Top Turret Machine Gun

Our approach for landing.

We pass all kinds of concertina wire that was used to entangle truck axles and the tracks of tanks.


       I think that’s Bill Crim inspecting something on the ground

Approaching Base Camp

​I’m in an Otter taxing past one that’s tied down.                            Jets ready to take off.

  I’m not sure what the big fixed wing plane is.                                     Jet taking off.

Photo of me cleaned up and well fed at the Air Force mess hall after our long drive back to Wheelus

The photo above is of the buildings that are the remains of the old Italian/German landing strip compound at the Arch. They both used this strip vs. the British during the two invasions into Egypt in WWII.

This is Takeouchi using ‘logs’ to compute the closure of the nights surveying. Each of the triangles of the quadrilateral had to be within 1” (plus or minus) of 180 degrees, the requirement for first order triangulation. ‘Tac’ would first have to convert the degrees, minutes and seconds to decimal degrees...

Earl R. Cross - Basic Training - Fort Ord, California - 1957

Waking up after we had gathered together for our trip back to Wheelus. Somebody is going to have to pull KP duty on last night's dinner party.

I didn’t find out about the Web Site until 2010, when Dennis Dillon, former member of the Topographic Training Team (TTT) of the 64th Engineer Battalion stationed in Iran, sent an E-mail to me via Kristy and Greg Comerer, co-owners of Cross Land Surveying, Inc., (formerly owned by me and my wife Gara), thinking I might find The Web Site interesting. Although I’ve known about the Web Site for 8 years, I hadn’t viewed it because I only got the internet last month. Dennis was correct, it’s not only interesting, it brings back some great memories. As soon as I’ve learned to use the Net properly, I’ll get it posted (if that’s the right term) so others can enjoy some of the great photos that our company photographer SP-4 Hodne (from New York state) took of the Lady Be Good crash site and some others that I took.

I believe Dennis served in Iran in 1965. I met him at a Santa Clara-San Mateo Counties Chapter meeting of the California Land Surveyors Association (CLSA) in either 1967 or 1968, when we both were working for private engineering firms. Dennis now owns a successful one man consulting land surveying firm that contracts with other surveying firms to conduct the actual field surveying for his projects.

In telling the foregoing story of my stay in Libya, I’ve talked about triangulation, quadrilaterals, 1st order surveying and other surveying terms. It’s probably about time that I explain what these words mean to those of you that were in Libya (or not) and were not involved in the actual survey operation.

A triangulation station (monument) is a survey point established during a survey utilizing a method called triangulation. Triangulation consists of observing the angles (both horizontal and vertical) of adjacent triangles, measuring the length of one side (usually the base line) and computing the lengths of the remaining sides. The goal of this procedure is to determine horizontal positions (latitude and longitude) of the vertices (corners marked by some sort of monument) of each triangle.This method of surveying produces very accurate horizontal positions, but only approximate elevations. If accurate elevations are required, they are established by separate crews running levels.

At each triangulation station, if conventional traverses are to be run, an azimuth mark monument is established so that the traversing crews can have a convenient close monument (usually between ¼ to ½ mile) to turn their closing angle to. This is because there is no line of sight between the triangulation stations due to long distances and terrain (differences in elevation). The only way to see between these monuments and be able to measure the angles was to erect a tower over the station monument. These towers were called Bilby towers. The tower was designed in 1926 by Jasper S. Bilby, chief signalman for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and were used extensively between 1927 and 1984. They were made of light weight galvanized steel and consisted of an inner and outer tower. The inner tower held the instrument and the outer tower which was ten feet higher held the lights that were pointed at the other stations for turning the angles to.Bilby towers came in heightsof 24, 37, 50, 64, 77, 90, 103, 116, and 129 feettall, although the tallest I remember we used was 103 feet.

The following photos show a rigger named SP-4 Teeple and a surveyor named SP-4 Hieber erecting a 50 feet high Bilby tower. They are being watched from the ground by some desert Arabs hired to dig the footings for the towers. I think the Arabs were paid 30 Piastres a day, about $1.00 US money.

Our Arab laborers tent just outside base camp can be seen just to the right in the bottom right photo above. (Larger view below)

Private Earl R. Cross undergoing 2 weeks training with Co. E - Combat Engineers - Fort Belvoir, Feb, 1958. 

Empty survey crew barracks. Everyone must be out in the field on their various survey parties.  

​Tail turret machine gun

After the guys got the angle turning completed for the night, which might be anywhere from 10:00 PM to midnight, sometime later, they would radio the results to us computers. There were always two of us in the field, with the third one back at Wheelus finalizing the results that he had carried back with him before sending it on to Virginia for approval by the USC & GS. The three computers with the 1st order triangulation party while I was in Libya, were myself, Arthur Wooff from Iowa, and Takeouchi from Hawaii; all three of us being draftees. The photo below is of our computers headquarters.

This photo is of the large wadi east of the village of As Sultan.

The preceding photo is of Flech and one the guys (I can’t remember his name, although it might be SP4 George Hightower of Waskom, Texas, who went down with Fletch also) on the 2nd order level survey crew back to Wheelus from the field on R&R. I’m back at Wheelus from a 30- day tour with the 1st order triangulation crew to finalize the calculations that we did in the field using “logs”, with 10 place natural trigonometric functions and electronic calculators prior to sending the results back to the USC & GS in Virginia for final approval.

Generally, I didn’t see the guys from the other surveying crews (traverse and level) unless they were back to Wheelus on R&R when I happened to be there for a two week period confirming our crews field calculations. As a matter of fact, there were guys from the other crews that I never did get to meet.

The only time I remember us all being at Wheelus at the same time was for about two days in July of 1958. Because of political and religious tensions between Maronite Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, their President Camille Chamoun called upon our President Eisenhower for aid in helping put down a civil war that he feared might happen. On July 15, 1958, in an operations known as Blue Bat, Ike responded by sending the 5,000 US Marines as an invasion force. The invading Leathernecks waded ashore at Khalde Beach south of Beirut among bikini clad sun bathers and cheering villagers. I don’t remember if any shots were fired in anger.

Because of the Lebanon action all the crews were pulled back to Wheelus for fears that we would be attacked by the Arabs since we didn’t have any weapons to protect ourselves. For some reason we couldn’t have weapons of any kind or rank and unit patches on our fatigues when we were in the field. I’m not sure why these arrangements were made between our government and the Libyan government. At Wheelus our uniforms were as they would be on any Army base. When nothing came of the fears, we returned right back to field to continue with our survey operations. Although I asked a number of Officers and Sergeants why we were even in Libya, I never did get a satisfactory answer. It must have been important as I found out I had a secret clearance from my father and mother, plus my boss at work after I returned to the States and went back to work. They told me they had been visited and questioned by intelligence officers about my honesty and loyalty. I never knew I had a clearance of any kind, let alone a secret one. In fact, the only time I remember stealing anything were a few bases in high school baseball and spilling some wine (underage drinking) on the dress of Lee Ann Meriwether (Miss America of 1955) at the Beta Tau-Theta Tau fraternity/sorority Christmas party of 1954 at CCSF.

The photos on the following page are of the morning after we had gathered together when we had completed a night of survey observations on a quadrilateral and had gotten the word that we were all to return to Wheelus. We drove along the coast highway with a one-night stop at the British 8th Army’s (armor) base at Khoms before continuing on to Tripoli. Khoms is very close to Wheelus, but we were beat from the long drive. When the Brass deemed it was safe for us to return to the field to continue on with our surveying, we replenished our water and food supplies (C and B rations) and drove back to where we had left off. I believe it was south of Wadi Ben Gawad near the town of An Nawfaliyah. The date on the C rations was 1943, but they were still quite edible. They even contained a package of 4 cigarettes, usually Lucky Strikes (I guess that’s where the term Lucky Strikes goes to war came from), plus the best small can opener I ever saw. It was called a P38.

...and some live artillery shells.​

Marble Arch, also known as the Arch of Philaeni, was started in 1936 and opened in March of 1937. It was 52 ft. high by 21.3 ft. wide. The Arch was constructed on the boundary line between present day provinces of Tripoltania and Cyrenaica and is said to have been 19 miles west of the possible border between ancient Carthage and Cyrene. The bas relief shows Benito Mussolini’s tribute to himself over the defeat of Ethiopia/Abyssinia in 1936. Unfortunately, Muammar Ghedaffi had it torn down in 1973 as it reminded him of Italian Imperialism.

My ordeal in Libya was a cake walk compared to what those airmen endured, but having been there in that desert heat, I can imagine what they went through without food and water. Even though I was drafted and didn’t see any combat, it was a pleasure to have served in what I think was an elite unit. It is 5:15 AM, PDT, on May 8, 2018, and I have just completed this (what I thought was going to be a short remembrance) article of my time with the US Army in Libya. Now I have to figure out how get this on the great internet site that Dennis Dillon alerted me about on August 19, 2010. Really prompt, huh!

Flying over Marble Arch. You can see the paved coast highway running right underneath and through it. I’ve seen some great photos of Rommel’s Afrika Korps driving its tanks on the road on their way to fight the British 8th Army at Tobruk in Libya and El’ Alame in Egypt during WWII.

This photo shows the small city of Sirte as we fly over. You can see the waves breaking against the beach along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

After we loaded up the truck that is waiting for us and headed for base camp, the first thing we come to is an old Turkish fort left over from the Ottoman-Turk Empire. Those are red flags flying over the top, and the guy walking towards us is warning us away as it is being used as an explosives depot.

       Surveyor SP5 James K. Merrihew Jr. (MOS 822.10) from Alabama rolling up his sleeping bag.​​

After everyone was up and the clean-up over with we started on the drive back to Wheelus. I read on the 64th Engineer Battalion’s Web Site that Jim Kirschenman of ‘CLUMSY PARTY’ (1st order level crew) that they cooled their beer by filling a tub with Avgas and hovering a chopper overhead. That was real luxury. We cooled our cans of beer by wrapping them in wet paper towels, placing them in our metal wash basins half filled with water and letting evaporation do the trick. I didn’t know the survey crews had names, I guess our 1st order triangulation party was called CLASSIC. It must be my failing memory - I’m 83 years old in April of 2018 as I start writing this narrative of my time in Libya. Hopefully it will be completed before my last angle and distance are turned and measured. 

We have landed on the same strip. I think the pilot was Lt. Jefferson who went down with the guys from the Classic level crew in a different Otter than the one shown here about 4 months later. The strip lies just south of the Arch, which can be seen in the background, and are unloading our gear in preparation for being picked up and driven back to base camp. We will drive eastward along the paved coast highway about 40 miles to the town of Al Ugaylah. From there we leave the pavement and drive along a sandy gravel road about halfway to the town of Maradah, which is located about 66 miles to the south of Al Ugaylah.

I know that those of you that are reading my attempt at describing the time spent in Libya with the 542nd Geodetic Survey Company probably think this writing is a bit disjointed. You’re right, it is. But anyway, I’ll continue. Geodetic surveying: A surveying technique to determine relative positions of widely spaced points (monuments), the lengths and directions of lines which require the consideration of the size and shape of the earth. A geodetic survey is used to provide control points that other smaller surveys such as traverses for supplemental horizontal ground control and level circuits that are run to establish elevations on the various monuments can be connected. These monuments can in turn be marked in some such manner such as being outlined with painted crosses, squares, or triangles that can be identified in aerial photographs used in a map- making process called photogrammetry. The rocks surrounding the mon have been pre-marked with either lime or gypsum a common practice in aerial mapping. I wouldn’t have bet any money at the time, but I would guess that’s why we were in Libya.

Shown in the photos below (taken somewhere south of Marble Arch) is Dan Caputo from New Jersey. Dan was an instrument operator (Wild T-3 optical theodolite capable of reading angles to one tenth of a second of arc) in the 1st order triangulation crew. Dan is turning angles to an azimuth mark monument and pointing a heliotrope (utilizes the reflection of sun light off mirrors for another instrument to see) at another point. Unless our computation tent was near an observation tower, it was rare for me to see the actual field surveying, as we had to position our self where we could have radio contact with all the other surveyors. All the angle turning took place at night (lights stacked one upon the other on top of the Bilby towers) after the heat refraction of the daytime sun had dissipated. I even took notes one night for a recorder who wasn’t feeling well. The first and last time I climbed a 50’ tower. Not my cup of tea.

The photo above is of Bill Crim from Texas. Bill, I think, went along to the plane crash site as Hodne’s assistant.

Taking off and flying in a Southeasterly direction over date and olive tree orchards that were probably started to be planted in 1938 when Governor Balbo brought around 20,000 farmers to Libya from Italy. Libya had been an Italian Colony since 1911-12, when it was taken in the war with the Ottoman-Turk empire. This colonization lasted until after WWII, when in February, 1947, the Italians officially lost all colonies of the former Italian empire. Libya became an independent country under King Idris on Dec. 24, 1951. About 70 miles southeasterly of Tripoli is the Roman ruins of the great city of Leptis Magna where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. Leptis Magna flourished as a great city (area) during the Roman era of between 146 BC and 640 AD, when it fell under Islamic Rule until 1510 AD. The only time I got to visit the site was when we drove supplies to our base camp when it was south of Sirte. It truly was a sight to see. There were portions that you could see about 30 feet below azure blue water. Unfortunately, it was a time prior to my buying a camera at the PX, so I don’t have any photos to include in this narrative.

The photos below show my field computation condo (tent) equipped with the finest sleeping arrangement (cot and sleeping bag). Our PRC-10 radio for communication with the other triangulation crews and a generator for lights. You can also see a Bilby tower and two ¾ ton trucks in the distance.

PFC Roger Thies (Iowa) on R&R from the field. My bunk was right next to his. Roger was on same 2ndorder level crew as Don (Fletchof the ill-fated Otter) Fletcher. None of the guys from the different survey crews saw each other very often as we rotated back to Wheelus for our time off at varying times. 

When I returned to Wheelus and play time was over, since I was a computer, my job was to stay and finalize our field computations (logarithms) of the quadrilateral closures.This task was accomplished by the use of10 place natural trigonometric (sine, cosine, and tangent) functions and electric calculators. The following photo is of PFC Montalbano (Monty) and I doing said comps and hamming it up for our company photographer Hodne. Monty wasn’t on a survey crew, but permanently assigned to the Wheelus computation office. It looks like I’ve got that ‘short-timer’ smile!

Machine gun inside of the plane. I think they were 50 calibers.


SP-4 Hieber erecting a 50 feet high Bilby tower. 

​Passport photo for assignment to the 329th Engineer Detachment - 542 Geodetic Survey Co. stationed at Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. My hair is still growing back from Basic Training.

After completion of the course I was sent to Libya for my assignment with 329th. Except for Dan Weatherly of Holllister, CA, I remember being the only other one of the enlisted men with any prior surveying experience. If I remember correctly, Dan was a member of the 2nd order leveling crew. He left Libya in the summer of 1958 and returned to pursue his degree in civil engineering at San Jose State University. Dan had worked as a surveyor for a private engineering firm in Hollister and Gilroy, CA.  I ran into him again while at SJSU taking some courses to complete my BS. degree (finally got it in 1983 from my old school 'CAL'). I next met Dan 30 years later in 1990 (he owned his own civil engineering firm and I owned a land surveying firm in San Jose), when I was performing a GPS control survey for a boundary dispute in the Gabilan Mountains east of Salinas, CA. Salinas was the home town of SP-5 Donald 'fletch' Fletcher who went down in the U1-A Otter piloted by 1st Lt. Walter Jefferson. Jr. along with most of the guys of the 2nd order leveling party. They crashed into the Gulf of Sirte on January 4, 1960. I did not know about the crash as I had rotated back to the States at the end of the summer of 1959 and was assigned to the XV Corps, an active U.S. Army Engineering Reserve unit stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco to complete the last 4 years of my service obligation.

I only found out about the plane crash by chance around April of 1960, after I had returned to work for the California Division of Highways and was doing preliminary surveying in the east Oakland, California foothills for a new freeway, I happened to encounter the 1st Lt. who had taken over for the Sergeant 1st class who had been in charge of the 1st order triangulation party (I can’t remember either of their names).  

This next photo is of Joe Lester, he also was an instrument man/recorder. Joe was from either Mass. or Conn. and had graduated from Harvard or was studying there when the Army came and got him.

Jim Ache a rigger (shown above) and the dog that he bought (or traded something for) from some Arab. The Arabs were hired to dig the footings for the Bilby towers that were erected for the 1st order crews to observe the angles. The Arabs that I’m referring to lived mainly in the cities and coastal areas and were of the Senussi Order as opposed to the nomadic Bedouin Arab (desert dwellers), whom we occasionally saw in caravans at a distance. In the foreground left of the photo, you can see Jim’s 5.3-gallon Jerrycan used for holding water or fuel. The can (it really isn’t a can but made of heavy duty metal) was developed in WWI by the Germans and improved upon by the Allies in WWII. “Jerry” is a slang term referring to the Germans by the Allied forces during the war.


When everyone attached to a survey party, whether they were surveyors, motor pool, riggers, cooks, radio operators, or air support returned to Wheelus, they earned one day of R&R, for every week they had spent in the field. When that time was up they went right back to their field duties. There were plenty of things to occupy our brief time back in civilization. We could go to the outdoor base movie theater, go bowling at the base alley, travel by bus into Tripoli and drink cheap wine at Jimmy’s Italian Bar, or go leave somewhere. At night sometimes, we would go out the back (East) gate, cross this narrow dirt lane to a little Italian restaurant that serve great spaghetti, and a Libyan made wine named Ruberofer. To be admitted, you had to knock on this green painted wooden door and the door man would open a slide to see if you met approval. We named the place ‘Behind the Green Door’ after that pop song that was on the hit parade for one week in 1956. It’s where we got Bob Burns from Houston, Texas, a graduate of Rice University, to have his first alcoholic drink of any kind (wine), probably his last. I even got to play softball on our Company team against other teams made up of Airforce guys. We won the base championship. I only got to play when I returned to the Wheelus computation office, except when we played for the base championship and I returned to the field. My boss, SP5 Carl Herbold, from Cleveland, Ohio (Western Reserve Univ.), got permission from the CO and sent a plane out to bring me back. It is the only time I flew in a Beaver. The other field guys were not happy. The arrangement pleased me just fine. Incidentally, we won.

The guys that actually did the angle measuring used 16 different positions of the optical plate with the scope in the normal and inverted position to get one set of angles. For a normal four- station quadrangle, that meant 96 pointings per instrument. Really tough on the eyes. The thing that made it easier is that the guys were young, had good eyes, and it was at night. Weather conditions had to be just right to get any angle turning accomplished. There couldn’t be any cloud cover, the slightest wind that would cause the towers to move, and if a Ghibli was blowing, any kind of work was out of the question. A Ghibli wind blows from the Libyan Sahara Desert north to the Mediterranean Sea. The wind is not only very hot, it brings vision obscuring sand that almost blinds you, and if things are not tied down takes them away with it. Sometimes you don’t do any surveying for two or three days.

These two photos are of Lon Bolf, an instrument man and recorder from San Angelo, Texas. The first photo is of him outside the condo he shares with his partner, and the second one is of him buttoning up at his outdoor latrine. Who said ¾ ton trucks were only for transportation?

Besides the those I’ve already mentioned some of the other guys I served in Libya with are as follows: Paul ‘Nick” Hall, Jack Hand, Jim Spain, Don Venturini, John Lowell Hayes, and Dan Marrow, who at the time I was there, cleaned and adjusted all the survey instruments, and from what I read later, served on Sgt. Harris’s crew doing astronomic observations and network adjustments from Tunisia/Algeria to Egypt. Another guy on the 1st order crew was Alexander E. Korybut Kobalski, Jr. from Red Bluff, CA. We just called him Korybut. It's funny how you can remember some things and not others. There are guys that I can clearly see in my mind, but for the life of me, not remember their names. For this I apologize.

On 17 July 1959, the following, plus myself were all award the Good Conduct Medal by Chief Warrant Officer L. C. Walters, Adjutant. SP4 Charles S. Ferraro, SP4 Robert D. Frisby, SP4 Earl D. Erwin, SP4 Arthur F. Wooff, and SP5 James K. Merrihew. (Jim and I flew out of Wheelus together, he back to Alabama and me to San Francisco. I Don’t remember if there was a ceremony when we received the medals or not.

I have included some of the newspaper articles and a map showing the flight path and crash site of the Lady Be Good that appeared in Stars and Stripes newspaper, that I believe was printed and published in Germany. I’ve also included a follow up article of the fate of the crew that I saved from the San Francisco Examiner newspaper.  

...(natural numbers are a requirement in using ‘logs’) before he could continue with the calculations. The nice thing about using logs is that you only have add and subtract numbers in using the trigonometric formulae rather than the multiplication and division normally required. As soon as Tac completed his calculations, I would check his work. If the calcs were within 1st order tolerances we would radio the observations crews and they would pack up the next morning and to move ahead to the next quad where the riggers had already erected the towers over the monuments that had already been placed in the ground by them under Sgt. Harris and his recon team’s instructions. The riggers would return to the quad that had just been completed and leap frog ahead. If the survey observations did not meet the necessary survey requirements, we would stay in place for another night of observations. Tac and I, or Art Wooff and I would switch off on who did the initial calcs and who did the checking. 

I’m fairly certain that this series of photos that I put together, starting with our take- off From Wheelus and landing at Marble Arch, along with the trip to base camp was my last trip to the field for any field survey computations, prior to rotation home for discharge.​​

Lady Be Good

Back to the subject of triangulation. Adding another station monument to the figure formed becomes a quadrilateral that contains 4 overlapping triangles and is known as a braced quadrilateral. This figure is considered to be the strongest arrangement of triangles. Observing the diagonals of this figure provides a means of computing the lengths of the sides using different combinations of sides and angles. If the terrain is difficult or convex, a station is established near the middle of the figure, thus creating a center point Quad. In northern Libya a series of these Quads were placed together in such a manner creating a network that resembled a chain.

Following is a diagram graphically showing what a triangulation network similar to the portion of the one in Libya that I worked on looked like. The solid triangles represent monuments with known values of latitude and longitude which can be converted to grid coordinates, therefore the bearing and distance between the monuments is also known. The succeeding triangles (hollow) are the ones the triangulation survey provides values for. The circles represent azimuth mark monuments.

 I think we were between Maradah and Brega when we got word that a team from Wheelus (Army and Air Force) was coming our way to investigate a bomber from WWII that had been found in the desert, because some non-surveyors from base camp were going to the site to prepare a landing strip for their planes. This bomber turned out to be the B-24 Liberator name Lady Be Good. I was back at Wheelus when our company photographer, his name was Hodne, gave me some great 8.5” by 11” photos that he took of the plane and the site. They are the same photos that you see in all the accounts of the unmanned crash landing that took place on April 4, 1943. I mis-marked the photos; the guys from Wheelus were actually at the site on May 2, 1959.

   64th Engineer Battalion 

          329th Engineer Detachment

           542nd Geodetic Survey Co.    Wheelus Air Force Base, Tripoli, Libya                         1958 and 1959

After basic I was assigned to the topographic computing school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia to learn the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC$GS) method of using logarithms(commonly called “logs”) for field closures of 1st order triangulation survey networks.Logs were invented in the 17th century as an easy to use calculation tool by the Scottish mathematician John Napier (1550 to 1617) to simplify computations in astronomy, surveying and navigation, since calculators (hand or electronic) had not been invented.   

Base camp is made up of the motor pool (jeeps, trucks of various sizes - ¾ ton, 2 ½ ton, and a 5-ton wrecker), mechanics, the main radio for contact back to Wheelus, and depending upon the type of quadrilateral being surveyed, the 4 to 5 two-man observations crews, and with riggers that were trained not only to erect Bilby towers, but to locate and remove land mines that remained from WWII. One of the nice things about base camp was that they had an actual field kitchen set up in the back of deuce and a half truck. The cook prepared mess hall type meals such fresh frozen steak, baked bread, biscuits and gravy, pan cakes with cold storage eggs. They even had cold water shower tent set up. Although to take advantage of the cool water you had get up early as I saw temperatures rise as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Not too bad for Sahara Desert living conditions. Then, unfortunately for us surveyors, computers and riggers, it was back to the observations stations and our C- rations and water from a jerrycan.

Air support for the 64th was provided by the 572nd Engineer Aviation Platoon. They were equipped with Cessna’s, de' Havilland Beavers, Hiller helicopters, and H-34 Sikorsky Chickasaw helicopters like the one shown landing at base camp. One of the chopper pilots in the unit was Lt. Bruce Crandall who later earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for meritorious service during the Viet Nam War. I knew Lt. Crandall slightly and flew with him on one occasion.

My name is Earl R. Cross and I was a SP4 in the 64th Engineer Battalion, 329th Engineer Detachment, 542nd Geodetic Survey Co. stationed at Wheelus Air Force Base, Tripoli, Libya, in 1958 and 1959. I was a topographic computer (PMOS 823.10) assigned to the first order triangulation party.

But before I continue with the story of how I lucked out after being drafted and was sent to a survey company in Libya, I've added a brief bio of my background that I believe led to this choice assignment that aided me in an eventual successful career as a professional land surveyor.

I was born in San Diego, California on September 26, 1934. My father Ray from Oklahoma, after serving a 6 year hitch in the Navy, met and married my mother Georgia Buzlich, a Registered Nurse, from San Jose. Dad was working as an instrument man for the San Diego Harbor Survey Dept. recovering old monuments, also working for a private engineering company doing boundary surveys. Occasionally on weekends I would accompany my dad to the country when he conducted boundary surveys for ranches and be allowed to carry lath and stakes. As you can see I had an early exposure to surveying. 

After World War II started, we moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1942, where my father went to work at a ship yard working on the building of submarines. My mothers' brother, Uncle Buzz, owned a 40-acre ranch (hunting) in the mountains east of the University of California's Lick Observatory on top of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose. Since my father knew how to survey, Buzz had him retracing his boundary lines and those of other ranchers in the area. Naturally I was put to work carrying lath and stakes again, plus my dad started to teach me how to run the ‘gun’ (transit).

I graduated from high school in 1952 and went to the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), where I obtained my AA degree in surveying and mapping in 1954 and then went to work surveying for the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans) and attending U.C. Berkeley on a part time basis. Immediately upon graduation from CCSF I lost my student deferment and was drafted in November of 1957 and sent to Fort Ord California for basic training.

The map below shows the area of Libya where I worked. I believe it was between Al Misratah and Al Ugaylah. When we returned to the field and had a large amount of supplies to deliver, we drove along the coast highway in a small convoy, otherwise we flew in an Otter. I’ve put together a series of photos I took from aboard an Otter on a trip to Marble Arch, which was very near our survey operation at the time. They start when we are waiting in line on the Tarmac at Wheelus for our turn (Air force jets or any kind of plane had priority) to take off and end up when we have landed at the Arch. From the Arch we drove to base camp.

The network survey across northern Libya, (just southerly of the coast line) started at an established network in Tunisia/Algeria and ended (tied into) at an existing network in Egypt.

The initial step in any triangulation network is to establish where to place the station monuments to ensure that a mathematical strength of figure is maintained. How big the quad should be is based upon the terrain. If I remember correctly, in the Libyan survey, the lengths between the triangulation stations were a 5 and 15 miles range. Where the azimuth mark monuments should be established, plus how tall a tower to use at each station was to ensure that there was line of sight. Another thing to be consider was how the observation crews could reach the stations. All these matters are the responsibility of who is in charge of establishing the network. This task is called reconnaissance (Recon), and In the Libya triangulation survey, this person was career army Sergeant 1st Class Thomas Harris. One of the challenges Sergeant Harris faced was the clearing of the triangulation station areas of Italian, British, and German mines left over from WWII. For this purpose, Harris used riggers (Bilby tower erectors), some of whom were trained in the finding of, digging up, and defusing the mines.

The riggers I knew while in Libya, were Teeple (in prior photo erecting a tower), James Ache (I believe Jim was from Pennsylvania), and ‘Frog’ Patterson from the Phoenix, Arizona area. Myself, Frog, and some other guys spent 3 days on R&R in Valletta, Malta. We met some British sailors, and they invited us onboard their ship, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, for lunch. We got to drink some of their daily rum rations. Frog and a surveyor named McKenzie from Wyoming (can’t remember his first name; everyone just called him Mac), went on a 30 day leave to France and Spain. We saw the bull fights in Barcelona. We returned to Libya via the train to Rome, then to Naples, where we caught a flight back to Wheelus.

The next thing we come to are left-over's from WWII, either an old artillery gun or tank emplacement, it could be either one...