett and I then left for Ankara, Turkey via commercial air. While in Ankara we caught a cab to the Base Exchange and then decided to walk back to the hotel. I was mesmerized by the sights, sound and smells. I noticed a bakery with what I thought was raisin bread in the window. When someone picked up the loaf I realized it was flies rather than raisins. As we deplaned at the Diyarbakir Airport I thought the locals were glad to see us as they were on their knees bowing. Being from SW Virginia I thought there were only 2 kinds of religion, Baptist and Methodist. After calling the base and waiting for a couple of hours we were picked up in the Base Commander’s car by a two striper. He seemed to be suprised that his passengers were 2 one stripers.

 

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Turkish co-worker Ibrahim Bensil and I. He worked in Supply with me. When I first arrived we were responsible for the Base Laundry supplies. The picture was taken at one of the warehouse doors.

Some of the events that I remember are:

  1. I found the atmosphere of the first few months of my assignment to be quite relaxed. The commander (Colonel Hinckley I think) knew and greeted everyone by their first name. He also had a map in his office where he had a flag pin with everyone’s home town. During a barracks inspection he complimented my roommate on his liquor selection. I volunteered for an unknown assignment which we soon discovered entailed dropping trees and bushes off a flatbed truck. After lunch at a mass formation the volunteers were told to report to the motor pool. At the motor pool we took a weapons carrier to the club where we filled it with beer and sodas which we handed out to the tree planters.

  2. The Captain in charge of supply had a baby gazelle which he fed with a bottle. He became very attached to it and was really upset when the town bus ran over and killed it.
  3. There was a small dispensary manned by two medics who were brothers. Once a month they took the ambulance to town. Before leaving they drove around the base and picked up anyone who wanted to patronize the Diyarbakir Compound (official Turkish name - Kerhane).

  4. I heard that when the swimming pool was initially scheduled to open someone’s pet bear got to it first and delayed the official opening. The bear was gone before I arrived but someone had a donkey, while I was there, which would be found sleeping off a night of beer drinking.

  5. Shortly after arriving I went to town with several guys to go “bowling”. I was initially confused because the place looked like a bar. After drinking a couple of bottles of the local beer I had to relive myself. I became acquainted with “Bombsites” and community toilets. It was also a shock to a young country boy as it was occupied by a woman. Needless to say I immediately lost the urge.

  6. The Mess Sergeant had dibs on the first barstool next to the phone as you entered the club. One day he was talking on the phone and ended the conversation by slamming the receiver down. When asked what happened the indicated that one of his people, responsible for posting the menu, called to ask how to spell tapioca. He asked if they were sure it was suppose to be on the menu and when assured it was he said “. He said “Tapp oh hell put rice on it, they won’t know the difference”. I will say we ate quite well until he rotated then we had hotdogs three or four times a week.

  7. Another time a coworker noticed some unusual activity around the officer’s quarters. Apparently some civilians were on base including a good looking female. In 1958 it was an all male base except for a couple of locals who manned the switchboard. She would enter one end of the building and later exit the other end. Of course there was considerable discussion as to what was going on. Later while I was taking a shower she popped her head in our latrine then disappeared.

  8. Shortly after my arrival I found the job that I wanted. The base had a contract with a vendor at the open market in Diyarbakir to supply fresh produce to the mess hall. Supply was responsible for picking up and delivering the produce which entailed driving to the market on a daily basis. I eventually got the job after the incumbent rotated. I went to the mess hall and they gave me a list of their requirements which consisted of a piece of cardboard with names in English on one side and Turkish on the other. I just had to make sure that the requested quantity was loaded on the truck. The owner always ordered tea for me while I waited. On one occasion I was having trouble getting the right quantities loaded when a Turkish Army officer asked, in perfect English, if he could help. He resolved the issue and after some discussion he invited me to visit his home where he tape recorded my visit to be used by his young children so they wouldn’t lose their American accents. He was a doctor that had been stationed at Walter Reed where his children had gone to local schools. He and his family were very nice and I got a home cooked meal.

  9. In July of 1958 the base was transferred from USAFE Detachment 9 and Det. 8 to USAFSS Det. 8. With the command change a new commander, Col T.J. Gragg, arrived. The aforementioned relaxed atmosphere immediately changed. The enlisted club was split into Airmen and NCO parts; the compound (Kerhane) was placed off limits; barracks inspections were white glove. Several individuals received Article 15s for various infractions.

  10. After the change of command I was part of a detail that went outside the main gate and loaded boulders on a flatbed truck. We then lined the base road on both sides with the rocks. Another detail whitewashed the rocks. A couple of weeks later the rocks were turned over and eventually removed. With the news of the Gary Powers U2 incident it didn’t take much to imagine the context of the message the commander must have received. There were stories of a special airplane that took off and landed after dark at Adana chased by a couple of pickup trucks.

  11. Colonel Gragg gave me some Lira and asked me to stop at the Agriculture Research Center in Diyarbakir and pickup fresh eggs. He would bring his fresh eggs to breakfast and have the cooks fry them for him while everyone else had reconstituted powered eggs.

  12. With all of my trips to town I never really felt threatened with the exception of one time. There was a weekly C-130 arrival bringing mail, food, supplies and passengers. I volunteered most weeks and one case I was a passenger in a flatbed truck driven by Airman First Class Fagan. The C-130 parked close to a gate next to the road from the radar site. Traffic had to make a 90 degree left turn to go around the end of the runway while traffic entering the gate continued straight ahead. We had to go thru the gate which was manned by a Turkish Army guard with a Springfield rifle. The truck had a governor that limited it to about 35mph. Not far from the gate Fagan said “watch this” as he continued to floorboard the gas pedal. When the guard raised his rifle I went to the floor of the truck. Fagan finally got the truck stopped and when I came up off the floor the guard was in the middle of the road not very far from the front of the truck and his rifle was pointed at his Fagan’s head.

  13. After the Lebanon Crisis the R&R destination was changed from Beirut, Lebanon to Crete, the largest island in Greece. Some of the guys on R&R were on the beach in Beirut when the Marines landed. Fagan went to Crete for his R&R, returning with many stories and evidence of his luck which he carried in an envelope. He would let people look in the envelope from a distance to maintain the fragrance.

  14. After Col Gragg put the “Compound” off limits one of my friends decided he wanted to go to the Mardin compound (Kerhane) and convinced me to go with him. We rented a taxi in Diyarbakir and drove to Mardin some 60 miles away. I am not sure if we were the first but I don’t think we were the last.

  15. When I filled out my base-of-choice “dream sheet” I requested a consecutive overseas tour. My consecutive overseas tour was approved for assignment to the 7500 Air Base Group with an APO for Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base in Germany. Before my orders were published the APO was corrected to Denham Studios AFS (formerly J Arthur Rank film studio) located at Denham, England where I spent the next 4 years. On the way to England I looked up Teddy Jackson at Wheelus again.


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