J and D's Corner

Our Photo Attic - Stuff from Here & There

Tripoli, Libya  1962 - '65


Not too long after my first re-enlistment in the fall of 1961 the word came that my long period at Shaw AFB as one of TAC's "gnat trained killers" (TAC was famous for bases in bug-country) was coming to an end.  Our next posting was to be Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya. When I got the word I had to consult an atlas to determine exactly where the hell that was.

Libya at that time was still a monarchy under Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, or King Idris as we knew him.  Oil had been discovered but serious production was still in the future and outside of the major cities of Tripoli & Benghazi Libya was a fairly primitive place. 

Wheelus AFB, in addition to being a useful staging point for US and NATO activities in the central Mediterranean & further south in Africa, boasted a large air-to-ground desert gunnery range with excellent flying weather most of the year.  Fighter & fighter-bomber outfits from Europe would rotate down for bombing & gunnery practice on a regular basis.

Not having the rank to rate government housing we had to rent an apartment off-base, which entailed a major culture shock adjustment for D, who had never before been out-of-country.  It all worked out though and we enjoyed our four years there.

The Libya assignment also provided the opportunity to make another life-altering move.  I had been working in the communications shop a few months when my boss came in and asked if anyone knew anything about television.  He informed us that our outfit had just assumed responsibility for maintenance of the radio/TV station on base and he needed a volunteer to fill a vacancy.  No one else displayed any interest and I was getting bored with fixing the same sort of stuff day after day, so I told him sure, I know TV theory and I can handle that. 

What at that moment I had viewed as just a fun diversion turned out to be one of the best moves of my working career.  Except for a year or so in an aerial reconnaissance assignment (which was sort-of TV I guess) I spent the rest of my productive life working in television, and it was good to me.

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Our Apartment, Tripoli

Camels were a frequent sight on the dirt street outside out gate.

Our Apartment, Tripoli

Our digs were the brown compound, left foreground. After a year or so we moved to a somewhat nicer place on a paved street.

Apartment Interior

Things were basic, but comfortable. No air conditioning, but the thick limestone block walls moderated the desert heat.

"Yard" of our Tripoli Apartment

The neighborhood kids were fascinated by the little wading pool. All living quarters in Libya were either totally enclosed Arab compound style or fenced off like ours..

A New Wilson Arrives

It didn't take long after D's arrival for things to happen.

Ground Radio Shop, Wheelus

This was the somewhat boring radio repair shop where I worked before making the move to the TV station. Unlike the more, shall we say, active life with TAC, this pretty much like washing dishes. I could fix the stuff in my sleep.

JW at "work"

I had just arrived in Libya when this was taken and already I don't look too excited.

Street Scene, Tripoli

On the right side, note the meat market with meat hanging free. It was covered with flies, but the butcher would spray it with a Flit gun, producing a deluge of dying flies and clearing space to whack off a chunk of meat.

The Harbor, Tripoli

The downtown harbor area was actually quite attractive. This is looking from the old fort eastward.

Street Scene, Tripoli

Probably hasn't changed much in 40 years.

Main Gate, Wheelus AFB

About a year after we arrived, a new divided roadway was completed from the city out to the base. It was a major improvement in commiting!

Flagpole & AFRTS Station

The propeller mounted on the flagpole base is from the "Lady Be Good", a bomber which crashed deep in the desert during WW-II. The crew had bailed out over desert, thinking they were still over the Mediterranean and subsequently died while trying to walk out.

AFRTS Station, Tripoli

We had an AM radio station on the air from 6 AM to midnight, and TV from around 4 PM to midnight, with expanded schedule on the weekends. Basic, but it was all there was and served its purpose.

Woman's Day Show

D had an afternoon show called "Woman's Day" that she hosted in rotation with two other wives. Filling the time was sometimes a challange but they did well.

The Story Princess

D also did a kids' show where she was "The Story Princess" and read stories to kids. Simple, but it worked.

(OOPS! Wrong assignment...this was 5 years later at Wakkanai Japan! But she's a sexy broad so I'll leave it in.)

Kids Time

OK, our locally produced programming was not network quality but we tried!

Social Gathering of the Ladies

Like all overseas bases in the more (ahem) exotic locales, social life pretty much revolved around fellow GI families.

J, D, & the Lightners

Allen Lightner was the US Ambassador at the time. Although I sometimes fixed radio gear at the Embassy we wern't normally in the same orbit with the diplomatic gang. This was a rare social occasion.

Enjoying the Med

The base had a stretch of beachfront that was popular with families.

Lady of Garian, Libya

In WW-II the Germans had a POW camp at Garian, some distance inland from Tripoli, and the prisoners occupied their time painting various female forms. Popular myth held this was a concealed escape map, but it was actually just an expression of what they thought about most!

Reclining Lady, Garian

This is the largest of the Garian paintings and her reclining figure forms a general outline of the Med coastline, with the major cities marked. The pictures were poorly protected and I suspect they may no longer exist.

Desert Town

Settlements outside of Tripoli were pretty basic.

Leptis Magna

Two old Roman towns, Sabratha and Leptis Magna, were reminders of the time when it was the "grainery of the empire". Presumably this was before George Bush created global warming and trashed North Africa.

Not a Dune Buggy

One thing Libya has is sand. This was the result of an ill-advised attempt to take a shortcut.

Easter at the TV Station

Most of the family social activities were on the base, as our downtown digs were not exactly condusive to such things.