Welcome to the latest issue of the newsletter dedicated to the CANDOERs (Communicators AND Others Enjoying Retirement). This newsletter will be distributed quarterly. New issues will be posted on the Web for viewing on or about, January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1.
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or to my snail-mail address:
Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062
Tel: Home (301) 283-6549 --- Cell - (301) 535-9263
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The King of Hearts is the only king without a moustache.
We had a weird summer here in Southern Maryland. Temperatures were as low as 65 and as high as 98. For the last six weeks we have had very little rain. My yard is as hard as cement. Regardless, even with very little rain, Mattawoman Creek has been running higher than normal tides. This has made fishing rather slow. Even with the high tides I have been out fishing in the boat over 50 times in the last three months. Now that the temperatures are dropping for fall, the Crappie will start moving out of the deep areas and into the shallows. This week I plan on a switch from Large-Mouth Bass fishing to Crappie and Catfish.
Oak trees do not produce acorns until they are fifty (50) years of age or older.
Providing TDY Support to Dakar
The "one-liners" in this issue were taken off of Facebook and are titled "Things you may not have known".
By Rudy Garcia
I was on duty that Sunday when I received a call-in signal from Ouagadougou, our relay. It was early morning in Nouakchott and the sand had not started blowing. I rode my bike (POV) in and received the NIACT telegram. It was from Dakar requesting communications support. The Gambia was undergoing a coup d-etat and embassy personnel in Banjul were trapped at the residence, which was by the beach. I called our JAO director to reply to the request. It was decided that I would go. The JAO director got some funds and arranged for a driver and a Chevrolet Carry-All from the joint motor pool. Unfortunately, it was a USAID owned vehicle.
Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes or shark attacks. (So, watch your Ass.)
The Uninvited Guest
We headed south along the main highway toward Senegal. This was a two-lane road sometimes covered by encroaching sand dunes as they blew eastward from the sea. It was especially hairy when the sand covered your lane atop a hill. You could not see if there was an oncoming vehicle while you were on the oncoming lane trying to avoid the dune. That, however, wasn't the only problem. Halfway to the Senegal border the vehicle jerked to a stop. The driver said it was the transmission as if he knew the car was defective. The only tools in the car were a small spanner and a screwdriver. Now you see why I said it was unfortunate it was a USAID vehicle. We crawled under the vehicle but there wasn't much you could do with the vast array of tools the vehicle carried. After cooling down we were able to get underway but could only shift to second gear. It broke down twice more and we had to sit for almost an hour each time before it would move again. Finally, we were able to get to Rosso, Mauritania, the border town. I gave the driver a sum of money to get the vehicle repaired and to return to Nouakchott. There was no way I was going to continue in this car all the way to Dakar.
(I found out on my return the driver used the money for something else and said he'd pay me back in installments. I told him he had to produce the funds immediately so I could voucher it or I'd take him to the JAO director on charges of misuse of government funds.)
I boarded the pirogue that ferried people across the Senegal River. On the Senegal side I bought a seat in the next bush taxi (taxi brousse). These were usually Peugeot 404 station wagons with three bench seats. The vehicle was full; nine people including the driver, as well as all the baggage -- no air conditioning. I was lucky this time, no livestock. The car drove southward stopping only to let people relieve themselves and for the noon and afternoon prayers. We passed through St. Louis, the biggest city along the route, and smaller towns with no one about, due to the heat. In the late afternoon we arrived at the bus terminal in Dakar. It is also the termination point for these taxis. I took a city taxi to the embassy and arrived sweaty, smelly, still sporting my oil-stained shirt. The control officer, I believe it was Len Shurtleff, met me and gave me hotel information and filled me in on the situation.
Apparently there was a coup d'etat in The Gambia. Senegal had sent in their military to help the Gambian military quell the uprising. In accordance with our E&E plans, all U.S. Embassy personnel gathered at the residence (in Fajara, if I'm not mistaken -- it's been 35 years) to proceed with the planned evacuation.
Unfortunately the rebels had surrounded the residence, although the U.S. was not a target. All the other nationals (French, Brits, etc.) had jumped in their cars and driven across the nearest border into Senegal. Even our Peace Corps volunteers fled The Gambia by any means, including moped. I was to help out in the Dakar IPC so the incumbents could assist in the efforts to communicate with the residence. The Ambassador's secretary manned the HF unit to get almost minute-by-minute status reports. She used code names for the government troops and rebels: cowboys and Indians, black hats and white hats, and other code names that popped into her head. There were two other OC TDYers, CEO/C Erick Morin and AF/EX Rover Gipsy Breckman (sp?). After a few days it was decided that two TDYers would make their way to the Chancery, which was in the city of Banjul itself (a couple of years later as a Rover, I was to figure out that TDYers are expendable). I thought I would be one of the two but they sent Gipsy to go with Erick. Yeah, she was tough: travelled with two Halliburton suitcases as her HHE. They were to go to the river and take a pirogue to the Chancery and secure it as much as possible. Things were winding down by then, the Senegalese military had rounded up the rebels and the embassy personnel were no longer surrounded. I was told I could leave on the afternoon of the third day. Since I had no airline ticket I decided to return the way I came.
I took a taxi to the bus terminal to catch a bush taxi back to the border. I was in luck as one was almost full, so I bought the remaining seats so we could leave right away. We arrived at the Senegal border too late for the pirogue, which usually stops operations at 21:00 hrs. The border guard said the pirogue broke down in the middle of the river but if it was now operational he'd let them take me across. We walked to the riverbank and he yelled into the darkness and got a reply saying they were still down. I asked where the nearest hotel was, as it was 22:00 by then. He said there were none in that village but the nearest was in Richard Toll, a sugar refining town some 40 kms away (I found out later it was only about 10 miles away). I asked if I could just sit in his office, a small shack with a small porch in front. He obliged, even pulled out a dirty worn mattress from inside and set it on the porch. I thanked him and put my bag under my head thinking I'd just lie a while. I guess I fell asleep as I woke to a donkey sniffing and starting to lick my feet through my sandals and a dog smelling for food in my bag. It was still dark but it was morning.
The pirogue was fixed and took me across the river. I thanked the border guard and gave him approximately $20 for his efforts to accommodate me. On the Mauritanian side of the river I joined a bush taxi, buying the last two seats to have more space and so we could get going immediately. It was one of the longest car rides I ever had. I was in the middle bench with another guy who, seeing there was no third passenger, sprawled out with his knees intruding into my space. I had to keep whacking his knees and telling him I own the empty space. The guy at the front passenger side window kept spitting out of his window and his phlegm would fly into my window and onto my sleeve. I slapped him on the back of his head a couple of times and he finally stopped. There were three Mauritanian women crammed into the small rear bench seat (Mauritanian women are force-fed as stretch marks are signs of beauty). They chanted a mantra, non-stop, all the way back to Nouakchott!
The Chancery in Banjul had since moved to a new location from the old building in the city. It relocated to a white building named "The White House" in a more open area around Fajara. I provided TDY support there about three years later.
By Charles Christian
IIn late 1863 the Chattanooga campaign had General Bragg besieging the city and the Union forces held Knoxville to the east which put Yankees in the front and in the rear of General Bragg. A division led by General Longstreet was sent to Knoxville to deal with the Union forces there while Bragg continued the containment of the Union army in Chattanooga.
Walt Disney was afraid of mice!
Now That's a Memory
Generals Longstreet and McLaws made their headquarters in a fine home just west of Knoxville on the Kingstown Pike. The madam of the house was not pleased to have her house commandeered by General Longstreet, but there was nothing she could do but obey the rule that she and her people stay on the second floor and were not allowed to leave that floor. One day she was determined to go out and headed down the stairs. The guard at the bottom told her to go back up or he would fire. She continued and he fired into the step just below her. She went back upstairs.
On top of the house was a small square cupola with glass all around the sides from half way up to the roof. Snipers were positioned in it to fire upon the enemy only a couple blocks away in town.
Eventually the CSA could not seize the city as the Union forces had built a wall of dirt six feet high and a ditch in front six feet deep. In front of it was a cleared field of tree stumps and piano wire strung between the stumps to trip attacking soldiers. The two obstacles made it almost impossible to storm the fortifications and when they tried it cause massive casualties. Eventually the CSA pulled out and left the town in Union hands.
32 years passed and in 1890 the United Confederate Veterans held their first reunion in Knoxville and the Union veterans were also invited towards healing the old wounds between the sides.
General Longstreet was invited by the same woman this time to be an invited guest at Bleak House. At the farewell dinner the last night of the reunion she threw a dinner party where she stood up and proposed a toast to General Longstreet and said words to the effect: "General Longstreet, 30 some years ago you were an uninvited guest in this house and now that you are my guest again I am sad to see you leave." (Google Bleak House and the Knoxville battle for more information.)
Postscript: During one of my many travels through the south over the years I visited Bleak House. I was wearing my blue forage cap with the Sons of Union Veterans emblem on it. The house is now the local headquarters for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The older woman in charge would not give me a tour and directed a younger and pretty woman to do so. The young woman was most kind to me and showed me all the artifacts of the war that the house held. The bullet hole in the staircase was still there. The cupola was still there and, instead of a ladder, there was a staircase up to it. On one of the wooden walls was the likeness in colored chalk of the three CSA soldiers that were killed while on duty in it. The woman also told me that there was a big blood stain on the wooden floor when the UDC took over the house. The President of the local UDC then had it removed as she thought it was not fitting to be viewed by any one. I had the thought that even the Sons of Confederate Veterans would have had her taken out and shot.
A few years later I went back to the Bleak House with my wife. The same older woman was there but did not recognize me as I was not wearing that horrible Yankee cap. I told her that I had recently been honored by the UDC in California with the presentation of the highest award they can be issued to a nonmember, The Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal. This was as a result of all my work on researching and seeing to it that all CSA veterans in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery had their stories typed up by me and that their gravestones showed their service record with small stainless steel plates that I installed over the years. I also gave talks on notable CSA vets in the SRRC to the UDC and participated as a Union Chaplain at various CSA events in Northern California for some years. A senior SCV officer had also told them of my work with him in other matters of CSA vets in Northern California.
The older UDC woman told me that her husband had been presented the UDC Stonewall Jackson Silver Medal for his good works on behalf of the CSA vets and was the gardener at the Bleak House for years. The house backs up to the Tennessee River and the large garden area was a masterpiece of beauty to see and walk through. The lady now took me by the hand and joyfully gave the two of the grand tour of the house.
In the later years of my travels in the South, I was very discreet about my SUV connection and Yankee roots. All my people during the war lived so far north that they were almost Canadians and none of them probably even knew a Southerner. But I did learn to be sympathetic to the Lost Cause in the past 35 years my study and travel in the south, but will continue to be true to the Yankees.
"The Union forever!"
By Bob Catlin
When it comes to remembering names of people I have met, but have not seen on a regular basis, I have a problem. I remember the face, but rarely the name.
Dentists have recommended that a toothbrush be kept at least six (6) feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush.
Gee, Look at All Those Poor People
On November 01, 1990, after suffering a heart attack, I was detailed to the Office of the Manager of the National Communications System (OMNCS). A four year assignment I loved.
While assigned to the OMNCS I was able to attend several AFCEA luncheons. One particular luncheon, in 1992, I had the pleasure of sitting at a table with General Colin Powell. At that time he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Throughout the luncheon we talked at length about what we did to relax during our off duty time. Of course, my conversation was about fishing. The General talked about buying old Volvo or Saab cars and doing "frame off" restoration. He said when he finished the restoration he would drive the car "around the block" and then put it up for sale and start on the next one.
Now let's flash ahead to 2002.
I had retired from State and was working as the Vice President of Human Resources for a company founded by the Late Ken Loff, PRO-telligent.
Colin Powell was now Secretary of State.
On this particular day I was trying to enter the Department through the Diplomatic entrance, only to find it blocked off and several microphones set up under the overhead canopy. So, I stood there to see what was going on instead of going around to one of the other entrances.
Before long, Secretary Powell and a foreign dignitary (I do not remember which one) came through the doors and made several remarks about their meeting.
As the dignitary got into his limo and left, Secretary Powell looked over at all of us standing around waiting to get into the building and he noticed me. He walked over to me with his hand extended and said, "Mr. Catlin, how are you doing." "Are your still working here at State." I replied, "I am no longer a government employee, but am a contractor working here in the building." He responded, "Well we need you guys too."
That was 10 years after our initial meeting at the AFCEA luncheon and not only did he remember my name, but the fact I worked at State and loved to fish.
Now that's a memory!
By John Lemandri
The year was 1977 and I was midway through my assignment at the American Embassy in The Hague, Holland. The city hadn't changed much since the war. As my friend and I turned a corner and began walking across the cobblestone square all of a sudden two 1940s style busses pulled in front of us and out strolled 60 or so elderly people dressed in clothing I had only seen in past issues of Life Magazine. I remarked to my friend, "Gee, look at all those poor people," when all of a sudden the elderly stopped moving as I heard what could only be described as a thousand cuss words in Dutch. We had inadvertently walked into a movie set being filmed about World War II, and the director wasn't pleased.
Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.
Introduction to Nouakchott
By Rudy Garcia
Nearing the end of my first tour, in Bogota, Colombia, I bid only on Bamako, Mali, as it was a two-man post. Most of my peers were former military personnel who worked in a communications environment. I felt I needed more experience to get to their level of expertise. Naturally, I was assigned to a one-man post, Cotonou, Benin. It did, however, get me to the CPO conference held in Nairobi, Kenya; I was, after all, the CPO. During this conference I told Joe Hazewski I was interested in an AFRECONE (formerly WATTS) post as that was my reason for coming to AF. He told me the only post open in the near future was Nouakchott, Mauritania. So I said I'd go. It did have Collins AFRECONE gear, and the latest whiz-bang TERP I equipment (using cassette tapes, for those of you not around back then) and was due for a telephone PBX upgrade to a Mitel SX-200 (if I'm not mistaken). (Aside: I was told Mitel stood for Mike and Terry's Lawn Mower). During the evening session of the conference he announced there was a volunteer for Nouakchott. Everyone looked around trying to figure who had made this rash choice; I overheard some whispers to the effect of "who's the fool?" I tried to hide behind a column to minimize my presence.
No piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven (7) times.
My trip to Nouakchott was via Paris. I brought with me a Lhasa Apso pup in a pet carrier under my seat. My seat neighbor was a young English secretary accompanying her boss to Dakar. He sat in first class, of course. She said it was the first time she had ever been on a plane so I offered to let her have the window seat so she could see the sky. As we approached Nouakchott we looked out and saw a huge sand storm -- no land, just sand. She asked if that's where I was going to live, to which I nodded. She gave me the purest look of pity I've ever seen. The pilot announced that had we arrived 10 minutes later he would have had to land in Dakar instead ... so close!
I was to replace the CPO. The SCO had already departed post and his replacement was not due in for a few more weeks. While I was there the CPO took some time off to marry his fiancée in a Mauritanian civil ceremony. He upset the judge (or whoever it was that presided over the ceremony) by answering the question of how many camels he would give the bride's father for her hand with "10". The judge yelled that no woman was worth a ten camels and that this was a serious ceremony not to be given to frivolous answers. I forgot the exact number mentioned so I used "ten".
A couple of weeks later two Land Rovers full of armed personnel crossed the Senegal River and drove north to Nouakchott. One vehicle went to the radio station to occupy it and start broadcasts, probably to the effect that they had taken over the government. The other vehicle went to the Presidential Palace situated next door to the chancery. We suddenly heard all the shooting and ducked under windows on the palace side of our building. The invaders took over the palace but were not able to take the radio station, from what I heard. Mauritanian army personnel assembled in front of the chancery gate and were shooting into the palace to dislodge the invaders. They brought their big guns and fired across a corner of our compound at the palace. At one point our Charge's driver, Sheybani (a seventy year-old who had just married a 17-year old girl) called me up and asked for some 3-in-1 oil as many of the soldiers had rusty rifles that wouldn't work smoothly.
The airport and borders were closed. However, a few days into the siege, the CPO and his new wife were able to slip across the border into Senegal via pirogue (canoe) and take a bush taxi to Dakar and on to CONUS for home leave.
The Charge' ordered me to reside at the embassy compound in the currently empty Ambassador's residence so there would be a communicator on hand. I rode home, a couple of miles away, to get some clothes and food. I was met with incessant barking and people yelling. The Mauritanian government accused the Moroccans of training the invaders in Morocco and assisting them to plan the coup d'état with hopes of influencing the outcome of the Spanish Sahara situation. They sent some soldiers to surround the residence that was next door to my house. The pup was going wild, barking through the chicken-wire fence at the soldiers. I told the gardener to keep him indoors as much as possible. I didn't want them shooting at him if he caused too much noise.
I would return home after work each day to get a change of clothing and some food, feed the dog, and check on the house. Being the only communicator there I pulled some long hard hours trying to tune to workable frequencies on our HF-RTTY gear. Our relay, AE Ouagadougou, kept complaining that they could hardly hear me, so I took a look at our antenna to make sure it was aligned. We had a manually rotatable LP antenna (without the rotating motor) with wire elements. I noticed it was pointing about 180 degrees away from Ouagadougou, which meant I was transmitting through the rear end of the antenna. I didn't want to climb the 40 foot tower as the soldiers and invaders were still firing at each other sporadically. Finally, after a couple of days, I asked the Administrative Officer to tell the Mauritanian soldiers in front of the compound that I was going up the tower and to hold their fire. I noticed the collar of the antenna shaft was loose although its screws were as tight as they could be. I got some nylon rope, and, with great effort (it seemed like it was about 60 foot wide from up there but was probably in its 20's), swung the huge antenna in the direction of Ouagadougou. I tied the antenna down to prevent any further rotation by the wind. We were now sending and receiving a good signal from the relay station. When the AFRECONE radio techs arrived from Lome a couple of months later they replaced the rope with a U-bolt. They said there was no fix for the collar; it was just built too loose.
A few days after the start of the coup the Mauritanians were able to dislodge the invaders from the palace. I don't know what happened to them; that was over 30 years ago. The SCO arrived some days later and I went back to my house. The soldiers still occupied the Moroccan embassy compound next door to my house. The pup still barked at them. The sand dunes still approached. All was normal.
On this subject: In our communications class in 1976 we had four or so back-up communicator secretaries. One of them lived in Arizona and went back during a break to check on her HHE packing and shipping. She was assigned to Port Louis, Mauritius. She came back really mad. She had just caught the packers before her shipment left. The head packer said she had made a mistake on the name of the city; it was St. Louis, not Port Louis. Furthermore, that city was not in Mauritania but in Senegal; but not to worry, he corrected the address to Nouakchott in Mauritania.
Be safe and enjoy life!
See you next quarter.
KEEP THE STORIES COMING!