Gerrit spent the first half of the ’60s in Greenland working at the BMEWS base, one of the coldest parts of the world. You can read more about him in part 1, the earlier blog about him. The second half of the ’60s he spent in tropical Vietnam working official US (Army) related contracts. Probably 5 years in total between 1965 and 1970 but exact starting and ending dates are unknown. Only one passport survives has his 1969 Vietnam dates in it and some other paperwork from around 1969 survives but not much.
As he passed away I am not sure I will ever know what he did there exactly. He worked in some capacity for RMK-BRJ the largest building conglomerate active in Vietnam during the war. You can read more about their history here: RMK-BRJ wiki
He had some form of medical education in the US (he stated to be an MD but I found no actual proof for this though) and he worked in some medical capacity it seems, probably in the line of Health and Food safety for RMK-BRJ.
Below a photo of his kit-bag (his original Dutch one, not a US version!): GHM Medical Department / Facilities & Operations RMK BRJ / 6th Division Vietnam
Here some paperwork form his time in Vietnam:
His late war MACV ID Card (Military Assistance Command Vietnam)
His Government drivers license with Vietnam Road Sign test
Saigon Hospital card and Saigon Freemason membership card (look at the date March 1975 just a month before the fall….?)
As he spent a long period in Vietnam he witnessed most of the war and not always from a safe distance! On several occasions he risked his life in the line of duty. As can be read on the Wiki regarding RMK-BRJ more than 52 employees were killed in those years.
I’ll share here some of my favourite pictures from his collection (these are mainly prints I took from the slides he made) there are many more!
Some local forces:
Driving a river boat, he went with the river forces (riverines) on patrols on several occassions, just for fun and he spoke French fluently so he could help out in communications too.
After a request on the US Militaria forum I learned the ship must have been part of River Patrol Section 532 based on the patch visible on one of the pictures!
Above shooting a M-79 grenade launcher and below driving the boat himself.
With the Marines he had a Dutch friend there too, recently emigrated to the US.
And some random photo’s. A forget me not club, location unknown and with a Tiger Stripe boonie hat.
Some of the items he collected during this period:
The Marbles pilots survival knife he already got in Greenland and brought to VN.
The Rolex Datejust he bought for his Birthday during R&R in Bangkok in 1967! It can be seen on the stairs of a friends house in Saigon. He is guarding the house with his M1 with double (taped together) banana magazines.
A relatively rare item among his military gear are these: Military Survival Kit – Hot Wet environment. Mainly issued to Special Forces in Vietnam. For more info see this page
You cannot hide your heritage, reading a newspaper from Deventer, the Netherlands, in Vietnam!
Missiles in Greenland, war in Vietnam, problems in Persia…..
During my teens in the early ’80’sof last century I got to know Gerrit. He was an acquaintance of my parents. He had stories and photo’s of countries and places where nobody else I knew had ever been. He was a bit of an adventurer so there was much to tell. Being only a kid much of this information was lost over time. After Gerrit passed away I helped his widow some years later to sell some of his collections and I got many of the photo’s and items which had interested me so much in my youth.
In this small series of blogs I will share some of these photo’s and items from his travels in the 60s, mainly his life in Greenland and Vietnam. In both locations he was working as a civilian contractor for the US military.
Gerrit was born in 1929 in Deventer, Holland. In the early 50s he studied Hotel Management in Switzerland and soon after emigrated to the US where he became a citizen, after his retirement he returned to Deventer in the Netherlands our mutual home town. During his period in the US he studied medicine but it remains unclear if he actually became a MD as he later claimed.
To be honest much of his life remained unknown which probably added to the “mystique” around his travel and activities abroad. He always seemed to work in troubles locations. After Vietnam came Persia and after that Congo just before the local revolutions happened that ended in changing the names of these countries.
The Cold War
In the ’50s and ’60s of last century the tension between the western world and the east, especially the Soviets was building up. The war in Korea, the Cuba crisis and later the Vietnam war were al very visible examples of this. The cold war was also one of fear for a Nuclear war with Ballistic Missiles flying over the oceans. If you could stop the enemies missiles you could win this potential war….
BMEWS – Ballistic Missile Early Warning System
In order to find and after shoot down enemy missiles the US started the BMEWS project in 1959 which was completed in 1964. The main contractor for the entire project was RCA, short for Radio Corporation of America. The contract was close to 500 million USD initially. They were building enormous radar sites with linked computer systems. There was a total of 12 radars at several sites, Thule being the biggest with 5 of these radars the location was known as the J-Site. Next to the Radars there were jets for interception and NIKE missiles but I will get back to that later.
Gerrit in front of the BMEWS Radars in Thule
In the years that Gerrit worked in Thule (63/64/65) everything was aimed at completing the project as soon as possible in order to guarantee the USA a higher level of safety against the Soviet threat….
As mentioned he worked for RCA in the field service, probably in the role of facility manager (he later had several more of these type of roles in other locations).
Here his address at the time as stated in the postcard also seen at the top of this blog.
And here a folder for new RCA arrivals at the Thule BMEWS project. On the inside he describes the location of his sleeping quarters in spring so this is probably from 1963. The location of the dot on the inside corresponds with the map on the outside.
Thule Air Base – 4683rd Air Defense Wing
Obviously Thule was an Air Base next to the BMEWS radar station. In the period Gerrit lived here (’63/’65) the 4683rd Air Defense Wing was stationed there. This unit was formed in 1960 and discontinued in 1965 so Gerrit witnessed most of its lifetime.
Thule Times of 1964 with the Wing Commander and the Base commander
They flew with the Convair F-102, Delta Dagger as pictured below in Thule.
NIKE Missile base
I am not sure how secret these things were back in that period but Gerrit was always proud of his Security Clearance (he said the highest a civilian could get). I did not see any of the NIKE missile pictures until after he passed away and I received his box of Greenland pictures….
Several pictures of the NIKE Hercules missiles, ready for action…
Next to the Jets and Missiles there were other planes….
People had to be brought, supplies had to be brought so plenty of other planes on the Air Base like these:
DC3 and it’s big brother, a C137 Stratoliner
Or Danish visitors:
And of course the Fire Brigade in case of problems….
And there were helicopters too!
A HH43 – Huskie Helicopter
Prized possessions of an Arctic Traveller
Gerrit lived as a civilian on the Air Base. It seems that in his role he had acces to military supplies and also to the military shop, the so called Base Exchange (BX). A place it seems were also luxury items like Omega watches could be bought or ordered.
Next to the photo’s I have some of his most prized possession of that time, his parka, knife and watch. I will discuss them here as they are quite unique…at least to me!
In most photo’s he can be seen wearing his N3B US Air Force cold weather parka. Next to the Parka I have the matching trousers and a pair of aviators fur lined boots…
He also had a Marbles Jet Pilot survival knife that he kept on using in the Vietnam war. Marbles designed the knife but they did not get the Defense Contract. So probably this is a private purchase from the Base Exchange. In any case it is a rare knife by now.
And here is Gerrit wearing and using the knife! First in his dormitory with the parka on the chair, the knife on the table, used to open a can? And plenty of Kodak films in the drawer…
And here worn on the belt during his trip to Dundas
And my personal favorite, as it can still be used, his Gold Omega Seamaster. Bought January 1963 on the Base Exchange!
Gerrit somehow got the opportunity to make a trip with the local inhabitants, the Inuit or as they often were called in that time Eskimo’s. Today there are companies offering dog sled tours in that area but looking at these photo’s it was not a commercial business yet in the 60s. Dundas mountain is quite near to the Thule site so it appears on many pictures. As the picture below show the trip started from BMEWS itself, four of the five radars can be seen here and of course the dog led sled!
As I have no details on the trip itself from Gerrit it was good te see that on some pictures he made captions of what we can see!
The caption reads: An Eskimo from Dundas with gun and screen for the seal hunt
He mentions one of the dogs by name and says he often took it into his truck
Two photo’s of “locals”, really love these, they could be in a period National Geographic…
Also during his time in Vietnam Gerrit always had good relations with local people. Not being in the military himself probably gave him some more possibilities for this.
The family that took him on the trip?
Dundas from the seaside…
This wildlife booklet must have helped, he studied it well. He brought even some items with him that are no longer here like a Narwal tooth, from the unicorm of the seas…
Life on the base
In the years Gerrit was in Thule the base was still quite new and still being built. It was not a place of luxury but of a very simple life, work, eat, sleep, repeat….
Here some pictures of that simple life in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.
Construction still ongoing!
As on any base there was also a Chapel for the churchgoing part of the staff. And of course Xmas specials on the menu.
Dormitories were quite simple with small rooms. Not sure if private rooms were available to all personnel?
Outside of the dormitory and inside.
Just enough place for a bed, a small table and some personal belongings…
Weather conditions were very harsh, even in spring and summer
Describing weather conditions and leaving his Jeep near the other Barracks for better protection against the snow.
And of course US Mail!
Later after the 1968 accident with a B-52 there was radiation but no idea what the radiation could have been before 1965?
And the ubiquitous sign post found on every base far from the States!
Recently I added two KNIL timepieces to my collections. A wristwatch by Tissot and a timer by Heuer. Based on these I started some deskresearch and this blog is based on what I found online so far. All additional info is welcome!
Wristwatches. So far I have found three specific versions of KNIL wrist watches. Two versions with a waterproof case and a decentral (small) seconds hand and one with a central (long) seconds hand.
Type 1:WWW. The first type are re-issued watches of the British army. The so called Waterproof Wrist Watch (designated WWW on the back). These watches are nicknamend the dirty dozen (after the movie) as there were 12 manufacturers of these WWW type watches. These watches have a caseback that has the English official stamping and a secondary KNIL engraving and in some cases even a third Indonesian Army (A.D.R.I.) engraving that is somewhat cruder.
The engraving in all cases is KNIL and a 4 digit serial number. So far I have found numbers starting with a 1/2/3/4/5 so a total of more than 5000 pieces seems possible.
Type 2:Tissot. The second type seems to be bought directly by the KNIL as it only has one type of engraving and they all are similar.
These also have a serial number of 4 digits and so far I have found numbers starting with 6/7/8. So based on that it is likely that these came after the WWW watches! This is only a hypothesis though. Further research is needed! My version:
It is numbered 6577. I have seen multiple examples online with the exact same caseback and identical type of engraving with numbers: 6787 / 7009 / 7746 / 8709 so there were probably 3000 of these Tissot watches! Museum Bronbeek (KNIL museum) has two examples in its collection (8466 / 8807). One of these example came from the estate of a Bren carrier driver.
Below a version with the same style of reverse but a slightly different face which has seen very much use (and abuse) – not my collection.
Type 3: Central seconds variation/Queen Juliana. The third variation has central seconds and a later type of engraving. It has a crowned J (for Queen Juliana so 1948 or later!) below that KNIL and under that again the serial number starting with a letter T and 4 digits. The digits start with 0 and 1 again. There seem to be more brands with this engraving but all have central seconds which is fitting with a later period of production/purchase. Technos seems to be one of the brands making this type of watch.
Both photo’s taken from internet – I could not establish the owner of the photo’s if found I will provide the credits.
Apart from the example of the Tissot watch in Bronbeek I have not seen examples of watches with a confirmed provenance. With a possible 8 to 10,000 watches all personell who needed a wristwatch to perform their official duties might have received one (as far as avalaible). This would include air force use, drivers, artillery and many other fuctions, maybe even officers.
British Army Pocket Watch (GSTP – General Service Time Piece). So far I have seen a few examples of these classic pocket watches with a KNIL engraving. These are also re-issued British army timepieces. Probably bought together with the WWW wrist watches from British military surplus after WW2.
And last for now a Heuer Timer. These are so far all the same and have a 30 seconds face with a 15 minute counter. Serial numbers have 3 digits and all examples seen so far start with the number 2 (224 / 227 /243) so a series of less than 300 it seems. Like the Tissot this seems to be one order for one type only. Thest timers were probably used for sound distancing, so mainly artillery use. Determining the distance based on the sound of impact after a shot has been released and measuring the time in between to calculate the distance. Possibly also used for mortar and air force (bomb) timing.
So far I have not established if these were already used in 1942 or before or only 1946 and later.
As stated above this is only based on some deskresearch so nothing is conclusive yet. More info is welcome, please contact me, also with examples and additional serial number info.
This is a group of documents to Adolph Straub from 1851 who was a Stabs Auditor (Military Judge) in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia which was in Austrian hands at that moment. Fieldmarshall Count Radetzky was the commander / viceroy of that region from 1848 until his death in 1858.
And on the following page from the ranklist of 1851 we find Straub:
Stabs-Auditor (Military Judge) Adolph Straub was awarded the Iron Crown Order 3rd class in 1851. Officially the number of recipients was limited to 50 in the original statutes but this was no longer the case in 1851 nevertheless it still was a rare order.
Below the formal award document signed by the Minister of War Feldzeugmeister Csorich.
Fieldmarschall Radetzky as commander of Straub also communicated with him regarding the award which leads to the letter below to Straub including the original signature of Radetzky and the use of his personally marked paper (often more generic paper was used in general communications!).
So this group of documents if for an important order but also with some very rare signatures in Austro-Hungarian history.
The army did not only exist of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery but these pictures are the most common ones. This blog is dedicated to some of the other professions in the KuK army. All needed in the war effort but less standard to find pictures of. Here some orignals from my collection.
Communications (signals/telegraph) was an important part of the modernisation of warfare in WW1. Left the armlet with T for Telegraph which was in use before the more generic collar badge was introduced that can be seen on the man right.
And communications in use!
The Medical Corps plays an important role during war. Here some examples starting with the field medics, “sanitäter” in German:
And the hospitals, both in the field and regular military hospitals.
And some rare “action” pictures from the hospital
More medical people below. Based on rank not medics but MDs.
The FieldGendarmes were the military police that had an important role but often not very popular. They had standard KuK uniforms with only an armband as distinction from the regular army. They were the law behind the front lines and in the occupied territories.
Below some variations of the armband in wear from the photo’s above. It seems hard to find two examples that are the same. See also the book “The Emperors coat” (Rest/Ortner/Ilming) for multiple examples.
Worldwar 1 started with the declaration of war against Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1914 and was the start of the Serbian campaign. This campaign was largely unseccesfull until the attempt that started on October 7th, 1915. This last campaign ended on November 24th of the same year.
In this last campaign against Serbia were the following forces: the Bulgarian First Army commanded by Kliment Boyadzhiev, the German Eleventh Army commanded by Max von Gallwitz and the Austro-Hungarian Third Army commanded by Hermann Kövess von Kövessháza, all three under the control of the German Field Marshal August von Mackensen.
Until the end of WW1 the Banat region was part of Hungary which was again part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The small city of Fehertemplom, or in German Weisskirchen, was in that region and bordered with Serbia. After the war as a result of the Trianon treaty the region would be split and Fehertemplom would become part of Serbia.
Josef Pártos was a finance official in the rank of Respizient in the Royal Hungarian Finance Commission of the city of Fehertemplom.
He received two separate document for a “Belobende Anerkennung” roughly a “mention in despatches”. This is more or less one step below the merit medal (often known as Signum Laudis based on the text on the reverse of the medal) and in this case also in the face of the enemy. So with wartime ribbon and swords if the medal indeed was given (swords were added only later in the war to the ribbon).
What he exactly did to earn this commendation is a mystery and probaby will remain so (no military records). But it must be quite unique for a finance person to qualify! Based on location and date it most probably was linked to the final Serbian campaign that started on October 7th 1915 especially as the first document is awarded by the 3rd Army command (one of the 3 armies involved in that action as discussed above) and hand signed by its Commander Kövess von Kövessháza!
The second document is from the regional command of Banat.
For this man, sergeant Deli Jószef, I still have to research the background of his medals but below his full entitlement.
Before the war he completed his compulsory service in the 44th KuK Infantry Regiment reaching the rank of sergeant in the reserve and also qualifying as a sharpshooter. His name originally was Doszpod!
Deli and his wife in the first years of the war based on his uniform. He already has the two Silver Bravery Medals.
In 1924 he became a viéz and in that process changed his name to Deli! If the applicant had a non Hungarian name one of the requirements was to change the name to a typical Hungarian one. This was the reason some did not apply as they did not want to change their names! This often leads to difficulties in researching vitéz backgrounds, if the name was changed, as the original name is not recorded!
In the 1920s he became not only a vitéz but he also applied for the grant of land which he indeed received as one of about 5500 of the more than 24.000 vitéz.
This group consists of the documents of Antal/Anton Simó, lieutenant in the reserve of KuK Infantry Regiment 51. As he lived in the Transylvania region he became a Rumanian citizen after WW1 as a consequence of the Trianon treaty.
In 1941 as a result of the last Hungarian re-annexation action Transylvania became part of Hungary and he became a Hungarian citizen again. All the Austro-Hungarian medals could be worn and used in Hungary but obviously not in Rumania.
So in 1941 he could apply for all his relevant WW1 medals and also apply for the vitéz order as a Hungarian citizen. He also moved to Budapest and worked for the Hungarian railways. (MÁV).
His ID card from 1918 showing him with the 2nd class Bravery medal and with the rank and photo of fähnrich, later crossed out and changed in Leutnant. As all officers in training he first went through the nco ranks in which period he was eligible for the Bravery Medals to the ranks below officer!
His Bravery medal 2nd class would be awarded for actions in 1916 as described below in the request form. The request forms come from the Hugarian Military Archives!
Text of the request:In Annerkennung tapferen Verhalten vor dem Feinde. Im Gefechte vom 7. und 8. Juli 1916 Sudlich Podgaino Ubernahm er nach Verwunding des Zugskommandanten das Kommando in dem Zeitpunkt als der Feind bereits an der innersten Hinderniszone war und drangte denselben durch seine Entschlossenes tapferes Aufträten wobei er an der spitze sienes Zuges Kämpfte zuruck. Bracht ihm durch geschickte Feuerleitung grosse Verluste Bei.
Translation:In recognition of brave conduct in the face of the enemy. In fight from 7th and 8th of July 1916, south of Podgaino. He took over command, after the commander became injured, at the moment that the enemy already was at the innermost defense line and forced them back, by his convincing brave action, in which he fought at the front. Inflicted great losses to the enemy by his adequate fire direction.
From the history book of the Worldwar, book II, 1920: 7. Juli griffen zwei neue russische Korps im Räume Karczewo-Wygoda das Kolozsvärer Infanterieregiment Nr. 51 an, ‘das bei Tuganowiczi und Podgaino stand, heldenmütig die Stellung hielt und alle Angriffe erfolgreich abwies. Am 8. Juli 2 Uhr vormittags erfolgte ein erneuter heftiger Angriff, welcher den ganzen Tag andauerte. Vor der Front der 51er lagen über 2000 Tote, ohne daß das tapfere Regiment auch nur einen Schritt zurückgewichen wäre.
Translated:On July 7th two Russian corps attacked in the area of Karczewo-Wygoda the 51st Infantryregiment from Kolosvar that bravely held the line near Tuganowiczi and Podgaino and rejected the attack succesfully. On the 8th of July at 14.00 hrs a new attack was launched that lasted the entire day. In front of the 51st there were more than 2000 death without the Regiment retreating even a step.
And the documents and texts relating to his first class Bravery Medal
Tapferes Verhalten vor dem Feinde: In der Durchbruchsschlacht am 24./X. 1917 bei (Punkt) 778 nördl Dol. Kal stürmte er mit der 1. Welle der 7. fkomp bis über die 2. fdl. Linie, wo er infolge schwerer Verwundung abbleiben musste. Er gab ein mustergültiges Beispiel seiner Mannschaft.
Translation of text:Brave conduct in the face of the enemy. In the breaktrough fight on the 24th of October 1917 at point 778 north of Dol. Kal. he stormed with the first wave of the 7th field company beyond the 2nd enemy line, where he, as a result of a major injury, had to stay behind. He was an example to his men.
The date of this action is the start of the 12th Isonzo battle in Italy! In October 1917 the Kolozsvárer IR.51 took part in the Isonzo / Karfreit breakthrough. The villages are Dol (east of Selo) and Kal (im Cepovantale). The regiment (three battalions) was together with IR.64 a part of the 69th Infantry Brigade. The regiment held a sector in the Cepovan Valley (Capovantal) on the Bainsizza Plateau.
As stated his other medals would be added only after 1941:
His entitlement in 1943 would have looked like this (these are not his medals as the group only existed of the papers).
With many thanks to the Hungarian Military Archives for helping with the relevant materials that made this blog possible!