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Collecting images of the US Military on Grand Turk
By Dr. Neal V. Hitch, Museum Director ~ Photos Courtesy TCI National Museum

During the early 1950s, the US Military constructed two facilities on the remote, out of the way isle of Grand Turk. The base to the extreme north of the island served as a listening post for the US Navy’s Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS, program of tracking Soviet submarines. The Grand Turk Auxiliary Air Force Base at the southern end of the island served as a downrange station of the Eastern Test Range operated under contract by the Pan American Company. These two bases became known as North Base and South Base.

Temporary barracks 1952

Temporary barracks 1952

Many of the buildings on the bases have just reached the 50 year mark. In the United States this would make them candidates for evaluation as “historic structures” with eligibility for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, if the buildings were still operated by the US Department of Defense they would now fall under the category of “cultural resources” and a series of surveys, evaluations, histories and reports would be written. All of this would be for their ultimate inclusion into a cultural resource management plan.
The history of the US military on Grand Turk is an interesting one. It is also a history that is just coming to light. The buildings on the bases are historically significant. They share a part of a quickly disappearing history. They are also resources that could be used to stimulate the tourism economy in the Turks & Caicos. They are also really interesting to visit.
Over the last year, the National Museum has been contacted by several veterans who served on Grand Turk. At least three have returned recently bearing gifts of pictures and memorabilia. The pictures and stories have aided our understanding and can help the museum work toward developing a plan to interpret the US military presence in the Turks & Caicos.
Photo of South Base in 1963

Photo of South Base in 1963

The museum would like to expand its collection of items associated with the bases. This is harder than you think. The bases were small, had a rotating staff, and almost everything associated with the life, work or leisure of the servicemen is in the United States and not in the Turks & Caicos.
In the last two years we certainly have expanded our collection of images. But all except a few of these have been digital copies of originals. Digital images are great for use in publications and even exhibit panels, but the museum wants to preserve this history for generations to come. We have the facilities and storage to do this. What we would like to get are more original images. Whether slides, negatives or photographs, it is the original artifact that forms the basis of museum collections.
Grand Turk NavFac facility in 1976

Grand Turk NavFac facility in 1976

The collection of images and memorabilia need to go hand in hand with the collection of stories. The museum can interpret the “official” story that happened on Grand Turk, but the individual stories are much more interesting. These can come in the form of recollections or oral histories, or in the more traditional sources of history: notebooks, diaries, reports and memoirs. The museum has received a few written recollections. These often come with the images brought by visiting veterans. These stories are about people and the images illustrate their experiences here.
The combination of the images, memorabilia and stories is what it takes to create a museum exhibit. This exhibit could be placed in the existing museum on Grand Turk, or could be placed in one of the currently abandoned buildings at the old Navy facility. These are all stages of a plan that the museum hopes will come together.
Right now we are focusing on the first stage of the plan. Before anything else happens, we need to collect the artifacts and the stories. If you have any information about the military bases, if you were stationed on Grand Turk, or if you have an interest in discussing the donation of artifacts, the museum can be contacted via the information at the top of the preceding page. We would love to talk to you about our plans.



88 Comments

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Mary Ann
Jul 17, 2014 16:15

I was on Grand Turk TDY from Antigua in summer 1976. I was hired by RCA at Patrick AFBase in Satellite Beach as SpaceObjID/DataSysMathematician… and had a great experience…
setting up search plans, cryptically talking with the Mountain, directing the BTechs where to search with the dish! … until I was sent from AntiguaPCS to AscensionPCS in November of that year. That was the worst month I ever spent anywhere altho I had lots of company, I didn’t spend much time at work! Something strange was going on between a co-worker and an Officer, and I think I was seen as a threat in more ways than one! LOL! Anyway, I quit while I was down there, and when asked why I was leaving by the RADAR leader, I said “I’m not doing enough work to be interested in being here!”
But, now as a retired physicist, married over 30 years, and one married daughter, I look back on that year with great fondness: What a place
those primary targets were! LOL!

Grand Turk had the clearest water I’d ever seen and women had all the attention and fun experiences they could hope for. Very nice.
Thanks for the photos: Really brings it all back!

Paul Fender
Aug 9, 2014 7:19

I just discovered this web site. I worked for RCA on Grand Turk from Dec. 1954 until July 1956. I was Radar Manager in the last months. I helped in tracking the first missile (SNARK) to come that far. I loved my time on this beautiful island. I have some stories and color slides of my tour. The only names I can remember are Frank Zender (RCA Base Manager, Wally Tubell (Sub Cable Engineer), Jim Roach (Pan Am Base Manager). Please let me know how I can help.

P.S. My wife and I are planning a Caribbean Cruise in Feb. 2015 that includes a day at Grand Turk.

Paul Fender

Monica Barnhill
Nov 26, 2014 8:02

My husband, Al Barnhill worked for Pan American as a Med. Tech. ( also called “Doc”) from 1974 -!975… ? My daughter, Shannin was 3 & we arrived in early 1975. Zilda & Ralph Brown were our close friends. Al played in a band at the Navy club at times. I remember all the free lobster, conch salads, etc. & plenty of “booze”, & parties.
Grand Turk was absolutely gorgeous, & I have always wanted to visit again. Hopefully, one day that will be possible.
If any of you remembers us, please reply!

Monica Barnhill

Larry snyder
Dec 23, 2014 22:52

Was stationed on turks island. From mid1963 to May 1965 . I was a cs3(cook) also worked with the senses when I first arrived putting up a picket fen around the base. One of my duties was to take a working party to the m-boat to pick up supply’s so I had military license so was able to check out a jeep for sight seeing ,had a ball chasing donkeys and drinking. Only names I can remember are ,Larry McQueen and a guy named purvis from California. lots of stories and most good times, just wanted off that island so bad. Anybody still alive and remembers me give me a call (813) 767-2299

mark tyrrell
Jan 2, 2015 12:52

I visit a base some where in this area in the 1980s. British army/royal corp of signals

James Lardie
Jan 11, 2015 6:11

I was an OT3 there from 76 to 78. I enjoyed my time there, and i loved the conch fritters from Peanuts.

Richard Cullison
Jan 13, 2015 10:35

I was stationed at Grand Turk in 1968. Played in the Band with Bill Bradley. We used to play at the South Base for five dollars and drinks, which I think at that time were about a quarter. The big excitement during my time was the Fourth of July Festivities. We had a Special Services Officer who thought we needed a good old fashioned Fourth and sent two guys to Florida on the MAC flight to get fireworks. We had fireworks, bike races, and a greased pig contest. A lot of local folks were invited. The Navy Base also operated a low power, but licensed, Radio Station that could transmit to the South end of the Island.

dannie maul / hobbit
Jan 19, 2015 12:16

I was station there as a Seabee ( known to some as hobbit) just yesterday 1978 dec. to the end of a good time 1980, when we closed the base can’t say I shut the gate work with larry becket , mike voylos and a lot of fun people. Seen mike get married to Jean and another wedding ,Jamies at Governor beach, that I did the photography( I got your pics yet). So if anyone remember Ens.Conti ( Marie)( 1W79 ) I would like to fine her. What a great place and good times………… dmaul@winona.edu

John Goodwin
Jan 25, 2015 19:09

I was a seabee at nafac grand turks in 1969 my job was to keep the generators running for both the t building and the officers quarters and the galley would like to visit again someday

Are the big generators still in the concrete building down by the light house? My generators would smoke the lighthouse attendant out at that time the light was still kerosene They would have to whitewash it regularly as the diesel from my wore out generators would make it black

Paul Ergler
Jan 30, 2015 22:49

Was a sonar tech and base photographer there in 1969. Spent most of my spare time out diving in the pristine waters, drinking beer in the EM club, or helping to run a 36 ft. diesel boat for recreation. Look back on it all with fond memories. paulergler@hotmail.com

John Raine
Feb 8, 2015 20:29

Was there in 1966 as sonar tech Good drinking times with Philly dog, tuttles and gates Good times

but glad to leave then went to navfac newfoundland

RICHARD L KELLY
Feb 25, 2015 14:55

I WAS STATIONED ON TURKS 1966, I WENT ABOARD AS RADIOMAN SEAMAN. PROMOTED TO RADIOMAN 3RD CLASS WHILE THERE. I IAD A GREAT TIME THERE . HAD MANY CLOSE FRIENDS. JUST A COUPLE I REMEMBER WAS LLOYD EUGENE WILSON, FROM VA. I HAD CONTACT WITH HIM A COUPLE OF TIMES AFTER I WAS TRANSFERRED TO THE MINESWEEPER USS FEARLESS, MSO 442 OUT OF CHARLESTON, S.C . I ALSO REMEMBER MY FRIENDSHIP WITH , FRANKLIN RAY ROBINSON, HE WAS FROM WARNER ROBINS GA. HE WAS TRANSFERRED TO NAVFAC HATTERAS. I HAVE VISITED WITH HIM A COUPLE OF TIMES, HE RETIRED FROM WARNER ROBINS AFB, HE MOVED BACK TO BUXTON, NC WHERE HE HAD MET HIS WIFE,, MY ONLY REGRET IN MY NAVAL EXPERIENCE IS THAT I DID NOT EXTEND MY ORDERS AND STAYED ON TURKS . LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS I WISHED I WOULD HAVE MADE A CAREER OUT OF THE NAVY.I REMEMBER A RM CPO THAT REALLY HEL[PED WITH MY TRAINING . I CANT REMEMBER HIS NAME HE WAS A GREAT CPO. I ALSO REMEMBER THE JACK ASSS THAT WOULD DRINK BEER AND GET INTOXICATED THIS WAS VERY FUNNY

John Conley
Mar 6, 2015 14:49

I was RMSN then RM3 from 1967-68. Played a lot of softball and had a radio show “Records at Random.” Learned to drink Crown Royal at 15 cents a glass. Learned to drink beer rest of my 4-year tour. It amazed me when I read in Hunt for Red October all the details we were never supposed to discuss.
I plan to stop at Grand Turk during a mid-March cruise and will turn over my pictures from my days there. They are all Instamatic, though I wish I had bought a real camera. One of the main events during my stay was the murder trial of one of our sailors who killed an island girl. We had a very tight crew at Grand Turk, but I joined the Navy to go to sea, so went to USS Northampton and later USS Charles H Roan DD853. I live in the Annapolis area where we grow future navy officers. Thanks for setting up this website.

John Conley
Mar 6, 2015 14:58

Here is a U-Tube video of the base from 2013. What a shame it was not preserved for use by the islanders or someone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw46n0qycBE

Ray Burriss
Mar 30, 2015 13:56

Was in Grand Turk & South Cacius with MCB 7 in 1958-1959. My main job was demolition and my rank was BUH 2

Edward Cody
Apr 11, 2015 15:17

Utilities man 3rd Class Seabees MCB7 56-57 Set up and ran water purification distillation units on Caicos.
Was on Grand Turk’s for six months and transferred to Caicos for 6 months. We lived in 12 x 12 tents on the sand, no platforms. Free time went snorkeling, exercised and walked around the island. Don’t forget Friday nights, Pabst Blue Ribbon .20 a can.

Dick Johnson
Apr 15, 2015 15:01

I was stationed there in 1963-1964 directly from A School in Key West. Was drummer in original band that played downtown. Remember great times there playing donkey baseball. During missing private boat searches was always sent to water tower or lighthouse. Remember Chief petty officers name was CPO Counts or similar to that. Love playing drums until somebody stepped threw base drum while on truck going to town.

Joseph Frasketi
May 14, 2015 10:16

Looks like most if not all signers are from the Grand Turk NAVFAC, however I lived and worked at the USAF South Base, for RCA in Telemetry Section. First came to Grand Turkin late 1957 and stayed there until early 1964, with a years break to work at the tracking station at Antigua AAFB.
Please visit my website, I don’t keep it up to date anymore, but there is info. on Grand Turk in the early days of the USAF South base and a few comments from NAVFAC people who have contacted me over the years. My website also has some articles on constructing the airstrip in 1952 and when astronaut John Glenn came to Gtk after his successful earth orbit in Feb. 1962, look for the “Articles” link on the left side of the webpage.
I enjoyed my time on Grand Turk, and its nothing like it is today with the cruise ships coming to the island and the tourist facilities available now. In the old days it was quiet and laid back.

Joseph Frasketi
May 14, 2015 10:17

Click on my name to go to my website…

Jeff Dodge
Jun 9, 2015 14:07

NavFac Grand Turk was my first duty station as a young ensign (1966). I arrived just after
the NavFac failed an ORI (test) and a new CO (Capt. Waling?) was in charge. I was one of the few who went diving off the Atlantic side of the base. We weren’t allowed SCUBA gear, but really didn’t need it. Ltjg Bud Hilton and my supervisor SStg Mike Upshaw would join me diving. That was the year we speared a 235lb jewfish. We took it to town because one of the cooks said it would be full of worms (probably not true).

I was there when the CO ordered the gunnery petty officer to shoot a cow that was on the water catchment area. He had the body shoved over the edge into the ocean thinking it would float away, but the wave action kept it next to the cliff and it wasn’t long before it smelled something terrible. The owner of the cow learned of his animal’s demise and requested payment, which I think he received.

This was also the year the plane bringing 5 or 6 of us back from a 96 hour R&R in Puerto Rico ran out of gas just a mile or two from Grand Turk. The plane was an HU-16 albatross so it floated. Some guys from PanAm in a motor boat towed us to the town dock, but not before laughing at us. The pilot was not allowed to fly the plane off GT.

Unfortunately that was also the year that one of the young guys who guarded the front gate murdered a women in town after a party at the library there. I actually rode in a plane with him when he was being taken to Jacksonville for evaluation. I was transferred before his trial, which was held on Grand Turk. It was a sad situation all around.

I have returned to Grand Turk at least 5 times for the diving (with SCUBA) and to take a look at the base. Too bad it was vandalized when the US turned it over to the local government. It was being used as a prison for females during one visit maybe 10 – 14 years ago. The women were kept in the barracks. On my last trip there (maybe 2005) it was supposed to become a junior college. The BOQ had been trashed. Someone had tried to turn the officers lounge into a night club back in the ’80s or early 90s.

I remember going to the Turks Head Inn for a special officers event. A woman named Julie managed it then. I learned since that that building was once the American Consulate. “X” owned it when I visited GT on holiday and now it’s privately owned. Lot of history there.

It was Julie who introduced me to the daughter of the governor of one of the Caicos Islands. She flew over for a “date” with me. I took her out on a sailfish sail boat thinking we’d go to Gibbs Cay for a romantic afternoon. Unfortunately the combination of my lack of sailing knowledge and the winds and currents caused the sailfish to head toward Spain. We had to be rescued by the admin clerk in the motor boat. I was sent to my room and my date returned to the Turks Head Inn to stay with Julie. Needless to say, the CO was not happy.

I took up collecting early photo postcards (circa 1900 – 1925) of the Turks and Caicos Islands about 7 years ago. I have a rather large collection. I’ve also added the history of these postcards to my collection. Would like to publish a book of some sort using these postcards as a pictorial way to tell some of the Island’s history (pre-Navy). Any other PPC collectors out there?

I took few photos of my year on Grand Turk in 1966, but did donate one of the light house keeper next to the lens up in the light house to the National Turks & Caicos Museum. It might still be on display there.

Bill Bradley
Aug 31, 2015 10:21

Richard: Just saw your posting here. What instrument did you play in our band? Do you have any photos of the band? I’m in touch regularly with John Kay, our base guitarist, as well as occasionally with Ron Anderson, another band member. Send me an e-mail at fingall@caribsurf.com. I’d love to hear from you.

mike boyer
Sep 6, 2015 16:39

this message is for the person named Tom ,aug.25 2013 looking for a person named “boris” in the above reply,s. I was on turks as a sonarman 3rd class for 23 months from 1962 to 1964. I did know and was friends with a “Tom Jarrett” from Pennsylvania. could I be the “boris” your looking for with a somewhat similar sounding last name of boyer? mike boyer

mike boyer
Sep 6, 2015 16:43

forgot to include my email on the above msg. it is : Jackie.boyer@yahoo.com

John Trimpin
Nov 23, 2015 19:08

I was stationed at NavFac Grand Turk from 1965 to 1966. Radioman. I would love to touch base with some of my shipmates from that time.

John Trimpin
Nov 23, 2015 19:11

you can reach me at jct057@gmail.com

Ashia Thomas
Jan 5, 2016 11:16

Hi, I am looking for George Chapell who served in Grand Turk in 73-76 or 77. You can contact me at y_walton@bellsouth.net 305-623-3265

Janet Steffen Pandzik
Feb 2, 2016 20:30

I was stationed in Grand Turk as an oceanographic watch officer from 1978 until it was in the process of closing in late 1979. It was my first assignment out of OCS, and I learned a lot! I had been a SCUBA instructor for several years before I joined the Navy, and found the diving and snorkeling there to be the best I have ever experienced. I would like to keep in touch with anyone from Grand Turk days, and you can reach me at jan@pandzik.com.

Joseph M Bell II
Mar 22, 2016 11:32

Duty from Nov. 1978 to Jan. 1980 — was RMSN / RM3 during my sea-duty tour there!
Went back in Aug. 1981, made the mistake of being an OS3 (OS2) for 11 plus years and Clinton sent me a pink-slip in 1992. Remember RMC Potter, he retired there after 20+ yrs. — was his first and last duty tour he told me and saw no shipboard duty in his 20+ years.

Ray golden
Apr 12, 2016 13:42

I got stationed at grand turk fight out of engineman a svhool. Some of the best times ever. Remember Russ Halterman who was a cook at the base. Was there from early 77 to 78. Anyone there from those times my emails raygolden34@gmail.com

Latonya
May 10, 2016 11:08

Does anyone know of a man named Gibbs Henry? He came to the Grand Turk Navy Base in 1952. I need to find him desperately.

My email: cool96tlr@hotmail.com

Charley (Chuck) Mullikin
May 16, 2016 20:11

Like so many; sent to Grand Turk just out of Radio school in 1971 for a one year tour. Softball, work, and beer. Whiskey was expensive at $0.35. I remember Seabees returning from Viet Nam and a couple other radiomen, Tom Schied and Tom McHugh.

Caught a large shark from the LCPL. Everyone was glad we didn’t get it into the boat. I tried to extend a short time to play in a softball tournament at Ramey. No luck, ended up in Bayonne NJ. but that is another story.

Peter Greco
May 17, 2016 11:55

Spent entire 1969 there as a Radioman… Good times. Played against the PanAm folks in about 130 softball games as the 3rd baseman…

Don Swisher
Jul 10, 2016 12:35

hey Hobbit,i remember u .sure miss everyone that was there that last year.send me a message

Patricia Saxton
Jul 25, 2016 8:18

Hello to all who served in Grand Turk!
The Turks and Caicos National Museum has a room dedicated to John Glenn and the USA Bases.
If any of you are ever on Grand Turk please email me prior and I will personally make sure you get to the National Museum!
Any photos that you can spare would be appreciated, as we have a monitor with all old photos from this time in the room, where folks can sit and see all the photos!
Thank you for your service!
Pat Saxton
Director
Turks and Caicos National Museum

Dave Attoe
Aug 7, 2016 18:55

I saw your post and immediately recognized the name Dave Hammonds. I was a seabee and sent to Grand Turk, and was a replacement for Dave. I only new him for a week or so, but seemed like a super person. I was there 57/58. Sorry I can’t be more help.

Russ Cyphers
Aug 15, 2016 20:53

Though I eventually retired from the military, I went to Grand Turk “range base”/tracking facility/South Base (from Patrick AFB) for a couple of weeks as a civilian with Pan Am in 1969. I really enjoyed my short deployments to the various range bases, including Grand Turk. Sure enjoyed the fact that Pan Am hired great cooks and chefs to work in the isolated locations. I left the Navy after 5 years in 1966, went to college, and eventually kinda re-upped till I retired in 2000.

Yvonne Hammonds Thomas
Aug 16, 2016 12:25

Mr. Dave Atto , This is Yvonne Hammonds Thomas, Can you contact me Via Facebook or email me at Naynelly@hotmail.com, Maybe we can share additional info.

Thank You.
.
,

Emmanuela Coleman
Sep 6, 2016 18:11

I’m looking for some information or pictures about my grandfather his name was George Alexander Coleman either from Honduras or San Salvador does anyone remember him? 1954

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