In November 1964 I received orders assigning me to the Iran Mapping Mission in Tehran, Iran. I was to proceed to Charleston, S.C. for air transportation to Headquarters, 64th Engineer Battalion, Wheelus AFB, Tripoli, Libya. In Charleston I ran into Major Joe Sites (then a Captain) who was also enroute to Wheelus. I knew Joe from 1954 when he was a fixed wing student and I was a flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. We both were enroute to Wheelus. Upon our arrival we were told that a greater need existed in Ethiopia and we were being reassigned to the Ethi-US Mapping Mission in Addis Ababa.
Arriving in Addis Ababa we were billeted in a small house that served as a BOQ for the officers of the mission. I slept on the floor until a cot was available. Soon after my arrival we moved into two new buildings, located just beyond the Leper Colony. They were quite satisfactory. The Officers living in the BOQ contributed to a fund to purchase food for the BOQ and a local Ethiopian couple was hired to maintain the buildings and to prepare our food.
View from the BOQ
From left to right:
Ron Dolecki and Jack Kalmbach.
(Photo provided by Mrs. Linda Dolecki).
Ron Dolecki and Jack Kalmbach.
Shortly after returning to Addis Ababa I departed on ordinary leave to visit my family in the CONUS. I flew space available to Fort Bragg, NC in a C130 along with a contingent of Special Forces troops who had taken part in the search for us. After a shower and change of uniform I took a commercial flight to Seattle and an emotional reunion with my family.
At the completion of my leave I was placed on TDY in Washington DC for 2 days (September 8-9 1965) to discuss official business matters relative to the Ethiopia Project and to hand-carry essential gravity meter components required in Iran. TDY ended on my return to Addis Ababa.
In early November 1965 I along with Majors John Patterson and Joseph Sites flew the leased Aero Commander to Nairobi, Kenya for a weekend R&R. During our short stay we shopped for souvenirs and visited the National Wildlife Preserve.
In January Joe Sites and I were sent to Khartoum, Sudan where we spent the final four months of our African tour on TDY status flying our two U6A Beavers in logistical support of mapping operations under way in Sudan. On 31 May we returned to Addis with our aircraft and on 2 Jun, 1966 I returned to Fort Lewis, Washington where I retired as a CW3 AUS and as a Captain USA on 31 October.
Burned out remains of the UH-1B.
STORIES AND MEMORIES
My assignment involved piloting all assigned aircraft in support of field party and headquarters operations. Missions included transportation and support of survey parties, classification flights, resupply operations and other administrative flights. Assigned aircraft at that time included 1 leased Aero Commander 680E (U9C) , 2 U6A Beavers, 4 UH1Bs and 4 OH-23G's.
After several months I was appointed a member of the Battalion Flight Standardization Board and designated as a Instructor Pilot in U6A and U9C aircraft and a Test Pilot for UH-1B, OH-23G, U-6A and U-9C aircraft. Later I also assumed the duties of aircraft maintenance officer.
When operating away from Addis Ababa, the pilots were normally on TDY status. I believe the only exception to this during my stay was for approximately one week when we stayed in a field camp adjacent to the Mitchell Cotts plantation near Tendaho. During that week I flew an OH-23G on classification missions in the area between Tendaho and Massawa (The Danakil Depression area).
On the morning of July 12, 1965 I was piloting a UH 1B on a map classification mission in an area north of Keren, Eritrea. The mission classification specialist was Spec 4 Ronald Dolecki and Habte Mesmer who was our interpreter. On our second landing of the morning, while interviewing several locals, we were attacked and taken prisoner by an armed group firing their weapons in every direction but ours. They later identified themselves as members of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and accused us of being Israeli spies. After searching us and the aircraft we were marched away. After several minutes I looked back and saw the helicopter in flames.
Delivering the U-6A.
The next 11 days were spent walking towards the Sudanese border and hiding from search aircraft whenever they were heard or spotted approaching. Along the way we were joined by other roving bands of ELF troops. By my count their numbers had grown to nearly 100 by the time of my release in Sudan.
During this period we occasionally were allowed to ride on a camel. On one such occasion I went to sleep and fell to the ground. It was a rude awakening.
On the 23rd of July (my 37th birthday), after crossing into Sudan, our captors relaxed noticeably and stopped for the night. After a short discussion we decided that now was our best opportunity to attempt an escape. We were lying behind some bushes only a short distance from our captors shielded only by our jackets draped over the brush. It seemed highly unlikely that all three of us could make it undetected but that one of us could make it as long as the others remained in view. I instructed Dolecki to take our canteens and leave. If he were seen we would tell them that he was going to the water hole to fill them. He left and his absence wasn’t discovered for about an hour. After discovering his absence they roughed us up some and placed us under armed guard while they commenced a search. After what seemed like 20 or 30 minutes I heard several shots fired. A short time later I was told that he had been found and killed. I didn’t believe it because they were very nervous and immediately began to march in a southerly direction.
We walked several hours after dark before stopping for the night. We resumed heading south the next morning and traveled south for another day and a half before reaching an encampment near the town of Kassala, Sudan. The next day, July the 26th I was escorted to another camp where I was treated well, offered some fresh fruit and bread and interrogated by a uniformed officer who I was told was “The General”. After an hour or two I was given a letter to deliver to my commander upon my release. I was returned to the encampment and during the early morning hours of the 27th Habte and I were put on camels and led across the border to an Ethiopian police outpost. Later that day I was flown to the Kagnew Station hospital in Asmera for a physical examination before being released for return to duty. During our captivity we had eaten almost nothing, getting by on lots of a hot tea like drink full of unrefined sugar. As a result I had lost 12 pounds but other than that suffered no ill effects. While in the hospital I received and passed my annual flight physical.
Jack Kalmbach reunites with Dick Birk, Phil Pitts, "Pat" Patterson and Habte "Sam" Mesmer.