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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.



47 Comments

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Ron J. Spry
Jan 9, 2011 20:32

I was stationed at Nav Fac Grand Turk, BWI in 1973 as a Seabee.
What would you like to know?

SHIRLEYANN CARTER
Jan 25, 2011 2:10

HI LOOKING FOR A GENTLEMAN BY THE NAME OF STEVE VALENTINE OR VALENTINO WORK ON THE BASE, HE RIDE A MOTORBIKE (BLACK) HE WAS FROM PUERTO RICO.

BOB LAGRECA
Mar 3, 2011 20:38

I WAS STATIONED ON GRAND TURK IN 1968, NAVY SIDE, I RAN THE EXCHANGE AND THE EM CLUB.
WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM THE GUYS WHO PLAYED AND LISTENED TO “WE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE”
WE HAD A CORPMAN FROM PITTSBURG, I HAVE TRIED FOR YEARS TO FIND, CAN NOT REMEMBER HIS NAME OTHER THEN “DOC”

Robert White
Jun 29, 2011 10:41

I was stationed at the NAVFAC (4/72-10/73) as a YN3 in the Admin Office. Retired from the Navy in 2003. Visited Grand Turk in 2005 and many of the old bldgs. are still there, as they are being used as a community college.

Steven Dickey
Aug 13, 2011 20:33

I was stationed at the Naval Facility on Grand Turks 1970-1971. I still have several original photos of the island and the navy base. Also many cherished memories and stories of my experience there, that I would share if you desire.

charles
Aug 27, 2011 17:17

There’s a Face Book site with a few sailors that were once stationed at Grand Turk. FaceBook Site is US Navfac Grand Turk Surivors

Bill Bradley
Aug 29, 2011 8:05

Bob,

Was stationed on Grand Turk (sonar tech in the T-Building) from about February of 1968 to June of 1969. As regards your comment above, I was the lead guitarist in the band that played “We Gotta get Out of this Place” in both the EM club and the club at South Base. Great memories. Hopefully some other guys from that time will post something here. I’d especially like to hear from other guys on the band and my cube mate and friend Dale (can’t remember his last name) from San Francisco!

Bill Henderson
Sep 17, 2011 18:40

I was a Oceanographic Research Expert, also know as an Oceanographer after graduating from a secondary course in Key West Florida. My primary course was that of a Sonarman. We operatied all the equipment for tracking submarines throughout the world. There was about 110 people on the base wih about 20 of us in actual operations in fulfilling the basic idea of tracking. I arrived there in late 1955 and spent one full year. We started the “Royal Order of The Beer Can “in 1956 and I also with Beckmier were the original founders. Spent alot ot time as part of a basketball team traveling the Caribbean. Anyone remember us?

Robert C Bailey
Nov 16, 2011 23:39

Stationed as new Ensign May 1973 – May 1974. Great memories. Anybody else there at that time?

Dickie Self
Mar 3, 2012 12:39

The Corpman was Doc McGlothin, not sure spelling is correct. Damn sure took of me one time when I came back from RR. So screwed, missed E-5 exam, but he saved me from Capt’s Mast. LOL

James Lincoln
Mar 5, 2012 22:25

Was stationed on Grand Turks With MCB4 1958. Building tracking base.
Anybody bfrom then drop aline

Jim

Jim Regan CEWCN< then CEW3, MCB7
Jun 9, 2012 20:00

I was deployed to Grand Turk in Feb of 1958 after “A” School in Hueneme. All of the tent city was up and operating,along w/ some quonsets for the beer hall, chow hall, etc. by the time I arrived. Most of the time I was there, I was assigned to operate the two generators that provided our electricity. MCB7 was on Turks, San Sal & Caicos. We built the Nav. Fac on Turks & San Sal, & a Coast Guard Loran station on Caicos(don;t remember which one) We also built the two water storage towers there & repaved the entire water catchment basin, installing the pumping system, etc. When the advance party arrived on Turks, the bars in town were mostly wooden shacks, no refrigeration, no juke boxes, etc. The money we spent in town for the warm beers, helped the bar owners to modernize, and soon we had cinder block buildings, tile floors refrigeration to keep the beer cold, juke boxes in a few places, and enjoyed ourselves. I got to know the Methodist Minister on the island, a gentleman named Rev David H.K> Sheriff from London area where he and his wife Vivian live now. It was great to have an actual home cooked dinner once in awhile instead of eating in the chow hall. I have many good memories from Turks and met a lot of great guys that I still try to keep in touch with, but BOY, we sure are getting OLD !

Yvonne Hammonds
Jun 15, 2012 0:52

My name is Yvonne Hammonds I am trying to find my father, His name was David or Dave Hammonds he was a Sea Bee at the Naval Base on Grand Turk Island. I was born in 1959. My contact is 1 649 231 1195. Thank yov

manny coleman
Jun 17, 2012 11:11

I am looking for information on my grandfather George A Coleman who was Was stationed on Grand Turk Nav Fac

manny coleman
Jun 17, 2012 11:12

He was Hondurian

Philip Warner
Sep 9, 2012 20:39

I was stationed at the NavFac (North Base) 1956 – 57 as a ET. The base at that time was all
Quonset Hut construction. I think I can find a couple of 35mm slides from my stay.

Philip Warner, ET2, USN

Stephen Lechowicz
Oct 16, 2012 18:00

Was stationed on Grand Turk from Aug 71 to Sept of 73. Worked as OT in the T building. Spent many a night on the base AM radio station. Quite a duty station even though it was considered isolated duty.
We used a Marconi radio transmitter which was donated from Cable & Wireless to us, although we were only allowed to broadcast at 50 watts, we used at least 150 watts at all times due to operational problems with the transmitter, Was wondering if anyone remembers the radio station ?
To Mr Bailey who posted here do you remember ENS Aldrich ?

Randy Owens
Oct 21, 2012 19:00

I was stationed there 1973. Got busted for being stupid, but enjoyed most of my tour there. Was a young Gunnersmate that enjoyed the boose too much. I remember Larry Becket and Bill Guineer. Spelling may be wrong on Bill’s last name. Also remember Doc and Lechowicz singing “oldies”.

Steve Flinn
Nov 5, 2012 16:54

Just stumbled upon this web site. Can’t remember the exact dates that I was stationed at Navfac Grand Turks Island, but I was a Petty Officer Third Class Ocean Systems Technician Analyst. Without looking back into my navy records/orders, I believe I was there around 1977 to 1978. I have some fond memories of the island and work at the facility. If there’s anybody out there that remembers me, please feel free to drop me a line. I retired as a Chief Sonar Tech (SW/IUSS) in October of 1996 and live in beautiful California with my beautiful bride of 21 years.

Eric Wiberg
Nov 9, 2012 14:26

If anyone has any photos or information on the survivors of 3 ships whose crew landed in T&C
VIVIAN P SMITH – schooner from Barbados sunk Aug 1942
FAUNA – Dutch freighter sunk May 1942
VINELAND – Canadian freighter sunk April 1942
Please contact me at ericwiberg@sbcglobal.net or visit http://www.uboatsbahamas.com and leave a Guestbook message.
Thank you
Eric Wiberg, Capt/Esq.
1 203 504 3689 Norwalk CT

ed whitacre
Nov 10, 2012 19:12

i was stationed on grand turk ffrom 1972 to 1975 and was a radioman there….and to steve lechowicz if you see this, i remember you…

Joe LaRocca
Jan 19, 2013 17:01

I was stationed at Grand Turk from 1974-1976 as Watch Officer. Probably the strangest time in my life. 7 square miles of donkeys and bushes. I had heard that the British offered the island their independents and they turned it down. I never found out if that was true, but I would not doubt it. At the time there was NOTHING there.

Ed LePera
Jan 23, 2013 16:17

I was station at Grand Turk from Feb 73 to March 74. drank a lot of beer, went swimming a lot and just had a good time. I remember Ron Spry, Bob White, Ed Whitacre, Crazy Steve the CE2, Randy Owens, Larry Becket. Remember see Bill Grednier name on the promotion list he make Chief.

Juanita
Feb 15, 2013 12:33

Juanita is interested in locating her father William Crane who was stationed in Grand Turk around 1957/58. If you have any information kindly call 3053953623. Thank you

Ron Anderson
Feb 16, 2013 1:33

Hey Bill I got there inFeb 68. I’m a guitar player but not in your band. But on occasion I would fill in on drums in the EM club. You and I jammed several times. Good to hear about you. Drop me an email.

Ron Anderson STG 3

Jackson Goddard
Mar 12, 2013 19:21

I served as a Watch Officer form late 1959 to the fall of 1960,
a ten month period and was instrumental in starting a base monthly paper.
I still have copies and could post somewhere.
During my tour the Queen Mother dropped by.
Certainly grew up a lot and later migrated to the Norfolk headquarters.
LCDR F.A.Smith was the commanding officer at that time.

Dave Ghen
Mar 17, 2013 17:39

I spent one night on Grand Turk during August 1968 and boarded the USS Pargo (SSN-650) from there. We had an excellent meal, with as I recall conch chowder. We were taken on a tour of the town and saw the hotel where pre-WW-I elites vacationed. Quite an interesting day.

Grand Turk is mentioned in the book, SALT, because of the salt industry which caused the de-treeing of the island!

CHARLES R. KITTRELL
Mar 23, 2013 12:29

I WAS STATIONED AT NAVFAC GRAND TURKS IN 1957-58, WAS RADIOMAN, ENJOYED BEACHES AND WATER SKIING. AND REMEMBER WRECKING OUR JEEP ON THE SALT FLATS….

Bill Bradley
Mar 31, 2013 8:19

Hi Ron, Great to hear from you. I do remember your name. Unfortunately, the page with your e-mail address is not loading. I hope you see this and contact me at fingall@caribsurf.com. Do you have any pictures from our time there? Are you still playing? Best regards, Bill

Don Swisher
May 6, 2013 17:21

Navfac Grand Turk was my first duty station out of A school.Have lots of great memories of my stay there.I also had the pleasure of knowing UT1 Larry Becket and his family.I worked down at the generator shop.Used to have many photos of the base and her crew.Grand Turk to this day still has the best diving I have seen,hands down.Willtry to locate negitives.

Chip Gilbert
Jun 1, 2013 20:01

I was a Seabee, CE straight out of A school. First duty station, what a shocker when I arrived! But great times and have visited twice with my family. We had a blast and getting back in the water with Blue Water Divers was awesome. Best diving in the world. We would live in the water and on Gibbs Cay on the weekends.

Ensign Joe Larocca, I remember workouts with you in our makeshift weight room. Used to lift also with civilian named Larry Berkowitz. I don’t remember what he was doing there but avid lifter.

ID like to make a trip back this year, see how it’s been affected now with the cruise lines going in there.

I have pictures from my time there and from visits with my family.

Charles Ketz
Jun 2, 2013 13:02

I was stationed n Grand Turk from 1974 to 1975 with the SEABEES in the pubic works dept . working in theP.W. Garage wih Dan Engle ,Hank Wheeler ,jack Olmstead ,Jim Matazynski and other P.W. members ,Chip Gilbert,Dan Rybnick,Tom Reeves ,Larry Beckett , Tom Livinski,Lt>weyogh,Chief WardAnd a list of people I don’t have time to write in but that was one crazy place and a culture shock!

Linda Winner Coverley
Jun 5, 2013 21:20

Dear Mr. Charles Kitterell

My father Robert Sherman Winner was station on Grand Turk in 1957. I’m searching for him. Please, if you know him or any family member, would you kindly advise; he left me with my mother in 1957. I never got to know him. Please help me in locating him or his family. Thank you very much.

Richard Daybell
Jun 9, 2013 15:47

I was on Grand Turk Island at various times between 1963 and 1965 as a Lt in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps stations at Patrick Air Force Base. Under contract we had the TPQ Radar Site prepared in the middle of 1963 along with a new barracks building and an addition to the Power Plant. At the same time we built a new Salt Water Intake structure and supply pipeline for the Navy base at the North Base. Line ran out about 300 feet across the reef to provide a supply of salt water for the base.
In 1964 we built another barracks building at the South Base.
Don’t remember which contact but we also build an addition to the control building on the South base. Probably part of the 1963 effort.

I recall time out snorkeling off the south end of the base before anything existing in the area. We used to drive down a dirt road to be beach. There was no development south of the South Base at the time.

I have a few color slides from that experience including my first arrival on a private air plane from Miami. We actually stopped on South Caicos before landing at Grand Turk in May 1963.

Fred Hughes
Jun 22, 2013 13:03

I was stationed at Grand Turk NavFac from 1958 to 1960. I was reassigned to Cape May NavFac in 1960 to 1961.. I was an enlisted sonar man. When I first arrived on Grand Turk the facility was temporary buildings. Quonset huts were used for barracks and officers quarters. During those 2 years the CB’s constructed a permanent enlisted barracks and officers quarters.

Would like to hear from any ship mates who were there during that time period.

Fred Hughes
Jun 23, 2013 9:28

any SOO’s from 1957-58

Pete Greco
Jul 1, 2013 16:00

I was stationed there as a RM in 1969. Good times. Softball with the Pan Am base personnel where I was the 3rd Baseman… We played something like 112 games. Miss it.

Skip January
Aug 4, 2013 11:11

I was stationed on Grand Turk from Dec 73 to Dec of 74. I was an ETR3 and was the Calibration Tech in the T building. Lot of people that I remember. Larry J Rogers, Dave Sopko, Bob White, Mike Ahrens, George I forgot his last name, WO2 Paul Sullivan. What a time in life this place was. Showed movies on our base as well as South base. So many good guys. Lots of beer and good ole Jack Green Label. Capt. J.A.D. Smith, we threw him in the swimming pool on his birthday. Was base photographer for a short while, took pics of the first Wave that was stationed there. She lived downtown as there was no place for her on base. Still have a wonderful pic of the lighthouse I took and it has followed me since. Good times going to Gibb’s Cay. Too much fun!!

Skip January
Aug 4, 2013 11:14

Forgot to mention Maypan and Tiger Paw. I think everyone from Norfolk to Antigua had heard of them. And I do remember the radio station.

Dennis Heath
Aug 19, 2013 13:41

I was a young OT stationed at Grand Turks from around Oct 1973 to Oct 1974. Rented a house with 3 other sailors ( one was named Willie O’Conner ) about half way between the Navy base and the Pan Am base. Loved the Turks Head Inn, they had good food and a great bar. The diving off of Grand Turks then was unbelievable, the water was so clear and the coral formations were shallow enough that you really did not need tanks. What great memories and a few pictures I have of that place !!!!!

tom
Aug 25, 2013 14:13

i was staioned on the island i believe from 1962 thry 1963,was ndering where boris is right now,dont remember his last name bu we became friends while stationed there,if ayone knows let me now

Vernon (Sodie) Soderman
Sep 19, 2013 17:06

I arrived at Grand Turk July 4, 1963 as a RMSA and left July 16, 1965 as a RM3. Many memories about the place. A couple of years ago we had an opportunity to go back. The cruise we were on stopped there for the day. What a trip for me. I was disappointed that only 3 of the buildings are being maintained and the rest are setting in despair. That little base has a proud history.

Not many know of the contribution NAVFAC 104 made to the Cuban blockade. The T building personnel handled all of the communications between GITMO and the outside world until the blockade was lifted. The rest of the base never closed during that time either. The chow hall, barber shop, ship store and laundry were always open for the flight crews that we coming in at all hours of the day and night. I still have the letter we got from the captain after things returned to normal. Our base commander at that time was LCDR Ronald Prezioso.

Some of the names I remember are, Tom Knight, Charlie Deaton, Bill Allen, Clutch Metira, Chief Bethrum, Vinny Rizzo, Charlie Wharl, Bob Russell, Andy Flores, Bill Mahaffey and Amos Boros. I am not sure of the spelling of some of the names. I can remember a lot of faces but have forgotten names.

I left “the rock” and went aboard the USS Randolph CVS-15 for 2 years, then left the Navy.

My wife and I got married 2 weeks after I left Grand Turks and we recently had our 50th wedding anniversary.

If any of one reading this remember me, please contact me.

Randy Brown
Oct 22, 2013 9:08

Was stationed at NAVFAC GT as a PN during 74-75. Remember lots of ladies and fun…and trouble. Slick Mouzon, Doc (the corpsman), Green, & Otis were the best! Get in touch if you see this…randybrown48@yahoo.,com.

Ralph "Gunner" Wells Jr
Nov 3, 2013 23:37

Was stationed there 74-75. Lots of good times. Feel free to email me @ killloth@gmail.com

Bill Milburn
Dec 26, 2013 18:11

Stationed on Turk’s Island 1959-1960. What a great time that was. I was a radioman fresh out of RMA school and with the help of our chief RM, was able to make 3rd class. Lots of basketball, swimming, and softball at the Pan Am area. We had a small craft that our bosuns worked very hard on restoring, and a couple of the guys were using it to waterski. One man piloting, one man sking…the boat hit a wave broadside and tossed the driver overboard. The boat made about 4 or 5 circles without a pilot, still at full speed, and headed out to sea….Several days later it was found washed ashore on another island and was in very bad shape….I also helped build the swimming pool next to the officers quarters. Worked all night mixing cement….Don’t think I ever got to use it…..

BRUCE SCHELLER
Dec 30, 2013 22:57

I WAS STATIONED ON GRAND TURK 1957/1958 AS A SONARMAN AND PART OF THE SOSOUS PROGRAM.
THAT ISLAND WAS VERY SMALL IF I RECALL 2 MILES WIDE AND 7 MILES LONG AND NOT VERY MUCH TO DO EXCEPT WATCH MOVIES, DRINK BEER, SNORKLE ,CHASE WILD DONKEYS PLAY HORSESHOES, OR WRITE LETTERS TO THE FOLKS BACK HOME , OR GO OVER TO TOWN WHICH WASN’T MUCH TO RAVE ABOUT. I REMEMBER BUILDING AN AMPLIFIER FOR MY STERIO SET. MY BEST TIME WAS FLYING TO PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE AND THEN GOING TO MIAMI BEACH FOR SOME R&R . ONE TIME SHORTLY AFTER TAKE OFF FROM PATRICK ON A C54 PROP PLANE ONE OF OUR ENGINES CONKED OUT, THUS WE HAD TO RETURN TO PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE AND HOP ANOTHER PLANE BACK DOWN RANGE, ALITTLE BIT OF EXCITEMENT. I REMEMBER THE PANAM BASE WAS A BEE HIVE DURING THAT TIME GETTING READY FOR THE SATILITE PROGRAM. IF ANY OF YOU OLD SALTS WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT ME FEEL FREE TO DO SO THRU MY E-MAIL.
I WONDER HOW MUCH THAT ISLAND HAS CHANGED FROM THEN.

katie
Apr 10, 2014 19:21

My dad Steve Pieper was in Grand Turks Isle in the Navy from, I believe 69-71. If anyone remembers him, I would be interested in hearing from you. He passed away a few days ago April 8, 2014

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