David P. Moore
A bit of history of the 72d Engineer Survey Liaison Detachment, some of which was related to me by others. Time has dimmed my memory so some of this may be rumors or bent fact and it stands to be corrected.
I was in the 523d Engr Det. (Geodetic Survey) at Ft Belvoir in '59 when the 72d ESLD began its formation from members of the 537th Base Survey Co. I was assigned in '60 to the 29th Base Survey Co in Tokyo and heard no more of the 72d until 1 was assigned thereto in '65 from the Topo Section of the Engr Bd, TECOM.
The mission of the 72d was to provide control of aerial photography. Primarily vertical, the photography was to be done by a commercial firm, which I remember as being DMJM (known to the troops as dimjim), with horizontal control by HIRAN. DMJM owned a P-61 (Black Widow), which I found later was a rare find, I do not know what became of it. Sprigs-Payne airfield was used by all the locals. There was a strip at the 72d, but it was more up and down than level. The roadbed for the Freeport road (never built) was a popular place to land and park planes when visiting the club.
The site was named Camp Ramrod and consisted of 6 prefab corrugated steel, pitch roof, building, a large metal Quonset style structure to house motor maint at one end with avn maint at the other. A well was jetted and a water purification system (ERLDator) installed, along with a water tower. The Camp was powered by 3 each 30K diesel generators. Other ancillary buildings were constructed.
Camp Ramrod-Billating Mess Hall, and Latrine.
The Water Tower
Leveling operations were commenced. The limited road net in the country was a major challenge. The unit had an L-6 (Dehaviland Beaver) and 4 each Hiller H-23 helicopters (3 man capacity), I believe they were called Ravens. There were also bush pilots with Cessna 127s, modified, available. However much of the work was done on foot trails. The basic net was completed by '64 and a number of lines to PP areas were run.
During this time, the unit also constructed a large recreation building at the American Embassy in Monrovia, as well as a large club, a large corrugated metal building (which contained the supply room, a dispensary, a small PX, a BOQ, and a COs Office), and other smaller structures at Camp Ramrod.
When I arrived in Dec 64 I was met at Robertsfield by Patrick Bishop (SFC E7), (Paty), who I had not seen since Grafenwoehr in'57. Paty was happy to see me because he could quit being 1st Sgt and go back to operations. When I arrived, the unit consisted of 3 officers, 3 Sgts, about 20 other ranks (mostly E4 and E5 with various MOS). With no photography, the completion of control, and operations in VN hot, the unit had gone to a very low priority for personnel. We were in a holding pattern.
The L-6 was in mothballs and the H-23s were being placed in storage as well. There were no pilots and about 4 avn mechanics. We were notified that there were 1000 barrels of desiccant, on pallets and without dunage, waiting for pickup at the port. Needless to say every one was stunned. It was accumulating storage fees at an enormous rate. The unit had 4 each 2-1/2 ton trucks. With help from the AmEmb and USAID we managed to get it all up to Ramrod and covered with tents. Oh what to do? It was discovered that the unit had ordered 1 barrel of bagged desiccant about 3 months prior to be used for aircraft storage and that somewhere along the line in CONUS it got changed to 1000. We gave away a few barrels and were finally told to move it back down to the port for shipment to USAEUR.
Mail delivery to the unit was by air through AmEmb, we got mail twice a week and the turnaround for mail was 4 to 5 weeks. International mail was very expensive and mailing a package was prohibitive. With the AmEmb system the shipping rate was based on a DC address. The same was true of packages and the largest package that could be handled was a GI footlocker, with a 100 lb weight limit. Good deal, except for time. The CO, Frank Dryzmala (who had been with USAMFE when I was with the 29th) set out to improve that. He got authorization from USAEUR to open an APO (09155). We built a post office, an AF Sgt showed up with a bunch of stuff, and we were in business. Two airplanes a week, direct from the states, and the mail turnaround dropped to about 10 days. Later while I was at Belvoir I ran in to the Col who had been in Germany and had reluctantly approved the operation.
When I arrived the camp was completely isolated from the world. It finally had power from Monrovia, but the generators were always ready to go. There was no telephone or radio commo at the unit. We had a BC-6, which could reach CONUS on voice, code, or FSK, but no one to operate it. We had AN/GRC-9 and AN/VRC-29 radios, along with an authorized frequency (somewhere around 12mc. Our call sign was X4R but no one to call. We made 2 runs per day to AmEmb and USAID to pick up and deliver memos and TWX.
Finally Frank was able to get a line run out to the turnoff to the camp, near Paynesville, and poles set. The Liberians would not go up the poles to lay the line and they also had no wire. Dug in the tower set to get a set of gaffs and belts, and we had some spiral 4. Took me 2 days but we had a telephone at the camp. Only 1 phone, but I put plugs at 6 locations and the phone was hauled around. The Liberians, who used European shoe plates to climb poles, were amazed by the gaffs, finally got a couple of guys to try them and they were not too impressed. I had tried shoe plates before and did not like them.
The club, which started as a buy-in from each member of the original crew, to buy beer in bulk, and the buy-in being refunded upon departure, was a most successful venture. It had a large and well furnished lounge and bar with separate TV and reading room, game room, and eventually a small kitchen. Movies were shown on Wed and Sun eve. As I remember, beer was 15 cents and booze, straight or mixed, was 20 cents. A profit was still made as the inbibables came in duty free. There was a wider clientele than just the unit. USAID, AmEmb, American School, Peace Corps, MAAG, MidEast Airlines, and a few of the local girls were some of the visitors. The European Club System discovered the place on an IG visit after I left. They were not very happy. The clubs cash reserves were big, but an investigation revealed that all was on the up and up. They also decided that there was really no way to service the club from Europe, so it was left alone.
Mary Smith, aka Floor Show Mary, was probably one of the most popular locals. At that time the Supremes and other Motown music was very popular in West Africa. I'm more of a swing, classic, and jazz person but I did develop an appreciation for what was known locally as 'high life*. Anyway, a couple of beers and Mary would solo dance to anything that had rhythm; she would have legs going to one beat, torso to another, arms to another, and her head with a 4th. I have never seen anything quite as visual, and that includes ballet, and I've never seen it again. I discovered what 'you dance like a white folk' means.
We did have some interesting local folks around. There was the US Army Sgt who kept the LNG Camp up toward Nimba running and who would drop in every month or so. He spoke Americo-Liberian without accent, along with a couple of local dialects. I don't know how long he was there but he was still there when I departed. The Liberians wanted him to stay, but as he was not black, he could not become a citizen. There was a LTC in the LNG who had been in an engineer unit in WWII and stayed in Liberia. He also had a pest control service in Monrovia. It was from him that I learned of some strange goings on during WWII in Liberia, but he would only allude to them with nothing concrete. Of which more later. There were others but these two stand out.
We began having problems with the police in Monrovia harassing the younger white folks. Every one in the 72d was on an Official Passport and had immunity under the status offerees treaty. We had some laminated photo ID cards, signed by the AMEmb stating this fact. I gave a lecture about being nice to the cops and the LNG if confronted and made the statement that the card did not give one the right to 'kill a moe'. You can guess what the card was called. Moe was our vernacular for locals. The term came from Libya. After I left, an officer from the unit ran over and killed a Liberian. The card saved him from a lot of trouble with the locals.
Liberia was on a 2 currency systems, the Liberia bills and coinage and the good old Yankee Greenback and coinage. The exchange rate was 1:1. The moes were paid in cash on a monthly basis. Very few of them could sign their name, so all the others signified receipt with a thumbprint on the payroll.
The 3/4 ton trucks were trashed out by the time I arrived, we had few spare parts and delivery time from the states was forever. For some reason, all of the drive shafts to the winches had been cut. Never did figure that out. However, if the problem was the internal part of an engine we could go down and buy them from the Dodge dealer. About the middle of my tour we got a shipment of Ford F-150 pickup trucks and the local dealer could service them. The problem with them was that they were the fastest vehicles in the Country. There we no accidents but we always preached 'go slow' and were more lucky than anything else. I was later told that all of them had their cabs separate from the chassis. We also, at that time, had a few vehicles that came from AID; a sedan or two, a couple of Jeep sta wagons, and a Jeep pick-up. All were past their service life but were easy to maintain. There were only 2 vehicle accidents while I was there; the first was when the CO went out to VOA for golf, got a little oiled, and ran off an embankment. No seat belt got some facial cuts that healed well and we were able to beat the dents out of the sedan. The other was an M-151 (the notorious flipper) which was used as the message truck. One afternoon it got flipped with 4 guys in it. Only one real casualty, a badly skinned shoulder. The Doc was able to control it, but we were afraid that a skin graft would be necessary. Dents in the 151 were knocked out.
A medic was a part of the unit, usually an NCO with Lab Tech or OR Tech qualifications. The new Doc arrived shortly after I did and there really wasn't much to do except give each new arrival a GG injection. If you've ever had one I'm sure you haven't forgotten.So Paul went down to the Missionary Hospital at ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), which was on the beach east of Monrovia. He was there 3 or 4 days a week. He was really in his element, they let him diagnose, cut, stitch, deliver, you name it. They would let him deaden, but no anesthesia. He was one happy medic.
About Jul65 or so, Paty was sent TDY to the Advanced Geodetic Survey Course at Belvoir for 6 months. I got my appointment so I became the Opns Officer and Doc became the 1st Sgt, the Mess Sgt left so Paul also became Mess Sgt. We had a really interesting rations system. As there was no commissary, all rations were purchased at the Monrovia Freepost from Abuojadi and Azar. This was a Lebanese commercial venture that imported and sold to the Embassies. All of our cooks, including the baker, were Liberian, all very good. If you wanted 6 over easy and a 1 in Porterhouse, rare, for breakfast - no problem. I had a hell of a time getting the cooks to stop radding my scrambled eggs. Every Friday lunch was shrimp... A morning trip to the fish wharf for rejected shrimp that had just come in from the Japanese boats off the Atlantic coast. They were longer and fatter than the middle finger of a really big guy. The 'good' shrimp were frozen and sent back to Japan. After boiling it was on to the mess line. You could heap your mess tray, eat it all, dump the shucks in the 55gal drum, and go back for more. Every one in the camp ate shrimp on Friday. If one got hungry at night, just go over and get a gallon of ice cream from the small reefer at the end of the mess line. We opened the hamburger grill at the club to keep guys from cooking at night.
When I got orders for Liberia, the first thing I did was get a copy of the Country Guide. These all had some low classification but were not to be left lying around. At that time there was a book out titled "The Zin Zin Road". It was an expose of corruption in Liberia, the Americo-Liberians, and based on the PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers). It had been banned in Liberia - so I bought a copy. Both accompanied me to Liberia, were passed around, and ended up in our little library at the club. I have no idea what became of them. Interestingly, there was no Zin Zin Road but there was the road to Zor Zor, which was built by the Sea Bees.
A couple of years ago, while searching Liberia on one of the book sales web sites, I came saw a book titled 'The Girls of Shangri La'. It was the remembrances of white artillery Sgt who was stationed in Liberia during WWII. There were black engineer units in Liberia building Robertsport and other installations. The VD rate was soaring among the black troops so two special camps of single women were established and very strict medical control maintained. They were available to black troops only. Very interesting. That's what the LNG LTC was alluding to.
Just before I was offered my appointment a message came down from Italy that there was an E-8 stripe available and I was at the top of the list. However, I was at the top of the list for Topo Warrants, which was due out the following month. But, they had to act on the third rocker, and a guy I had been with in the 523d was next on the list. Would I take a gamble and turn the stripe down? I did. Rat got the stripe, and I got a bar. Kind of strange, I was never sent any paper work from Italy, yet when I next saw my service record it had all the proper signatures. I ran around Liberia with a W-3 bar, no W-l bars were to be found.
While in Liberia I made few trips out of the Monrovia area for pleasure. I did visit a diamond dig up toward Sierra Leone, a trip to the mines at Nimba, and a run up. to Zor Zor. My souvenirs of Liberia are a monkey pistol, 4 bush dolls that I purchased at the Phoebe Leper Colony, 2 real bush dolls which I got in trade for two of the Phoebe bush dolls, a gold filigree V ring for my wife and a country cloth robe given me by the gate guards, Sammy Moore and John Maluba. It was a busy time but little was accomplished other than to keep the place going.
One diversion, which engaged many of us, was the Sat afternoon softball game with the folks at the Firestone Plantation. They had a darn good team. Occasionally there were jungle rule volleyball games with a men's church group from Monrovia. Additionally, on most Sunday afternoons a group would drive down to the beach to swim, body surf, and dive in the Atlantic Ocean.
Toward the latter part of the year a number of recent graduates of the USAES Survey Course joined the unit. The problem being that without aerial photography there was really no project to work on. Powers that be decided that they should be trained as field classifiers. A Carto NCO from the Ethi-US MM was sent TDY to the 72d to conduct the training. I did not get involved with this but I do remember that there were certain personal problems with this individual that had to be dealt with.
I departed Liberia in Dec 65. No photography was produced by DMJM. I was told that the photography had finally been flown by the USAF. The project was finally closed out in the early 70s. The close out was done by a Topo WO, whose name I have forgotten. All cooking was done using propane gas in 25 lb cylinder. There was a field of old used cylinders to the SW of the generator shed, which were picked up by Agip.Later the WO was presented a large sum of cash as payment for the cylinders that apparently had been purchased over the years. When he tried to turn the cash in to AmEmb they would not take it so he ended up taking it back to AMS. I have often wondered what became of the assets of the club.
I have recently purchased a copy of an AMS l:50k map sheet of Liberia w showing Camp Ramrod as a cultural feature, the location of RAMROD ASTRO, and crediting the 72d ESLD with control surveys.
Liberia became a basket case in the '80s and has not much progressed. Tubman kept a firm grip on things during his life. I never met the man. It's sad to think that a country in which people were, in the main poor but fed and content, could turn to such chaos. I suspect that most of the Liberians I knew are long dead. I know Paty got back to Liberia as I saw a photo of him there taken in '69. I never again saw Paty Bishop.
Other pictures of Camp Ramrod. 72d Engineer Survey Liaison Detachment:
Guard House at the enterance of Camp Ramrod.
Inside the Administration building.