There was too much on my mind the night of January 10, 1960 to sleep. I was thinking about traveling from Turkey all the way to France. I'd be all alone on several different civilian aircraft and to me, it was somewhat scary. "What the heck," I reminded myself, "I'm 24 years old and in the Air Force!"
A brightly shining sun greeted me the morning of January 11th, 1960. I was into my fatigues and off to breakfast at a fast pace, hoping to get away from the base by noon. Breakfast, once taken care of was followed by the quick walk back to the barracks, feeling somewhat sad that I wouldn't see all these sights here again. Arriving at the barracks, I heard some of the guys calling me "short timer."
I got into the swing of things and tried to get things together as fast as I could. After my shower and shave, I dressed and packed up what I had to take with me, and what would be mailed to me. I bid so-long to my wall and footlockers, and even sat on the bed for the last time. Someone else would have my spot soon. One of my "bay mates" was to take my bedding to Supply for me that day. So around 1030 hours (10:30 a.m.), on a sunny morning, I said goodbye to some in my bay, and headed to the orderly room to sign out. I also left a copy of my orders in the tray by the sign-in/out sheet and off I went to the snack bar area.
There were some of the guys there who had told me they'd see me off on Monday. The first person I said goodbye to was Pop! I think we both had a tear in our eyes. Little did I know I would see him again in February 1961. Photos were taken with my camera including some with the other guys. We all just talked and talked. I promised to write to A/3C Gary Longboat and some of the others. I would tell them about the land so far away that had beautiful women and even send photos to prove this to them. They all clapped and cheered, saying "Bring it on!"
Well, there was the base bus. Waiting to take me to the airport. I don't recall whether there were others leaving as well, but I do know there were no other airmen on my first flight to Ankara. I shook hands with all my buddies and the bus shoved off for Adana. The guys all waved and shouted to me as the bus pulled away from the snack bar. I said to Pop, as the bus pulled away, "Allah' a ismarladik!!" It is the sincerest of Turkish goodbyes, meaning "I command you to Allah." Pop waved both arms toward me, as did the others, as the bus turned left and proceeded out of their sight.
The Journey to France Begins
At the front gate to Incirlik Air Base, the Air Policeman on duty knew me. He lived in the barracks next door to mine and we were friends. He knew I was going to rotate from Incirlik Air Base that Monday and told me "good luck" and didn't even ask for any orders or inspect my ID card. I said for him to keep an eye on old Pop and the rest of the fellows. He laughed and said he would do a good job of it.
The main gate crosspole was raised and the blue bus went out onto the road toward and across the railroad tracks, turning right toward Adana. I turned in my seat to look back at the base one more time believing I would never see it again in my lifetime. All the while I was thanking God for keeping me safe in the 22 months I had been stationed at Incirlik Air Base.
Out on the road to Adana we traveled at about 45 miles per hour and the Turkish driver was talking to some other people on the bus. Soon I saw the road on the right side, to the Adana prison, and there was a Mobil fuel station. The bus slowed down some as it crossed the Seyhan River Bridge and the driver blew his horn as people just crossed in front of him. They seemed not to care for their safety, just wanting to get across the street.
There, on the left side of the street was the tailor shop I had visited many times. The tailor's young son spoke some English, having worked at the hotel up the street where the Air Force Non-commissioned Officers lived prior to completion of the new NCO Barracks on the base. He was only 13 or 14 years old, but he would interpret for his father as we sat and drank hot tea and talked. Not too many doors from there was the shoemaker's where I had some Chukka Boots made that squeeked like other Turkish shoes when walking, so I fit right in with them.
Across from the Crystal Palace Hotel, we turned right and I saw the Photo Unis where I had my picture taken right after I arrived enroute to Incirlik. Out on the road ahead, we stopped and let some people off the bus. It was only about 3.5km to the Adana airport. The bus driver pulled up in front of the airport's main building and stopped. I got off, thanked him in English and Turkish and walked to the ticket counter. To my surprise, a female clerk spoke English! I presented to her my paperwork and she gave me a boarding pass for my flight to Ankara/Esenboga airport. It was midday and the plane was to leave at 1330 hours (1:30 p.m.).
Holding my small blue suitcase in hand, I was directed toward the Vickers Viscount that would take me away from Adana. The Viscount was a British medium-range Turboprop airliner that the Turkish Airlines had been flying for a few years. It had four Rolls Royce Dart engines providing a cruising speed of 275 miles per hour. I entered the cabin from the left side door in front of the two engines on that side. The flight attendant pointed me toward a seat that would be mine for the flight. I remembered my flight coming to Adana in 1958 when the flight attendant could only say a few words in English.
Sitting in my spot with my seat belt on, I gazed out the window at what was around the airport. This airport began as a civil airport in 1956 and was constructed in 1937 with a main runway direction of 05/23 and 9,022 feet of runway length. It was used mostly for military aircraft, and had been in use for only two years by the Turkish Airlines flying in and out of Adana.
I remember that the plane wasn't full leaving Adana and it wasn't long until we taxied out and turned into the main runway for takeoff. Up, up and away we lifted off and headed northwest toward Ankara. In about an hour, we were touching down in Ankara on a 12,000 foot runway I later learned about in a brochure about the airport.
Taxiing to the air terminal took just a few minutes and I was told we would go on to Istanbul's Yesilkoy airport after some had departed and others boarded. We were parked with the engines shut down and doors open front and rear on the left side of the plane. Passengers came and went in, and after 45 minutes I heard the sound of doors closing. When the engines started up and we were moving for our takeoff down that 12,000 foot runway, we lifted off at about half way and were out of there in a steep climb.
From Ankara, Istanbul is just a hop, skip and jump for this Vickers Viscount 4-engine turboprop. The distance from Ankara to Istanbul by car is only around 218 miles. I would be staying overnight at the well known Istanbul Hilton, right in the center of the Beyoglu section of town. I'd catch my KLM Dutch Airlines flight out in the morning of Tuesday, January 12, 1960. And after another hour's flight time, we landed at Yesilkoy with tire noise and smoke flying. Our landing was rougher than at Ankara. We landed on a 7,546-foot runway which was somewhat rough.
The air terminal was larger than the one at Ankara, I thought, although I didn't get off the plane at Ankara. I had been at this airport two years before but I couldn't remember much about it.
The plane parked and the stairs were rolled up to the doors. I got out of my seatbelt, and with my small blue suitcase I headed for the forward door. The flight attendant spoke to me in her best English, saying "have a good journey." I walked down the stairs and across the concrete parking apron toward the terminal building. The weather was colder in Istanbul than in Adana and my dress blues felt good to me that day.
At the KLM Dutch Airlines ticket counter, I gave the clerk my paperwork and it was confirmed I was going by bus to the Istanbul Hilton Hotel to stay the night of January 11, 1960. The Hilton Hotel had been open only six years, on 12 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds on a hilltop along Cumhurriyet Caddesi (Republic Street). I would fly out of Istanbul the next morning at around 9:30 headed for the Munich-Riem airport in Germany. At the Hilton, I was treated like royalty. No one knew my military rank as I was wearing a raincoat, and my stay there was a very pleasant experience. My being an American seemed to please everyone I came into contact with.
I had a large room with a balcony which looked out over the front side of the hotel. What a wonderful view I had of the grounds and the Taksim section of the city, as there was still some daylight. The food was first rate and the service excellent. This was quite different from the last time I was in Istanbul, in 1958, when hardly any English was spoken at the airport, and my fellow airmen and I had a rough time finding transient billets to bed down for the night. Istanbul was improving itself by leaps and bounds.
I arranged for a wake up call and transportation to the airport the next morning. I sure didn't want to be late for my flight. I turned in early as the next was going to be a lengthy travel day - Turkey to Germany to France. I had all my clothes laid out, planned to get up, shower, shave, dress, pack and have a continental breakfast and be off to Yesilkoy airport by bus.
I slept very well that night. I was more tired than I had realized.
The sun was shining on the room window as it was coming up in the east, when I received my wakeup call at 0600 hours. I was up shaving in a flash, showering as quickly as I could. (I recall now that my room was on the fourth floor, but I don't remember the room number I had - fifty years ago!)
I dressed and found where to have my continental breakfast, after which I hurried down to the lobby to locate the bus boarding location for the trip to the airport. I thanked the checkout counter man, handed over my room key and boarded the bus.
It wasn't a lengthy trip to the airport and I hurried to the KLM counter to get my boarding pass. I had to go through customs before leaving Turkey and there I needed to present a copy of special orders A-382, dated September 10, 1959 - from last year when I had left Turkey and returned to Incirlik from my leave to the states. This previous copy was stamped and allowed me into the country, as I returned November 4, 1959 from my leave to the U.S. and back. Now it was being stamped out by the customs agent on January 12, 1960 and I would be free to leave Yesilkoy Airport - and Turkey.
I was directed to the proper gate to walk out to the plane.
There it was, a DC-7C, all decked out in KLM's colors seemingly waiting just for me. The folks onboard the plane spoke excellent English, I easily found my seat and began to read things from the seat pocket in front of me. I asked the flight attendant how old the aircraft was and she said she'd ask one of the crew for me. Shortly, she returned, telling me the plane was built in 1958. The plane was the last major piston-engine-powered transport built by Douglas Aircraft Company first flying in 1953 and through 1958. It came just a few years before the advent of jet aircraft such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.
I found out, a few years later that KLM had purchased 15 of the DC-7C aircraft, carrying crews of three or four, and the planes carried 99 to 105 passengers. Powered by four Wright R-3350 Turbo Compound radial piston engines, generating 3,400 horsepower each. The DC-7C cruised at 355 miles per hour and could fly as high as 25,000 feet.
I was glad to learn what I could about this aircraft because I knew we'd be flying over the Alps en route to Munich-Riem. I felt really good and safe about this plane as I fastened my seat belt for takeoff. With a range of 5,635 miles, we would only be using a fifth of that - around 1,000 miles - from Yesilkoy to Munich Riem. It would be only a short time before I would say "Farewell" to the country of Turkey, and "Hello" to the country of Germany. It was a great experience for me to spend my time at Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey. I spent time reflecting on that.
The DC-7C's engines started up, the flight attendants began their presentations on aircraft safety, and we began taxiing toward the takeoff runway. Everyone was buckled up for our three hour flight to Germany. The engines revved up for flight checks and the takeoff roll started. The large 4-engined plane gained speed and I felt pressed back into my seat. What incredible engine power and yet, very slight noise, upon takeoff. On the 06/24 direction runway, 7,546 feet in length, the plane was up and way quickly. My first flight on a DC-7C aircraft was rapidly, and sadly, leaving Turkey behind.
Soon we were at "15,000 feet and climbing to somewhere around 20,000 feet," said the Captain on the intercom. The flight was smooth and I just sat back waiting until we reached cruising altitude so I could journey to the rear for a restroom stop. The seat belt sign blinked off and I made my way back. About 85 passengers were aboard this flight, and once back at my seat I relaxed and stared out the window. I could watch the engine working in concert with the other three, pulling the plane toward Germany.
Somewhere around 1100 hours we were treated to a large sandwich with pickle and fruit juice that tasted just great. It made my morning a whole lot better - especially when we received chocolate peanuts as dessert! KLM certainly had my vote of confidence, so I just sat back and enjoyed the flight. I did try to speak to the person sitting next to me but he only spoke German and French. "So much for that," I said to myself and tried to nap. There was a small amount of turbulence - nothing frightful.
My ears began to stop up as we descended and at the same time the Captain was telling us we were coming down toward landing. Munich-Riem Airport, near the village of Riem, was in the borough of Trudering-Riem. This airport began construction in 1936 and the first plane landed there October 25, 1939. It replaced an airport located at Oberwiesenfeld whose air facilities were almost completely destroyed by World War II bombings which had - coincidentally - occurred on my 10th birthday, April 9, 1945. Civilian air traffic also had been handled in Riem during wartime. After the war ended, Munich-Riem was the first airport in Germany to be used for civil aviation.
The landing at Munich-Riem was picture perfect and snow was on the ground. Our Captain told us the temperature outside was 2 degrees celsius (35 degrees Farenheit), and that our layover would be an hour and a half. We taxied up to the terminal's main entrance, engines were shut down and the flight attendants helped passengers off the plain and down the stairs to the terminal walkway. I left my bag onboard. The runway on which we landed was 8,580 feet in length and now that I think about it, it was the sole runway at the airport!
My winter uniform was feeling better all the time. I guessed there were about four inches of snow on the walkways but workers were continually shoveling pathways to the building. There was a sign atop the entrance hall reading, "München" which faced out toward the runway and the incoming passengers. With its individual, large blue lighted letters, it was a spectacular sight. Once inside, I had to show my orders and USAF Identification card to the German customs agents who passed me on like I was "one of the boys."
There was a wonderful lunch room inside the terminal building. I found some tasty foods, even a rabbit stew - though not a personal favorite. After eating and browsing a bit, I realized I was tired. I had been up since 6:00 a.m. and operating on the excitement of leaving for a new destination. So I sat down and waited for the call to re-board the aircraft for Frankfurt. I studied, over and over in my mind, "what will I find in Frankfurt? Paris?" Little did I know this lovely airport at Munich-Riem would be replaced with a new airport near Erding in May, 1992. The old IATA code MUC was merely transferred to the new airport.
Just when I was dozing off in my chair at Munich-Riem Airport I heard the boarding call in German, French and English. Our aircraft had been serviced and was ready to continue to France. I was up and in line to board the plane thanks to a less-than-5-minute walk to the boarding ramp and into my seat on the plane. I was thinking that somewhere around one and a half hours later we'd be parked at the terminal at Frankfurt Rhein-Main Flughafen (Flughafen is German for "airport"). I'd be saying goodbye to the flight attendants of KLM and sure would thank them for a great flight. About that time, I was jarred back to the present as we began the take-off roll and left Munich-Riem "Flughafen." Frankfurt, next stop.
We landed at Rhein-Main on its 07/15 9,900 foot main asphalt runway and taxied to our parking spot. Engines were shut down and in only a few minutes I walked the stairs and went to find my next flight with Lufthansa (which, strangely, means "air intake" in German). I would be bound, next, for Paris, France. It was January, 1960 and I couldn't help thinking about the airport here: as we flew toward Rein-Main for our landing, I could still see many bomb craters around the area left over from World War II. Just 15 before, this area had been destroyed by Allied Bombers.
Rhein-Main, an airport and airship base opened in 1936. It was the second largest airport in Germany after Tempelhof in Berlin) through World War II. It had been the main base for the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg airships, but their regular flights had been discontinued after the Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey in 1937. During the war, Rhein-Main was for military use, and after the war it served as the main West German operations base for the U.S. Air Force's contribution to the Berlin Airlift. Since the main runway deteriorated through heavy use, a second runway was constructed during this time.
The German Lufthansa finally recommenced their flights from Frankfurt in 1955 and new terminal building was opened in 1958. The southern side of the airport, Rhein-Main Air Base was a major airlift base for the U.S. starting in 1947. Because I traveled by civilian aircraft, I didn't see much of the air base, except our USAF aircraft coming and going. I could also see many of our planes parked over there. I didn't have time to check into anything about the Rhein-Main Air Base, though I would have liked to see what was going on there as planes came in from Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey.
After an hour or so, I was going to board a Lufthansa Convair 340 for the short flight to Paris. The Convair 340 was used by Lufthansa for their short routes. They used Vickers Viscounts for longer routes and Lockheed Constellations for international flights. The Convair 340 was an upgrade of the Convair 240 and was lengthened to hold an additional four seats. The wings were also enlarged for better performance at higher altitudes. The Convair 340 replaced many Douglas DC-3s that were in service around the world at the time. The U.S. Air Force used this plane for medical evacuation and VIP flights under the designation of "C-131 Samaritan." The CV-240 family number built was somewhere around 1,181 from 1947 to 1956.
- Length = 79ft 2in
- Wing Span = 105ft 4in
- Height = 28ft 2in
- Max Take-off Weight = 41790lbs
- Powerplant = Two 1,490kW (2,000hp) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CA18 Double Wasp piston radial engines.
The call came for all passengers to come to the gate and prepare to board the flight for Paris. It seemed like a small plane to me, having only held somewhere around 48 to 50 passengers. The last leg of my journey was about to begin and I was ready to see the sights of Paris. In short order we boarded the plane and taxied out to the runway for takeoff. I must say, we had a beautiful flight attendant onboard and she took wonderful care of me. Just about 30 minutes into the flight, she gave me a beer and some very good cashew nuts. She said in quite good English that we would be landing at Orly Airport in Paris after a little over an hour's flight time.
I didn't even bother taking off my seatbelt during the flight. True to her word, in just an hour we descended for the landing on French soil. The lights of Paris were so bright below me it looked as if we were landing on one of the main city streets. It was dark out, and I was coming into a strange city of some four million to stay the night. Aeroport de Paris-Orly is only nine miles south of Paris off autoroute A/6A10m. Here I was! In Paris for the first time in my life. We had touched down on Runway 02/20 direction which was 7,874 feet in length. As we taxied toward the terminal building I wondered what happened at this airport during WWII. I found out Orly Airport was opened in 1932 as a second civil airport to LeBourget. During WWII, Orly was used by the German Luftwaffe and was bombed by the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force, its runways, buildings and hangars destroyed. Orly was repaired by the USAAF 9th Air Force after the Battle of Normandy in July and August of 1944, and was used as TAC Airfield A-47. Orly was back, used as a civilian airport on January 1, 1948, and the U.S. Air Force leased a portion of the east for Orly Air Base.
I got off the Lufthansa Convair 340 after thanking the crew for a wonderful flight. With my carry-on bag, I went through customs, which wasn't too much of a hassle. They looked at my orders and ID card, passing me on through. I sat down in the waiting room and contemplated my next move. I had come all the way from Istanbul to Paris via Germany and, frankly, I was getting tired. After I had rested for about 45 minutes, I looked at my papers telling me where to spend the night in Paris. Now, all I had to do was find a way to get to the Grand Hotel Littre - a transient hotel for U.S. Service personnel. I decided to take a taxi.
It was the night of January 12, 1960 and Paris was cold. It was snowing and 35 degrees outside. There were two to three inches of snow on the ground as the light snow fell. It must have been around 1900 hours (7:00 p.m.) when I passed through the air terminal doors to hail a taxi from the curb. A taxi driver said, "OK Joe, no English!" I just showed him the hotel address where I wanted to go and he replied by nodding his head "yes." Off we went, speeding along with me in the rear seat of this gangster-looking automobile like the one shown at left.
Out on the highway leading to Paris it only took him a short time to reach the outskirts and soon we were zooming through small and tight streets, scaring me somewhat. I just wanted to reach Dreux Air Base safely and to not be in a fatal auto wreck on the streets of Paris! With tires squealing we slid to a stop in front of the Littre Hotel. The driver got out, bowed, took my American money and off he went, cigarette in his mouth and speeding away.
There, in front of the Grand Hotel Littre, somewhere in Paris, I stood in total bewilderment. Just an Air Force Airman second class from Louisville, surrounded by all the scenery and nostalgia of a city I had only read about in books before. After viewing all the lights around me there in the "City of Light," I walked through the hotel doors and headed for the check-in counter. There, a clerk who spoke English looked over my orders and assigned me a room for the night. He said that in the morning, an Air Force Staff Sergeant would explain to me how to get to Dreux, France by train.
I took my room key and walked the stairs up to my room, which was spacious, with two highly polished brass beds. Just somewhere to spend the night, not to put down roots. I left my suitcase, my hat cover and raincoat on the bed, and had been told there was food in the basement level of the hotel. Sure enough, there was a set of wide steps leading down to a cafeteria type snack bar with a large brass handrail between the steps. They seemed to be made of marble. The U.S. Military leased the Littre Hotel for their traveling Military Personnel.
After I had eaten, I went back to my room and changed into what civilian clothing I had with me. I had only warm weather garments that I put on in layers. A sweater over a long sleeve shirt and a light jacket with dress pants looked ok with my lowquarters. I needed a hat to combat the snowfall outside. I told the clerk at the desk I was going out for a few minutes and he cautioned me not to go too far. He gave me the hotel's business card so I would have the telephone number. Down the street and around the corner to the left, what should appear but a hat shop on a cross street with a four-way stop. I crossed the street and bought a black French beret with my American money. I didn't even speak a word of French.
Snow was still falling as I hailed a Taxi and told the driver I wanted to go to Pig Alley. I had heard that this was the big night spot in Paris. When I said Pig Alley, he laughed and motioned me to get in. Around and around we went in circles but soon I was let out in Pig Alley. I paid with American money and he sped away. The first bar sign I saw was in French, of course, and I knew what the word "bar" meant in English. I entered and ordered a beer from the woman behind the bar. As I stood there looking around in the dim light I became aware that the only people in there were lesbians, and I left.
Out on the street I walked just a short block when I heard a voice calling to me. A young woman was hiding in a doorway calling for me to come closer to her. A transaction was made, and we had a party together at a hotel nearby. Out on the street afterward, I was seeking a taxi to go back to the Littre when two women, one on each arm, escorted me to their room. What a night it was. It really was! Paris sure was much different from Adana, Turkey. Snow was still falling when I hailed a taxi to return to the Littre - at 9 Rue Littre, 75006 Paris (Montparnasse Department). I had one room out of the 120 rooms that made up the hotel where I would spend my first night in Paris, France.
The ride back to the Littre Hotel was another wild taxi ride. I was holding on for dear life! I paid with American money which delighted the taxi driver. He said something and sped away as I entered the hotel. I was glad to be back at my room and had some snacks, purchased when I had eaten earlier that day. I laid out my clothes for the next day and packed my others. I cleaned my shoes, and after a shower and shave it was past midnight. I turned out the lights after setting up a wakeup call for 0800 hours and drifted off into pleasant dreams. I didn't have to be at Dreux Air Base until January 15th, 1960 and I planned not to hurry my journey there. I didn't want to rush. The 0800 hour wakeup call would do just fine.
The telephone rousted me out of a good night's sleep with the desk saying it was 0800 hours and the day I was to arrive at Dreux. Another travel adventure, this time by train. So far, I was doing very well not using the French language. I dressed and got my things together, heading downstairs to turn in my key and to get some breakfast. I polished off as much food as I could, all while wondering where and when I would eat again.
After breakfast I inquired at the desk about getting to Dreux. The Staff Sergeant working at the hotel gave me directions and pointed me toward the train station, saying it was about a 90 minute ride to Dreux. I found the train station and after some hassle buying my ticket, I located my train for Dreux. I found a seat on the train and waited for it to pull away.
The French trains had all the passenger seats on one side of the train car and the aisleway was on the other side. My first train ride since being a young boy back in Louisville, Kentucky was about to begin. Would this train go really fast, I wondered. I had heard some French trains were trying to become very fast. We pulled out of the Montparnasse train station and headed out of Paris. Soon we were in the countryside and I would say we were hitting at least 60 miles per hour. The train car was swaying side to side, and most passengers were busy reading or just looking out the windows. No one was talking to anybody. I guessed this to be the custom on French trains. Some folks just looked me up and down and didn't say a word one way or the other.
French towns passed by and after 90 minutes I began to see signs along the railroad tracks mentioning Dreux. In just a little while the train began to slow down and pull into the station. We came to a slow, rolling stop and I saw people standing along the concrete platform under the station roof. Here at Dreux passengers began to get off the train and make their way into the station building. Some began to board the train. I left the train and went into the station building. I didn't want to look dumb but, uh, where was the air base?
While setting up my next plan of action for a short time out on the street side of the station building, I saw an airman in civilian clothes. I asked him, "Where is the base, and how do I get there?" Though he was catching a train for Paris for a three day pass, he pointed down the street. "Go several blocks and turn left. Then go just a little way and wait in front of a tavern," which he told me the name of. There, he said, I could catch an Air Force vehicle going to the base, but he gave me no indication of how long I'd wait. He just said there'd be a ride for me.
I knew Dreux Air Base was a little over 15 miles from the town of Dreux itself, I wasn't about to try walking there. I hoped my wait would be just a little while. Standing outside a tavern with my suitcase beside me I would stand out like a sore thumb. No one, however, seemed to notice me and I guessed they had seen this sight many times before. I looked back toward where I had come from, and said a little prayer for a ride soon.
I'm on a street in Dreux, almost to my destination, Turkey was many miles behind me now and I needed somewhere to live. I had left Paris around 1100 hours and it was now after 1400 hours. I had a chocolate bar from my bag as I waited. The weather was still cold, but there was sunshine breaking through the clouds. I hoped any rain would hold off until I got a ride to the base. I heard the noise of a truck engine, and an Air Force 6-by-6 truck came around the corner. I had been waiting only about 35 minutes and was being blessed with big transportation for my ride to my next duty station.
I flagged down the driver and told him I was going to the base. He said to put my bag in the truck bed. As we started rolling toward the base, he told me why he was in town. I saw road signs that said Brezoles, Dampierre and Mallebois - and some I just can't remember - along the road to the base. He said the base had been there since 1954 and had C-119 and C-123 cargo planes, but the C-123s were sent back to the states in 1958. The housing for the C-123 squadron was on the other side of the runway and wasn't being used at all, he told me.
He continued giving me a sneak preview of the base as we went along. He also told me the French President did not want the United States Forces in his country much longer, and could close our bases there. The ground was somewhat level and used for farming around the road to the base. Houses were of stone and the telephone poles were made of concrete due to the lack of large pine forests.
My Dreux Story Begins
At the entrance to the air base there was a long metal pole across the roadway. Beyond, about 100 feet, there was a concrete one-man guard shack standing in the middle of the roadway. There was a large wooden sign to the right of the road just outside the metal pole saying "Dreux Air Base" with pictures of planes on it. We pulled up to the gate and an Air Policeman motioned us through as he raised the gate pole. He checked my ID card and surely I would find a room for the night there. The truck deposited me at the base Service Club and Snack Bar, both in the same building.
I thanked the Airman truck driver for the safe ride from the town of Dreux to its namesake air base. He said he was going to Base Supply and he would see me around. I walked in the service club entrance and hung a left to go in the snack bar doors. Wow, was hungry for a burger and fries, washed down with a vanilla milkshake. I found a seat and left my raincoat, bag and hat on a chair while ordering my meal. The manager spoke very good English including many slang words. My food was ready quickly and I chowed down on the $1.95 meal! I looked around the room to see that I was just another airman at the snack bar having a meal.
As I left the snack bar I asked directions to base headquarters - which turned out to be just a short walk. At headquarters I saw the Officer in Charge, gave him the folder containing my orders and signed in officially at Dreux Air Base.
A CQ runner drove me to the barracks where I would live, stopping first at the supply room for my bunk, bedding, and a footlocker. Fortunately Supply was next door to the barracks! He helped me carry everything upstairs to the last bay on the southeast side of a long hall. There was a large grey two-door metal wall locker ready for me to move over to my area.
I had a space to the right of the west bay door that led out into the upstairs hall. You'd go out the door and make a right, then another right took you to the latrine. To the left and down the outside stairs and you were at the barber shop and service club/snackbar and the mess hall. French windows looked out over the north goalpost end of the football field. Other airmen lived in this bay but were not there when I arrived. I got my area squared away and moved the wall locker to where I needed it. Darkness wasn't far off and the flag was retired as reveille was played over the base.
I had been told to return to headquarters the following day and I would be sent to the 7305th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Officer in Charge. This officer was Captain Joe I. Cottle, and he seemed very glad I was sent here to Dreux.
I received a temporary mess card for meals at the mess hall. All I had were a few civvies and my Class-A Uniform I was wearing. I hoped my hold baggage was at air freight waiting for me the next day - Thursday January 14, 1960. I used my mess card and had a good meal. The base had streetlights but the place was all new to me, so I headed back to my Bay to introduce myself to the others.
I introduced myself to my fellow bay occupants as they came in. I also decided to try out the latrine and shower. The shower room was separate from the sinks and toilets but close by. A good old hot water shower and shave almost put me to sleep standing up! The bay floor was a dark brown/black tile that had been waxed many times from the year 1954. A wet mop and power buffer was all that was needed to make it shine and stand tall. Steam radiators were along the south wall of the bay and it seemed quite warm now. We had some snowflakes and it was around the freezing mark there.
Friday, January 15, 1960 came early for me. After breakfast I returned to see Captain Cottle, the Officer in Charge at Aircraft Maintenance. He turned me over to his NCOIC, M/Sgt. Joe B. Miller and assistant NCOIC S/Sgt Howard M. Abshier.
I could be put in the rudder gang changing rudders on the C-119s at the hangar across the field that the C-123 squadron once occupied before being sent back to the states. As we talked more and more about what I had been doing at Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey. It became apparent that I was a trained Transient Alert Specialist!
The NCOIC, M/Sgt. Miller was reading from my performance report sent there from Incirlik Air Base and felt I was more highly qualified than any other he had in that job.<
He said I was to continue on in that capacity at Dreux until I was relieved of duty or rotated back to the States. I was taken to meet another Alert airman and got a closeup look at the two 1954 Volkswagen pickup trucks that were used as follow me trucks.
S/Sgt. Abshier took me to air freight to get my hold baggage which had already arrived the day before. I couldn't wait to get into my fatigues and boots. The rest of the day was mine to just "show up on Monday January 18th, ready to get to work", he said to me. I thanked him and set out to square away my wall locker and footlocker. Monday I'd have to get my pay records arranged as I was getting low on money. I found my wall locker had enough hangers for my clothes and I had my own combo locks for it - and my issue footlocker in my baggage. I now had two footlockers.
I began to explore Dreux Air Base. In the next few weeks I found it was very different from Incirlik. First, I was dealing with French people, many more of whom spoke English and Transient Alert duty at Dreux was a breeze compared to Incirlik as we had hardly any aircraft to contend with. I looked forward to my three meals at the mess hall and, of course, midnight chow when I was on duty.
It wasn't too many months later that I purchased a MoPed from A/3C Kenneth Priddy from West Virginia who was a Transient Alert airman.
He bought it new in Dreux sometime in June, 1960. Now I had a ride to and from work and all around the base. I easily got a driver's license from the Air Police,
THE NIGHT MYERS RODE THE BARBED WIRE DOWN
I had not owned the Moped, which I purchased from A/3C Kenneth Priddy in 1960 while at Dreux Air Base, but one month when A/2C Jim Myers asked to borrow it
Jim's space in my upstairs barracks bay overlooked the Dreux Air Base football field. He told me he could ride with the best of them and since he was from California I let him practice on my moped out in front of the barracks on the street. I told him that after more practice time he could borrow it to ride out toward Senonches for a first time visit to Momma's bar.
In just a few more days the time came to let him go the distance, as I called the ride out there.
The evening came when he would take his journey on my Moped. I instructed him to return slowly, and with caution, because a sharp S-curve out there would come up on him very fast. Being off that day as part of my 48 hour off, I sent him off with a warning: watch that S-curve on your return ride to the base!
Sometime after midnight I awoke to what I thought was water being
poured over me. I switched on my night light and found Myers standing
over my bunk, blood pouring from his right ear, partially severed near
his sideburn area, and spilling all over my face. A towel was applied
to his wound as we both entered the Latrine. Sitting on the toilet
nearest the sinks he looked like he was mortally wounded. He said he
couldn't feel a thing on that side of his face.
As I bathed his torn ear with cold water he didn't flinch one little bit. His blood was cleaned from my facial area and I dressed and walked with him to the base hospital. An officer there sutured his ear back in place without even so much as a wince from Myers who was still full of his own anesthetic.
Myers had lost his eyeglasses and cigarette lighter when he ran off the road, crashing into the barbed wire fence at the S-curve. The Handle bars were crooked, the front light was broken, and with the front fender rubbing the tire, Myers was halted at the front gate and told to walk the moped to his barracks which he did.
Out the front gate, using a three cell flashlight after a quick fix up on the moped at 3:00 AM, I went to retrieve his personal things at the crash site. The gate guard almost didn't allow me to go off base.
There at the curve under the fence were his glasses and lighter. Back in the barracks I gave Myers his stuff and told him to shut up and no more crying about my damaged moped. The next day I rode into Dreux and bought what was needed for the front light at the moped shop. No more moped rides for Myers, though all was forgiven about that bloody night at Dreux Air Base.
At left is Susie's husband and his flat-top car. Another airman who regularly visited the bar had borrowed it to go the 15ks to Senonches. On the return trip to Susie's bar, he took a curve at high speed and rolled it over causing the flat top. Evidently he and his passengers rolled it back over on its wheels and drove on back to Susie's with no apparent injuries! "Why did I let that airman from Dreux Air Base borrow my car?" he said. I know it still runs, but it'll hold water now!" I'm glad I had a MoPed!
On my off days I ventured out on the "local economy." The mileage was really great for the MoPed and it was nothing to go fifteen miles away from the base. Just a half mile from the front gate outside the base was the Open Gate Bar and Restaurant where many of us spent some time. The food was good, there were drinks and dancing with the young French girls. Just down the road from Maillebois was Susie's Bar in Chateauneuf where we airmen also hung out. There were some other bars fairly close to the base in different directions. Also, you could always ride in to Dreux nearby. On base, we had movies, service club functions, library, gym and snackbar among things to while away time while off duty.
At work, we had a one-man crew each day for Transient Alert. Some days, with nothing coming to the base I would make a run on the AFEX to purchase what I needed and take it up to my room. Some of the fellows said I never worked while I was there. I assured them I had a very stressful job and it was really getting to me so much that I needed my 48 hours off duty to unwind. They told me I needed to go see the Chaplain. Sometimes I spent most of my off time off the base, out in the town.
If we had an inspection of the barracks while I was away, my roommates cleaned my area and adjusted my dustcover blankets. One time a Captain asked my roommates, "Why were there no shoes under my bunk for inspection?" One of the guys said they were at the shoe shop. That provoked a laugh from the officer and quickly spread to everyone in the bay. He told them to have me set out shoes for the next time.
Base Alert at Dreux Air Base, July, 1960
It was a warm July day in 1960 at Dreux Air Base, France and I was headed toward the base front gate upon my moped. I was on my way to visit the two French girls who were staying for the summer in Bigeonnette just two miles from the center of Chateauneuf in the very nice house shown at left.
Just as I was nearing the front gate entrance the base alert warning signal sounded and I knew to turn around and head to my assembly area which was next door to my barracks in the supply building. Locking up my moped at the rear outside stairs I quickly ran upstairs and hurriedly changed into my fatigues, put on my helmet liner, tightened my pistol belt and canteen around me and with boots untied made my way to supply where I laced up my boots.
A sergeant motioned all of us who were there to get out our weapons receipt cards, go inside and fill our hands with M-1 Carbines and load up on the 6 by 6 truck waiting there in the street. Soon we were headed toward the east side of the base to a section of the perimeter fencing to practice what we would do if this were for real. Of course the ground was wet and down we were told to lay and point our weapons toward our section of fence responsibility.
The alert signal sounded and after two hours on the ground everyone was good and wet as we boarded the 6 by 6 truck for the ride back to supply. As I was turning in my M-1 Carbine and taking back my weapons receipt card from the airman at supply the sergeant told us that the alert was for two days and the base was locked down tight. I came within an eyelash of getting off the base for these alert days as it was my 48 hours off time to spend out on the local economy. When I finally got to visit Bigeonnette the French gals were so upset and with no communication from me for three days it was very hard to explain to them how a base alert comes about with no warning.
A Memory You Can Help Me With:
One late day in September 1960 as I and my moped were on our way to the mess hall for supper, "what was that I said to myself?" What would a Turkish sergeant in his class "A" uniform be doing walking down the street at Dreux Air Base?
Well, I just could not contain myself so I turned around and pulled up next to him. This seemed to startle him but when I asked him what he was doing there in his native language he imediately put out his hand to clasp mine in a firm handshake. Then he told me he was there for a radio school and he could speak some English and this was why he was selected to come to Deux Air Base.
He said he had not found another person there that spoke any Turkish. We seemed polarized after that meeting drawn together like magnets because of the Turkish Language. He was my constant companion on and off the base for his school duration which was some 60 days.
When I rode to Susies bar there he was riding on the rear luggage carrier along with me where some weeks ago there had been the posterior of a beautiful young French girl. He stuck to me like glue and some days I had to take a short cut just to have some free time for myself. One day when I believed I would leave the base alone there he was waiting for me at the front gate. This hopefully solidified American and Turkish relations somewhat.
I have the photo of him, above at right, in his Air Force class "A" uniform. He told me he was from Izmir, Turkey and to write to him. This did not happen because I only found the foto again while searching albums for my story. I wonder if he could be alive today? His name is on the foto and his address. The foto will be on its way to you and maybe you will have a way to locate him.
On the day he was leaving Dreux Air Base we met at the snack bar for a meal, which was on me. We bid each other fair well in Turkish and with a hug and a handshake he went back to his native homeland. He was the only Turkish airman I ever saw after I had left Turkey for good. Let's hope someone will remember him there in Turkey.
While at Dreux Air Base in 1960, the 322nd Air Division of the 7305th Air Base Group to which Charlie Sibert was a contributing member, received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for U.N. operations in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire). Dreux Air Base provided flights of their C-119s for the air drops in the Congo, and some flights returned with bullet holes in their cargo bays!
Winter slipped into Spring and soon it was summertime at Dreux Air Base. We could go to Chateauneuf to the Olympic size swimming pool and there was a lake just outside the base gate, on the road to the right, that had a section roped off for swimming. Alert duty, base functions, and visits to the small towns around the base kept me occupied. I had met two girls from Paris who were staying in Chateauneuf for some of the Summer. I spent a lot of my off time with them. One of them also had a MoPed, so they doubled up and we rode many places together all around the countryside.
Gen Curtis E. LeMay Drops in at Dreux A/B
It was Monday the 20th of June 1960 and I had been at Dreux Air Base only 5 months. I was hearing from base ops over the intercom at the transient alert office that the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Gen Curtis E. LeMay was coming to Dreux Air Base. He was going to review the troops at a flight-line parade and go to the 24 hour auto endurance race at LeMans, France.
The 24 hour race was to begin on Sat the 25th and be completed on Sun the 26th of June 1960. The General would arrive at Dreux Air Base aboard a U. S. Air Force C-135A Stratolifter from the Military Airlift Command.
The plane would be landing at Dreux Air Base somewhere around noon one day this week and was to be parked near the large hanger nearest base ops. After all officers and visitors had departed from the aircraft, it would taxi to a nearby revetment All I needed to do was pick up the plane at the 24 end of the runway with my follow-me truck and guide it to the parking apron where others on base would park it. Everything went as planned when the large 4 engine jet arrived at Dreux Air Base.
I was on duty the day of the parade and didn't have to march with others from my squadron as they had to do. I found an ideal spot to photograph the parade right from the window of my follow-me truck which I parked somewhat near the hanger.
There was a mixture of old and new summer uniforms in the parade but all the airmen looked very sharp. Dreux Air Bases' parade for the USAF Vice Chief of Staff went off without a hitch.
Gen LeMay went to see the LeMans 24 hour race as it was just a two hour drive by motorcade from Dreux to LeMans. The race that year was won by two Belgian drivers, Olivier Gendebien and Paul Frere with a Ferrari 250 painted with a large number 11 on it.
One late August Saturday in 1960 the two French girls from Paris staying in Chateauneuf and I had spent most of the day moped-riding and touring the countryside. One girl's parents had came out from Paris to stay the weekend and the girls had to be home by dinner time.
Crawling forward on all fours I reached their bed room shuttered window. With a light tapping noise I awoke them and soon we all were headed toward Chateauneuf with one girl on the rear luggage carrier and the other mounted upon the handle bars. With engine off for a short distance and then engaged, off we rode.
As I placed the key into the lock of the small room at Susie's, one girl asked "What about the moped?" I replied, "we'll take it inside with us". Inside we turned on the small light and all piled upon the bunk sized bed. Since we had no bottle at this time we all just spun around and around and did our thing as in the French movies.
Susie had put a two hour time limit on the room, so soon we were motoring back toward the girls' house. Engine off and with hugs and kisses for me they returned to their bedroom with a gleam in their eyes. Tomorrow I would return to the house to see them again for lunch with the parents.
Back to Susie's for another Frog beer, Susie thanked me for the crisp five dollar bill I had given her for the room rent. I locked up my moped to the barracks upstairs poles and went up to my bay whistling a love song on my return to Dreux Air Base that night in August 1960.
Off topic, a bit:
As I was writing to one of the French girls - who had stayed in Chateauneuf for the summer of 1960 - at her home in Paris, a visit was planned. I was to meet her at a restaurant in Paris on a Saturday around noon and we would spend the rest of the day together. I believe this was early in October. All I can remember is, it was on the Champs-Elysees not far from the Arc-de-Triomphe. We met and had lunch, visited here and there, and finally she found me a place for the night at a store front room that some of her French male friends rented just north of the Arc-de-Triomphe. The friends found lodging at another pal's place for that night, and I wondered just how friendly she was with them as they didn't object and basically were very kind toward me.
She schooled me how to use the subway to return to this place that night after we parted company outside her apartment home. She'd return in the morning and we would have some of Sunday together before I had to go back to the base. Later that evening when we had arrived outside at her place she told me how she now had her brother's front bed room and she could blow me kisses and wave to me as I made my way toward the subway station gate. We sat out in front of her apartment on the wooden bench and hugged and kissed most of the night away.
As the subway station gates near her home opened at 5:00am she said I must go back to the store front room to sleep and she would be there at noon to get me. So at 4:00 am I was on my way, making my journey back there all the while looking toward her as I walked out of sight as she waved from her window.
At noon the next day there she was, still laughing about how she had pulled the wool over her mother's eyes the night before. She was to be in at 1:00 am and had stretched it until 4:00 am. So we headed out for another tour of her hometown. At the subway station, where I'd go be taken to the train station for the trip back to Dreux Air Base, we said our good byes... and good byes ... good byes!
This was the last time I ever saw this French girl although I wrote letters and made phone calls to her from the base. Later that year she told me she was going to the states someday, to live.
In my visit back to Dreux Air Base and Paris in 1987, I visited her brother outside at the old home place as he was now there looking after his aged mother. He said his sister had married a French man and moved to New York City to live. Some years later her husband died and she then remarried an American man, and he died also. When she called her brother later that month he told her I had came for a visit and she made no reply except to say she was not interested. For all I know, she could still be living in New York City to this day. She would be somewhere around 68 years of age now. I would venture to say she never has worked a job in her lifetime, but who will ever know?
After September arrived and the girls were gone back to Paris, I met a young lady on the base. We did a lot of things together at Dreux so I kept quite busy. Then I started playing basketball for the Dreux Air Base team. The coach was First Lieutenant Jimmy L. Skelton who had played basketball at Oklahoma State for Hank Iba. We had 12 players on the team and played our home games at the base gym. For away scheduled games we took one of the base C-119s. The season of 1960/1961 saw us flying to Laon Air Base and Chateauroux Air Base, as well. We also visited Bitburg for a 1960 Christmas tournament, (see team orders to Germany) as well as Frankfurt in Germany. We also drove to Evreux Air Base in France to play. It was about 45 miles, so not too far from Dreux.
While at Dreux Air Base,
France in 1960-1961 and playing basketball on the air base
team I received Special orders # B-294 telling me the base
team was going to fly up to Laon-Couvron Air Base. Our team
was to be playing Laon's team for a regular scheduled season
game. We were to fly up and back on one of our baseC-119G
cargo aircraft leaving on or about 2-Dec-60 TDY for
approximately 3 days.
He told me to save up some leave time, and to meet him and others at Chateauroux for the flight to Incirlik. He would let me know the dates and the travel arrangements, he said. Our season was over at Dreux and I think we just broke even with our schedule of games. January, 1961 was fast coming to a close.
He Turned My Face Red
It was Tuesday January 31, 1961 and the Eagle had landed at Dreux Air Base, France. The day we all looked forward to each month, payday, was upon us big time.
I was on duty, my 24 hour shift, as I made my way to the building used by the paymaster to dispense Uncle Sam's green backs to us troops. I had talked to the A1C in the control tower at ops about air traffic and he said "what traffic, just go on and get paid".
Dreux Air Bases' basketball coach 1STLT Jimmy L. Skelton, (at right, hand on chin) whom I played for on the 1960-61 base team, was the paymaster that day. There, at a large rectangular table, he sat with stacks of U. S. dollars, pay records, a loaded 45 cal pistol, and a Staff Sgt. clerk taking care of the paper work. Next to the table on 1STLT Skelton's right stood an A1C Air Policeman as the guard for that day.
The pay line was down the hallway some distance from the doorway of the room where we would receive our pay when I arrived but it was moving rapidly. When I entered the doorway 1STLT Skelton recognized me right off and had the air policeman ask me if I was on alert duty that day. I said I was, and he told 1STLT Skelton.
The basketball coach and players had become great friends always laughing and pulling jokes on each other during practice time and sometimes during our games. As I being one of the players on his team coach Skelton had also tabbed me as a player/manager. He seemed to always have something for me to do as well as practice and play on our team.
What happened next that Tuesday was beyond any ones belief. He called me forward to be next in line ahead of 4 or 5 already standing there. He then had me report for pay, returned my salute and with a large smile upon his face said "take two steps forward and do an about face and put your hands out behind you to receive your pay" which I did. Then with another about face I counted my money, signed my pay record, saluted and got the hell out of there with my face as red as a beet. Other airmen in line broke out with laughter as I exited the door.
After that day when I saluted 1STLT Skelton, as we met at different times about the base, both of us would laugh out loud as we gave each other a friendly hand slap.
Taking Off for the Big Game
February of 1961 swept into Dreux very cold with some rain mixed with snow. I heard from First Lieutenant Russman and he gave me the dates of the 1960-61 USAFE Basketball Tournament in Adana. I was to be at Chateauroux air base for the flight to Incirlik early in the morning of Friday, February 17, 1961. We would go to Athens and then on to Incirlik Air Base Adana, Turkey onboard a C-130A from the 322nd Air Division based at Evreux-Fauville, France.
I made my request for leave on Monday February 13, '61. I wanted an ordinary 15-day leave to go to Turkey. If I could get back to Incirlik I would be able to renew old acquaintances from the airmen I knew when I was stationed there. It was also an opportunity to become the tournament's official scorekeeper, and, certainly I would like to see old Pop, our base shoe shine man, once again before he might pass away. He was getting much older by now.
My leave was approved and I hopped what we called "the milk run," a C-119G going to Chateauroux Air Base the afternoon of February 16, 1961. Every week on Thursday we had a C-119G going to Chateauroux to deliver cargo and to pick up cargo headed for Dreux. I checked in with officer Russman and he got me quarters for the night there. The next morning, the 17th, we boarded a C-130A for the flight to Athens and on to Incirlik. I wore my fatigues and had a small bag of civvies and things with me for my stay. This flight seemed like old times.
The first leg of our trip, to Athenai Airport in Athens from Chateauroux Air Base had been three hours in the air before landing. This arirport was called Kalamaki Airfield when the German Luftwaffe used it during the occupation. Following the end of World War II the U.S. used the airport from 1945 until 1993. Known as Hassani airport in 1945, it was used by the USAAF as early as October, 1945. On October 5, 1948, the U.S. Air Force assigned the Military Air Transport Service 1632nd Air Base Squadron to the airport with ten C-47 cargo aircraft. In 1954, USAFE 7206th group was assigned to the airport. Commercial airline service returned in 1956 and the airport was renamed Athenai International.
Our C-130A chewed up the thousand-mile trip mighty fast and we made a beautiful landing, taxiing to the area the U.S. Air Force used at the airport for their base. What a great plane the C-130A was. The C-130A Hercules had a crew of four to six, at least two pilots, one flight engineer and one loadmaster plus a navigator. It could carry 92 passengers and had a payload of 45,000 pounds! It was 97 feet 9 inches long and the wingspan was 132 feet 7 inches with a height of 38 feet 3 inches. Its powerplants were 4x Allison T56-A-9 Turboprops with three-bladed Aero product propellers. Maximum speed was 360 MPH and cruise speed around 320 MPH. The plane's range was 1,300 miles. Deliveries had begin in December, 1956 from Lockheed Marietta in Georgia. The 322nd Air Division in Europe had six squadrons assigned to them. Our particular C-130A was from the 322nd USAFE.
After refueling and a brief rest stop, we taxied out to runway 15/33, at 10,331 feet in length for our takeoff. Engine checks were made and away we went for Incirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey. We'd been on our journey now since about 0800 hours and it was now coming up on 1400 hours (2:00 p.m.). This would put us on the ground at Incirlik at around 1600 hrs. (4:00 p.m.) for sure. It was still Friday February 17, 1961 and we'd be landing right on time for supper! While thinking about all this, we began our descent from altitude to make our approach for landing on the 05 end of the 10,000 foot runway.
Four large tires squealed and smoke rolled as the C-130A settled down for the roll to the 23 end of the runway. I saw the same blue '57 Chevy follow me truck waiting for us that I had driven so often. Things looked the same from what little I could see from inside the plane. Back where it all started. Here I was at Incirlik Air Base!
We were guided to the area close to Air Freight to park. Engines shut down, chocks were slipped in at the wheels, and the MD-3 power unit was plugged in to supply the electricity. The loadmaster lowered the rear ramp and we all left the aircraft, on to the Turkish Customs house to check in. It was still located next door to the Air Freight building. My AF Form 1164 leave orders were stamped 17-2-61 with a round purple stamp that had "Ankara Customs" on it and was signed by the Turkish Customs agent. My small bag was not even opened. I was in U.S. Air Force fatigues and this could have been the reason I wasn't asked to show the bag's insides.
It was a comfortable 55 degrees and I didn't even need my field jacket on. Here came three USAF station wagons who drove our officiating party to the NCO barracks, the Transient Billets and the Officer's Billets just up the street from the Base Theatre. After all of us had our rooms assigned, some of the officials met and I directed them to the mess hall for a very good supper.
On our flight, also, were the team members and coaches from ToulRosieres Air Base. One of the ballplayers was a team member of mine from Dreux who had been picked to play on this team. There were, I'm sure, others from Chateauroux on this team, too. We, as officials, didn't want to be seen as favoring the teams. I believe there was another team already at Incirlik as well. The other teams would soon be landing from their home bases.
On the way back from the mess hall, I excused myself to revisit my old barracks. You should have seen the looks on some faces when I walked in to my old bay. Hugs and back-slapping made me so glad I had many friends remaining there. Now, as an Airman Second Class, there was Gary Longboat jumping up and down with joy. I explained why I was there and caught hell for not having written ahead. Shoeshine "Pop" had already left for the day from his Snackbar area location, but I would be able to see him tomorrow.
Saturday February 18, 1961: We officials had breakfast and were driven to Adana to see where the tournament was to be played. We pulled up to the Kapali Spor Salonu, a large building housing the gymnasium which would be the site of the games. Inside was a high arched ceiling, spacious bleacher seats, a wooden parquet floor, and the ball goals were of international design so the nets had to be shortened.
We walked all around inside the building thinking we could put on a good 1961 USAFE Basketball Tournament there. The free throw lines were marked both ways - international and USA so that was not a problem. The goal supports were the portable round pipe type, covered by gym mats at the fronts and sides. The restrooms, however, were the traditional Turkish "bombsites" Smoking was permitted and servers would work the crowd with eats and drinks. A Turkish PA announcer would call the game for the Turkish spectators. The Armed Forces Radio Service would send the games out over the airwaves, the base gym scoreboard would be propped up at one end of the floor and the players and some of the spectators could see the scores. Some tables would be used for scorekeeper, scoreboard operators and others.
After the gymnasium check, we went back to the base to await the arrival of the other teams. Some came in on Sunday night, others the next day, Monday February 20, 1961. Monday was a practice day for all the teams to familiarize themselves with the surroundings, the dark parquet wooden floor, and with no crowd around the team practiced. Everyone seemed to enjoy the practice times, laughed and joked as they went about their workouts.
TEAMS FOR THE 1961 USAFE BASKETBALL
Some 4,000 Turkish spectators were seated and ready when the first tipoff came at 1900 hours (7:00 p.m.) on Tuesday, February 21, 1961 for the game between the Sembach Tigers and the Irakilon Big Green. Sembach won that game.
The Second game at 2100 hrs (9:00 p.m.) Tuesday, February 21, was between the Sculthorpe Vigilantes and the Torrejon Raiders and was won by Sculthorpe. The red and silver uniforms of Torrejon caught the fancy of the Turkish crowd and they really were pulling for this team. Base interpreters at the games cheered wildly, also.
The late night contest Wednesday, February 22 at 21:00 hrs (9:00 p.m.) was a game between the Sculthorpe Vigilantes and the Toul's Tigers, which was won by Sculthorpe. The French District Winner was made up mostly of the 2nd AACS Squadron who had all five starters and two reserves on the ten-player roster. Toul's had drawn the bye for this tournament. The gym was full to overflowing with happy people waiting for the games to begin. The first game of the night at 1900 hrs (7:00 p.m.) featured the Torrejon Raiders vs. the Irakilon Big Green and was won by Torrejon, thus sending Irakilon home with its second loss in the double elimination tournament.
Thursday, February 23rd would see Toul's Tigers trying to stay alive, going up against the Torrejon Raiders in the 7:00 o'clock game. Some 3,300 fans were there to witness a very tight game down to the wire and won by Torrejon. On the Toul's team roster was Staff Sergeant Willie Byrd, Jr., a Dreux teammate of mine on the Dreux AB basketball team. This game proved to be Toul's second tournament loss so they were disqualified.
The second game on Thursday night at 2100 hours (9:00 p.m.) was a winners' bracket matchup between the Sembach Tigers and the Sculthorpe Vigilantes. Would this be a head-knocker as some had predicted? It was just that. Sculthorpe eked out a win and sent Sembach into the losers' bracket. Score: 73 - 65!
The losers bracket final game was between the Torrejon Raiders and the Sembach Tigers. It was the 2000 (8:00 o'clock) game on Friday, February 24th. Would the tournament favorite go down in smoke? No sweat. Sembach Tigers dispatched the Torrejon Raiders by 20 points!
The pressure was on! Could the tournament favorite Sembach Tigers win not one but TWO games against Sculthorpe's Vigilantes? What would happen was anyone's guess and, again, it was a full house of 4,000 rollicking fans enjoying large pretzels and drinks before the tipoff. What anticipation greeted the teams as the winners bracket finals got underway at the Adana Kapali Spor Salonu. The official scorekeeper (who would be me) was feeling the butterflies in his stomach and wasn't even playing in the game! The tournament trophies and awards were ready, should the team called Vigilantes from Sculthorpe walk off tonight as champions.
It was the 2000 hrs (8:00 p.m.) game on Saturday, February 25, 1961. I had all the information down in the official score book and watched both teams nervously going through their pre-game warmup. They were being closely watched by their respective coaches. I was predicting a tight game on paper. What actually happened in the game just blew my mind!
Germany's Sembach Tigers came back to drop the U.K. champion Sculthorpe Vigilantes by a score of 61 to 48 there in front of my eyes Saturday night in the USAFE double elimination basketball tourney. This forced a do-or-die contest Sunday evening! Sunday's victor would earn a berth in the U.S. Air Force's worldwide basketball tournament to be held at Warren Air Base in Cheyenne Wyoming on March 6th through 11th, 1961.
Above left: Scoreboard from the Incirlik Air Base gym was
used for the USAFE Championship. Official scorekeeper for
the event is A/2C Charlie Sibert. Did the photographer tell
him to close his eyes?
This was the Sunday night final of the USAFE Basketball Tournament at Kapali Spor Salonu. We had witnessed eight games in the last five days of the championship tournament and surely this game would be closely contested.
Both teams were ready. The referee prepared to toss the ball at midcourt to begin the final game. Sculthorpe quickly gained a two-point lead but Semback took over the game and led 38 to 26 at the intermission. Sculthorpe never got any closer than 10 points during the second half. Semback trounced the Vigilantes 68 to 41, winning the 1961 USAFE Basketball Tournament. Player coach John Taylor of the Sculthorpe Vigilantes was named the Tourney's MVP, finishing one notch better than a year ago (a 3 and 2 record). Sembach by winning had a final mark of 4 & 1.
It was the tenth consecutive time a German quintet had captured the USAFE crown. Coach Charles D'Arcy's Sembach Tigers had won it for the first time. They now had earned the right to battle for the USAF Worldwide crown at Warren AFB Cheyenne, Wyoming in March.
Sembach's Tigers and Sculthorpe's Vigilantes each placed two men on the all-tourney team named in the Stars and Stripes newspaper's poll of coaches, officials and press representatives. Up front players Billy Wilson and Jim "Sky" Webber made it from Sembach. Player-coach John Taylor and Oliver Thomas were selected as guards from Sculthorpe. Torrejon's player coach Bill Moore filled out the dream five.
The Turkish Governor of Adana, Mukadder Ostekia, presented coach Charles D'Arcy a specially engraved silver tray in the post-tourney ceremonies, for winning the tournament. The Turkish fans let out a loud round of applause. Truly they had a wonderful time at these games in Adana.
The tournament scorebook was certified by me as being correct, and I passed it along to the USAFE Tournament manager. I thanked him for a great time, as well as the $48.00 I was paid for scorekeeping the 1961 USAFE Tournament.
GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF
I'm jumping ahead in my story here to let you know how the Sembach Tigers from Germany did in the Worldwide 1961 USAF Basketball Tournament held at Warren Air Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In their first game at Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming Tuesday March 6, 1961, the Sembach Tigers defeated the Strategic Air Command 86-77. The USAFE champion Sembach Tigers lost twice, Wednesday March 7, 1961 and thus had two losses and were out of the worldwide USAF tournament. First, the United Air Command trimmed the Tigers 83-78, then the Tactical Air Command dealt the Tigers their second loss 80-72 and Sembach's Tigers were headed home. I wish I could have gone to Warren AFB to cheer on the Sembach Tigers.
AND NOW...BACK TO THE STORY:
After being away from Incirlik for a year while stationed at Dreux Air Base in France, after the last tournament game, and after all the acknowledgements had been spoken, airmen from Incirlik Air Base packed up the scoreboard and all its wiring to return it to the base gym. The Armed Forces Radio Service took down their banner and packed away all of their broadcasting equipment. The large banner that said, "1961 USAFE Tournament" was taken down and packed up. I took a few more photos of the building I had spent a week in while handling the scorekeeping for the tournament. The other officials and I made our way to the Air Force bus for our ride back to Incirlik Air Base.
We all gathered at midnight chow at the Airmen's Field Ration Dining Hall - too lengthy a term when "mess hall" will do - and we reminisced about the wonderful 1961 tournament. We were a large part of this tournament and agreed, to a man, that it was something we would never forget. I had met the most wonderful, fun-loving Air Force fellows I would ever meet again and I was probably the youngest of the bunch at 25, and certainly the lowest in rank as an Airman Second Class.
We found a lokanta (restaurant) and ate what we were allowed to eat, guided by a base listing menu I had taken with me. Later, we gathered at the Mar Mar Bar and had a few Turkish beers and drinks while we joked and laughed. We made a whole day of it, catching the last shuttle back to the base that night.
It was after midnight chow that our group finally walked back to our rooms and began getting our things together. Monday, February 27, 1961, we were going to leave in the afternoon on a C-130A for the trip back to Chateauroux France.
I didn't sleep late in order to visit my friends - chief among them, old Pop the shoe shine man. While I was so very glad to have been able to visit my old air base and to see all the sights and the fellows I had soldiered with before there were a few more at the Mess Hall at breakfast that Monday morning. I said goodbye to the airmen I knew as I was eating there. Then I was off to visit Pop.
It seemed he knew when I was going to arrive. I had just walked up on the patio by the Snack Bar as he came around the corner, shoe shine kit slung over his shoulder. We chatted and I told him I had to go back to France today. We both had tears in our eyes as I gave him a hug. I would write to A/2C Gary Longboat and tell him to speak to Pop for me from time to time while I remained in France. I had so many wonderful talks with Pop while stationed at Incirlik and now it was more difficult than I had expected to leave him for good.
I visited my former barracks bay, saying goodbye to fellows that were there. I would see the airmen at Transient Alert as I went to board the C-130A (#56-0532) and also to clear customs. Our official party had lunch and left for the flight line. Back in my fatigues I looked like I was working there again as I visited my friends at Alert. Somewhere around 1400 (2:00 p.m.) everyone had cleared customs and began walking toward the C-130A to buckle up and get out of there. We took off from the 05 end of the runway and I took my last look below me of Incirlik Air Base and Adana.
The hum of the engines and the vibration was soon behind us and as we landed in Athens and taxied over to the U.S. Air Force section I found out from the crew we were going to spend the night there! We found, and were housed in the Transient Billets and since it was going on 18 00 hours (6:00 p.m.) we found a mess hall and had some chow. What to do that night was soon resolved by others who had stayed there before. We changed into civvies and found our way to the seaside resort of Kalamaki, partied and closed up the Alex Bar!
I found Kalamaki to be a lovely area, with palm trees, brick and stone walkways, stuccoed buildings lining the streets. The Alex Bar did have late '50s music and plenty of young ladies to talk to and dance with. The address of the Alex Bar was Kalipsous Str. 15-Glyfada, and a Greek patron there said it was a good location. I don't recall how many basketball officials came out to the bar with us, but we had the whole C-130A aircraft crew in our party. I seem to remember we had all walked to the Alex Bar. It wasn't more than a three quarters of a mile.
After we officially closed the place for the night, we found rooms just down the street at a hotel. Why we stayed there was evident as each of us had a female companion on our arm. We felt quite safe and protected from Greek ghosts, goblins and even pirates with the females by our sides. The next morning we all got up and bid the gals goodbye. The one who was with me (Suzie) gave me an address to write to her. I found it some 40 years later in my military career files.
Back at the base, we walked to get some chow and to clean up. Sometime that day, a Tuesday, February 28, 1961, we would depart for France and probably never see or hear the sounds of Greece again.
Fast forward: we're at the end of the 15R/33L 10,331-foot runway at Athenai Airport as the C-130A flight crew is going through their pre-flight checks. All the passengers are strapped in to our red jumpseats, ready for our 1400 (2:00 p.m.) takeoff for the flight to France.
It seemed like we were taking a lot of time and not moving on the runway for takeoff. Then I heard the two outboard engines shut down and we started a return toward the parking apron.
An amazing thing had happened: as the crew was talking between themselves during the pre-flight checks on their headsets, the flight engineer came down from the flight deck and told us all that the crew had such a wonderful time the previous night that they wanted to do it again! The aircraft commander just redlined one of the engines and a USAF Engine Mechanic would have to look it over before we could fly out of there. Off to the Transient Billets we all went, to get ready for another date at the Alex Bar! Tsk tsk. What a terrible thing to happen!
A few of the guys stayed behind at the Transient billets, but my group walked back the three quarters of a mile to the Alex. When we entered the front door which was nearly 1700 hrs (5:00 p.m.) here came all the gals saying "You told us you were leaving! Let's dance and have some fun!
Some of us did not do the hotel thing again as we had done the previous night. We did close up the Alex Bar again. As I and others started our walk back to the Transient Billets the crew members and a few others were choosing up who got which female. I wished them all a safe night and said, "See you guys in the morning!"
Wednesday, March 1, 1961 rolled around and everyone was there for breakfast who had spent another night in Kalamaki with the gals. The stories were flying at the small mess hall as they recounted their second night out. Our redlined aircraft engine was inspected, run up, and found to be problem free (smile). Our departure time was to be around 1200 hrs (noon). So we returned to the transient billets to gather up our gear, to rest and to shower and shave. One by one, we made our way to the awaiting C-130A #56-0532 and fastened our seatbelts.
"Here we go again," the guys were saying to each other as we taxied away from the parking apron toward 15R/33L that 10,331 foot runway at Athenai. This time there was no time lost. We lined up on the runway and hauled ass for France. We soon reached our cruising altitude and I went up on the flight deck to chat with the 322nd Air Division Crew. There, I was just an airman second class with a headset on, running my gums with the flight officers. Some three hours from now I'd be in the Transient Billets at Chateauroux with only a wake up and a C-119G flight back to my home base at Dreux. My leave time would have expired and I'd go back to work in Transient Alert.
With the engine noise and prop vibration of the A-model C-130 it was hard to talk without screaming at one another. We all talked loudly about our trip to Adana, Turkey for the USAFE Basketball Tournament. Our stay at Incirlik Air Base and visit to town were special for each of us. Non believed we would ever return to Turkey. The crew of the 322nd Air Diviison's C-130A would make many trips back to Incirlik Air Base, but as far as I know, none of our basketball officiating crew ever did this again. This 60-61-style USAFE Basketball Tournament never returned to Adana for a repeat performance. I have been keenly aware, over the many years that this tournament was a high water mark in my Air Force enlistment. Leaving Incirlik AB for a year and to return was a special time in my Air Force life. I think of it often, with a tear in my eye.
Our C-130A began to descend from above the clouds. We were told our landing was just 15 minutes away at Chateauroux Air Base, France. Soon we were on final approach and touched down on the 04/22 runway (11,483 feet). With props placed momentarily in reverse pitch we came to a nice rolling slowdown and taxied to the parking apron with both outboard engines shut down. A Base Alert crew guided us to our spot, chocked the wheels and plugged in the MD-3 power unit.
With engines shut down and the rear ramp open, I was thinking, as I got off the C-130A, "Tomorrow. Thursday. March 2nd, 1961. I'll hop my C-119G flying boxcar "milk run" back to my home base at Dreux. The Air Force fellows stationed at Chateauroux who had been on our flight were already home. Airmen from other bases in France would have to get flights out to their home bases. I went to the Transient Billets and found a room for the night. I then went to get something to eat as the Mess Hall opened for the evening meal. I had a table with some of the guys from the flight and we discussed our adventure in Turkey.
Later that night, I went to a flick with my friend from Louisville, First Lieutenant Godfrey Russman, one of the officials at the USAFE Tournament. He told me when he was to rotate back to the States but I cannot remember the date. Movie over, and a visit to the Snack Bar, shoot some bull with Godfrey and I turned in for the night.
Staff Sergeant Willie Byrd, Jr. the Dreux basketball team player who played for Toul's in the Adana tournament was on this C-119G. We would be back at our home base at 1315 hours (1:15 p.m.) just a short hop away.
We came in over the Ground Control Approach site and then paralleling the runway our C-119G #53-7833 banked to the right to line up with the runway on the 06 end. The runway was 7,900 feet so we had plenty of room to land. With tire noise and puffs of smoke we cam down nicely at our home air base and taxied up near Base Ops to park. Engines shut down and wheels chocked, it was time to get off and get signed back in at Squadron Headquarters. I grabbed my small bag and hightailed it to do just that, signed in and made my way to my barracks. There was my MoPed still chained to the outside stairs. I put away my things and rode over to the snack bar to eat and talk to some airmen about my trip to Turkey. I checked in at Alert so they'd know I'd be there the next day.
"What happened to the C-119G #53-7833?" I wondered as I wrote this story. The C-119's at Dreux Air Base were ultimately sent back to the states in 1961 and 1962 as the base was closing due to France pulling out of NATO. They went back to the Air Force Reserve and National Guard. Some of them were also mothballed and still others were sold to third world countries. The C-119G #53-7833 was later converted to an AC-119G "Shadow" gunship in 1968. It had the model number 102 and construction number of 11250, serving with distinction in South Vietnam beginning in August, 1971. I would say its remains are probably somewhere in Vietnam, rusted and broken down as a total derelict. It had been a new aircraft just 56 years ago!
What happened to C-130A #56-0532? The one we flew back on from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey to Chateauroux Air Base, France? It stayed that extra night in Athens so we could visit the Alex Bar again. This C-130A was given to the South Vietnamese Air Force to use in the Vietnamese War. It is now sitting at what we called Tan Son Nhut Air Base, broken down and corroded in a derelict condition. What a new and sweet Lockheed aircraft it was just 53 years ago.
Along with many other airmen, I had gone before the promotion board in January for my Airman First Class stripe at Dreux Air Base. I found out that there were 12 A/1C promotions made and I was the 13th on the list to be promoted! The ones promoted ahead of me had been A/2C for much longer than my March 1, 1959 date of rank, as I was told when my First Sergeant spoke with me. He said I had fared well and the next time around I would make it. He said I should extend my enlistment for 17 months. He said Dreux Air Base was due to be closed, and I would be sent home four months early if I didn't extend. I felt I should have been promoted, so I was very angry over this situation, primarily because he had said to me, before my meeting with the promotion board, that I was a "lock" to be a new A/1C. He had sweet-talked me and explained how I could move on up the ladder and would soon be a Staff Sergeant in England with the C-130s who were moving from Evreux-Fauville Air Base in France, to Sculthorpe AFB, England. I was already part of the 322nd Air Division by being stationed at Dreux and, he said, I could do all this with no problem.
My date for return from overseas duty, according to special orders number P1, Dated 3 January 1961 was April 18, 1961. I had less than six months left on active duty, and with Dreux Air Base due to close, my choices were limited: I could either extend my enlistment or be separated from the U.S. Air Force!
We talked at some length about me staying in the Air Force and I showed him an article from the Stars and Stripes Europe newspaper covering how so many advisors had been killed in Vietnam. He sat back in his chair and said Vietnam would be nothing for us to worry about. I said I had enough of his persuasive talk and signed the paperwork to be sent back to the civilian world. Then he turned on me, calling me a no good S.O.B!
As I left his office, I really knew, down deep, that he loved me. (Yeah!)
I got all my things in order, sent home my hold baggage, sold my MoPed to another airman and cleared the base in the next few days. I was a real short timer now. I was to report to the USAF Air Traffic Coordinating Officer in Paris April 1, 1961.
Another A/2C, William B. "Hoppy" Birdsong from Kevil, Kentucky, near Paducah, who was in the Air Police Squadron at Dreux, was getting out of the Air Force the same date as I was. One of his squadron friends had a car so Hoppy and I and two other friends were taken by them to Paris for a send-off at Orly Air Base. We were to be at the Paris Air Passenger Center, 9 Rue Littre, Hotel Littre, (Montparnasse District) Paris, no later than 1215 hours (12:15 p.m.) April 1, 1961. Our overseas tour was curtailed due to inactivation of our units.
Our first bar was just up the street from the hotel. It was called the American Bar, and we stayed there long enough for a couple drinks and a chat with the bar girls. Around the corner to the left, and across the street a block or two, we hit the jackpot. There was a nice bar, Cafe Junis, with a jukebox and plenty of young dancing girls. For quite some time there we talked with four people from Switzerland who had come to Paris for the holiday.
Nelly Yaermann and her man friend from Basel, Olga and Gilbert Martin from Allschwil (near Basel) were all in the bar having a great time. We shared our fifth of booze with them, took many photos and just really had a super time with them that evening. I finally got a chance to visit them in 1987, and again in 1991. I had found their address in some of my files at home, wrote to them, and made plans to see them after all the years had passed without thinking of them, and that meeting back in April, 1961 at that bar. (I have been in communication with these friends every year since 1984 now. Even before I went to see them, I wrote to tell them I had found their addresses and was planning to visit them in Switzerland.)
Back to that Easter activity in 1961, we left the Cafe Junis where we had met our new friends, and hit a couple more before we ran out of enthusiasm for bar hopping. We found a restaurant and had something to eat before going back to the l'Hotel Littre. Hoppy Birdsong was wasted. He nearly had to be carried up to his room. I believe he slept in his clothing since he was very unruly, so we couldn't get him undressed. He wanted to be left alone and since it was midnight, we turned back to our rooms for the rest of the night. We were all somewhat inebriated.
In the morning, we all dressed and half-carried Hoppy Birdsong down to the basement for breakfast. After eating and sitting for a spell, we returned to our rooms to clean up and get into our Class A Uniforms. We almost had to stand Hoppy on his head to get him dressed!
At about 1130 hours (1130 a.m.) we gathered at the check-in counter for instructions. Our plane would leave Orly Airport, Paris, and a Staff Sergeant told us the plane would leave at 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.) and that the bus was going to leave the check-in area at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.) for the airport. We sat out the time before boarding the bus in the snackbar of the hotel basement.
Our buddies from Dreux were going to drive us to the airport, following the USAF bus to the terminal. It was time for the bus to depart the Hotel Littre and we followed it to the airport for the 50-minute drive. We parked, hauled Hoppy inside, and sat him down on a waiting room bench. He resembled a wax figure to all who passed by. I checked in at the passenger counter, and since Hoppy and I were on the same plane I gave them a copy my - and his - orders. I pointed to Hoppy and said he just needed "some more rest!" Hoppy would have to show his own ID card at the gate. I couldn't do that for him, but we were at least on the manifest and were now waiting to get away from Paris.
When the time came to board the aircraft, a C-118A Liftmaster #51-3827 headed for Prestwick, Scotland, Birdsong and I said our goodbyes to our fellow airmen from Dreux and checked out through the exit door, walking through Gate #1 to our waiting C-118A. We waved back to the guys as we went up the steps and into the plane doorway. The flight attendant gave us our seats and I strapped Birdsong into his.
The passengers were loading aboard the C-118A, and Birdsong was already out, fast asleep and sawing logs! Soon we'd be airborne. Those C-118A Liftmasters were powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2800 CB-17 "Double Wasp" radial engines which produced 2,500 horsepower! Each had water injection Hamilton Standard 43E60 "Hydromatic" constant-speed props with autofeather and reverse thrust. A C-118A could cruse at 315 miles an hour and had a range of 3,010 miles! The plane carried 54 to 102 passengers and, in civilian service, it was known as a DC6. Pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer flew the C-118A. Some C-118A models were converted to VC-118As, and one, a VC-118A, for President Harry Truman's use, was called The Independence
I'll take a break from my story for an interesting part of history:The C-118A Liftmaster #51-3827 that Birdsong and I flew out of Paris to Trenton, New Jersey that April first, 1961, was later converted to a VC-118 for VIP use. It was used during the Vietnam conflict and was the plane that flew President Nguyen Van Thiew of South Vietnam to Taiwan. This VC-118A flew out of Tan Son Nhut airport on April 25, 1975 as South Vietnam was being overrun by the North.
Back to the story, our C-118A was loaded with approximately 75 passengers. We taxied out to the Orly Airport runway 02/20, at 7,874 feet long, for takeoff. The air crew ran through their engine checks and as my fellow corpse snored loudly, and with wheels up, we left Paris for Scotland. Right on the nose, 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.) we had left Paris and would fly approximately 554 miles which would be somewhere close to a two hour flight. France was behind us now, and our Air Force days were getting shorter.
The seatbelt sign was switched on, and of course Birdsong never had unfastened his during the flight. I tightened mine as one of the flight attendants, a Staff Sergeant, prepared the passengers for landing at Prestwick. There was a little daylight left when we landed and the air terminal was well lit with many outside lights. Another airman and I helped Birdsong down the stairs from the plane. He was wobbly and ashen. In the snack bar we found him a seat with us at a table and in addition to making certain he ate something we forced a glass of tomato juice on him. We had been told our flight out of Prestwick to interim stop, Harmon Air Base in Stephenville, Newfoundland, would leave at 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.) once our C-118A had been refueled and serviced.
Back in our C-118A, seatbelts tightened for takeoff, we were ready for the next leg of our trip. The Air Force had opened the Prestwick, Scotland in 1952/53 using former Royal Air Force (RAF) Facilities. The U.S. Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) 1631st Air Base Squadron was the prime user. Engines started, chocks yanked and we were going toward the 03/21 runway, only 6,000 feet long, but plenty of room for a C-118A to take off. This leg of our trip would be 2,175.58 miles and would take at least seven and a half hours. The present time was 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.) and we were already in the air and headed for Newfoundland.
The wax figure, Hoppy Birdsong was beginning to feel a little more human. We had crossed time zones from Paris, but I was still going by my watch. After seven hours of cruising at around 300 miles per hour, our WAF flight attendants reported that we were close to our destination at Harmon Air Base. Harmon was used as a refueling stop for transatlantic military flights. It also supported three Air Defense Command units. We felt the C-118A descending as our ears plugged up, and soon we were on final approach. This would be our last refueling stop enroute to McGuire Air Base just outside Trenton, New Jersey. After a near perfect landing, we were parked at the terminal. It was 0330 hours (3:30 a.m.) by my Waterbury watch.
The C-118A was being serviced for the 1,094.13-mile trip to McGuire Air Base. Birdsong and I left the plane and stretched our legs, eating something at the terminal snackbar. We scheduled to be back in the air at 0500 hours (5:00 a.m.) by my watchkeeping. It was hard to nap on the plane and I was very sleepy and tired. Our Class A Blue uniforms looked tired, also. Here were two Kentucky boys on our way home after finishing our Air Force careers at Dreux Air Base. Looking back at being at Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey back in February of this year, I was fast getting a lot of air miles under my belt.
Harmon Air Base was just about two miles southeast of Stephenville, Newfoundland which is located on the west coast of the island portion of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base was built by the U.S. Army Air Force, opening in 1941 in the St. Georges Bay area. First the base was called Stephenville, but it was given its present name on June 23, 1948 for Captain Ernest Emery Harmon, a U.S. Army Air Corps Ace, killed in an air crash in 1933. The base became part of the Northeast Air Command in October, 1950. In April, 1957, the Strategic Air Command assumed control with KC-97 Stratotankers.
Somewhere along the way, Airman Second Class Hoppy Birdsong came alive, uttering, "Was I drunk? Or Dreaming? Did we stop in Scotland?" I laughed at him as we boarded our C-118 at Harmon Air Base for the final leg of our trip to Mcguire. I let him know he was still really out of it as we reached Prestwick! As the plane lined upon on Harmon's 09/27 runway at the beginning of a 10,000 foot stretch of asphalt, I was thinking to myself that it was a few minutes to 0500 hours (5:00 a.m.). "Goodness!" I said to Birdsong as the plane left the runway in a nice climb to altitude, "Are you asleep again?" The body had disappeared into dreamland.
Some three hours until touchdown in the United States now, and maybe tomorrow we'll be officially discharged from the United States Air Force. I kept playing this over and over in my head.
The aircraft commander came on the intercom and told us we'd be on final approach in thirty minutes for landing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. I doubted very much if Birdsong heard the announcement. The sun was up as the time was 0830 hours (8:30 a.m.) and it was April 2, 1961 by my watch. The good ol' USA was about to be under our feet. Our C-118A made a superb landing on a 06/24 runway (around 9,000 feet in length). By now, Birdsong was awake and stretching as we taxied toward the air terminal. We parked and started to leave the plane. I thanked the WAF flight attendants with a handshake but Birdsong, still in mild delirium had to give them a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. He was finally back among the living.
When our feet touched the concrete apron at the end of the mobile ramp stairs, we were - at last - on U.S. soil! I looked back at the C-118A that had brought us from Paris, France to McGuire AFB here in New Jersey and thanked the Lord for a safe flight. There were signs showing us the route to an area where we would be processed for separation from the service. We were located in a large barracks and had to give those in charge copies of our orders.
Some in the group of airmen were to be separated from service that day, but Birdsong and I found ourselves having to wait until the following day, Monday April 3, 1961. At that time we'd be given copies of our special orders #AB-256 stating that we were to be relieved from active duty and would be transferred to the Reserve of the U.S. Air Force effective that date, April 3, 1961. At that time we'd be assigned to HG. CONAC (IRS) Air Reserve Records Center, 3800 York Street, Denver, Colorado, effective April 4, 1961. Our Air Force Reserve Grade would be the same as our present grade.
We knew just what to do: find a bunk for the night, get some chow at one of the Transient Billets. We signed in and stored our bags and were off to the mess hall for some stateside chow cookin'. Afterward, we returned to our billets and took a nap. How Birdsong fell asleep so quickly was beyond me. He had seemed to sleep all the way from France!
About 1500 hours (3:00 p.m. we were a bit more rested and decided to have a look around McGuire AFB. It was the same as we had seen at other bases, only this time we were home in the U.S. We found the base had been called Rudd Field in 1926 and was built to support Camp Dix, the army base next to it. McGuire AFB was established as Fort Dix Airport in 1937 and was first opened to military aircraft on January 9, 1941. The facility was renamed Fort Dix Army Base on July 3, 1942 and on January 13, 1948 the U.S. Air Force renamed it McGuire Air Base, in honor of Thomas Buchanan McGuire, Jr. (1920-1945). He was a medal of honor winner and was the second-place flying ace of World War II. He died on January 7, 1945 when his P-38 Lightning crashed in the South Pacific on Los Negros Island during an aerial dogfight.
After sightseeing, we had some chow and went to the base movie theatre. A Walt Disney movie, Disney's 17th animated feature, 101 Dalmations was playing, but I don't recall we saw that film. Unfortunate, since 101 Dalmations was the tenth highest grossing film of 1961 grossing $6,400,000 (U.S. and Canada) in its first year of release and one of the Disney Studio's most popular films of the decade! After whatever movie we saw, Hoppy Birdsong and I visited the snack bar a visit and walked back to our billets. After showers and shaves we turned in, awaiting our separation from the Air force the next day; and Monday April 3, 1961 was there before we knew it! We were due at the separation building at 0800 hours (8:00 a.m.), into our uniforms, and after a rushed visit to the chow hall we came back to gather our bags and sign out at the billets. We would soon be on our way to our home state of Kentucky, no longer on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
As we left the billets, we caw, in the corners of the bay, huge piles of Air Force clothing discarded by the newly-discharged airmen. Someone had scribbled on the wall above them, "To Hell with the Air Force!"
Right on time, 0800 hours (8:00 a.m.) we were seated in a large room, anxious to be on our way. It was Monday, April 3, 1961, a momentous day for Birdsong and I. An Air Force Officer called the room to order. He said copies of our orders were on a large desk and had a Staff Sergeant call out each row to get up and retrieve them. We were thanked for our service to the country, and as each airman's name was called the person went forward to sign some papers, turning in their ID card. We also filled out a mailing envelope so our discharge papers could be mailed to our home. Then we were directed to another table to receive our transportation flight vouchers. Birdsong and I would be going in the same direction: to Louisville, Kentucky!
I had joined the Air Force August 19, 1957 and now I was an honorably discharged veteran, having served in Turkey and France. I got out a few months early due to the Dreux Air Base closing, and I didn't extend my enlistment. Not getting that Airman First Class Stripe was the basic reason I didn't extend. Being told I was "a lock for it" and then being told I was 13th on the list as 12 were selected to receive their stripes, left a raw feeling in me. It did make me feel better that my Air Force years were now behind me.
There was regular bus service from McGuire into Trenton just 15 miles away. I can't recall whether it was a military bus or a local company's. We did meet two other discharged airmen leaving from Trenton. One was going to Washington, DC. We had flights out of Trenton's Mercer County Airport later in the day. The planes wouldn't leave until around 1700 hours (5:00 p.m.) so the four of us got our heads together and decided to go on to Trenton and sightsee around the town. We hopped the bus to Trenton, three of us in Air Force Blue and one in civvies, and went off to see the wizard.
The bus ride was just that - a bus ride to the airport at Ewing, NJ. We found lockers and stowed our belongings, checking in at the ticket counter for our flight to D.C. We then hailed a cab and rode four miles to the central business district of Trenton. We felt like Marco Polo must have felt as we plied the streets of a strange city on our exploratory visit. I don't believe we missed much as we walked the town's avenues and alleyways. Oh, what fun we had there! All too soon it was time to get a taxi back to the Mercer County Airport. One in the front and three in the back seat, we rode like kings of the road over the short four miles. The taxi man was paid and we checked in at the ticket counter for any changes in our flight status. All was right on schedule and, to this day I cannot recall which airline we flew on to Washington, D.C., nor do I have any paperwork that reminds me. Was it Mohawk? Piedmont? Capital or Allegheny Airlines? I do know Birdsong and I were on an Eastern Airlines Martin 4-0-4 from Washington, DC to Louisville, Kentucky. All I know is it wasn't an Eastern Airlines plane from Mercer County/Trenton to D.C., because in my mind's eye I know the logos were different on the planes.
"Now Boarding" was the call directing us to our gate and three of us bid goodbye to our fourth airman who was taking a different flight out at the same time. "So long, New Jersey, it's been good to know you," I said as we lined up on 06/24, the 6,000 foot asphalt runway and went airborne in what seemed like a flash. Just 150-some miles to the capital of the United States wouldn't take long by air, and in a little over an hour we were landing at Washington National, which seemed like we were coming in right on top of the capital dome! With the bright lights gleaming around the capital, we could see the beautiful sight even though darkness was setting in.
The 01/19 runway, 6,869 asphalt feet in length, was where President Roosevelt attended the opening ceremony and observed the first official landing on June 16,1941. The airlines drew straws to determine who could land at National Airport first, and American Airlines won the honor. When it opened, National Airport was considered the "last word" in airports.
Wow! We were right there in Washington, DC where Senator "Jack" Kennedy took the oath of office as 35th President of the United States, back in January of this year. Our plane parked next to one of the passenger gates and we three amigos - no active duty now, simply three real live civilians - walked to the passenger terminal with our carry-on bags. We had a photo taken at the D.C. airport (at left) showing left-to-right, Gary Morland from West Virginia, me in the middle and Hoppy Birdsong at right. So on this April 4, 1961 our flight to Louisville would leave at 1930 hours (7:30 p.m.). The three of us had some food, made one of those instant photos in a booth, and rested. Soon we would say "Goodbye," two of us going to Louisville and one to Huntington, West Virginia.
Birdsong and I wished our fellow airman a good flight, and said goodbye. I now believe this airman was Gary L. Morland. I have the photo of the three of us at Washington National but it was never labeled for some reason.
Just then, our flight number was called and Hoppy and I presented our boarding passes and got on board the Eastern Airlines Martin 4-0-4. After climbing the rear ventral stairs into the passenger section and storing our carry-on bags overhead, the flight attendant directed us to our seats and we fastened up for takeoff.
Thoughts were beginning to rush through my head: two airmen returning from active duty in France, were almost home to Louisville and Kevil, Kentucky. Up, Up and away from the same runway we had flown in on. The Eastern Martin 4-0-4 cruised at about 250 miles per hour and it would take us around two and a half hours to reach our destination. This time, though, it was my turn to nap before Birdsong even thought about it! I quickly conked out for the trip home.
The sensation of my ears doing something woke me to find we were on the glide path for landing at Louisville's Standiford Field (on the north/south runway of concrete and some 6,000-plus feet in length. It was a smooth one-bounce landing and the plane taxied up to the Lee Terminal. Being nighttime, I couldn't see much as I only had taken one flight out on a DC-6C when heading to Texas back in August, 1957 for boot camp from this same terminal.
It was dark, and not as well lit as Washington's National Airport, but the engines were shut down, the ventral stairs were lowered at the rear of the plane and the two flight attendants - on at the top and one at the bottom of the stairs bid Birdsong and I good luck and goodbye.
We walked inside the terminal and Birdsong checked with Ozark Airlines for his flight to Paducah, Kentucky, which was the airport nearest his home in Kevil. His flight would leave at noon the next day which was April 4, 1961. I was certainly not going to go on home and leave him until he got his flight to his hometown. I was after 2230 hours (10:30 p.m.) when we checked in at the Berkeley hotel near Fourth and Broadway in Louisville, having taken a cab ride from the airport.
I had once stayed a night at the Berkley in 1959 when I was home on leave from Adana. An old girlfriend of mine needed some reassuring and, of course, it was all I could do for her as I was being a gentleman.
Tuesday morning, April 4, 1961 came around rather quickly and we were up and ready to get to the airport for Hoppy's flight. We paid our last hotel bill when we arrived so all we needed to do was hand in the room key. We had checked our bags at the airport, except for our shaving kits, so we didn't have to carry them around. We hailed a cab outside on 4th Street and we were off to Standiford Field at 0930 hours (9:30 a.m.).
The cab driver let us off at Lee Terminal and Birdsong and I found some breakfast, got our checked baggage, and made our way to the rear of the terminal to the ticket counter and gate for Ozark Airlines. Birdsong got his ticket and boarding pass and we just sat and reminisced about our time at Dreux Air Base. He had a little English sport car convertible at the time and it allowed us to visit many places around the air base. We even drove to LeHavre on the west coast of France one day. We truly were good friends and hated to part company.
Noon came along fast, so we moved over to the Ozark gate. There I said my last goodbye to William "Hoppy" Birdsong, giving each other a "so long pal" handshake and hug. He made his way to the Fokker F-27 Friendship aircraft that Ozark Airlines had been flying for just over a year by then. He waved back at me and stepped inside the plane door. The F-27 was a twin Rolls Royce Dart Turboprop powered high-wing aircraft seating 32 passengers. In 1956, Fokker signed a licensing deal with the U.S. Aircraft manufacturer Fairchild to construct the F-27 in the U.S. The First U.S. built aircraft flew domestically on April 12, 1958, and Ozark started flying the F-27 in 1960.
The engines were started, and quickly Birdsong's plane headed for the runway which was an east-west, 5,000 foot one. I watched as the F-27 left the ground and climbed almost straight up, it seemed, from the west end of the runway, out over the International Harvester tractor factory. That was the last time I saw "Hoppy" although we talked on the phone and I sent letters and cards to him. I was along with my thoughts as I headed out to find a taxi to take me home.
In front of the Lee Terminal, I found a Yellow Cab for my trip home. Mom knew I was coming home but she didn't know the day. The cab ride out to Okolona, a suburb of Louisville only took but 25 minutes. My address at the time was 1264 Lipps Lane, Okolona 19, Kentucky. Our house was just an eighth of a mile east, off Preston Highway and Lipps Lane was another eighth of a mile north of the Okolona Elementary School which was located on Preston highway.
Hoppy Birdsong, my friend from our Dreux Air Base days, went to work for the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, KY as a prison guard. His Air Police training in the Air Force helped him get the job. I went to see him at the prison in May, 1963, but he had left for his home in Kevil, KY the day before, so I drove down there, but I missed him as his mom said he had driven back to Eddyville. He didn't know I was coming to see him and cell phones didn't exist at the time. I had mentioned I might drop in on him sometime and it was a good ride for the brand new VW Beetle I had just bought.
Birdsong married a girl from around his hometown and had two kids. Later on he married another woman from near his hometown who also had two kids. He left the prison job and found another job as a jail guard in Little Rock, Arkansas. He lived in Cabot, just a few miles northeast from his work. I had talked to him many times over the years.
In 1987 I took a trip back to Dreux Air Base. It was closed, but a caretaker at the front gate drove me around to wherever I wanted to go. He spoke no English and said that over the years there had been some others who had come back to the base for a look. I used my French as much as I could, and we visited my old quarters and took many photos of all aspects of the base. I sent Hoppy copies of these photos which he enjoyed seeing.
Dreux Air Base had been on standby status when I had left France in April, 1961. The C-119G cargo planes were returned to the states and almost all the personnel were transferred to other bases or were discharged. The base was finally closed after sitting idle for a few years, and was returned to the French Government in 1967.
Continuing with my story of Hoppy Birdsong, we'll fast-forward to the
year 1997. He was still working in Arkansas as a Jail Guard. On
Saturday May 2, 1998, he came home from the night shift at the jail
and cleaned up. He ate breakfast and went out to play a couple rounds
of golf. He returned later to dress for a banquet he was to attend
that evening. Later, after the banquet, driving home alone in his
Pontiac Fiero, he was struck head-on by another vehicle. He was killed
instantly at 59 years of age.
I only learned about this a few months after when I had called his home. He had moved to Jacksonville, Arkansas, not far from Little Rock. He was buried in his hometown of Kevil, Kentucky near others of his family. To this day I continue to think about all the great times we had together, playing on the Dreux basketball team and just living and loving life on this great planet earth. I look at the photos of when we were still young men in the Air Force and stationed at Dreux. So full of life, all smiles about everything we did. I miss William B. "Hoppy" Birdsong. I can still see him at the Dreux Air Base front gate, an Air Policeman. I can still see him at the Dreux Air Base front gate, an Air Policeman.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my tales of Dreux as much as I enjoyed putting them together. These tales are actually extracted from a story that I spent over a year on before sending it to Merhaba-USMilitary.com for the website.