Snap To!

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.


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Sep 24, 2018 21:21

I was a young kid when I went to Turks Island, my mothers boyfriend got transferred there and we ended up living there I think 69/71. He was with the Air Force tracking station on the south end of the island, remember the Navy Base as that was where the PX was and we went shopping there regularly. Hard to believe that was 52 year ago. Lived in the “Gray Apartments” across the sand lot from the Turks Head Inn, used to pump the water for most all of the apartments. I remember Sadlers Market and the boat coming in every two weeks with supplies. The beaches I remember, sand so white it was blinding on a sunny day. Remember some of the Air Force guys going grouper fishing all the time. “Old Shaky” who was Old Shaky???

Randy Leonard
Nov 26, 2018 12:55

I arrived as an RM late 1971 and left mid 1973. Enjoyed it for sure. From 1972 until leaving in 1973 I was a communications supervisor in the radio shack in the T-building. Lived off base the whole time. It was more like a vacation than being in the Navy. Worked a 2-2-2-80 the entire time and it was one of few places that we got R&R because it was isolated duty. Also had a show at the radio station. I shipped a green Kawasaki 350 dirt bike down a while after I got there and pretty soon a few guys ordered bikes through the exchange, we had a ball on those bikes. When I left I sold mine to a Seabee ( I think ) that was there. Shared an apartment with a fellow named James Anderson, from North or South Dakota. Remember making a lot of friends but can’t remember all of their names… Billy Wall Guyton from Mississippi… Scott Brunke from Florida… Frank Greco from New York and many more. I also recognize some of the names on this list. Feel free to get in touch if you like. I’m in North Carolina ( )

Mar 24, 2019 16:26

I was born July 15th 1958 in Grand Turk now resides in Grand Bahama Bahamas # (242) 352-4965. Thanking you in advance for your assistance

Jim Kleinfelder
Apr 22, 2019 19:51

I was there 74-75, my drum set is still there. I should go back and look for it. It was a nice green/gold, Ludwig. Played with the trio “The Reflections”. I was a DK1.

William Stubblefield
Nov 16, 2020 10:26

As a mid-grade Lieutenant, I was stationed on Grand Turk from summer of 1967 to summer 1968. I had just left a Navy Icebreaker so the contrast was striking. While at Grant Turk, I was Operations and later, Ops/Executive Officer. My first skipper at Grand Turk was Mike Wheling with CDR Jones being the second. Grand Turk was of the most enjoyable, and certainly the most interesting, tours of my 35 year Uniform career. Remember well the earlier poster, John Conley and the time he led a group of singers caroling the BOQ during Christmas. John was one with whom, I frequently played softball and basketball. Also remember the fireworks as one of the earlier posters referenced. For the first time, I realized how expensive the fireworks were. And the greased pig contest on the Fourth of July, which I believe the pigs won. Besides the men at the NAVFAC, some of whom I remember, my fondest memories were the British friends I made while in Grand Turk and who became lifelong friends). These include Barbara and Andy Anderson (Andy was the Chief of Police and testified during the murder trail), David and Josephine Banks (David was head of Barclay’s Bank), Maria Hoedon (Head nurse at the local hospital) and Hans and Leslie Neitzman. Hans was Manager of Turks Head Inn and he met his wife Leslie who visited the Island as a tourist). Both of the Andersons died between 2005 and 2010, Maria died in 2008, and Josephine Banks died in 2019 due to Coronavirus. Through the years we often visited both in England and in the States. My wife and I visited Grand Turk for a week’s holiday in 2015 and reacquainted with the Burkharts, who had been the Magistrate when I was there. I have a few photographs taken when assigned at Grand Turk and several more during our 2015 visit, should anyone be interested.

Thanks for setting up this website. Sorry that I have not found it earlier.

Bobby Bristoe,
Jan 5, 2024 19:25

I was there from 1978 until it closed in 1980. I got to visit the base again in 2023.

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