James H. Harnden
Special Orders No. 218, HQ DA, dated 26 August 1964, assigned me to the 72nd Engr Det (Survey) Monrovia, Liberia and attached to the USAMILMIS, for administration.
My EDCSA was 12 Nov 1964 but I believe my actual arrival in country was about 5 December. I was met at the Roberts Field airport by SP6 Troy Carpenter with whom I had served in the Far East a few years earlier.
Except for the Operations Sergeant, Sfc Bishop, there was no overlap of personnel. I believe that the first contingent came a year prior from the 537th Geodetic Detachment at Fort Belvoir and was led by CW4 "Red" Collins and Sfc John Misurda. John still lives in the Woodbridge, VA area but I have no contact information.
I didn’t know what to expect upon arrival at "Camp Ramrod" but one had to appreciate the hard work and resourcefulness that had obviously been expended by those who had preceded us. Other than some reconnaissance and the establishment of the first astro station, very little survey work had been accomplished but camp life for the next few years would be much more tolerable because of their efforts.
After reading the detailed submissions by Moore and Carpenter, I was amazed at their ability to recall names and events which occurred over forty years ago. I do not have that faculty. When Troy listed street names in Monrovia, I realized that I had absolutely no memory of the town. However, I did make one trip to one of the clubs there to arrange the services of a musical group (Los Millionarios) to entertain at our club. That was a memorable evening and I was the nervous MC for the audience that included many from Firestone, Peace Corps, MAAG, Embassy, and other agency personnel.
I recall occasional volleyball games against Firestone employees and I still have a crooked middle finger to confirm that fact. Other flashbacks include a flight to Sierra Leone to coordinate with their survey agency on a level line which was to be run along the border between the two countries and a routine helicopter flight to Roberts Field where I experienced my first combat "free-fall" maneuver. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Dave Shockey, thought it was very funny watching my reaction but after I returned my arms and legs to their rightful place, he rewarded me by giving me the "stick" fur a couple of minutes - what a sense of control. I also remember that a six to seven foot black mamba snake had entered the camp and apparently was sunning himself along the ledge of our club. The locals were very concerned about this highly venomous creature and, although I had little experience with snakes, I thought the quickest and safest solution was to shoot him from a safe distance - which I did. I don’t remember how much damage there was to the club but after a couple of shots he fell to the ground. The locals finished the job but were only satisfied of certain death when they cut off the head and buried it. The next day we inherited a new pet - a mongoose. No more snake problems.
From a technical standpoint, this was an excellent project with a variety of work phases to be accomplished. Astronomic positions and azimuths, miles of leveling, classification, picture point work, monuments to install, and a unique cross-country traverse with Tellurometers, and vertical angles for elevations. Actually, two traverses were run side by side and data obtained to reduce one to the other. I was so fortunate to have a great organizer and leader in Sfc Bishop and one of the top astronomic observers the Army ever produced in SF6 Carpenter. All he needed to be successful was clear skies and that was often hard to come by. During several of my flights to visit field parties or to resupply them, it would appear that a large portion of the country was ablaze - no fire perhaps, but smoke was prevalent. I was told that the rainy season was so intense; the fires were set to counter the tremendous growth resulting from the rain. The map sheet that was produced from our work there contained "holiday" areas because the smoke prevented aerial photos from ever being taken.
The biggest problem that I had was the fact that none of the troops that arrived had any computing skills. I attribute my lack of recall of names, familiarity with the local surroundings, and other events that took place during that year to the fact that I spent long days and evenings rotating that hand-crank calculating machine trying to keep up with all the attendant computations coming in from the field. Level notes had to be checked, reduction of vertical angles, distance data, traverse computations, latitude and longitude comps, etc. Troy did most of the radio-chronometer comparisons in the field but I helped with those too. I enjoyed that phase of the job and 1 am glad that I had the expertise to do it as did the survey Warrants who followed me.
There was mention of the unit’s Beaver aircraft sustaining some damage while supporting a level party near Cape Palmas. The many jungle-cut airstrips were as hard on the aircraft as the ~road" network used by our land vehicles. There was a great deal of cannibalization to keep all forms of transportation in operation. The pilot of the aircraft was Cpt Howard Van Zante who later was sent to Ethiopia to serve as CO of that unit. His replacement was Maj Bob Flickinger - a very fine gentleman and a wonderful pilot. Our CO was Maj William Williamson and 2nd Lt Kirkpatrick arrived some months later to become the XO.
I departed Liberia on 2 December 1965. Sfc Moore (later - WO Moore) arrived later that month.
James Harnden's photos form Liberia:
Major Flickenger and Troy Carpenter
Major Flickenger and U-1A Beaver
A crowd gathers
Truck and Beaver
Bridge and bus
Hiller H-23 Helicopter at Camp Ramrod
Two H-23's on the flightline at Camp Ramrod-Liberia
Home at Camp Ramrod
Maj. Flickenger and Sp4 Tyrone Sivels
Ramrod Motor Pool
Jim Harnden (left) and Bob Jones (right) October 1996 at the Doubletree Hotel Arlington, Virginia during the reunion of the 29th Engr. Topo Bn.