Kirkpatrick, Robert W.: Europe, North Africa: 1954 – 1956

The period of 1954 through 1956 will only include two years of my sojourn with the Dependent School system, and will only include Air Force Schools.

In 1953, I was Supt. of Schools in Rockford, Washington and my High School Principal, Ray Reistad, had applied for a position with the Air Force Dependents Schools in Europe, and had received notice to appear for interview with Mr. Robinson (to be referred to as Robie from here on). A position with the Dependent School System sounded good to me, and I asked Ray about the possibility of my also getting an interview with Robie. Ray and I found a telephone number on the application form and called. I was also given permission to come for an interview. We talked with Robie and later received notification that both of our names had been put on an alternate list.

In June 1953, Ray was called to go to Bordeaux, France. Then in January or February of 1954, I received word from the Personnel Office saying that if I was still interested, I should update my paperwork and turn it in again. I did as directed, and this time I was called to another interview in Portland, Oregon. At that interview there were three administrators applying for positions: Ray Reed, John Root, and I. We were all given positions and told that if we were accepted we would be notified by April 29th. I received nothing before April 29. The railroad Station Master called to tell me he had a message for me. I had been accepted. In my 17 years in the system and 3 years on the recruiting team, that was the only time I know of, of a date projected like that for a reply, which proved to be so accurate.

The message I received had several interesting statements: 1. I had to answer within 24 hours or the offer would be withdrawn. 2. If any member of the family refused to fly, the offer would be withdrawn. The message also stated that I would be going to Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya, as the Superintendent of the school.

You can imagine that Florence and I really had to get ourselves into high gear. I called our County Superintendent for his advice and, strange as it might seem, he knew of an Air Force Sgt. who had just returned from Wheelus. We called the sergeant and told him our situation and he invited us his home to show us slides, etc., of Wheelus and Tripoli. So after spending the evening with him and his wife, our minds were made up, and the next day our acceptance telegram was sent off. We had also been told that I would leave for Libya in August, but my family would have to come later after I had found a place for them to live.

This, of course, left most of the preparation for this move up to my wife, Florence. I suppose this was also a taste of what most of the wives that followed their husbands went through. Florence arrived in Tripoli by boat on Thanksgiving Day and not by plane as we had been led to expect. Her train trip from Washington State to New York followed by the 15-day voyage from New York to Wheelus with our two children, Bill and Adele, ages six and four, was not a particularly pleasant one. When she stepped off the ship she said she hoped she would not have to turn around and return to the U.S. via a remodeled Victory Ship.

Starting my job in Wheelus, I guess that I should describe my first night on the Base. My plane landed at Wheelus about two or three in the morning with quite a number of school personnel aboard, including me, the Superintendent, and several teachers including one male teacher, Bob Rutt.

Mrs. Cronehardt from Civilian Personnel met us, a very charming lady who proved to be a good friend of the teachers. She had a bus waiting for us, the ladies were taken to the women’s B.O.Q. and Bob Rutt and I were taken to the men’s B.O.Q. We men were each given our room numbers and a key and with that, Mrs. Cronehardt and the bus departed.

I found my room and opened the door and saw a nice clean B.O.Q. room, but the only thing it didn’t have in it was a bed! I decided to check with Bob Rutt and found that he also had a nice clean room, but it was equipped with a bed. It was about four in the morning and I was tired so I started checking around and found a small room just inside the BOQ entry door with a bed in it. I thought that perhaps an orderly might come in to occupy it and looking outside I saw two lights about a block away which I decided to investigate hoping to find some help. I walked to the lights and found it to be the hospital. The fellow in charge there said he didn’t have any beds available but he would let me sleep on an operating table. So now I had two alternatives: either a bed in the orderly room or an operating table. I chose the orderly room bed and went back the BOQ to see if it was still available. It was, so I finally got to bed, and I slept until fairly late the next morning. Bob Rutt, on the other hand, awakened early and started out. I don’t know where he went, but every place I went, I was greeted with a profuse apology for my not having a bed to sleep in. I can assure you that sometime during the day, a bed found its way into my assigned BOQ room.

I found the school was all that I could have expected and it had been left in excellent condition by my predecessor, Walt Radford. I liked my office and my two very capable secretaries, Marge Rabby, an officer’s wife, and a redheaded English lady whose name I cannot recall. I think these two women were among the best secretaries I had in my 17 years’ experience in the DOD schools. The school, nice as it was, had one huge deficit: We were short 25-30 student desks, and we had students sitting on the floor. This shortage of desks seemed strange since there was no shortage of any other supply items. The Schools Officer went TDY to Nouasseur, the U.S. Air Force Supply Depot in Morocco. He returned empty-handed. I went TDY to Germany for the same purpose and also came home with no desks.

Close to the school grounds, and within sight as I sat at my desk looking out the window, were two tents. I never saw anyone around them and my curiosity was aroused. What was in those tents? One day my curiosity got the best of me, and I went over and peeked in. To my amazement, I saw a large crate in one tent with the words SCHOOL DESKS stenciled on it. I called the School’s Officer and asked him to come to my office. Then I took him out to take a peek into the mysterious tent. He was amazed and said, Kirk, I will get a prison detail tomorrow and put these together for you but don’t tell a soul about this. On T.D.Y., I went to Nouasseur and you flew to Wiesbaden to find them, and somebody will hit the ceiling if they find out these desks were here all the time.” I was satisfied now that I had sufficient desks to get every student off of the floor, and I never heard the school-desk problem ever mentioned again.

About the same time the missing desks were found, an event was taking place which would change the course of the Air Force Schools for many years: The year was 1954 in which the North Central School Accrediting team was supposed to be including the Air Force High Schools for accrediting purposes.

I was with the team when they visited Izmir, Turkey and Tripoli, Libya. The Air Force was to take over the Navy Dependents Schools in Izmir the following year, and the Navy was trying to get Izmir High School accredited as an adjunct of the Naples school. The accrediting team would not buy this procedure so Izmir was not accredited that year. We then went back to Wheelus and they did accredit Wheelus. The team then went on to Wiesbaden, Germany, to report to General Tunner. The essence of their report was that the Air Force didn’t have a school system, but a group of schools run by each Air Force Base. This was a true statement. They recommended that a Director be appointed and that person should set up a Staff Headquarters. Dr. Joseph Mason was employed as Director. Dr. Mason was a good friend of the President of North Central, so that made for a relatively close relationship between the two organizations. Upon Dr. Mason’s arrival, the 7135th School Group was born.

While General Tunner approved this new arrangement, some of the Air Force Units were not in favor of it. Major-General Moore in England, 3rd Air Force, and Major-General Glantzberg in Morocco, the 17th Air Force, appeared to be the two that were the most antagonistic to the new procedures. The Air force Headquarters in Wiesbaden divided the European Area into four districts: Area #1 was the England Area; Area II was Germany and Scandinavia; France was Area Ill; and the Mediterranean Area became Area IV. The Air Force appointed the following as Superintendents: Clarence Kennedy, Supt of Area I; Mary Palmer, Area II; Whit Pierson, Area III; and “Kirk” Bob Kirkpatrick, Area IV.

To my knowledge, Area II and Area III had no problems in making the transition, but for Areas I and IV this was not the case. England, Area I, was in the 3rd Air Force with Maj. Gen. Moore in command. Area IV was in the 17th Air Force with Maj. Gen. Glantzberg in command. Neither of these commands wanted the schools to be taken out of their command. I cannot comment on the problems in Area I in this two-year period, but may do so in Volume II of your books.

As for me in Area IV, my family was due to arrive in Tripoli by boat on Thanksgiving Day 1954. Sometime prior to this, I was told of the decision that I would be Superintendent over the whole Mediterranean Area. Everything was very secretive at that time; even that I would be moving to 17th Headquarters in Rabat was a secret.

So, on that wonderful Thanksgiving Day in 1954, I met Florence and Bill and Adele on the dock in Tripoli Harbor. In greeting Florence, I was able to say “Don’t do much unpacking because we are moving to Rabat.” In Sept 1955, we finally did move to Rabat, Morocco.

Needless to say, we did unpack in Tripoli. Our year in Tripoli was a nice year. We had a great group of about twenty-five teachers, and with the exception of two, they were all excellent teachers; and those two did not stay long.

Our son, Bill, age six, had started school when he was still in the U.S. He had only been in school in Tripoli after Thanksgiving, and was in school nine days when he came down with chicken pox, which he had been exposed to aboard ship. During Christmas vacation, Adele came down with the mumps having played with friends who had also been exposed to it aboard ship. After getting back in school after Christmas, Bill came down with the mumps and after another few days in school on recovering from the mumps, both Bill and Adele were back in bed with the measles, which had arrived with another group of dependents on the next boat from the U.S.

That Easter vacation the Fred Polas and the Kirkpatrick’s were planning a trip to Tunis. Young Bill had a sore throat and fever which the doctor thought might mean he was coming down with something and he discouraged us from leaving, so the Polas left on the trip without us. About the middle of the vacation, the Kirkpatrick’s were well enough to start off, hoping to meet up with the Polas in Tunis. About halfway there, we met the Polas hurrying back to Tripoli with two sick children. So each family had a half a vacation in Tunis but not together.

Bill in his fast year had lost a month of school traveling, and another six weeks ill with chicken pox, mumps and measles. So with one month in first grade in the States, and only a week or so back in school between each bout of chicken pox, mumps and measles, he had been out of school much more than he had been in. However, with good teachers and help from his Mom and Dad he made it through the first grade satisfactorily.

That first year overseas, Florence, with nursing Bill and Adele through three months of illnesses, followed by several months working for the Consolidated Non-Appropriated Welfare Fund, didn’t get much done that tourists usually do in a new country.

Well, our first year came to an end and a new school year was about to begin; Ray Reed came to be the Principal taking my place and I still didn’t have orders to go to Rabat. Teachers were coming in, and we had requisitioned for a P.E. teacher. We were watching each plane that came in to see if our P.E. teacher was aboard. One night a plane came in and a little short Italian got off and told us he was our P.E. teacher. Then, another six-footer got off and announced that he was our P.E. teacher. Finally, a second six-footer got off and he had also been sent over on our one requisition for a P.E. teacher. Fortunately, all of them had extra qualifications and we were able to keep all three. One of the three, Taylor Lewis, retired in Grants Pass, Oregon, where we visited him in 1990. He had retired after having spent 30 years with the Dependent Schools. Many of the teachers with us that first year in Wheelus moved on to “greener” pastures and stayed with the system many years.

I finally received my orders for Rabat, Morocco, so Florence, and I, with Bill and Adele, flew off into another adventure. I got the family situated in an apartment. I then went to the unit where my job was to be located. I found that the 17th Air Force had filled the position with a fellow named Joe (I have forgotten his last name). Joe was the civilian in charge of the military education program. 17th Air farce felt they had the authority to fill the position. After all of the friction was over, Joe and I became fairly good friends. Cecil Gyer joined us as my deputy. Cecil liked to talk, but he was a very good elementary educator. The 17th Air Force was kind enough to give each of us a desk and chair, but Joe was doing the job Cecil and I were supposed to be doing. This went on for several months, the most frustrating time of my life. I even thought of returning home. This was part of the antagonism, I spoke of earlier, between the 17th Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Europe over who would operate the Dependent School System.

I finally got an appointment with the Lt. Col. who was over the Major who was heading my department. I explained that I wasn’t there to wreck their school system, but was just as interested in the schools as they were. This conference eased the tension that had been building since I arrived to take over the duties assigned to me.

We then heard of many negative comments coming from the full Colonels in the Headquarters. Mr. Brock, the Principal of the Rabat School went home, I believe because of illness. At that time, Cecil’s and my workload not being too heavy, Cecil took over the Rabat School as Principal. While Cecil was there, a most interesting thing happened: the French teacher failed Maj. Gen. Glantzburg’s son and asked for a parent interview–(can you imagine such a thing?) Gen. Glantzburg went to the school and reported to Cecil Gyer to see if he could arrange an interview with the teacher. Cecil asked Gen. Glantzburg if he would like to go to the teacher and watch her teach and have his interview.

The General said he couldn’t do that. Cecil said “General, you could if you visited all of the classrooms, would you have time to do that sometime?” The General did visit all the classrooms and had the interview with the teacher. The General’s follow-up after that visit was nothing short of a miracle: He wrote a letter to all of his staff and told them he had visited the school and found it to be an excellent school; and that from then on Mr. Kirkpatrick and Mr. Gyer should have all their support. He said further that if anyone had any problems, they should go and personally check it out. From that time on the new school plan had complete support from the 17th Air Force. Our weeks of frustration had ended!

When we had just arrived in Rabat, Florence was told, very secretively by several Air Force wives, not to unpack too quickly because 17th Air Force Headquarters was planning to move to Tripoli, Libya. Thus began another year of “playing the waiting game.”

An interesting episode concerning this wait: Our French landlady had promised us a telephone. Quite some time elapsed without this taking place. One afternoon when she was visiting, our son arrived home from school, and seeing her there whispered in his Mom’s ear, “Mom, ask her when they are going to install the telephone?” Florence did ask, and received this reply, “Why would you want a telephone? You’re on the list to go to Tripoli, but your neighbor across the hall isn’t.” She proved to be correct in each case, and we wondered how such secret information got to her, a French woman, when we did not even know it for sure, nor had we seen any such document.

The summer of 1956 was the completion of our two-year transportation agreement, and we could take our first home-leave. While there were many times after that move to Morocco, during that time of frustration and conflict, I had thought of going home to stay, but, thanks to the “French” teacher’s flunking the General’s son, I now was happy doing the job I had been sent to do. So we flew home, but only for home-leave, not to stay.

On our return to Rabat, we found that most of the 17th Air Force Headquarters had, really and truly after all the secrecy of that year, moved to Tripoli; and all the others were in the process of moving. So, in September of 1955 we had moved from Tripoli to Rabat; and in Sept. of 1956, we moved back to Tripoli!

When we arrived again in Tripoli in 1956, and thought we might be settled for a while, we had another surprise: we were housed in a Guest House with a 72-hour limit while we looked for an apartment. Base housing was not an option for civilians, and since so many of the 17th Air Force civilians had arrived ahead of us, and the Suez Crisis complicated matters still more, we had problems finding housing. There were a number of new apartment buildings, but now we could not rent only one apartment. Our only hope was to find enough other families to go in with us and rent a whole building. We had accomplished this and Florence had been offered a position providing she could promise to stay for 10 months. All of this was ready to be finalized and I was called TDY to Germany leaving Florence to sign the papers for the apartment while I was gone.

I met with Dr. Mason in Germany and our main topic of conversation was finding a building and remodeling it so we could take over the school in Ankara, Turkey. Dr. Mason said he wanted me to move to Ankara as taking over this school would be my biggest project that year, and I would have to spend most of my time there doing the planning. I had to send a message by MARS radio to the Tripoli school to have someone contact Florence and tell her not to sign any apartment rental papers. They caught her, just in time to give her this message, just as she was going out the door to sign for the apartment.

So, yet another move, but this time we hadn’t had time to unpack, and we didn’t have to keep this move a secret for a year. But, we moved after a record stay of nearly three months in a Guest House with a 72-hour limit. We moved on to Ankara, Turkey, in winter, arriving in November 1956 with clothing suitable for the milder Mediterranean climate of Tripoli, Libya The Post Exchange in Tripoli had been stocked with heavy winter-weight clothing, but in Ankara, where it was really cold, all we could find in the Post Exchange was lightweight summer clothing. So we layered our clothing to stay warm while we looked in the Turkish stores for something more suitable for Turkey in winter.

A fairly good private school, which the Air Force was taking over in Sept. 1957, was where our daughter and son were enrolled in the first and third grades respectively. This school was scattered in small buildings all over Ankara. First, we had to locate a building that would accommodate our school. The Air Force had found, among other choices, a building which housed a large garage. It was decided that the garage building was the best available building; however, it was in a very busy area of the city of Ankara without adjacent area available for a playground. So, one of our first considerations was to put a playground on the roof.

Another project which needed our attention at this time was opening a school in Incirlick (Adana), Turkey. This school was opened in late 1956. Rosemary Nevels was the first Principal and the school was housed in two Quonset huts.

The history of the completion of these two projects, I hope to have ready for your Volume II.

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