During my one year tour with the 72nd, and except for the operations NCO (SFC-E7) I was the highest ranking (SP6-E6) surveyor in the unit. The party chiefs of the traverse/level survey teams varied between PFC-E3 to SP5-E5. Once the cross-country traverse observations where completed, the units other task became the country wide leveling project which the majority of the surveyors where engaged on. It was during these level operations that one of the unit’s Beaver aircraft crashed after leaving a jungle-cut airstrip on its way to Cape Palmas. Luckily no one was seriously injured, but they had to apparently walk out of the bush. Near the end of my tour, the unit was beginning to gear up for work on the country mapping picture point control surveys. Several Liberian personnel from their mapping agency where then training/working at Camp Ramrod in preparation for this to begin.
The entire astronomic team departed Liberia on the same day in December 1965. Many of the other unit personnel also departed just before or just after we departed. SFC Patty Bishop remained with the unit as the Operations NCO and stayed with the unit for some time period after.
NOTE: It is quite possible that I have some of the facts/dates not exactly correct. However, from my notes and memory over these forty years, I hope I came close.
Editors Note: Several photos above are from the collections of David Moore, Pierre Berube and others.
THE ASTRONOMIC OBSERVATIONS
72nd Engineer Survey Liaison Detachment
Station Ramrod Plaque attached to Astronomic observing concrete pier within Camp Ramrod. Dedicated by President William V. S. Tubman.
Troy Carpenter - 1965
I was assigned to the 72nd Engineer Detachment (Survey), 64th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa during the above period. The 64th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) headquarters and support personnel were located and based at that time at Camp Darby near Livarno, Italy. The Battalion was under the operational control of the Army Map Service located near Washington, D.C. At this point in time, the Battalion commanded survey/mapping units in Ethiopia, Iran, and Liberia. Prior to the move to Livarno, Italy, the battalion headquarters was based at Wheelus Air Force base in Libya, North Africa during the surveying and mapping project in that country.
I arrived at the Roberts Field International Airport in Liberia, West Africa on the morning of 2 December 1964. Roberts Field was located about 45 miles Southeast of the capital of Monrovia. At that time, the airport terminal consisted of some small open thatched buildings. The baggage/custom check area was simply some overturned crates and boxes. I was met there by a U.S. Army enlisted man, and we drove from the airport to Camp Ramrod, Liberia. Camp Ramrod was located near the village of Paynesville, about 10 miles East of Monrovia.
The Liberian surveying and mapping project was apparently prompted by a short stopover in Liberia by U.S. President John F. Kennedy. On the brief stopover, President Kennedy had asked the then President of Liberia (Tubman) what type of aid the United States could provide to Liberia. Apparently, among many other items, President Tubman indicated that they required better maps of the country to assist in development. This was acted upon by the cognizant U.S. Government agencies and by November 1963 a contingent of U.S. Army Topographic Surveyors and support personnel were deployed to Liberia. This first contingent of surveyors consisted of approximately 15 to 20 personnel apparently drawn from the 30th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
With the exception of a larger building that was constructed during my tour, all of the camp buildings where in place when I arrived. These included a mess hall, troop billets, orderly/operations building, a small supply room, and a large metal quonset hut that housed the aviation section and the motor pool. A club was also constructed a few hundred yards from the main camp area. While I was there, the unit constructed a larger building to house the orderly room, supply room, and medic’s office. The property onto which Camp Ramrod was constructed was donated by the Liberian Government.
During my stays at Camp Ramrod, it became a routine to make our way into Monrovia after duty. The city of Monrovia was not real large, and the cities areas ranged from quite nice to many slum sections. The center of the city did have a few decent restaurants, shops, and a couple of larger hotels such as the Ducor Palace. The cities main thoroughfare (Broad Street) contained most of the business buildings, including the only location to make a telephone call including any long distance. On many of the parallel and cross streets (Carey Street, Benson Street, Gurley Street, and Centre Street) were the numerous bars and nightclubs (Kit Kat, Candlelight, Mudu Square, Etc). The vast majority of businesses (not only in Monrovia, but in most of the country) were owned and operated by Lebanese personnel. Between Camp Ramrod and downtown Monrovia sat the Liberian Presidental Palace. This was located on the main highway into town (Wm V. S. Tubman Blvd) and was a large luxury complex built for the Liberian president. Getting into Monrovia from Camp Ramrod was always a problem. Many taxi cabs where available in Monrovia, but there was no way to call one. Returning back to camp by taxi was never a problem. You either had to hitchhike or luck out and bum a ride with a vehicle going in. Later, the operations NCO set up a town run after duty hours in one of the unit’s vehicles.
With the exception of the Operations NCO (SFC Patty –The Master Rodent- Bishop), the majority of the cadre of personnel at Camp Ramrod rotated during the months of November and December 1964. Some of these personnel had departed before I arrived and some immediately after. James Hardnen was assigned as the new Survey Warrant Operations Officer. A new First Sergeant (Reproduction MOS), Mess Sergeant, Aviation NCO, Supply Sergeant, and Commanding Officer (Major William E. Williamson) arrived. It took the month of December before everyone had become aquatinted with his duties and responsibilities and were able to continue with the surveying and mapping mission. After some brief orientations, I was assigned to become the NCOIC/Party Chief of the astronomic observing team. Also assigned to the team was a Topographic Surveyor (SP4 Pierre Berube) that had been transferred from the 16th Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. He became my recorder and one of the new Topographic Surveyors (SP4 Tyrone Sivals) became my assistant observer.
During the first year of the surveying/mapping project, even though the major effort was apparently on the camp construction, quite a bit of reconnaissance was apparently carried out. The first of six required astronomic positions and azimuths where observed by the original astro team. This was done at a survey monument installed at the Roberts Field Airport, and was the beginning point of the first order traverse that was to extend across the country northeast to the Nimba Mountains. The team had also constructed an astronomic observing concrete pier within Camp Ramrod, and performed the astronomic position observations there. A plaque had been attached to the pier dedicating the mapping project. A special ceremony was held at the pier, which both U.S. and Liberian VIP’s attended. This officially began the U.S./Liberia mapping project. We used this pier prior to beginning the astronomic observations for training the new astro personnel on the observations and computations.
At the time of my arrival, several teams of civilian contractors had also arrived. They where employed by a company titled DMJM. This company had the contract to measure the required HIRAN distance lines over the country wide survey scheme. The company had two person teams deployed at all of the five major survey control points across the country. Our astronomic team was scheduled to observe positions and azimuth at each of these also. NOTE: To the best of my knowledge, as of my departure, this company had not been able to measure a single line. They had many personnel problems, equipment failures, lack of training, and very little logistical support. Much of this I witnessed first hand during our interaction with their field teams. I later heard that they lost the contract and US Air Force HIRAN teams where sent in to complete this portion of the project.
My first field deployment began on 11 January 1965. The majority of the trips in Liberia where made by vehicle. These where made with either with an army ¾ ton or 2 ½ ton truck. We normally also pulled a water tank with us if possible. At that point in time, there existed only a few miles of paved road in the entire country. Most of the roads consisted of rutted and pot-holed muddy dirt tracks. The Army vehicles where well used, and several where cannibalized to keep a few operating. Later during the year I worked on the project, the 72nd procured several used USAID jeep type vehicles from the U.S. Embassy. The unit was at the very end of the U.S. Army supply chain, and any requisition was very low priority. A similar situation existed in the unit’s aviation section. I heard years later that when the unit closed down around 1969, a complete helicopter was missing.
Camp Ramrod Club
P. Berube and T. Carpenter
Astro Station Suakoko
Cold beer and hard liquor were available at the club at Camp Ramrod. The club had been funded and constructed by the first contingent of surveyors. Apparently each individual assigned at that time had contributed a set amount of money to have the club constructed. Each individual assigned to the unit was authorized a monthly ration of liquor through the US Embassy. Originally all personnel had agreed to pool their rations and have it sold over the club bar. This procedure had continued through the year I was there. The club contained a small bar, small dance floor, a jukebox, and a small reading room (very old magazines). The club was controlled and operated by the operations NCO. Two or three of the camps administration personnel (Company Clerk, etc) ran the books and logistics. Both local Liberians and camp personnel worked at the club at various times. Twice a week, movies (old) obtained from the US Embassy where shown at the club. People from the Firestone Rubber Plantation, Peace Corps, MAAG, USAID, American Embassy, and bush pilots working at Sprigs Payne airport would arrive to watch the movie and party. I was told years later by the last Survey Warrant officer (Vaughn E. Nelson), that when he closed the club out, it had built up quite a profit, and no one knew what to do with the funds. The Survey Warrant sent the money to the Army Map Service in Washington D.C. There they decided it did not belong to them, and they returned it back to Camp Ramrod. At a loss, the Survey Warrant decided to divide the funds equally between all the remaining personnel and call it good.
From 19 April 1965 through 30 November 1965, the astronomic team was tasked only with the completion of the astronomic positions and azimuths. There where four required at the HIRAN observation stations and one at survey control station "Suakoko" at the approximate center of the first order cross-country traverse. The major drawback we encountered at this time with the schedule was that the Liberian dry season was just ending and the rain season was beginning. The only difference I could detect was that it just rained more during the wet season.
Here is a good time to cover those items/events that where common to all the survey station occupations. These include lodging, logistics, communications, and messing arrangements. The 72nd Engineer Detachment had a mess hall located on Camp Ramrod with a U.S. Army mess Sergeant, two U.S. Army cooks, and several local hire Liberians. The mess Sergeant procured the majority of the food items from the Lebanese Abuojudi and Azar super market in Monrovia. He set up the various menus based upon the food available, and there was always plenty of food, and it was not bad at all. However, when we deployed out to the bush on a field project, I had to estimate and obtain our food rations from the camp mess hall. The unit had several old type kerosene powered refrigerators, and we took one of these with us when possible. Until we finally received new refrigerators, these proved just barely adequate, and we lost quite a bit of meat, which was impossible to find outside of Monrovia. Where possible, we pulled a water trailer to the site for use as drinking water. Otherwise we carried in the water in the standard Army 5-gallon water cans. To augment this water, we also collected rainwater to use for bathing, washing dishes, etc. At the beginning of the astro deployment, I set up a cooking/cleanup schedule at each site. Between the three personnel, we each had one day in three free except for the survey requirements.
Our astro teams lodging varied between borrowing some type of house/rooms near the site (LAMCO core shed/Peace Corps House, etc), renting a house/rooms, to using hex tents. At the locations where we rented a house/rooms, we originally had to pay the rent out of our own pockets. We brought this to the attention of the Operations and Commanding Officer. Eventually, in July the unit agreed to place us on TDY orders and paid us $1.00 per day for expenses. With this, the three of us where able to pool our money and pay for the rent on a house/rooms.
We maintained communications (when possible) with Camp Ramrod with the old ANG/9 radios. In general, these served the purpose, and our astro team adopted the call sign of Bravo1. One sort of comical event occurred at the Tchien (Zwedru) site. I hired a local man to climb one of the taller trees at the edge of an open area to attach out radio antenna as high as possible. Near the center of the open area was another lone tree that I wanted the other end of the antenna attached to. As the man began to climb the second tree, he realized it was covered with fire ants and refused to go any further. I told him that then I would do it, and stripped down to my shorts and went up the tree and tied off the antenna end. I did have ants on me, but only received two or three bites. The man apparently didn’t believe that I would go up, and looked a little dejected.
The camp had no communications except between the field parties and aircraft. The mail service was through the U.S. Embassy diplomatic pouch and their TWX facilities. These where collected when necessary by the unit clerk or radio operator, so mail to and from the field took some time. Long distance phone service out of Liberia was available at times from a telephone terminal in downtown Monrovia. Outside of Monrovia, there was no telephone service at all, and very little in the way of any other type of facilities/services. Camp Ramrod was powered by three large diesel generators which supplied all the camp’s power.
The astronomic observations where very much delayed by the incessant rain and clouds. To add to this problem, we always had difficulty in receiving and adequate radio time signal for our radio-chronometer comparisons. The electronic equipment for the astronomic longitude observations was also a continual problem. We performed first order astronomic position observations in the Nimba Mountains, Tchien (Zwedru), Foya Kamala (West of Voinjama), Suakoko, and on the southwest coast at Nuon Point. Three of these locations where 'drive to' sites, one was a pack site, and the team was taken into the Nuon Point site by contract pilots and small Cessna 172 aircraft. From this last site, we where taken off by a Liberian Coast Guard vessel and sailed back to the port of Monrovia.
TROY D. CARPENTER
Inside Camp Ramrod Club
SP6 TROY D. CARPENTER Dec. 1964 - Dec. 1965
On the road to T'chien (Zwedru), Liberia.