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[Editor: Mehmet Ertuzun contacted me 15 Apr 2014. He was a 2nd Lt. with the Turkish Support Battalion at Cakmakli 1975-1976. I welcome him to the Cakmakli section of the website as his stories will show the base from a completely different viewpoint. Here's what he has sent so far, more to follow.]
Let me introduce myself first. My name is Mehmet Ertuzun. I was stationed at Cakmakli Base during my compulsory military service in 1975-1976. I first served as 3rd and then as 2nd Lieutenant in the Turkish Support Battalion. For people that has served in the same unit it is known that our battalion was a support unit both for US Det 67 (Artillery) and a small Air Force of 8 personnel unit, namely Det 121. My duty covered tasks as the chief translator/liasion officer and also S1 officer. During my service I had memorable and unforgettable stories that I was myself a part of. I also developed sincere frendships from the members of both armies(American & Turkish) some of which still lasts. I would also like to share at least some of those stories including numerous photos that I still keep as momento.
Therefore, if your web site is not only dedicated to stories of the American military personnel, and people such as myself are also welcome, I would like to know that so I can go further to provide you with text and photos.
Looking forward for your confirmation before I take a next step.
Mehmet Ertuzun - Ankara / T U R K E Y
(Editor: I assured Mehmet that I would add his story to the Cakmakli section of the website. He sent me the following on 27 Apr 2014.)
Military service has been and still is a compulsory mission for every man in Turkey. For individuals that do not have a university degree the service is taken as a Private, Corporal, or Sergeant ranking For university graduates the rank is a Third Lieutenant after completing a basic military school. During the past years there has been a number of changes in the duration, ranking, and certification of these services. but more or less it still is the same methodology. Sometimes Turkish nationals living abroad can deposit a certain amount of foreign currency payment with a governmental institute(Ministery Of Defence) and can complete their military services within a very short period of 3 to 4 weeks including a totally theoretical class room education. Or, during times where excessive university graduates line up for the service, the General Staff limits the entries and some only serve short periods such as 4 weeks or 6 months. Of course, to the enlisted the highest rank assigned can only be Sergeant at most. Years ago, back in sixties the high school graduates could also serve as 3rd Lieutenants in the army, but they were only allowed to complete their duties as private (elementary) school teachers in remote villages around the country following their basic trainings. This was also helping the shortage of licensed teachers in the country side.
As I graduated from the university in 1974, I was called in for the military service immediately in 1975. I took the initial exam in Ankara and was soon enrolled with the Tuzla (Istanbul) Infantry School. In my time the school duration was 4 months. This included both theoretical class lessons, field training, and and military excercises. I could have postponed my entry to the military service if I had extended my university education by further higher levels such as Doctorate, but I more wanted to get over and done with it and also thought that the service could have been a burden for me at later ages i.e., taking commands from a young regular and career soldier of a 2nd Lieutenant when I was at the age of forty for instance! Or, having to interrupt my business life right in the middle for a military service which could be rather unpleasant. Also, even if I had no intentions of marrying someone at those ages if for some reason I had to get married lets say at my late twenties of mid thirties the postponed military service would have definitely tackle my flow of life this way or the other.
As the military school in Tuzla was also an infantry regiment, the graduates mainly joined gendarmery or infantry units all over the country, including the Turkish State Of Northern Cyprus. But there was an additional graduation criteria for foreign language speakers/writers and for some branches of engineering. For that you had to succeed in an exam which I did easily as I had sound knowledge of English from my 8 years of secondary and high school education in Ankara( TED Ankara College).
EPISODE I - Assignment to Cakmakli:
In june 1975 we had to draw lots, practically from a bag to determine our fate! As I joined a separate group having a degree in English language like myself (with very low chance of joining an ordinary infantry unit and thank God for that) my luck did not betray me and when I saw the name "Cakmakli Turkish Support Battalion, Had?mköy - Istanbul" on that small piece of paper showing my new address I must confess I was rather puzzled. All my family roots was from Istanbul but I had never heard of such districts or provinces. Soon after the ceremony I rushed into a commander's office and asked him where this unit could be. He draw the curtains open of a gigantic map on the wall and with a stick in his hand pointed right on the spot. I said: "Hold on Cakmakli, here I come."
I first temporarily moved into a moderate hotel at Küçükçekmece, a fancy little district right by the shore of Küçükçekmece Lake in the outskirts of Istanbul. I could have moved into my grandmothers flat at Yeıilköy, which was reasonably close to Çakmaklİ, but thought that wouldn't be a good idea to use her home like an apart hotel. My hotel was just next to a famous meat restaurant, namely Beyti Kebap. That was a privilege and a real treat for me. This, I better understood during following months. I many times dined there with my American friends who thoroughly enjoyed the quality of the meals.
EPISODE II - A full time resident at Cakmakli:
I was acquainted with Major Necati Arslan, the chief commander of the Turkish Support Battalion on my first arrival to the base. His branch was artillery. A witty, clever, hyperactive, and a very practical minded caharacter he was. My first impression was very positive. I immediately accepted his proposal that I should stay within the base until my service was completed. He ordered the Sergeant Major to prepare a single room for me within the compound. He had quite reasonable reasons behind his proposal. Firstly, I would be the only English speaking personnel after 2 months when the current chief translator would leave the army for good. I was his only successor. Secondly, a translator's and liaison officer's task was not limited with working hours at all. The base was a living compound every hour of the day, it didn't matter whether it was night or day. Thirdly, I would not spend a dime on rent if I had stayed at the base. Considering the low wages of a Third Lieutenant this was sure a bonus for me. Another issue was the task of being an Orderly Officer. Considering the total personnel of officer's rank in our battalion, my turn of acting as Orderly Officer would revolve at a minimum period of once a week. That meant that I had to stay a total of 24 hours within the base anyway, possibly once every week regardless of whether it was Sunday or Saturday. I thought I might as well stay at the base full time. I went back to my hotel at Küçükçekmece, packed up my very few belongings and my guitar and headed for my new residence.
EPISODE III - Getting to know people from battalion:
Next day I was introduced to the whole of the battalion. As officers, there was Major Arslan as the Battalion Commander, a Captain (Cemal) for the security squadron, a 2nd Lieutenant (Tekin) for the service squadron, another Captain as aid to the major, three Third Lieutenants like myself (Mehmet, Sıtkı and Fatin), one responsible for the security, the other for the transportation/motorpool, and the last one acting as the translator and liaison that was soon to leave the army for good. There were also quite a number of Sergeant Majors holding different posts. My office was next to the building where I was going to stay. That was nice! Only a few steps and there you are at your desk. Something I never dreamed of at city life, where it is an absolute rat race finding your way to your office especially at rush hours. There was no hustle, there were sparrows chirping, a smooth summer wind, skylarks singing, bees buzzing, and sometimes a relaxing total silence. I soon arranged a table and few chairs right in front of my window just next to the barbed wire fencing bordering the US BOQ and parking lot. After office hours I used to sit there with friends from the battalion. Every night some of the officers bound to be the Orderly Officer, including minimum two Sergeant Majors as aids, therefore each night I had companions that I could socialize with. Sometimes I was arranging barbeque gatherings, sometimes we were ordering "pide" (Pastry with minced meat, onions, and tomatoes on top, cooked in traditional stone owens) from the nearest town, Hadımköy. Especially the lamb meat of the region was famous, it still is even today. I also had live pigeons next to my window on a high stand which I arranged with a Sergeant Major who was also interested in pigeons like myself. I was also temporarily assigned as the Military Canteen Keeper, where I always held a basic crate of Tuborg Beer as emergency! I could hardly complain, it was C'est La Vie all the way.
Tuning my guitar in my cosy little room. At the background outside the window is the entrance to the BOQ. Detachment 67 Commander Ballhizer's official yellow Chevrolet Nova is parked by the barbed wire fencing.
EPISODE IV - Getting to know Det. 67 American personnel:
Only a few days after I moved into Cakmakli, my commander, Major Arslan, introduced me to Colonel Ballhizer, the chief Commander of Det. 67. He was a tallish man with thick eye glasses. The US personnel had a nick-name for him: Balls Of Fire! I later discovered what that meant. Then, as the days went by and daily routine set in I soon met quite a number of people from Det. 67. As it was summer time the off-work hours helped me to better know the people from the other side of the barbed wire fence. As I grew up with Americans in my very young childhood in Ankara, I was quite familiar with softball. Our house was in the Bahçelievler District of Ankara, a location at close vicinity to Balgat, where there were the US High School, Tumpane, Tuslog, and even Boeing Company . Only in our apartment we had two American families as neighbours. The typical yellow colour American Superior School Coach was the regular vehicle of our street collecting children of American families scattered all over Bahçelievler. As time continued, my softball exercises with grownups at the reasonably large field of CAKMAKLI grew. But my volleyball interest also found partners among Americans. When it came to football (European style), Americans were left only as bystanders by the fence when we were running around after a ball made of calf hide. They were not interested in the rules of the game whatsoever. I had always wondered why especially the Latin Americans was so much fond of football, yet the North Americans unquestionably kept themselves distant from the same game. Later football gained some velocity in USA, but never to be compared to the rest of the world especially Europe.
The Day Room within the US Base was the main grounds for me to make new friends. It had such a social atmosphere. There was an American pool table and lots of records, including a powerful hi-fi set. At Tuzla during my military school times I had the chance to link up with the US Karamursel Base radio via my little transistor radio because Tuzla Infantry Military School was right accross the Marmara Sea facing towards Karamursel shores. The name of the Base Radio was KTUS. Anyhow, it was that time when I first heard songs such as Desperado, Lyin' Eyes, One Of These Nights, etc. I was overtaken by these songs and their lyrics. Who would have thought that soon after I graduated from the military school I would find myself right in the middle of such a large collection of original records of groups and solo singers I so much envied such as Chigago, Traffic, The Eagles, Blood Sweat And Tears, John Denver, Seals And Croft, The Byrds, Jim Croce and many others I cannot count here. Moreover, the "small sized" US Air Force Base(Det. 121) near Cakmakli had the technical capacity to relay Karamursel Base American radio to a limited kilometer square area around Cakmakli that was more than enough for a guy like me.
I learned how to use a casting net from a Sergeant Major in my battalion. First I would go fishing with the net. I was a fishing freak anyway. I also fished in the lakes around for pike. Through this hobby I made some new friends from the base. Streams around the area were full of perch, carp, minnows, and crappies. But foremost there were plenty of crayfish. I was very happy to see so many fishing enthusiasts at the American base. They had proper fishing tackles with them. Especially the crayfish sessions were fun. I was catching many buckets full of crayfish. Then we would bring them live to the base and throw them in to the decorative pond at the entrance of Det. 67 . When needed we would net them out from the pond and have them cooked in Turkish Battalion kitchen. Someone would prepare spicy sauce for it and the rest was just wine and dine.
I was somewhat a regular in the BOQ, especially on film nights. That was such a great opportunity for me sitting in a warm room on leather couches, laying back and watching brand new films on a large screen with American friends. Jokes flying around, humorous quotes made, lots of booze, six-packs floating about, even the Chaplain having wine once in a while, detachment Commander sitting in front row in a community free atmosphere contrary to the day time formal routine. That was when I first watched Marlon Brando's "Godfather One".
There were also times when my American friends from Det. 67 would come to my place. We would wine and dine at our little mess hall that was next to my room. The group we had would get over-crowded on nights when we watch naughty 8 mm. films that an American G.I from the kitchen would bring from Germany. They were hot! We would tightly close the curtains of the room so that soldiers from our battalion would not notice the "adult shows" on the wall, but somehow the news spread and one night I rushed to the window after we heard a cracking sound outside. When I reached the window I saw three men from our battalion lying on the cement hard stand with a broken branch of the pine tree adjacent to the building. Apparently we must have left the top part of the curtains slightly open and the men had climbed to the top of the poor tree to get a glimpse of what we were enjoying! A sight that they would not even dream of back in their remote Anatolian villages. When I interrogated the soldiers they with embarrassment confessed that they were all on top of the tree sharing the little "loop hole" in the curtain in turn because there was not enough room even for "four eyes" to watch at the same time! Ofcourse I tapped their shoulders and told them nothing to worry about and let them go back to their barracks. After all we seniors were to blame.
Then followed our Istanbul adventures. Once I made friends like Gale Matthews, Darrell Rishell, Smithie, Sgt. Garrett, and also some others that I cannot recall the names of we had regular visits to Istanbul. One night we went to a basketball game. Another time we went to the Bosphorus to a fish restaurant. One day we were at the Archeological Museum. On other days we would go to "Pavyons", typical music halls with lots of attractive ladies that would come to your table and drink plentiful glass that you offer. It certainly was a money trap especially for bachelor army man because the ladies would usually consume diluted tea instead of whiskey or brandy and later receive their tips from the mafia faced owners. When the customers felt tipsy and carried away by the looks and perfumes of the sexy-looking ladies they thought the more they offered drinks, the better chance they would have to take the lady away to a nearby hotel. But, unfortunately, that was not the case. The "Pavyons" were not the best place to make a friend close enough to have private moments! The actual location for those were "Randevu Evi" (Rendezvous Houses), classified as intimate clubs that were mainly grouped around Taksim Square of Istanbul. They had attractive false sign plates such as "The American Bar", "Your Exotic Hom" or, "Intimate Tastes". There you were free to sleep with any woman you prefered who were sitting and resting at the gimmicky entrance halls of these buildings. There were always private rooms at second or third floors. These halls were mostly decorated with red velvet upholstery and dim lights. They were not like cheap brothels. The selected men by the owners would somehow eliminate customers by their own criterias and would not let them go even a step further to the entrance. Without a doubt they were experts on picking drifters and tramps. Funny enough, I was first introduced to one of these places by an American friend! That night I felt like a total sophomore geek. Surely, Americans were pioneers in exploring such pleasure halls more than anything. I can safely say they have gained such a fame in our battalion if not elsewhere!
Thank God, fun was not limited to fancy pleasure houses only. We were having wild times all over the city. Sometimes we joined house parties, sometimes we were at sea. Once we went to a posh fish restaurant at the Bosphorus named "Palet Restaurant". A friend insisted on having a lobster. It was served with wine and side dishes we all enjoyed, but when the bill came we were all stunned. Later, Cpt. Thompson framed the empty tail of the lobster he took from the table and hung it on a wall in the BOQ right by the bar - if I remember right - with the following wording on it engraved at the bottom of the frame: "This Is The Tail Of The Most Expensive Lobster In Turkey". Maybe it is still hanging in there, who knows????....
One cold day just before the weekend our Battalion Commander, Major Necati Arslan, wanted me in his office. He told me that he has spoken to the driver of the American service coach and that he will take us next morning (Saturday) to a cave near the Küçükçekmece Lake. This was a trip he has planned and asked me to lead the group. He said he had been there before and he would not join us this time. He made me responsible for all the preparation and arrangements of this weekend adventure. He also told me that the place we were supposed to visit was the infamous Yarımburgaz Cave. The cave was around 1400 meters deep which meant more than a kilometer deep under ground. I thought it would be an ineteresting change and went to the American Base to spread the news. Very soon we were nearly 30 people to join the trip. We prepared sandwiches, took packs of beer, soft drinks, flash lights, helmets, strong back up batteries, ropes, and wore adequate clothing. As I told you before, Major Arslan was a unique character, he knew that it would make a difference for all of us to participate in an unusual adventure that does not come and knock on your door that frequently. Should he had not thought of such an original idea we would have either lay back in our barracks on that cold day or do something useless. Saturday morning we all crowded into the dark green coloured American service bus and headed for the mysterious cave. After about an hour drive we reached our destination.
The YARIMBURGAZ CAVE Entrance. We went through the bottom cave. It is approximately 1350 meters long, going even deeper from ground level with a smooth slope.
2500 year old ship figure with oars depicted on the inside wall of the cave using natural earth colourings.
Immediately after we entered the mouth of the cave we noticed the remarkable change in the temperature. Outside it was chilling cold but inside it was so warm most of us had to leave our heavy parkas at the entrance where the driver was waiting for us. The first inhabitants of the cave were from the late second period of Ota Pleistones era that lasted between 730.000 and 130.000 B.C. Thousands of years ago the Küçükçekmece Lake was actually a part of Marmara Sea and the water level was so high that the ancient wooden ships just about reached the entrance of the cave and unloaded their goods so that they would safely be kept in the cave. Many archeological excavations have been made and most of the artifacts are exhibited in the ıstanbul National Archeological Museum.
After seeing the main entrance of the cave with visible signs of historical settlements we moved downwards to the deep. After 15 minutes or so I was only left with a few American friends including "Ranger" Lieutenant Haeffle. The rest gave up, some due to claustrophobia, and some due to the increasing temperature. We were creeping through some very narrow tunnels and then suddenly coming across large, high ceiling galleries full of stalactites and stalagmites. In some cases we had constant water flow under our feet. Sometimes it was just slippery waxy mud. When we had switched off our flashlights it was pitch dark, nothing else. Deeper into the cave the bats were not seen anymore, whereas at the galleries closer to the entrance there we saw hundreds of bats hanging from the ceilings producing squeaky high pitch sounds. After nearly an hour it was only Lt. Haeffle and myself left. He was in front of me and the tunnel we went in was so narrow both of us were in a shaft where we could not even bend our bodies either to left or to right. I told Lt. Haeffle that this was it. I couldn't even raise my head. To go back we had to creep backwards wiggling our bodies like a snake pushing the sides of the shaft and there was no alternative. We were smeared in red coloured mud all over, slippery and slimy. For about 15 minutes we "reversed", only using our fingers and elbows like a caterpillar. Eventually we were free to rest in a sitting position. After half an hour we met the small group we left behind that were worried about us. Joining them, we made it back to the entrance of the cave within 40 minutes or so. It was too cold to picnic outside. We were wet all over with sweat and moisture. We decided to have the feast at the mouth of the cave where there was no wind or sleet and there was enough day light. We ate, drank beer, and chatted about our observations. Many took lots of pictures. I didn't have a camera. I am sure in some part of United States even today some albums do hold a good stack of photos taken that day. If any 'inhabitants' of Cakmakli that were there that day and took some pictures should now come forward and share them with us. I hope somebody from that day read these lines. All events such as this brought us together and we got to know each other better. We even formed two separate voleyball teams one from Det. 67(All American) and the other from the Turkish Support Battalion. I was always the referee. Somebody from the American base even recorded one game with a video camera and that was the first time ever I saw a video camera. It was fun watching it afterwards. Was black&white only but didn't matter one bit.
EPISODE V - Anecdotes:
- Cpt. Thompson's birthday when a few of his mates got hold of a sheep from the nearby village of Dereköy, moved it into the BOQ secretively. Painted the poor animal, tied ribbons all round it like a bride, and after we were all plastered with whiskey and wine he went to his room only to find the poor "sheep the bride" waiting to lay him off! Did we have a laugh
- The Day After when my dear friend Warrant Officer Gale Matthews prepared a sweet & sour Chinese dish supported with extra hot Californian peppers when the attendants of the dinner suffered from bottom burning!
- The severe snow storm of February 1976 when all the roads leading to Cakmakli were blocked and a complete isolation of two days hardly ended. The Turkish Battalion's food supplies were brought from the Armoured Brigade at Hadımköy by an M48 tank.
- After a long lasted Istanbul adventure on a nice spring weekend we missed the last bus from Yeşilköy, did not want to be ripped off by a taxi driver and decided to walk to Cakmakli Base all the way from Yeşilköy. It was me and three other American friends from Det. 67. Was a moonlit night. We talked and talked throughout this long walk, frogs croaking, owls hooting, and accompanying us in the background. Did we save the world that pleasant night!
EPISODE VI - Hunting:
I have always been an outdoor guy, therefore when I learned that there were 4 Winchester pump action shot guns in the possession of Det. 67 I was thrilled. I knew from my previous times that some Americans were born hunters. The Outdoor Magazine was my favorite after Playboy and Hustler! I soon gathered some hunting enthusiasts from the base and kicked off with quail and wild dove. The areas surrounding the base and the battalion were all at our disposal so to speak. Being a first degree military zone, local hunters were not allowed anyway. There was one Sergeant Major from my battalion named Mahir who was a dedicated hunter and a fisherman himself, who also joined us every now and then. Local villagers from Dereköy who worked at the Det. 67 Mess Hall also guided us for the best hunting grounds. We tried both Küçükçekmece and Büyükçekmece lakes for wild duck many times. Occasionally we had chance to shoot hares as well. Though one day hunting together with a Corporal from the American Base our day was totally ruined when the Corporal shot and killed a stray dog that came across to us. I was absolutely pissed off; furious and demoralised I left the guy in the middle of wilderness and walked back to the base. I did not want to see his face again. Actually nearly all the personnel of the American base were animal lovers. They had quite a few dogs that they fed regularly. I also heard some that were taken back to USA by the people who adored them. Among those "Burnt" was also my favorite friend. They probably named him Burnt after his dark colour. I used to take Burnt to long field walks where he joyfully caught litlle field mice. I must have spent nearly a year with Burnt because he was always around. Such a good natured strong dog he was. A few weeks before I left he disappeared for some reason. I still miss him.
Burnt on snow. On his forehead is the Turkish silver coin I placed marking him as the successor! Year 1976.
Me and Burnt just by the US Base entrance after a hard snow fall. Year 1976.
Me and Burnt in front of the Turkish Battalion by the snow fences. Year 1976. You can see how deep is the snow.
EPISODE VII - The Fire:
I was the Orderly Officer that night. Did my necessary routine checks and seeing that everything was in good order I moved into my room at around midnight. Radiators in the room were at maximum heat as the severe blizzard outside was merciless. Read a few pages from a book, cuddled myself into the blanket and went into a sleep. I don't remember the time but I jumped out of bed with banging on the door and sirens echoing around the battalion. Got out of the bed and there was Ali the Sergeant totally alarmed. He asked me to look out of the window, which I did and saw the red light and dense smoke hovering on top of us with the strong winds. Couldn't even wash my face, put on my shirt, cardigan, and parka and rushed out. Many soldiers were out running from place to place. I heard people shouting, screaming. The fire was at the motor pool of the American base. I ran to the location and saw nearly a hundred men helplessly wandering and running about. Some were pulling out the fire hoses from their boxes, some others trying to throw snow on the fire with showels. I called in nearly 150 men from our battalion to help out the situation. The main storage building of the motor pool was the center of the fire. I did not know the inventory of the American motor pool but a friend from the logistics told me that there were brand new engines and other spare parts wrapped in the building. There were also barrels of oil and grease . I could not sit and watch the situation. After deploying my men around the critical locations where we had to stop the fire spreading to adjacent buildings, I climbed up a nearby building top with a ladder and asked soldiers to hand me over the extinguishing hose. Before they pumped water in the hose they managed to pull it out to my reach. When I tightly held the hose I ordered them to turn on the water. My feet were sliding on the roof and snow storm did not even have a break for ten seconds. I could hardly open my eyes and the excessive water seeping from the bottom of the nozzle of the hose was dripping all over me and then instantly turning into ice. But I had the best position to kill off the flames as I was in full control of the west side of the building where the fire was spreading fastest. After nearly 3 hours we had full control on the fire. Some Americans were in their underpants working madly to put out the fire. One American was at the top of a ladder held tight by his friends also holding the nozzle of the hose aiming directly to the stubborn flames. He also had a good control over the fire as he was on a higher position like myself compared to people on the ground. Before the dawn broke the fire was totally put out. Just small glittering lights here and there and hardly any dense smoke. We all went back to our barracks after securing the area. None of us could hardly sleep and we all waited for the day light to see the aftermath of this disastrous fire. Here it was just the way we've seen it.
The aftermath of motor pool. I am on the right side of the photo pointing at the burned out building while a civilian expert examines the mess.
Me and our dog Burnt in front of the main motor pool building the day after the fire. Luckily the oil barrels were saved before they exploded.
A thorough investigation was started both by the Det. 67 commandership and the Turkish Battalion officials. Many people were questioned and asked for clues that could help to solve the situation. A considerable amount of photos were taken by many Americans during the fire. Maybe that would have help the experts. After a few months the investigations yielded no tangible evidence to the cause of this fire. It was a very peculiar situation. If there was an arsonist no other night could be a better opportunity than that night because people didn't even dare to go out of their barracks under those weather conditions when the hell broke loose with ghastly winds and blizzard. Nearly everyone thought of the same possibility. It could hardly be somebody from the outside because the security of all the military compounds were under the responsibility of our battalion and none of the guards either fixed or mobile reported any penetration into the compound zone. All the night and day shifts of guards were questioned numerous times. Months passed. When we all were about to forget the incident there was another fire this time at the Day Room of Det. 67. My favorite place was burn down to a cinder. All those records, the hi-fi set, the pool table and books were gone forever. Did it stop there? Unfortunately no. There were similar consecutive fires all at American bases at Keşan and Köseköy(İzmit). The chain of fires raised serious doubts. It was assessed that the situation was beyond the expertise of the existing US forces in the region. Eventually an oldish man from New York was called in by the American authorities to re-start a thorough investigation and interrogation. We were told that he was a very experienced ex-New York fire fighting squad chief. He visited each and every base that had fire. Maybe questioned hundreds of people including myself. He took down many notes. Collected all the photographs taken by amateur fotographers within the American personnel. Checked out every single detail like a homicide police. After painstaking round of investigations finally the criminal was caught. He was an American personnel working for the Mess Hall whom I knew very well. Strange enough he was right in front of the line fighting against both of the fires at Det. 67. He was also photographed at Keşan and Köseköy bases again taking role on front lines and with those photos in the hands of the investigators he could hardly produce an alibi to save his neck. Later we were told that the behaviour of being at the crime scene was typical of arsonists. Even if I remembered I would have not give away his identity now, but one thing I can say; we all knew him with his nick name which was SMOKEY !!.....
EPISODE VIII - Warrant Officer Gale Matthews:
I have mentioned his name a number of times above. He was my closest friend ever from the American Base of Detachment 67. He was a bit older than me. We had first met at the BOQ one night. Within a years time we were like soul brothers. Such a fine guy. Our friendship did not come to an end after I was discharged from the army. For some time we exchanged letters to let each other know our whereabouts. I soon moved to London, England, and started working there. At the time he was stationed in Greece. Taking an opportunity he flew to London and stayed at my place with his good-hearted, lovely girl friend Barbara. We had fun dining out and seeing fancy places. After a few years we lost contact. My letters were not answered. That surely wasn't Gale's fashion of behaviour. I still suspect today that something very bad had happened to him. I contacted a friend of mine in Boston, MA, to help me find his whereabouts but my friend did not respond, maybe she did not want me to know something that could upset me. Because I had given her two names to fetch, Darrell Rishell and Gale Matthews, both from Det. 67. She found the contact information for Darrell and let me know it but kept silent for the Gale Matthews part. He was from Denver, Colorado. He told me he had even met John Denver. [Editor: If ANYONE knows anything about Warrant Officer Gale Matthews, PLEASE email me.] I have to include my Turkish pal Yurdun at this part of the story. I will tell you why. Yurdun (Söğütlügil) has been a friend of mine since the mid-sixties from Bahçelievler, Ankara. We were in the same school. Our big brothers were also close friends. We shared every thing possible for year after year. I had to join the army before Yurdun because he had one or two more exams to complete. His graduation shifted to year 1976 and he was called to the army nearly a year later than me. Call it sheer luck but he took entrance exams to the army in Ankara just like myself and ended up at Tuzla Infantry (Regiment) School in Istanbul exactly the same school I attended in 1975. Than a miracle happened. He also took English exam after my advise to him, succeeded and, believe it or not, ended in Cakmakli Turkish Support Battalion as a Third Lieutenant. He later told met that he had pulled out the very last coupon from the bag on the drawing of the lots. So many military school students before him that made the English exam somehow, and for some odd reason, did not or could not touch the coupon that was left in the bottom corner of the bag. His ticket to my location was spared, waiting for him there. I was over the clouds when I heard the news and so was he. I prepared a welcome ceremony for Yurdun at the battalion. He moved into the same room as I was. At that recruitment term, three other Lieutenants from various military schools were also assigned to Cakmakli Turkish Support Battalion. All spoke fluent English. My best days were to come. Battalion Commander Major Necati Arslan made new job descriptions and assignments. I got so much load and responsibility off my shoulders I could fly. I very soon introduced Yurdun to Gale Matthews. They got along very well too. Then Lt. Darrell Rishell joined us again from Det. 67. He was the only Turkish speaking officer among the Americans. We made the best of our weekends at the summer of 1976. Yurdun's family had a spacious luxury flat in the heart of Bebek district just by Bosphorus. They also had a lovely sailing boat. Me with lessened duties was the happiest.
Yurdun holding a guitar, me holding a shirt, Darrell Rishell with glasses wearing blue jeans and white shirt half turned and Yurdun's brother Oytun all heading to the boat at Bebek Bay. 1976.
Me at left and Gale Matthews at Yurdun's sailing boat on a hot summer day at Bebek Bay, Istanbul in 1976.
Gale Matthews on a sailing boat trip at Bhosphorus in the summer of 1976.
The four of us had unforgettable memories shared together. We had so many things in common. From musical taste to other values in life. Both Yurdun and I still keep, and occasionally use, the durable, goose feather lined sleeping bags Gale gave us as present. He couldn't have picked up a better present for dedicated outdoor guys like us. He will always be remembered. Hope someday he will pop out from some part of the world and cheer me up.
My last days at Cakmakli were one by one melting away. I was expecting to be discharged at the end of August 1976. But something very unexpected happened. Turkey once again rapidly moved into a political crisis with Greece. In 1974 Turkey had to use power under the guarantorship agreement signed between Cyprus, England, and Turkey in the year 1959. The Turkish intervention in Cyprus raised political unrest especially among the Nato member countries. US Congress imposed an embargo on sales of arms to Turkey which resulted with mistrust and tension between the two countries. Turkey claimed to protect the safety of Turkish Cypriots under the Treaty Of Guarantee. The island was literally divided in two, bordered with a Green Line in the middle. As if this was not enough, Greece this time claimed off shore drilling rights for oil in the Aegean sea. This plan extended its deployment so much that eventually it breached sovereignty rights of Turkey. Again the two countries came to the brink of a war. It was so serious that the Turkish General Staff extended the service of many officers like myself as a precaution. Battalion commander Major Necati Arslan called me to his Office and handed me over the instruction telegram sent from the General Staff. I was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant rank and had to serve at least two more months until the situation with Greece calmed down. I did not complain one bit. For week after week there was a heavy movement of logistics to the border with Greece. Convoys were using the route of Cakmakli to reach their destination. Our orders were in line with a full military mobilization. In the meantime we were making the best of my extended stay at Cakmakli. Gale Matthews helped me to borrow the wrecker from the American motor pool to salvage a Second World War French made (Renault) vintage armoured vehicle sunken in mud for 30 odd years. Also with the permission of the First Army, where we were officially bound, we moved the armoured vehicle to Cakmakli and placed it right at the entrance of Det. 67 by the guard cubicles. We brushed it clean with solvents and repainted it. I guess it still should be there as a memento. My remaining days were counted and I was psychologically drifting away from military concepts, getting prepared for the civilian life where I originally felt I belonged to. I was doing odd jobs or sometimes even creating excuses for leaving the compound for silly things such as purchasing goods for the Canteen. The best times were the late working hours at the battalion when me, Yurdun, Gale, and Darrell met and called it a day and settled for some booze. Weekends were joyful as ever. Then, the final day came. I was called in by the Battalion Commander Major Arslan and was given my discharge papers that I signed. Friends arranged a little farewell party at the compound for me. I went to every single person I knew to say good bye. I never thought that I would shed tears when the time came to leave Cakmakli.
The last time I had stepped into Cakmakli was in the year 1978 when I came back to Turkey from London for a temporary period of time. So much had changed. Battalion Commander Major Arslan that meant so much to me was gone and assigned to a new post somewhere remote I guess. I had no known contacts left in the Det. 67. The scenery had changed. I noticed new developments around the area. A few of the Sergeant Majors I knew were still there at the battalion and that was all about it.
Since then I have not been there at all. But from Google Earth it is not hard to understand that there is hardly anything left for me to see. Just like the lyrics of "Green Fields" by Brothers Four.
My last day at Cakmakli signing final documents on a table looking at the camera. On my left is Lt. Darrell Rishell with sun glasses. Next to him is Yurdun, and on the far left, with hands around his waist, is my dear friend Gale Matthews. The lady with her back turned is a Turkish language teacher for the base. 1976.
Me standing at S1 office of Det. 67. Cakmakli. Year 1975.
Me at right, Gale Matthews in the middle, and a Captain from Det. 67 that I cannot remember the name of today. We are at Cakmakli the Turkish Battalion Mess Hall in the year 1976.
Me at right, Gale Matthews in middle, and Darrell Rishell at left at Cakmakli, Turkish Battalion Mess Hall, enjoying cool beer together feeling all fine and dandy. Year 1976.
Me sitting on floor, Gale Matthews at my back, Captain from Det. 67 that I cannot recall the name of, and Darrell Rishell at left. All having fun at the Turkish Battalion Mess Hall, Cakmakli. Year 1976.
Me at my Office at the battalion. My left hand resting on a Facit brand hand-operated calculating machine, an item that you could only come accross with at antique shops today! Year 1975, Cakmakli.
Just hours before I leave Cakmakli for good. A farewell photo. From left to right, front row: Yurdun, next to him in military uniform is Major Necati Arslan, our Battalion Commander at Cakmakli. Next to him it's me with baggys jeans, and on my left is Warrant Officer Gale Matthews.
Me holding chaplain's sign post after it was pulled out by ghastly winds following a severe blizzard. Year 1975. Cakmakli Det. 67 compound.
1975 April. I am on the right side of the photo with my friend Mert on the left (with sun glasses) at a drilling day in Tuzla Infantry Military School Regiment, Istanbul, while we were students. We were given M1 rifles for training purposes. Classical but robust weapons probably used throughout the Second WW.
The bus time Schedule for Cakmakli Base.
Me at right, Turkish Support Battalion Sergeant Major Demir Dalgıç in the middle, and my friend Yurdun at left. We are having fun by the barracks with our pigeons, one resting on Sergeant Major's hat. Year 1975 Cakmakli.
Logo of our Battalion.
(Mehmet sent the following on 04 May 2014:)
I have found another piece of document from my Cakmakli days. It is an assignment notification for a friend of mine from Det. 67, namely Gary Pratt. He must have given me this document as a farewell momento before he left for Fort Lewis, Washington. He must have left Cakmakli sometime about May 1976. Below is a copy of the reassignment order:
Reassignment Orders for Gary L. Pratt
(Click to Below Enlarge.)