Thursday, October 04, 2007

"OCTOBER 4, 1957" by Steve Savage "King of the Beasts"



[NOTE: The purpose in writing this story is not to portray a "Poor Me!" "Look what they did to me!" rant. I wouldn't change one iota of my life if I were offered to be able to do so. In the 79 some odd years that have been given me, my life has been filled with every adventure and excitement imaginable. My Lord God has been with me every step of the way, guiding me, protecting me, and strengthening me in every way. Without this experience and the dozens of others with which He has blessed me, how could I have ever known who I was, and why, in spite of all my past sins, He loves me still.]

The world changed fifty-nine years ago, today.

October 4, 1957 is the day the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. It marked the beginning of the Space Age.

How is it that October 4, 1957 is so indelibly etched in my mind? It's because it marks another event that initiated a dramatic change in my life that would remain with me forever. It's the date I began serving time as the first Prisoner of the newly constructed Kagnew Station Guard House shown in the photo above.

I was 20 years old, with only a handful of days left after a 30 Month Tour of Duty at Radio Marina, Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and had just been convicted by a Special Court-Martial and sentenced to 6 Months at Hard Labor for whatever legal terms are used to describe being in a fight in the downtown streets that bordered the "Bosh" of the city.

There were only two of us who went to town that fateful night, celebrating the waning days of a tour that had seemed to last forever. We were the last of the mid '50's era Guards who, until we first arrived at FS 8604 DU, had absolutely no idea that we would be cast in the role of Military Police Officers. We were Warriors costumed as Enforcers.

Everyone else of our kind and time were gone now in mid 1957. We were dinosaurs. I remember how we used to laugh that the "Army" had come to Asmara and found us stranded there.

Army Rules and Regulations, and enforcement of the Uniform Code of Military Justice had also arrived.

What we of Radio Marina called C.I.A.A.O., was now the new Kagnew Station. MOS Military Police Officers had replaced Infantry MOS Guards. There were barracks now, instead of shacks. They even had a school for dependent children complete with a School Bus and a School Bus Guard. After two and a half years of working the Main Gate, I was that School Bus Guard.

The French have a word, "Bouleversement," which means a complete reversal from the way things were. The New Kagnew Station of 1957 was "Bouleversement" made manifest.

The days of the Post Commander, a Signal Corps Colonel, in exile for screwing up at his last Post, Ft. Monmouth, NJ; drunkenly lying on the grass below the Three Towers with his Austrian mistress who worked at the PX; shooting out the lights with a Thompson Submachine Gun; then sending House Boys up the Towers to replace the lights so they could be shot out again; Guards and Operations guys sneaking Kathy, Asmara's "Nymphomaniac du Jour," into the Barracks; Junior Officers playing "Grab Bag" car keys at the Officers Club and racing out the back gate of Tract A with a "Brown Bagger" prize not their own; and hundreds of other insane behaviors that would rival the best of the comedic episodes of the MASH TV series, had come to an apparent end.

Though I wasn't the one who started the fight that night, such as it was; I was there, and easily identified as "the one who speaks Tigrinya," because I was the only American fluent in the language.

In almost an instant, what began as a late night knocking on the door of a local bordello, near the "Bosh," turned into the two of us being surrounded by dozens of "Ethies."

Outnumbered, and after getting whacked a few times by those olive wood clubs the "Ethies" carried, while getting in very few punches of our own, we ran like Hell to escape to a nearby local restaurant. We entered, sat down, and ordered Calamari as calmly as though we were at our destination and not our refuge.

We recognized another familiar face in the restaurant. He was a slightly intoxicated Major from the Post who was a frequent "downtowner" for whatever "sins" Asmaran night life had to offer.

We quickly engaged him in conversation so that he would think we had been at the restaurant for longer than we actually were. He didn't know it then, but he was to be our alibi for not being at the trouble scene.

Of course, no alibi, no matter how air-tight, could substantiate a miracle of bi-location. I was the only American who could speak Tigrinya and could not possibly be in two places at once.

The next morning was "Gotcha" time. We were arrested and charged for something that would have been laughable only a few months earlier. No Guard ever arrested another Guard for the very things they were doing themselves.

But We Were In The Army Now!

For whatever reason, the two of us were Court-Martialed separately for this same incident. Though we both shared the identical birthday, March 28, 1937, thus of the exact same age, he was allowed to not serve time "because of his extreme youth" and permitted to go home. I was sentenced to 6 Months at Hard Labor. Another sentence to 6 Months at Hard Labor was soon to follow.

I remember the sound the cell door made closing after me that October 4, 1957 as I walked two paces ahead to the barred rectangle that framed the freedom I could see, but not touch.

I looked up into the night sky through the bars on the cell window, straining to see if I could catch a glimpse of reflected light from, what was then, man's greatest scientific achievement, the Space Launch of Sputnik I.

Under normal circumstances, I might have been excited that modern man had made such a giant leap forward.

But "looking" was just something perfunctory to do to distract my awareness from the sickening reality that overwhelmed my senses.

What was to become of me?

So many thoughts flooded my mind.

How could I explain this to my family who hadn't seen me in more than two and a half years and were expecting me home "any day now"?

What would the kids from the school bus think, when they saw their Guard as a prisoner?

At 20 years of age, my life seemed to be over before it had barely begun.

1 comment:

Steve Savage "King of the Beasts" said...

Yes. I was incarcerated at hard labor from October 4, 1957 until June 16, 1958. I once posted the details of my incarceration on the Guard Site, comparing it to the Abu Ghraib imprisonment situation. I removed it because I wasn't looking to open up old wounds of the horror show that I was in. I am pasting a copy of the post that I removed.

Steve Savage "King of the Beasts"

Does anyone from the '50's recall Kagnew's own Abu Ghraib when one of the prisoners, trying to
bring attention to their plight, slashed his wrists? Seems a couple of the prisoners were being fed a 1/2 coffee cup per day of carrots and peas and a slice of bread, forced to work 20 hours per day at hard labor, literally busting rocks, lugging 120 pound cement bags backs back and forth, forced to run long distances until they collapsed, while a Prison Chaser rode shotgun behind them in a Jeep, etc. The prisoners were getting only four hours sleep per day, but not consecutive hours. When they could no longer maintain that schedule, they went on strike, hoping that an Inspector General or anyone would rescue them from their sadistic nightmare that was being orchestrated from the top down. The prisoners were brought outside, given to a count of 10 to return to work, or else. With each count, a SGT, now deceased, moved closer to the head of one of the prisoners with the butt of the rifle. At the count of 10, the lights went out, and the next prisoner was now subjected to the same routine. The prisoners then had their clothes removed, placed naked in the cells as pictured in Dannie Taylor's photos, and the windows and doors were boarded over to guarantee complete isolation. Before the strike, the prisoners drew straws to see who would be the one to cut their wrists. As soon as the wrists were cut, the Trustee was supposed to cry out for help. He never did. The officer, in charge, in a panic, tried to get the other prisoner to cut his wrist, as well, for whatever reason. I've often wondered if such a thing would have ever been possible had the Guards actually been Military Police Officers. Maybe that was the real reason professionally trained military police officers finally came to Kagnew.