Istanbul, Turkey. Formerly Constantinople. Getting off the plane the smell is instantly noticeable. Turkish cigarettes and other odors cling to the air. This is Istanbul International Airport. We were debarking from an Air Force Super Constellation that brought us via Bermuda, Madrid, Tripoli, and Athens. The Madrid stopover was necessitated by a failure of one of the four engines over Gibralter. We stayed there overnight while the engine was replaced.
Istanbul Hilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After staying over night at the Istanbul Hilton for about $15.00 American, we were flown to Karamursel AFB, which would turnout to be our home for nearly three years. This flight was a rickety Air Force C-47 that was from our duty station there to pick us up. The pilot, who eventually became a family friend, had to. at times, poke a broomstick that he carried in the cockpit, up into the engine on start-up. I don’t know what this accomplished, except to raise the eyebrows of new arrivals.
Karamursel AFB, was the home of TUSLOG Det. 3, (Turkish United States Logistics Group),a unit of the United States Air Force Security Service. But other branches of the service were represented there, too. It is on the Sea of Marmara southeast of Istanbul. Our mission was monitoring communications of our friends north and east of the Black Sea.
United States Air Force Security Service emblem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yalova, Turkey upper left. Just north of it you can see the Bosphorus canal that separates the two parts of Istanbul, between the Sea Marmara and the Black Seas. Meditereanean is at far left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Initially, Ann stayed in the States, as I didn’t have the rank for the Air Force to pay her way. There were no quarters for families on the base and married couples lived in Yalova, a village about 12 miles away. But after living in a barracks environment for about two months, I asked Ann to sell the Buick and use the money for a plane ticket to Turkey. A few weeks later, she made her first plane trip ever, and I met her in Istanbul. After a night at the Hilton, we took the ferry to Yalova, about an hour’s trip.
I had found an apartment on the 4th floor of a building in Yalova. Another military couple was the previous tenant, and our neighbors in the building were all military, too. The rent was about $11.00 per month. These low prices were because of the exchange rate. We had a maid, $3.00 monthly and a houseboy, another $3.00. These rates were American money, but with exchange rates the wages were average for the Turkish. The apartment was two bedrooms and a kitchen. The bath had a hot water tank with a fire-box underneath. You had to build a fire before going to bed to have hot water in the morning. Then you built another fire to have hot water in evening. Our house boy took care of that, lugging firewood up the four flights of stairs. He also met us when we came home from work, to carry any of our groceries, etc. upstairs for us.
But I am getting ahead of myself. After my own arrival earlier and getting settled in, I stopped by the Airmen’s Club, that was in the base fire station. It was temporary and plans were in the offing for a permanent club. Anyway, some musicians were jamming one evening. They were using instruments from the special services department. My sax was still in transit so I picked up this battered looking alto and and used it. I was immediately invited to play with a group that was playing a few gigs around the area. It was made of of Navy personnel mainly. We played at the NCO club a time or two and down at a submarine base at Golcuk, Turkey.
To do the appearances at the club at Golcuk, we needed a vehicle to haul the large equipment, drums, base, etc. One of the sailors worked at the motor pool, and we “midnight requisitioned” a van of some type, and sneaked it past the military police on the gate.
Ann arrived then, and I ran into some Air Force musicians that also had a group and we re-organized. We really could put on a show. We had a piano player, upright bass, trumpet, sax, (me) and drums. We romped to the style of Louis Prima. I fittingly happened to play a Sam Butera style at that time. What a blast it was! We would occasionally go to Istanbul and entertain at a USO club there. We had to take our equipment on a ferry across the sea. Quite a chore, but there was always a bunch of Turkish civilians that were more than anxious to help us.
Turkish ferry. Harbor at Istanbul, Turkey. @Bob Zeller.
Ann had gotten a job as office manager for the Officers’ Club and was instrumental in getting us to play at the dances there. We played for the grand opening of the new NCO club, and many dances after that. It was during one of those outings that a USO Show was there for extra entertainment. The caracaturist that drew the likenesses of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was there with the group and he thought I was a great candidate for a caracature. Below is the result. I think he liked my Adam’s apple.
Our trumpet player was a member of one of the major big bands before entering the Air Force. He was only serving a two-year hitch and was planning on re-joining that orchestra. I don’t remember the name of that band.
Our upright bass player, Les White, had been a radio announcer, and he was our MC. We didn’t do many vocals, as we were more of a show band.
By now you may be wondering where my photography came in. It was at this Air Base that I bought my very first 35mm camera. It was a German-made Kodak Retina IIIs rangefinder type. Of course, I had always owned a camera of some sort, but they were the cheap little box cameras of the era. The Brownie Hawkeye comes to mind. I started shooting Kodachrome slides with a film speed of ASA 10. To me the best slide film ever made.
Turkish Fishing Boat @Bob Zeller
I began to get serious, and I enrolled with the home study course from the New York Institute of Photography. I shot hundreds of slides while in Turkey, but during the shipment of our household goods back to the States many of them were lost or damaged. But while I was there, I got acquainted with the official base photographer and he let me use the darkroom. In return I let him use some of my own photos to use for the base commanders briefings for VIPs that dropped by.
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. ©Bob Zeller
Since Ann and I were doing so well, with our “side jobs”, we extended our tour an additional year. My job on base was Chief Cashier and in charge of the payroll. I was responsible for paying all military and indigenous civilian personnel at the air base, plus two smaller detachments on remote sites on the Black Sea. Most of the time, I was sitting in a cashiers cage, with a .45 caliber pistol at my side, handing out thousands of dollars each day.
It was on one of these days, in September of 1961 that I felt a twinge in my chest while I was sitting there. Uh oh!………. To be continued…………
Watch for Part V in about another week. If you missed the first three parts, click the links below.
Part I, Part II, Part III