Saturday, December 08, 2007

Karamürsel Air Station, Turkey, 1964

I arrived at Karamürsel Air Station, Turkey, early in the summer of 1964, (Here is a YouTube video of Karamursel in 1964 that brings back many memories) I was finally going to work for the Air Force with almost half of my four-year enlistment already behind me. After Basic Training, I had gone to Indiana University for nine months of intensive Russian language school. That finished my first year. Then I went to Radio Intercept School at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas. Halfway through the class at Goodfellow, Bruce was born in Vallejo, California. My first born was almost three months old when we finally met.

By the time I finished at Goodfellow AFB, another half year was gone. After Goodfellow, most Russian radio intercept specialists were sent overseas to a duty station. Happily for me, after relaxing through my first two years of college, I had joined the Air Force, married Marilynn, and immediately and miraculously was transformed from a lazy fun-lover into a hard-working student. At Indiana University I finished third in a class of eighty of the brightest guys I ever met, then first in my class at Goodfellow.

Unbeknownst to me, that earned me a selection to attend a specialized radio intercept school at the National Security Agency (NSA), Fort Meade, Maryland, called J-School. There they taught us about copying Russian missile test activity. Upon completion of J-School, we had only four possible base assignments: Karamürsel, Trabzon, and Samsun Air Stations in Turkey, and Peshawar Air Station, Pakistan. I finished top of my class again, and I knew that earned me the prized first choice of assignment. I chose Karamürsel, at that time the only one of the four where I possibly could have Marilynn and Bruce join me.

Traveling in civilian clothes (called Category Z), required at that time when going to a base in Turkey, I waved goodbye to Marilynn and Bruce and boarded a Boeing 707 (I think it was Trans World Airlines – TWA) at San Francisco International Airport. It was a passage to unknowns, my first experiences of living in a foreign land. I was leaving Marilynn and Bruce behind, after our three months together in Maryland, probably not to see them again for six months or more. Still I wasn’t sad, and I wasn’t worried. I had this sense of happy adventuring, of impatience to see what came next.

The flights I took to get from San Francisco to Istanbul were adventures in themselves. First stop was New York, to change to legendary Pan American flight 002 that went from New York eastward around the world to San Francisco, while Pan American flight 001 flew the reverse route.

That Pan American flight was my most memorable. None since have been better. The meals were especially good, served by young, pretty stewardesses, who at that time thought they had glamorous, exciting jobs. Stewardesses then were the envy of young ladies because they traveled to interesting, exotic places, they were very poised and professional doing their jobs, and, oh yeah, they attracted the attention of men of all ages. For their poise, their bearing, their beauty, they deserved it. Although a pale imitation, Singapore Air is the closest of the modern carriers to the good old days.

Enroute we had a short stop at Heathrow Airport, London, and then at Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In those days passengers went to their aircraft by bus or walking, and then went up portable stairs into the plane. At Belgrade my plane parked on the apron about 200 yards from the terminal, and a cabin door was opened and the portable stairs were placed to allow some passengers to disembark, and others to come aboard.

We had been warned that the Yugoslav government was very sensitive about their airport security, because the Yugoslav Air Force shared the Belgrade airport with commercial aviation, and for that reason no photo taking was allowed. After passengers left, and new ones boarded, I went out onto the top of the stairs to stretch – and surreptitiously take some photos with my 35mm camera.

I snapped a couple, and then noticed near the terminal doors that a plump woman in a frumpy brown uniform saw me taking pictures. She raised her arms to signal me to stop, and then started trotting across the apron from the terminal towards my plane, all the while waving her arms in an “X” pattern as she ran.

I ducked back into the plane, went to my seat and ditched my camera in the overhead bin, pulled a blanket around me, and pretended to sleep. I have no idea what the uniformed woman did, whether she climbed the stairs, whether she entered the plane, whether she talked to anyone. I kept my eyes shut, and didn’t hear anything unusual.

Soon we started on the last leg of my journey, to Yesilkoy Airport, on the north shore of the Sea of Marmara about ten miles west of Istanbul. After picking up my suitcase and duffel bag from the baggage claim, I went to a transportation desk operated by the US Navy, and a Navy van took me to the ferry landing at the Galata Bridge, in the heart of Istanbul. The Galata Bridge I saw was built on pontoons in 1912, and connected downtown Istanbul to the area where the Great Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Mosque, and Topkapi are located (and the area where Alice and I stayed for a week in 2008, including a  day trip to Yalova. I didn't recognize anything in Yalova; the house we had lived in was torn down and replaced by a multi-story apartments building.)

In researching this story, I learned the old pontoon bridge was replaced with a modern bridge in 1992.

When I got out of the Navy van, a Turk came to me and indicated he would carry my bags for two Turkish lira (a few pennies less than a quarter). I agreed, and followed him to the ferry ticket booth. There I quickly purchased a ticket, and turned to get my bags and board the ferry. The Turk and my bags were no where to be seen!

I started to panic, and looked around me, and noticed arms waving from the ferry. It was the Turk, with my bags, already on the ferry, and having the bags checked into the storage compartment of the ferry. When I got on board, my Turkish porter greeted me with a big smile and handed me my claim check.

I paid him two Turkish lira, then two more as a tip – and out of relief. I had just begun learning something that was of great value for me during my year in Turkey: that Turks were very friendly and honest, even though at first impression they seemed dour and rough. Invariably, after a few moments of exchanging broken Turkish and some simple English words and phrases with a Turk, we would both be smiling and laughing, and the Turk would invite me to sit and have a cup of chai with him.

The trip by ferry to Yalova, on the shore of the Sea of Marmara directly south of Istanbul, took about three hours with a stop at Büyükada (Big Island) on the way, where cars are banned and transportation is by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage.

I found a seat in the ferry’s passenger cabin, where there were long wooden benches with backs like the pews of a church. Across from and facing me were two pretty young ladies sitting on an identical pew bench. They both sported form fitting knee length skirts, and high heels. I was surprised to see such modern, and even daring attire, on young ladies in Turkey, and I smiled at them politely when we made eye contact. They had quite an effect on the Turkish men sitting next to me, and next to them. The men couldn’t keep their eyes off the young ladies’ crossed legs, and they kept nudging each other with their elbows and chatting amongst themselves as they stared.

That’s when I learned another side of Turkish males. If a woman didn’t look like a demure mother, wife, or sister, she would be the subject of constant stares and rude remarks and gestures. American women in Turkey soon discovered this for themselves, if not from another American wife at the base, and for the most part gave up wearing jeans and shorts.

The ferry docked at a pier adjacent to Atatürk Plaza (Atatürk is revered as the modern Turkey “Father of his Country”). After a short wait, a Turkish bus under contract to the US Air Force picked me up and transported me to about fifteen miles east of Yalova to Karamürsel Air Station.

“Welcome to TUSLOG Detachment 3” the sign at the main gate informed me. I took in the newness and the strangeness of entering a base guarded by Turkish soldiers and passing flagpoles flying the American and Turkish flags. I reported for duty at Building 101, Base Headquarters, presented my orders, and found I was assigned to Baker Flight, and my room was on the second floor of Dormitory 502.

(Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I found a copy of the brochure I received upon my arrival and linked to it here, here, and here.)

Radio intercept duty at Karamürsel Air Station was conducted on a 24 hours a day, seven days a week schedule of rotating shifts covered by Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog Flights. Each flight would begin the cycle by working three swing shifts (5-12 pm), 24-hour break, three mid shifts (12-9 am), 24-hour break, three day shifts (9am – 5 pm), a 72-hour break, then start the cycle all over again.

I checked into my room and found I it contained four beds (two double bunk beds), four metal lockers, and two roommates. One roommate was an average height, thin, very friendly Stump Jumper from West Virginia, Don Bennett. The other roommate was a bit shorter and heavier than Don, wore glasses, also very friendly, but quieter than Don. I think his name was Joe Cook. In a few weeks we were joined by The Kid from Altoona (Pennsylvania), who was short, muscular, also friendly, and very brash. They were all “Ditty Bops” (Morse code intercept specialists, Air Force Specialty Code [AFSC] 202’s), and I was the only “Squirrel” (Russian language intercept specialist [AFSC 203X1]. I couldn’t have had nicer, more agreeable roommates.

I didn’t get to start in Operations (radio intercept) immediately. The first several weeks for each new arrival was spent doing odd jobs while waiting for our security clearance paperwork to arrive and get processed through Personnel. My first job while waiting was “Turk guard.” The Operations building was being expanded, and two Turks were laying bricks – slowly – to build the new addition. My job was to sit and watch them to make sure they didn’t go where they weren’t supposed to, and to make sure the loudspeaker carrying the programs of the base radio station was playing loudly in the work area to drown out any noise from inside Operations.

After an uneventful week as Turk guard, I was assigned to Site 6, the radio direction finding installation located about five miles west of the base near the runway where a C-130 aircraft would land almost daily to deliver and pick up mail and handle other time-sensitive things. My job there was not as exciting as guarding Turks. My sole function was to listen to any frequency carrying voice for which radio direction finding was requested, and all I had to do was determine whether or not the speakers were Russian.

In the two weeks (about 80 hours) I “worked” there, only one request for an identification came in, and my part only took about a minute. However, I read about one Mike Hammer novel a night from the pile of paperback books at Site 6, and I wrote Marilynn a six to ten page letter every day.

I also had a lot of time to read her letters, which she also wrote daily and which were invariably longer than mine. There were many reasons hers were longer. She just naturally wrote long letters, and had written me daily when I was off at college the two years before we got married. She also had more to write about, like how baby Bruce was growing, what he was doing, what a sweet baby he was. Then there was news about her family, and my family in Point Arena. Also, Marilynn had taken a Heald’s Business School class to be a key-punch operator, and immediately after completion she got a job working for the telephone company. Since she was living with her parents, she was able to save almost all her earnings to buy the airline tickets for her and Bruce to join me before Christmas, 1964.

For my part, I was saving a large portion of my small Air Force pay to rent and furnish a house for us in Yalova, and to have it ready for Marilynn and Bruce when they joined me.

After almost a month of mind-numbing time wasting “jobs,” my security clearance completed processing and I reported to work in Base Operations. I started on a mid shift, midnight to 0800. The first stop was the security check point at Base Ops. A Turkish guard handed me my security badge, a 2x3 inch metal plate with my picture, name and rank etched in it, which was hung around the neck and displayed at all times while in Base Ops. My next stop was the radio intercept room, which was dominated by three rows of radio receivers (an R-390 for HF, and an SP-600 for VHF/UHF) and reel-to-reel tape recorders. At the top of the three rows was the command section, where the officer-in-charge and his senior non-commissioned officer had their desks. At the other end was the transcriber area, where the Russian voice tapes were placed on reel-to-reel recorders and typed in Russian “transliteration” by two of the senior voice intercept operators.

In the middle of the back row were the desks of the trick chief (TSgt Ed Mathias) and his A1C assistant, Dick Weeks.

Due to the poor quality of reception, and the low state of the recording art at that time, the transcribers were alternately squeezing their headsets against their ears, reaching up and manually spinning the reel back a turn or two, then typing what was heard (or at least what they thought they heard) with crashing strokes on the manual typewriters to make legible copies on the five-ply, inserted-carbon rolls of paper.The chattering sound the tape made when it was manually reversed back through the recorder heads gave rise to the nickname of Air Force linguists worldwide, “Squirrels.” The guys who nicknamed us Squirrels were the “Ditty-bops,” the Morse Code intercept specialists. Because of the workload and peculiarities of Air Force manning requirements, the Ditty-bops always outnumbered and outranked the Squirrels they were stationed with.

That part of being outranked seemed odd. We Squirrels were trained a full year more than the Ditty-bops, at a far greater expense because of the nine-month period in Indiana, Syracuse, or Yale. However, because of that longer period in training, Squirrels usually weren’t eligible for a program the Air Force called “Two-T,” which stood for two consecutive remote-duty overseas tours, because they were either married or didn’t have enough time left on a four-year enlistment to complete a second remote tour.

A remote tour was one to a smallish base that lacked many family support facilities, so remote tours were generally only twelve to eighteen months long. Because of the expense and difficulty of manning short or remote tours, the Air Force had devised the Two-T program. If an individual was accepted to the Two-T program during their first remote tour, they would get an immediate promotion to Airman First Class (E-4), finish that remote tour, go Stateside on thirty days leave, and then go to their second remote assignment. When they reached three years time-in-service, they were then spot promoted to Staff Sergeant (E-5). Because of the hardships to families due to consecutive remote overseas assignments, only single airmen were eligible for Two-T.

For those not eligible for early spot promotions, the normal promotion cycles in the early 1960s were farcical. One E-4 stripe would come down every six months for a field of 200 eligible E-3s. The lucky recipient of the promotion would not necessarily be the best performer, but would be the best performer who had opted for re-enlistment.

Pre-Vietnam, the Air Force and the other services were still laboring under the Korean War personnel “hump.” Military manpower had been increased rapidly during the Korean War, promotions were equally rapid, then came the draw-down period following signing of the Armistice Agreement in 1953. Many first-term, low-ranking military returned to civilian life, leaving the military top-heavy with sergeants and officers. Unlike the officer corps, where excess officers could be given the choice of resigning their commissions and entering enlisted service, the excess sergeants could continue in service until retirement.

Many did, and it was not unusual for a top performing enlisted man to have almost twenty years of service completed while still an E-4 (Airman First Class).

My first day on the job actually was a night, the beginning of the cycle of three consecutive mid- or graveyard shifts lasting from midnight until nine in the morning. I passed through gate security into base operations, and reported to my Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, Technical Sergeant Mathias. He gave me a friendly welcome, and introduced me to the other Squirrels on Baker Flight and briefly described their duties.

Then he introduced me to our Second Lieutenant Officer-in-Charge, who also greeted me warmly. I wish I remembered his name (I had confused his name with Captain Pribyl, our Detachment 3 commander at the Indiana University language school). He and his wife were very nice, very friendly, and he had absolutely nothing to do with the technical operation of Baker Flight. He wasn’t a linguist, had no experience doing any of our radio intercept tasks – in short, he was charged with administering us, not supervising our work.

Naturally the guys nicknamed him, quite unfairly as “Lieutenant Zero,” after the hapless Private Zero of Beetle Bailey cartoon fame.

Not long after introductions, our Assistant NCOIC, the chubby A1C mentioned earlier, came to me with my first assignment, to coordinate the LEHOR by having everyone on Baker Flight review it and sign off on it. Unfortunately, I was not cleared for LEHOR, not even to know what its initials meant, so I couldn’t read it, just take it around for signatures.

The point was emphasized, and reemphasized, that this report was highly classified, and that it was very important for me to have everyone sign off on it before the end of the shift. I took my job seriously, and began immediately to get it reviewed and signed off.

However, each guy I took the report to seemed more interested in chatting with me about his experiences, my experiences, sports and other items in the latest Stars & Stripes newspaper, and only reluctantly would review the report and sign it.

Usually with a comment like, “Not yet, but I’m sure it will soon,” or “It’s been so long, I can’t remember the last time,” or “Right now, it’s happening right now.”

I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about, and I was getting concerned about finishing before the shift ended. I felt greatly relieved when I got the last signature and comment, “Damn, I lost it an hour ago,” with about fifteen minutes to spare.

I hustled over to report completion to TSgt Mathias and his assistant, and he said, “This is really unusual, we better show it to the lieutenant.”

“Sir, Airman Combs has something you should know about,” and he handed the lieutenant the LEHOR.

“This is very interesting,” said the lieutenant, and handed the LEHOR to me.“You’re new, but I think you can add to the report too.”

I was bewildered, but with them all looking at me expectantly, I opened the LEHOR, and found I had spent the evening getting acquainted with all the guys on Baker Flight by coordinating the Late Evening Hard-On Report.

Now I understood their comments. And smiled weakly while everyone laughed, and shook my hand, and told me how glad they were that I was now one of them.

And as my embarrassment faded, I felt myself relaxing and I soon went to one of the guys I had hurried to get to sign off, Airman Second Class (like me) Patrick Murphy, who seemed to be the guy I would eventually be replacing.

Patrick told me that was right, that he would finish his four-year enlistment and be leaving for discharge in about four months. I also found out that Patrick lived in Yalova with his wife Midge and their young son.

I mentioned that I planned to find a house and bring Marilynn and Bruce over as soon as we could afford the airline tickets. At that point Patrick invited me to visit his house, talk to his landlord about renting it, and suggested that I might also want to buy his household goods when he moved out. It sounded like I was getting off to a good start to bring Marilynn and Bruce to Turkey.

(I'll be adding more. Please be patient. Although this all happened only half a century ago, it still takes a bit to bring it back.)


kap said...

I hope you keep writing. I found this so interesting. I moved to Karamursel in 1972 when I was 11 years old.My father worked in det 63. We lived in Yalova while waiting for base housing. We loved it! Understand most of yalova was destroyed by the earthquake a few years ago. would love to go back!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about Karamursel. You bring back a lot of fun memories of a wonderful time in our lives. My wife Beth and I lived there for 3 years from 72 to 75. You might be interested in looking at pictures of the base taken then in our website:
Please continue writing.
Mike and Beth Holland

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your blog. I was assigned to the Dispensary (Det 46)from May 64 til October 65, as the Medical Administrative Officer and Squadron Commander. During that period, Dr/Capt Dick Simpson followed by Dr/Capt Nick Toronto served as Commanders of the Unit. I was there unaccompanied, and lived in the BOQ, where I was a suite-mate of the Catholic Chaplain, Father/Maj John (Rip)Collins. Absolutely loved Turkey, and have been back to visit three times. My wife and I will be returning for another visit in April,2011. In connection with that visit, while we are in Istanbul, (with a 14-person tour group) I was looking at the possibility of taking the ferry over to Yalova for the day. Using Google Earth, I cannot believe how it has developed -- remember the dirt streets -- but then again, that was over 45 years ago! Happy New Year.
Don Schmigel
Chevy Chase, MD

Anonymous said...

Major Combs -

I arrived at KAS about 6 months after you did. In fact I too studied Russian (Russian Class 5) at Indiana University. The commanding officer for Det. 3 at IU was Captain Pribyl.

I traveled to Karamursel in December of 1964. I should know you, but I don't remember the name. I too was a "Squirrel" and worked for Tsgt. Ed (not Bob) Mathias. I later worked with Ed at the National Security Agency. Anyway, his assistant (a bit on the heavy side, especially for those days) was A1C Dick Weeks.

Another correction, if I may. The Galata Bridge did not cross the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia - there was no bridge that long in Istanbul until the one you mention in 1992. Rather the Galata Bridge provided a short cut between "downtown" Istanbul and the area containing the Hagia Sophia mosque, Great Blue Mosque, Topkapi, the Sultan's Palace, etc.

I note your posting was made 4 years ago, so I'm not sure you'll see this, but am hopeful you will.

- Kirk Wiebe
KAS DEC '64 - June '66
Wakkanai AS July '66 - Aug '67

Anonymous said...

I was at Karamursal from march 1964to november 1965 and was one of the ditty boppers mentioned in a previous post. when I look back I wish I had spent more time getting to know the culture and country and less time spent in the airmens club and "GI" bars. still it was a great experience and one that I will never forget. Iv'e lost track of the friends I made while stationed at karamursel and if any of them happen to read this post they know I wish them the best.

Mike Lamkin said...

The above "anonymous" post was made by Mike Lamkin re: march 64 through november 65 and was posted on may 30, 2011.
Some people I new while at Karamursel are listed below:

Two guys named Ron Smith
Phil Roddenbury
Fred Earl
Mike Connors

I'll be checking to see if any of these guys ever post and also anyone else I can't remember but may remember either them or me.

Anonymous said...

Hi from Karamursel....
20 September 2011

Mike Lamkin said...

who ever post on 9/11/11 please post some more info re karamursel and whats going on over there now.


Imge said...

Your memories of Turkey really touched me...I live in Yalova with my family and my mother has always told me her childhood memories(1960s)about their American neighbours and how great they were. Just today, she told me about the birthday cake and gifts they gave her when she was in the 4th grade. That's when I seriously decided to find them. How can I find them since I don't know their surnames? I know their names and have some information about their children though.

Anonymous said...

My father was sent to Karamursel Air Base in the spring of 1964. My family was able to join him in the summer. We were there until June of 1966. My first love was the son of the Wing Commander of the base. I have wanted to find out what has happened with my first love. His name is so common and I can't remember his step father's name. Do you have any info. for me? Fell in love with Turkey and with the base commander's stepson.

Unknown said...

To the many in Karamursel from 1964 to 1965. I have loved reading your comments. My father was in the Air Force and stationed at Karamursel. His name is Alvin Vonruff and had his family with him; wife Mariylnn, sons Alvin Jr and Timothy. I myself was born there in March 1964 during an airplane trip my mom made to Ankara. My dad has movie film of us all playing in the waters of the Sea of Marmara.

If anyone of you remembers him, please let me know I would love to get you in contact with him.

Daniel Vonruff

Anonymous said...

US Navy, Karamursel 1961 - 1963.

Major Combs said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I've made some corrections based on information Kirk Wiebe made in a comment. A special thanks to Kirk. I wish I could help others with their questions. Hopefully by keeping this post updated there will be more visitors, and one or some of them may know someone who knew someone and maybe some questions will find answers.

Hope springs eternal.

Bill Dufreche said...

Reading about Karamursel Air Station brings back old memories. I was just 18 years old when a Arrived there from Trabzon Air Station because they were over staffed and sent 12 of us to Karamursel. Also increased our overseas duty from 15 to 18 months of duty, Aug.3, 1962 to Jan 27, 1964. Viewing the Youtube video on Karamursel brought back all these 50 year old memories. It was like I just left the base last week. I recognized so many of the buildings including my barracks, #512, Just across the street from the Airman's club.

Unknown said...

I stumbled upon this blog while looking for a novel "Flight from Ankara" which I believe gave up some secrets of the day.

It was really nice to connect to old familiar history and tho I don't remember many ppl from my stay at Det 94 from Jul 64 - Oct 65, the scenes and events are familiar. (Our introduction was called the EMHO Report - Early Morning Hard On)

I was a Radio Intercept Analyst and worked with ditty bops and in radioprinter. I would type my reports on 5-hole Baudot paper punch tape and run them to com "Near Real Time."

I have some of my experiences in Air Force Security Service posted here:

Rob Boyte

Anonymous said...

Served as 203 at KAS with Fritz, Ferris, and Murphy in 63-64. Still in contact with all of them. Lots of memories of the work and trips to Bursa, Yalova, Haybilly ada Buyuk ada and the Bul and a trip to Ephesus. I use a photo of Hammurabi's Castle taken from the hills above the base in my college class.

John Wright said...

WOW! What a trip down memory lane. I was at Karamasel from 2/63 to 8/64 just after the Cuban missile crisis in 10/62 at Det. 63 in heavy radio maintenance. I remember TSGT. Burus making it very clear for us when filling out our time cards to be sure to account for 8-hours. TSGT. Orin Brown was NCOIC and had us sign a piece of paper signifying attendence when we had a shop meeting. After we all had signed, he pointed out that we had all signed a bomb, because he had written on the back of the sheet of paper 'this is a bomb'. Strange sense of humor.
The first earth quake that I experienced was in the middle of the night in may-be '64? The lockers were rattling and moving and it seemed at the time it was going on for quite a while. It was probably not any more than a minute or two. There was no serious damage done, but we all felt a little smaller than we were before the reality check. One of the outstanding memories is getting to the station from Istanbul on the Turkish Air Lines DC 3 at 50 feet off the water and going up over the islands then back down to seemingly zero. When we landed there was a turkish army guy there with a weapon that looked like it was from WWI. I thought that we must have been only a stones throw away from the Russian front. Leaving Turkey in August '64 about 4 of us decided to take a cab to the Istanbul airport instead of the ferry. I would be willing to bet the driver was on the left side of the road at least 90% of the time for the smoother pavement. It seemed that all of the curves were blind curves and we were on the wrong side. I had trouble getting out of my head that I had just spent 18 miserable months in a place where I really did not want to be, only to be killed on the way back to the world.

Recently, I met in a mutual business a former dittybop who was at Keesler and Karamursel at the same time and had we never met before until lately. Small world! Also, after the AF I serviced computers and had worked for a company that had equipment at a large bank in Detroit. Unexpectedly, I needed something that I thought the IBM service folks could loan me, and who was the site leader but Mike(same AFSC) who I hadn't seen for about 10 years as we were leaving Turkey.

I would like to read of others experiences there.

John Wright (AFSC 304x3)

Gary Keith said...

One correction. Ditty bops were 292s; 202s were analysts - hence the slang term "to 202 something" (figure it out). I was at KAS in 60-61 as a Romanian - roomed with Jerry Rottman, Ralph Brink and maybe another whose name I don't recall. I later cross trained to Russian and actually wanted to go back to KAS, but ended up in Darmstadt, Germany. No complaints there :)

Gary Keith said...

Was at KAS 5/60 to 5/62 as a J202.
Lived in Yalova and departed before the on base housing was opened. Can give more data ,if wanted,about that earlier time.

Unknown said...

I lived there in 65-67 my dad was US Air Force Sergeant Harbison, any one there during that time. Thanks for writing about a very interesting place.

John Harbison

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading your exploits at KAS. I was also there in 67-68 and was a ditty-bopper assigned to "Baker" flight. I was also in the 2nd floor of the same barracks. My 2 roomies were Terry Miller and Paul(don't remember his last name). They talked me into 1 trip to the "Compound". That was enough for me. The best times were on the beach, drinking beer, and playing vollyball.

Cecil Robison said...

I was there in 69-70, Afsc 29251(ditty bopper) baker flight.Made a lot of trips to Istanbul, by ferry. Went to topkapi and world bazzare,a real wild place. Up until 2010 you could still see the location of the elephant cage on google earth.It is good to read of the stories that touched all of us.

Bob Duncan said...

I was in Radio Maintenance - arrived at Karamursel in about March of 1958. Reassigned to Trabzon about 2 weeks later (12 month tour instead of 18 months and $150
per month per diem). We rode in the back of a 6x6 up the mountain to the site (all 5 trailers for intercept, 1 for radio maintenance) and were guarded by Turkish soldiers. Iki Buchuk (2 1/2 lira) for a shave and a haircut downtown :-).

Anonymous said...

Was at Det 3 between 58-60. Can't remember the name of fine rural restaurant outside of Yalova, lush gardens, small bar with music up a path from restaurant. Anyone know the name?

Danny Ricketts said...

I was at Karamursel from Dec. 1961 until June 1963 as a 202. I was on the bus to Yalova at the gate during the beginning of the Cuban Missle Crisis in 1962 with a couple others. The gate guard mentioned a problem and that there might be a curfew. I spent a couple of days in Istanbul without knowing what was going on. When I got back were were told to hike over the mountains to the south if necessary. There were not enough vehicles. Danny Ricketts

Anonymous said...

I went through most of High School at Karamursel

All you radio guys impressed the heck out of me

I work in I.T. and the inspiration to learn electronics and computers came from all of you

Jeff Orgeron

Anonymous said...

I was a Bulgarian "squirrel" in '65-'66 but did not have a good experience. I am not remorseful because I tried to do well and serve but, alas, it was not in the stars...or in my DNA. I still have dreams of being inside the "ops" building and my name called for a translation as I had the "golden ear." I wish I could have done a better job to this day.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ms. "Anonymous." Your boyfriend's name was Scott.

Craig Horn said...

I was stationed at KAS 1967-68. Was a 20351 on Charlie until I got put in the day-ladies shop, a hell of a lot better than trick work - those damn mids almost killed me. I lived in Yalova on Yeni Cami Cadesi till I moved on base right after the big quake centered in Izmet. Lots of great memories and some sad ones. I especially recall the Liberty ship "incident" in which two KAS frogs were killed, one lived down the street from me in Yalova with his wife and child and the other was teaching me how to sail in one of those little skipjacks we had down at the beach on base. I went TDY to Sam and Trab several times. One of my best pals was a Bulgarian linguist, Jim Prather. He later passed away very suddenly while stationed at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. He and his wife lived briefly in Yalova but moved into the trailers on base to give their new baby, born shortly after arriving in Turkey, a better environment. I kept in touch with his family for years and ended up marrying his widow. She was at KAS and they lived in the trailers by the water. We have been married for 37 years now and frequently reminisce about our days in Turkey. Thanks to everyone for sharing your own experiences. It is now nearly 50 years later, I live in North Carolina and serve in the NC House of Representatives. It has been an amazing journey.

Major Combs said...

This has been my most popular post by far for many years. We stayed in Istanbul for a week several years ago, and went to Yalova for a day trip. I didn't recognize a thing, but the Turks I met and chatted with were incredibly friendly, and a couple of them took Alice and I to where our house once stood on 28 (yermi sekiz) Kibris Sokak. Now the spot is part of a high apartment building. In October we're going back, and will spend several days on Byukada. i'm sure I will be tempted to return to Yalova, and this time head upcoast to Karamursel. I haven't been able to spot the old station site on Google Earth, but I'll try again and see what I can find. Please add what you will - your comments are very interesting, and help bring back great memories.
Of course I will add things when we get back in November. I'm really looking forward to the trip, and I'm excited about spending time on Byukada again.

teaisstrongernow said...

TUSLOG 63 66-68

I still have nightmares of having to go back there. What a mistake it was for we young Americans going there to Turkey to defend them against Russia. If not for the Bay Of Tonken Hoax intended to start a war and prevent Goldwater from becoming president, I would not have been drafted out of college and forced to protect Turkey.

teaisstrongernow said...

TUSLOG 63 66-68

At least none of us had to leave an arm, leg, or life in a Turkish rice paddy and for what. Imagine loosing and arm and leg in Iraq or Afghanistan for what?

Major Combs said...


I doubt you were Air Force in Turkey. Air Force didn't have the draft, and I was stationed at Karamursel when the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred. Being in Turkey was a Cold War activity, and we were in Turkey as part of a worldwide defense against Soviet aggression (remember the Iron Curtin and Berlin Wall?). We never contemplated fighting against the Soviets in Turkish rice paddies. The Turks had one Hell of an army, and just needed our nuclear umbrella. The Soviets would have been complete idiots to launch a ground war against the Turks.
I understand your bitterness about Viet Nam, but the whole world was not Viet Nam. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed under the weight of its own economic incompetence, but our opposition bought the time to enable the inevitable collapse. Millions in Europe now live lives of freedom after 50 years of darkness. Perhaps soon the Russians will join them.
The world isn't perfect - never has been. But it's getting better. A lot of that is because of the volunteers that serve in our forces now have left precious parts of themselves in hellish rice fields and plains. We can take heart that fewer are caused to sacrifice now than previously, when as many died in one day of battle in our Civil War as in all of Iraq/Afghanistan.
Don't be bitter. Be thankful.

Anonymous said...

The only Scott I knew between 1963 & 65 was Scott, my brother, but he was not the son of the Base Sgt. Major. He was 15 or 16 at the time. He lives in Savannah GA

Unknown said...

At Karamursel 1964-1965. Very similar memories of the flights, transition to the ferry, etc. Except that I remember there was a "smell" in the air which I later realized was either 2000 years of guys pissing on the walls or smoking Bofora sigarettes. I had a good time in Turkey in Charlie. Some guys I remember: Murial Lape, Ray Kunkler, Ronnie "Ding Dong" Bell, Mike Miles. I will remember others later. Who remembers acronyms like "I GAF" or they were a member of the "Society for the prevention of FLAK takeover." Were any of you "Bul Runners?" What about those ferry trips to Instanbul? Especially during storms. Those ferry captains were "brave" men. Actually I don't think our risk analysis was fully formed back then. I remember an American bar called the Picadilly (were these Pavvons?) near Taksim Square. Trips around the "Horn" in the car of a 2-T sergeant. Car ferry over to Istanbul. Remember that primitive subway from near the ferry dock to the top of the hill near Taksim?
Went back to Istanbul in 2003. Did not recognize hardly any area including the Bazaar. What an improvement 37 years had made! Did not get to Karamursel, Bukadya or Yalova.

Anonymous said...

Jerry C. (JC) Smith A2C June 62-December 63
Of all the events that I remember at KAS, my favorite was the "Hellacious" Christmas party held at the Istanbul Hilton--December 1962. Practically the entire "trick" (Dog) was there. I especially remember, in the early morning hours--came a knock on our hotel room door (we were all staying 3, or 4, or 5 to a room)--and upon answering the door--a "yeni" was standing at the door and said, "I don't know who I am, or where I am, but I'm an American." He then proceeded to collapse into our room, passed out COLD.

I dated a British girl in Istanbul and went with her to the 818 Club every 'Bul Run. We called going to a bar "bowling" because the drinks were served in bowls about the size of a cereal bowl. She probably liked me best because it gave her access to the Air Force Exchange in Istanbul. I liked her best because she always wore a bikini when we went to the pool at the Hilton. (Shameless behavior in 1962-3.)

I've always wondered who dated her from Able, Baker, and Charlie flights; not to mention the Day Shammers. (?)

I also remember the Keg parties down on the beach at the end of the last mid (graveyard) shift. "Them boys could drink." I don't remember actually having a keg, I think we drank canned beer out on ice (from a washtub). It's been a while.

When I got to KAS, TSgt Grainger was the Dog Trick NCO. When he was transferred to days, he was replaced by Sgt Horn. (Both good men!)

I think it was Sgt. Horn who sent around a survey asking how the box lunches (mid-shift meal) could be improved. Comments like "Could they put another layer or two of paprika on the cold cheese sandwiches?" earned us his wrath. Suffice it to say, that he didn't send around any more surveys. No good deed goes unpunished.

I am 99 44/100s percent sure that I remember 202 Danny Ricketts. I don't think he was on Dog Flight. Here are a few other names that I remember, most of whom arrived and departed at about the same time that I did.

Charlie Boerstler was a 702 (Admin) with Dog Flight. Fun loving, hard drinking.

Bill Lymangrover was a 203. He now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He earned a trip to Europe to compete in a ping pong tournament, having won the Turkish Championship, and the Med'n tournament. He played first base on our Trick team.

Ronald Sanford Webster III. (202) Big, blond, and totally hilarious. (Yes, that Webster family. Ron was from Cherry Creek, New York, I think.

Harrison Parkell (202) The last I heard Harrison was in Australia. I think he was working for UPI, or AP, or Reuters or one of those News agencies.

Fred Galante (202). Fred actually was promoted to A1C while at KAS without going 2T. He deserved it, too. What a good guy. Last I knew, he was a Captain, (OCS) after graduating from either OKLA State, or OU. I visited him and his family in Sacramento. He was working in an aircraft manufacturing plant (for the Air Force in some consulting/overseer capacity I believe.)

Margot (Prescott) Wenko said...

I worked in the 'fishbowl' and was there 1973-1976. Arrival sounded exactly the same. I worked at the Security Police while waiting for my clearance. The morning after my first mid, I was required to gather info for the EMHO report (Early morning hard on. As a female, I was so embarrassed when I found out what it was. Mostly fun years

Major Combs said...

Margot. I'm glad we were equal opportunity embarrassment practitioners. It wouldn't be nice to discriminate on a gender basis. We were ahead of our times.

Mike DePaul said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

I arrived at Karamursel early December 1963. I eventually became the the Baker Flight AIC and Fight Reporter about the time you joined us. If you remember the Baker Bear patch, I was the guy who designed it. Regarding the Flight OIC, he was Lt Thomas Johnson. Tom eventually made full bird, and in civilian life while at NSA, wrote four volumes of SIGINT history which you can read in its redacted version on the NSA website. I remember taking a picture of Murph with a rope around him while puking his guts out during a trip the flight took on a large Turk boat we rented for a day. If you are still in touch with Roger Ferris, who was Baker Flight's 203 in charge, say hello for me.

Major Combs said...

Mike DePaul - I took over Pat Murphy's house in Yalova and bought his furniture, etc. including refrigerator and Aladdin heaters. When I got to Karamursel in the summer of 1964, TSgt Mathias was our Baker Flight 203 in charge, with A1C Weeks. I hope that other Kartamursel folk will keep checking in when they google and get my blog. Thanks for being one of them.

Ron Bluemer said...

Ron Bluemer
Served at KAS as a 203-1. Roger Ferris and Pat Murphy were in my IU class and I'm still in contact with them and about 8 other guys from my class.Loved that swing shift.
50 years later I'm finally a ham but with a much better receiver than the old SP600.
Hard to find anything transmitted in Russian now but Radio Beijing comes booming in.

Major Combs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Major Combs said...

Hi Ron. The next time you contact Pat Murphy, tell him I've tried to email him but his spam filter won't let me pass.
In one of my comments above I wrote that we were going back to Byukada, Turkey, three years ago. We didn't make it. At Alice's high school reunion dance, I was really stepping out to "Johnny B Goode", and heard/felt a pop in my right leg. As I continued to dance, I noticed my foot was just flopping loosely at the end of my ankle. My Achilles tendon had separated completely so instead of a trip to Turkey, I went to the operating room to get it reattached. So far so good. I'm still planning to go back, but right now we have booked Japan for April 2018, Quebec and East Coast September 2018, and Amsterdam to Black Sea in 2019. Plus annual reunions of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, RAF Bentwaters, UK. Plus Rotary and Lions, and rehearsing my fourth musical since my 71st birthday, Guys and Dolls, for March 2018. I've heard some people wondering what they are going to do with their time after they retire. My time is booked almost completely for the next year and then some, but somehow I will find the time to return to Karamursel (and I know that you cant' go back).

Anonymous said...

WOW what memories come back to me...I served in DET 63 FROM 1969 to 1970 as a "ditty bop". Making runs to the "bull"...going to Yalova and haggling with vendors. While in the "bull" we'd grab what we affectionately called a "hepatitis patty" from a vendor on the ferry wharf. I recall that "cokes" there were very syrupy....fond memories... well that's it from me Sgt. Tony Conard ._ ._.

Angie Randell Miller said...

Just came across this blog post while doing some research. I'm not sure it's still active, but I'll add what brought me here. Our family lived in Yalova in 68-69. My dad Richard Randell, who's living, was most likely a "ditty bop" as I know he worked in morse code and listening in. I was 3-4 when we lived there and have fleeting visual memories of living on base for awhile and then in town. I remember my little brother and I playing in a field close to our house and trying to distract a guard at a small post so that we could make our way to his area. I was always full of mischief. We have some photo's of many families that lived in our housing development who were friends with my parents. Thanks for posting this info, Angie Randell Miller

Major Combs said...

Thanks for checking in on this post, Angie. It's been my most popular for years, although there have been fewer comments lately as most of us are in our late seventies. It was a wonderful place ate a wonderful time. People who didn't have our experiences have missed some wonderful aspects of life. I'd do it all over; all I would change is this time I would take a lot more pictures.

Unknown said...

What about those of us who lost our hearing?

Anonymous said...

I was stationed at Karamusal air station in 1971 to May of 1973. I worked as a radio intercept operator at the building beside the large AN/FLR9 antenna. I brought my wife over and we lived in an apartment in the town of Yalova. The AF ran buses everyday to Yalova to take personnel back and forth. I still have a lot of memories from my time there.

Unknown said...

Late getting this read but really enjoy the memories. I arrived at Karamursel on 28 Oct 1962!!The day after the peak of the Cuban missile crisis. Tranferred out in Ap 64. Fortunately my clearance was there so I went straight to OPS. I was 30452 maintenance on the receivers and the ops gear. Boy was the place in a panic!!! The next June I brought my wife over and we lived in Yalova as well. 34B Mektep Sokak straight up the street from the bus station. A three floor building with one apartment on each floor. We were on the top floor. Exciting times and mostly a thrill. We walked all aver Istanbul and really enjoyed the little subway ride up the hill from the Galata Bridge. There for the 6.2 earthquake on 18 Sept 63!! Thought our old building was going to come down. We were watch the movie Barabbas down at the little club in Yalova at 1958 hours. If you have seen the movie, the mine where he was working as a prisoner begins to collapse just as the earthquake hit!! Also there in November 63 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas!! Sad times. Were listening to VOA when the announcement was made and I went down to the same little club and interrupted the movie to make the announcement. Tons of memories. Thanks for the blog.

Major Combs said...

I was in basic training at Lackland for the Cuban missile crisis and the only information we got was wild rumors, not one of which came to pass, thank God or whatever deities intervened to forestall disaster.

My later first wife Marilynn worked in the nursery of the community center, the little club you refer to, in 1965. We were members of the community center square dance group, Clyde's Tribe, named for the caller and organizer Clyde. We had a great time in Yalova and on trips to Istanbul, and were sad to leave earlier than my scheduled tour to make spaces to support the 2T program, the two consecutive remote tours available only to single airmen. Life in Turkey at that time was wonderful for a two-striper with wife and infant son.

I was in the secure compound at Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, Texas, when the president was killed. Ourt training was interrupted by an announcement that the president had been shot but that he was OK. We didn't learn that he was dead until hours later when we completed the day's training and exited the compound.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember my father Jake Brewer? He was stationed in Karamusel in 1964

Bill Rice said...

D Flight June 64 to Jan 66