Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Into Africa: John Marshall serving in Ethiopia

Note: This is the second part of the little biography I wrote of my father a few years ago.  It will, no doubt, be mainly of interest to family and friends. Here's Part I. -- DM

Chapter Two: Year in Ethiopia

The Greek historian Herodotus puzzled at length about the Nile River.  What was its source?  He followed it by boat for many weeks, then quizzed those who seemed most knowledgeable, but not even the locals seemed to have a clue.  That it flowed through Libya, and some place he called Ethiopia, was clear.  That there was a big lake, he knew, but no word came from beyond the arid and seemingly empty desert past that.  

And why did the Nile act like no other river?  In particular, why when other rivers were at their driest in August, did the Nile begin to flood?  Herodotus floated three popular theories: that the Nile was part of some “world current” and drew its source (somehow) from the ocean, that winds pushed the waters up somehow, or that the Nile flooded from snowmelt.  This latter theory, which seemed most prosaic and sensible (held by Euripides and later Ptolemy, among others), Herodotus nevertheless pronounced the most daft of all: everyone knows Libya is too hot for snow, how could regions further south be any colder?  Herodotus’ own theory was the most complex, and perhaps daft for so commonly sensible an observer, of all.  

The truth is the Nile forks, and 90% of its flow comes from the Blue Nile, which flows out of modern Ethiopia.  Western Ethiopia, which rises in places to over 14,000 feet, gets quite a bit of rain, especially in July and August, up to eighty inches a year in some places.  (And yes, even a little snow, in the Semien Mountains.)  

It would be in northern “Ethiopia” (now Asmara, the capital of modern Eritrea) that John would be stationed during much of his army service.  He was attached to a large base (see long, thin buildings in Google Map photo of Asmara below, which I believe were the barracks, still apparently in use.  The present US Embassy may be that building with the donut hole at middle top) around which now spreads a city of some 630,000 people, about as large in population as Seattle.  (Though then doubtless much less populace.)  The city lies at some 7300 feet, and therefore has a pleasant, warm but not hot climate which gets usually two mildly rainy periods a year, and two dry periods.  

Kagnew Station was a key listening post during the Cold War, operated by the US Army (at first with permission from Britain) from 1943 to 1977.  Originally the site had been an Italian radio station – the Italians having invaded Ethiopia, left some of their best architecture behind in Asmara.  

One soldier who was stationed there recalls an even finer article of Italian origination.  An Italian movie director brought his crew to Asmara to make a film.  When the leading lady appeared, dipping in and out of a swimming pool he was at, everything else went hazy for a while.  She was an 18 year old Italian beauty whose name, he recalls, was Sophia.  Later she would acquire the last name of Loren.  

John was assigned to vehicle maintenance for the Second Signal Service Battalion.  It was a prosaic job, but the landscapes, and his adventures there, would haunt him forever.  A soldier stationed at Kagnew in the 1960s commented romantically:  “It was a place in which a story took place which would require a Shakespeare to write, in a landscape which would require a Rembrandt to paint.”

Stan had been the first to join up.  In April of 1946, Stan enlisted in the Army, learned aviational electronics, and served in the Signal Corps in towns across Alaska, including Fairbanks and Barrow.  After or between tours in Korea and Vietnam, Stan was stationed for a time with the Air Defense Missile Command at one of several batteries protecting Seattle from Soviet bombers, based in Redmond, "before Microsoft was thought of."  These batteries included the Nike Ajax (1956) and later Nike Hercules missiles, prepared to shoot down subsonic Soviet bombers should they stray into the Seattle area:

"A double launch site with twice the missiles of a usual launch facility, was in operation from September 1954 to March 1974.  In June 1958 S-13 and 14 became Nike Hercules sites.  The control site was at 95th Avenue NE and 172nd and today is a National Guard facility with the former barracks and administrative buildings in use."

 The launch site, pictured above, was a mile and a half east.  The control site would play a small role in the life of a later John Marshall, an airplane-loving grandson who would attend Civil Air Patrol meetings on this site.  

Wikipedia tells the story of Kagnew base:
“In March 1941 Roosevelt administration declared Ethiopia eligible for the military aid program known as the Lend-Lease program.  This was done to support the British troops in Libya and Egypt which were fighting Germany's Afrika Korps.  The focus of the lend-lease program was in Eritrea, a former Italian colony which strategically bordered the Red Sea. British forces had established a communications base at the former Italian radio communications base named called Radio Marina, which was located in Asmara, Eritrea.  The British used the former Italian name for the base, Radio Marina.  The United States received access to the base from the British beginning in 1942.  The United States would initially call the former Radio Marina the "Asmara Barracks," but the name "Radio Marina" would become the more enduring name for the base until the base was officially named "Kagnew Station."  In 1943 a seven-man detachment refurbished the former British facilities and began testing the new equipment they installed. Eritrea's geographical location; 15 degrees north of the equator at an altitude of 7,600 feet (2,300 m), was excellent for sending and receiving radio signals.  Early testing proved so promising that the War Department moved to expand operations before Asmara Barracks officially opened.
“On June 1, 1943, two officers, one warrant officer and 44 enlisted men began intensive training at Vint Hill Farms to man Radio Marina. In December, 4 officers and 50 enlisted men staffed Radio Marina, a base located on an arrowhead-shaped tract of land, designated as Tract A by the U.S. Military. While the United States had access to base since 1942, a formalized agreement to permit the United States use of the site did not exist until 1952 when the Ethiopian government, the federation of Eritrea and the United States signed an agreement.
“In 1953, the base officially acquired the name of Kagnew Station.
“Kagnew was supplied by planes from the U.S. Airbase in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and by ships docking at the Red Sea port of Massawa.  Its chapel had a seating capacity of 220 and an over-flow space to accommodate 150 more persons. The Guest House had eight rooms, a lobby and a kitchen, all made of concrete-block construction. The Roosevelt Theatre seated 320 patrons and was equipped with a CinemaScope screen and the latest sound and projection equipment. The gymnasium had a regulation basketball court with bleachers, retractable backboards and an electric scoreboard. It also housed ten bowling lanes, a boxing ring, gymnastic equipment, a locker room and shower rooms.  The Dependent School had 17 classrooms, a large auditorium, science laboratory and library.  A combined laundry-and-dry-cleaning plant could clean 50,000 pieces a month.  KANU TV and KANU Radio provided television and radio services.  Kagnew also had the usual Commissary, Post Exchange, snack bar and post office.  The base Service Center included a music room, craft shop, photography darkroom, library and an auto shop.  A football field, softball field and an indoor pool were also available.  Children could play golf on the $22,000 miniature golf course; and adults played on the 18-hole golf course.  Kagnew Farms, located northwest of Tract E, on the old Radio Marina Transmitter Site, became a recreation and picnic are known as Kagnew Farms until construction of STONEHOUSE at the same site in 1964. Kagnew Farms contained a skeet range, a small-bore rifle and pistol range, the Afro-American Racing Club's banked-dirt oval track (Used for car races, motorcycle scrambles and gherry cart races.), and a large picnic area.
“The military passed off Kagnew Station as a "telephone relay station" to disguise its real activities.  The secret of Kagnew Station was kept not by hiding the equipment but by openly displaying the equipment and passing it off as something innocent: a telephone relay station and deep space research site.  In 1964, an 85-foot (26 m) dish and a 150-foot (46 m) dish arrived in Massawa and were brought up the mountain in sections to Kagnew Station.  The dishes were used at Stonehouse the military's "Deep Space Research Site," which was a joint project of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Army Security Agency (ASA).  Other agencies operating at Kagnew Station included the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Army Security Agency (ASA), the U.S. Strategic Communications Command (STRATCOM),the Navy Communications (NAVCOMM) and a signal research unit. Located on nearly the same longitude as the Soviet deep space command center in the Crimea, the large Stonehouse antennas were used to monitor telemetry from a variety of Russian spacecraft . . .
“The United States spent 77 million dollars building Kagnew Station.  In terms of 2006 dollars, Kagnew Station would have cost 495 million dollars to build . . .”
Unlike most expensive government projects, Kagnew Station came to an eventual end:
Fighting between the Eritrean resistance and the Ethiopian government forces began affecting operations at Kagnew Station in the 1970s. In March 1971, 3,500 Americans remained at Kagnew Station, 1,900 personnel (1,700 of whom were military) and 1,600 dependents. By July 18, 1972 the U.S. Personnel at Kagnew Station was reduced to 900 personnel. In March 1974, only 100 civilian technicians remained to operate the residual communications facility, along with their families, and eight to ten U.S. military personnel.
“On the night of January 31, 1975, heavy fighting broke out in Eritrea and incoming rocket-propelled grenades landed inside the Tract E compound. This began a season of frequent nighttime firefights between the Eritrean resistance and the Soviet-backed Ethiopian forces. On 14 July 1975, gunmen abducted two Americans and four Ethiopians from Kagnew Communications Station. The Americans, Steve Campbell and Jim Harrel, worked for Collins International Service Company (CISCO), a government contractor. On Friday 12 September 1975, the ELF raided the US facility at Asmara, kidnapping a further eight people, including two Americans.
“On February 12, 1976 a meeting at the White House Situation Room took place discussing Kagnew Station. Lt. General Smith stated, "Right now fleet operations are dependent on Kagnew. The Navy has a strong interest in keeping it. They have reaffirmed to me that if they don't have Kagnew they would need a similar site elsewhere." At one point in the discussion, Mr. Noyes said, "Yes. If we didn't have Kagnew there would be communications delays 25% of the time.
“By December 1976 the only critical function appeared to be Mystic Star. In the same memorandum, DOD stated, "It recommends closing Kagnew by September 1977 if Mystic Star can be relocated . . . “
I asked if Stan found more to talk about with his younger brother after John enlisted in the Army too.  They were doing different kinds of work, he pointed out, and while John was with the Army Security Agency, he was in automotive support.  Even if he overheard any secrets, which he was not cleared for, he could not have talked about them.

So John never talked about his work in Ethiopia, or about the work his unit did there, but about hunting trips, visits with missionaries, sometimes about the people, and sometimes using a few words of Italian he had picked up.  (Not, presumably, from Sophie Lauren.)  

John often recalled a hunting trip during which, as the hunters neared their destination towards dusk, their guide warned in Italian of “leopardo.”  John recalls his fear that a ferocious wild cat would spring on them suddenly from out of the bush.  Later he learned (he would say) that leopardo actually meant “rabbit” in Italian.  (On-line dictionaries say the word for rabbit is coniglio, so I am unsure exactly what the guide was trying to say.)

The main animals John recalled seeing, were jackals, wild pigs, and antelopes: he mounted the head of one of the latter on his study wall in Seattle.  Apparently American soldiers put quite a dent in the antelope population around Asmara, because an on-line site speaks of them vaguely in the past tense.  

John especially enjoyed visiting missionaries who were working in Ethiopia.  I think this had a life-long impact on his thinking about the world, broadening his mind and opening his vision up to God's work around the world.  West Side would be a missions-minded congregation, and perhaps was already.  The son of their friend Ron and Connie, Larry Burke, would work with Wycliffe in the neighboring country of Chad.  John and Pat were on the West Side missions committee for some years, partly because of my work in East Asia, but also because they felt a genuine interest in the work of God around the world, and a kinship with people like Don and Martha Wilson, and Paul and Margaret Brand, that developed into warm friendships.  

When he moved to Alaska, as we shall soon see, John also naturally fell in with the same sort of people - wonderful missionaries who would become life-long friends.  

John sometimes recalled with sadness, however, that one of the most seemingly vibrant missionaries he knew in Ethiopia later committed suicide.  

By the early 1950s, “Johnnie came marching home again,” or riding home, and was ready to settle down, like a proper soldier, with a beautiful girl by his side.  

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