© 2012 by Author
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)
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 lead 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...)