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Vignettes of life in ASMARA, ERITREA,

Edition of November 9, 2008

 Various vignettes of life in Eritrea from email exhanges with 'alumni'.  An informal 'oral history' project, capturing for all time (hopefully) 'the way it was'.

Dick Lillienthal, Aug. 4. 2007
I decided I had been there too long when one day I was walking  through a herd of sheep to get to the theatre ticket office and thought that  was perfectly normal.   First day in New York it took me five minutes to get up courage to  cross a street where there was no light. Old ladies with canes were  hobbling across.

By Joe Nix
 This brings to my mind that early in my tour I was walking towards downtown and donkey drawn wooden carts starting passing me with rather 'desert' demeanor drivers on each, carts piled up with I believe goat skins. It was shortly after daybreak so obviously their trek had started in the night.

Ed Norris on the 'Massawa Walks' (my edit of his emails of August 2007)

'The Massawa walks' explanation. Probably in 1953 and overnight to avoid the day heat. 
Walkers  had armed escorts and plenty of company on the way.  "We had telephone reports fron all towns along the way and they were broadcast over WGN. The second walk had a lot more publicity than the first. And was won by Nichola Bervinchak from Minersville, PA. There were prizes from: the Oasis club and probably top 3 club, plus the PX  and somehow a cash prize was gathered up. Not sure where that came from. There was also
a third walk. They tried to make it an annual event. Several people finished the 3rd one but not in a great time.  A person can walk  6 miles an hour at  fast walk. it was 88 miles to Massawa so seems like  16-20 hours would be a good time.  I know we discussed Bervinchek's time and agreed it was very quick and unlikely to be broken. ".

Recap of Nov 7, '08 emails re the Gazelle photo of the driveway into the receiver site.

> Bob Hart wrote: Fantistic picture!  Heretofore the scene has only   been etched in my memory.  How many remember the bus ride to/from   work over the pot holed dirt road?
> Bill Cross wrote:  I sure do remember that ride.  Actually it was  kind of fun, when you think back on it.  Someone would start  singing a song and pretty soon everyone was singing the good ole  standbys:  "Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon, Santy in old  shanty town," and one I never knew the name of, but I knew all the   words: "Her mother never told her, the things that a young girl  should know,  etc. etc. etc."
> Bob Hart wrote:  Bill, perhaps your group in Asmara (1950-1953) was  more lively than mine (1953-1955).  I don't remember singing on the  bus ride to/from work; I only remember those deep ruts and pot  holes in the dirt road that the Italian driver weaved around trying   to avoid.  The ride was a constant back and forth motion, but when  the bus hit a deep pot hole (the driver couldn't avoid them all)  50 or so bodies simultaneously bolted out of their seats.  I think  most of the time I tried to sleep on the bus, if I could.  At least   one of the years during the locust flyover season they had to take  us to work in trucks.  The bus could not gain traction running over  the crushed bodies of the grasshoppers covering the road. That was  some experience!

For you guys that didn't get a copy of these Google Earth photos.  With the help of Ed Norris and Jerry Pry I was able to trace out the bus route to the best of "their" knowledge.  Of the hundreds of times I took that trip I couldn't remember a thing about it.

And a current view of the old Receiver site (Tract C).

Dick Liliienthal

From  Don Papouschek  53-55   The buses were being used when we got there. The Italian cooks were replaced with army staff about '54 and they keep the Italians on in various jobs.   Bus driver was one of them.   I remember us yelling "shift gears".    They knew 1st but they were not sure about 2nd and 3rd.

>FIFTY! I remember 20 - 25, but never fifty. I 1949 it was usually a six-by, rather than a bus, or does my memory fail me?
>Ray Crosby 49 - 52

From Dick  Lilienthal
Yeah, it grew fast in your time and even faster later on. When did they put the 2nd floor on the operations building?  That was before my time.By early 52 there were 300 on the 8604 roster but less than half I would say were in operations.  I don't think there were more than 20 or 25 on a  shift.  The bus was never very full.  Perhaps a few more on days.  By late 53 there were "tents" (canvas covered)  behind all the barracks and the barracks were filling up.

From Dick  Lilienthal
 Wow, I had forgotten about the "dry cleaning" with the gasoline smell.
A number of us had East African Shillings mounted on our  Ronson lighters. I lost mine somewhere.  Didn't Judd (from the Oasis) have a laundry running on the side as well?  He was a "Flat Earth" believer I think, or at least like to argue such.

Hi: Was in Asmara from 48 to 50..Remember Judd who worked at the Oasis Club..He was our house boy before he went to the club. He was replaced by Kelly who also was a good hard worker. Remember going to an Abyssinian Coptic Christening party at Kelly's  home..Also remember the bus ride to the receiver site....Also the 3 hole latrine with the hyenas running around the antenna field...Great memories....Regards to all.  Al Kucinski. Radio Marina 48-50.

From  Walt Wolff
When I was clearing post in June '54, I saw Judd at the Oasis Club and said my goodbyes.  He told me at the time he was leaving shortly for New Delhi to study to become a medical doctor. Also, he went to explain that he had made his business arrangements for while he was gone by turning the operation of the laundry/dry cleaning over to a brother, 2 (or maybe it was 3) farms to other family members, etc. He was the family patriarch now and was making sure all were taken care of during his absence. If Judd made it through school he would have returned about the time the communists took over the govenment and then the long revolution.  I wonder if he survived any or all of that.

From gerry Pry
your memory is fine. It definitly was a six by then.
I believe that that the second floor went on in 1950, but posibly 51. I started to work as a tape puller and reader, but I did not like that job, so I went to the listerner in the litle room to the right.

When did they build the lunch room? I remember them bringing the food out and eating on the job

Allen Elgin, 49-51.  Hi all.  Decided to add my two cents.  The bus was in operation from time to time and one of the main drivers was an Italian by the name of Baldini.  He also took a lot of dry cleaning which always came back clean but smelling of gasoline.  He also was the one who would take our brass belt buckles, chrome plate them and engrave them with an image of one of the towers, our initials and years at Kagnew.  Had mine made  before the Korean war resulted in all of us being extended for one year beyond our enlistment.  I still have it and wear it from time to time.

Mostly, we rode to work in a 6x and I remember going out on the mid shift and even with those old army overcoats on, it was a chilly ride.  Was good reading all the good old remembrances. 

from Allen Elgin
Hi Dick and all you other guys,
Wasn't Judd the bartender at the Oasis Club?  Have a picture of him at the club.  Also just remembered the name of the Italian who more or less ran the mess hall.  His name was Franco.  Never knew his last name.  Loren Northrup was the mess sergeant but didn't see him too often at the mess hall.  Maybe he was in back supervising the cooks.  Franco was always out front at the serving line.  Have a picture of him also.

Don Papouschek
Yes the gas smell.  I had an old shirt that was cleaned on the way out.  Sure it still must have a trace of gas smell in it.

I remember talking to one of the bus drivers and told us he used to run liquor for the mob between NY and Philly.  He got caught and was deported and that is how he ended up in Eritrea.  That could have been Baldini.

Have my Ronson or Zippo with the tower and Asmara on it.   Have to look it up.

Wonder if Abraham Gary Salasie  (worked in the PX)  is still wearing my dark blue suit I left him?  Seem to remember his wife died of an infected

What was the name of the girl that sang with the "Boys" band that played at the club?  

From Allen Elgin
The band as I recall was Luana and The Boys and of course she was Luana.  Have pictures of that band and Luana singing.  They used to perform at the Macambo and once in a while, Ray Coyngham would get up and sing.  His favorite was "Blue Moon".  Ray was at Ft Devens during one of my tours there and I believe he retired at Devens.  Was active in a little theater group.  However, he passed away several years ago.  All these e-mails going back and forth sure does stir up a lot of memories as well as many names.

From Ed Norris
Some more memories: Riding the 6x6 down the hill  going to ops (or returning) and approaching the intersection with the main drag. Everyone on the truck yelling "Yehudi" at the Arab hauling cart drivers and getting pelted with cactus fruit, rocks or whatever they had  handy in return. Doing that today would get us killed. Was just "crazy" americanos then. Baldini was a buddy of mine for all 3 tours in Asmara and he supplied me with old Italian contour maps of the entire country. I found some really great hunting spots with them. Allen, I seem to remember someone playing trumpet at the Macombo also? How about Garmus's cartoons? Anyone remember them? Anglietti sound asleep taking code? Or him hearing bells? How about the horseshoe pits during day lunch break? How about every dog on Radio Marina appearing with a tie on the morning we were required to start wearing them?  and so many more.... We are a very unique group.


Dick Lillienthal
Allen, I seem to remember someone playing trumpet at the Macombo also?
Eddy Reinert?  He died not long ago.  Photos from Okie.
- -

from Allen Elgin
Thanks for sending those pictures, Dick.  Ed Reinert, Gene Price, Don Jones and I rented a house on Via Casati for about six months.  Good place to have parties.  Ed really played a mean horn.  I fianlly located him just about 50 minutes from where I live here in Florida.  Attempted to contact him by phone and finally had a call from his former daughter-in-law advising that he was at that time in a nursing home in Titusville, FL.  Before I had an opportunity to go visit him, got word from one of the guys; maybe it was Okie that Ed had passed away.
In any event, it was great seeing those shots.

Gerry Pry
A fews more memorys:
The smell of dung burning on the cool evenings on the way to the receiver site in a 6 x 6 and the men doing their morning business on the side of the hill on the way to work.

from Walt Wolff
In '49 and '50 we used 6X6's going to work.  I still remember riding in the truck during the riots in Mar '50 and, in the morning, we could see several bodies in the streets.
Also 2nd floor of operations was not added until at least after xmas time '50. So, 1951?  Remember the 3 hole latrine behnd the Ops Bldg? I was working w/ "Aggie" Aglieti when he was listening to Christmas Church chimes during the Xmas Holidays when he went out to the latrine about 0300. ?????

from  Walt Wolff
Baldini, now I remember the driver's name.  He had been to the states and spoke reasonable English.  I don't know his history, but there several Itals who had been members of the Fascist Party and were expelled from U.S. and were not welcome back to Italy.

The lunch room/snack bar must have been added  in late '52 or '53, I do remember it was open during the eclipse: 90% or so in Eritrea and 100% in the Sudan. That must have been in '53 because I was then working days. Eclipse story:  One of the guys, can't remember who, went out to the snack bar where he agitated one of  the workers, who got upset and made a mistake. Whoever it was,  told the mistake maker, "You piss me off! Just for that, I'm going  to turn the sun off".  He left the snack bar.  Shortly after he returned, seemingly over being angry. Suddently It started to get dark and it was only early afternoon.  The Eritreans started to get frantic and begged him to go back and turn the sun back on.
Which he did.  What did they know - Americans could do anything.. Like Jerry Pry, I didn't like Auto Morse and got transferred to Manual Morse.  My excuse, if I remember right, was that I wore glasses and said reading the tapes was causing headaches, or giving me eye problems, or whatever.

From Dick Lillienthal
The snack bar was in operation when Chuck and I got there in early '52.  The Eritrean in the snack bar  was Toldai (John).

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