Copyright 2002.  Ed Yates.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author.  dakaintuckian@bellsouth.net

 

Sidi Yahia

 

Morocco, what an exotic name, brings up visions of villages shinning golden colored in the distance, Turbaned men on white stallions swinging a scimitar, women half-naked, belly dancing, while you recline on plush cushions taking life easy, gold & precious stones mounted in fantastic  jewelry everywhere you look.  Undulating sand dunes and the French Foreign Legion.  That is the Morocco that this 17 year old Marine envisioned when he got his first set of orders, after Boot Camp at Parris Island & ITR at Camp Gieger.   I thought I had it made, and it became a reality when I was issued Dress Blues, and a US Military Passport (which I still have).  Tangiers, Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, who would blame one for not being excited about my first Duty Station in the Marine Corps. 

 

After a long flight from McGuire AFB in New Jersey, to Rota, Spain, then on to Kenitra (Port Lyautey) Morocco.  I reported in to the Marine Barracks at Kenitra, and was assigned to the 1st Guard Company, Sidi Yahia.  Marine Barracks Morocco, was actually a scaled down Battalion with a LtCol in command.  You had H&S at Kenitra (Mainside), with 2 Guard Detachments (Company’s) consisting of 2 Platoons each, with the nominal admin staff.  Kenitra (Port Lauety) was at that time a complete US Navy Base for big ships, it had everything, including a Naval Hospital.  It was also the support base for two Navy Communication Stations (NCS) located on the edge of the Sahara Desert.  These  communication stations were located north and south of Kenitra, and inland about 20-30 miles.

 

Morocco is located on the continent of Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahara Desert to the east and south.  The country is populated by mostly Berbers, with the primary language Arabic.  Depending which part of the country your in, French and Spanish is also spoken.  The country is governed by a Constitutional Monarchy with the King claiming ancestry all the way back to Mohammad.   Other than when on liberty in Kenitra, the Berbers I saw were Shepard’s.  Most wore the heaviest looking sometimes drab, often very colorful clothing (robes) you ever saw, no matter what the weather.  All of the Shepard’s were armed with sticks/clubs of lethal design.  They were thick, and the heads of them were rounded anywhere from 2” to 4” in diameter, and were studded with bits of metal.  Nasty looking weapons.  Some of the Shepard’s carried rifles, mostly what looked like flintlocks.  It was something to see several of them riding their horses at breakneck speed, and firing those old flintlocks, which they did quite often. 

 

 

 

Sidi Yahia was the northern communication station.  The living area (base) was one mile square, surrounded by chain link fence, with concertina wire at the top and bottom of the fence.  Inside the base compound was barracks for the Sailors, Marines, ranch style homes for the married Officer’s.  Also a PX, Commissary, School for the dependents, Movie Theater, Bowling Ally, Enlisted Club, Officers Club, Athletic fields, Gymnasium.  The place had all the things a much larger base had, just scaled down to fit inside a one square mile area.   The base had an antenna field that was huge, monstrous, enormous…you get the idea don’t Ya, the damn thing was big.  In this antenna field was smaller compounds, some with just buildings, Some with antenna’s separate from the rest of the field.  The majority of the antenna’s were nothing more than poles with copper wire strung between them.  There were also two enormous dish antenna’s in their own compound.  Connecting all of the compounds was just one road.   Sidi had two gates, the Main Gate, and the gate that led to the antenna field, better known as the Back Gate.  (That last sentence was really brilliant and informative).

 

What in the world were Marines doing at the edge of the Sahara Desert, you ask?  Besides watching the Sirocco (Heat Waves) roll in from the Sahara ….Guarding the Navy of course, and protecting the antenna fields.  It seemed that the locals had a thing for copper.  They could make almost anything out of copper, mostly jewelry.  So they tried to steal the copper antenna wire, and our job was to prevent them from doing so, and stealing anything else they could get their hands on. 

 

We not only had Marines on both the Main & Back Gates, we also had Marines on walking patrols inside the perimeter of the antenna field, inside every compound, plus inside the base itself.  One guard post nobody liked was at the Ammo Bunker, which was just a few feet from the Guard Shack, and within hollering distance from the Barracks.  At night, the walking patrols used German Shepard Guard Dogs out in the antenna field.  We were armed with 12 gauge shotguns, M-14’s, and .45’s, depending upon what guard post you had.  One Compound had a tower that we manned.  The guard duty was on rotational basis between the Platoons.  Which meant that when your Platoon didn’t have the duty, you were doing Military type things, and in general being screwed with.  The Officers and SNCO’s could come up with more BS for us to do than you can imagine.  All in all it wasn’t that bad.

 

However there was one thing that none of us liked, and that was the Friday morning Parade.  Rain or shine…oops, I don’t recall it ever raining.  Anyway, every Friday morning the Caid of Sidi Yahia ( mayor I think) would come and exercise his right to shop at the PX and Commissary,  he also expected a Parade by Marines on the Parade Field.  Not only would the Caid came, but he brought all his wives, sons, daughters, and any kinfolk who wanted to shop.  Sometimes the Super Caid ( I think he was some sort of a Governor or something like that) would show up with the Caid and he would bring his entourage also.  So we always had a audience for the Friday morning parade.  Now the Marine Corps as we know and love, always does things with style.  We also had a Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, a small one, whose membership was taken from the 2 Platoons.  If you had any musical talent of any kind, you were in the Drum & Bugle Corps

(thank God I didn’t have any).  Hdq Marine Corps also had a boni-fide member of the Drum & Bugle Corps from 8th& I there as the Director.  During my year at Sidi, the Director was Cpl Paul Savage.  Now there is nothing more enjoyable than standing at Parade Rest, in 100o + heat, waiting for the Caid to show up so we could Parade for him.  I know it was a sign of respect being shown for the King of Morocco,  just like the little badge we had to wear on our uniforms hanging from the right breast pocket.   This badge supposedly was to show that we were part of the Kings Army and not to mess with us, or you would PO the King.  It was so hot sometimes, that men would collapse while in parade formation, and we would let them lay right there, until the Parade was over. That was the Marine Corps way in the old days.  You just didn’t break formation for any reason.  God I loved them parades, marching around the parade deck a couple of times, usually at Port Arms, listening to the Drum & Bugle Corps slaughter another tune.  Now if you believe that, then I know there’s bound to be a few acres of the Sahara Desert that I could sell you…CHEAP.  Watching Cpl Savage and his antic’s as the Drum Major was entertaining, lord he could get carried away. 

                              

 

To keep the Marines and Sailors entertained we had at Sidi Yahia, a movie theater (if memory is correct, the Marines always sat on the left side for some reason), an Enlisted Club, and a Officers Club.  There was also organized sports, like Flag Football, Basketball, Skeet, Pool tournaments (Eight Ball & 3 Ball Billards) and other manly pursuits.   Just across the road from the Marine Barracks was a small club named the Sportsman Club.  This club was operated by a civilian.  You could get food, beer and other entertainment there.  There was also a skeet range for those who like to shoot shotguns.  Many of us when we got off duty, headed over to the Sportsman Club to have a cold beer and relax.  Naturally on payday, there were the normal card games, Poker and Black Jack.  One memorable payday, I played all night, lost my whole paycheck, and for the rest of the month, borrowed money to get by…I remember the rates to this day,

5$ for 7$.  When next payday came around, I was a bit smarter, didn’t play anymore poker. 

 

Off base liberty was in Kenitra.  For some reason Sidi Yahia was off limits.  So if we wanted to get off base we rode the gray Navy Liberty bus to Mainside.  Where we had the option to pursue our entertainment needs on base, or go into Kenitra itself.  The entertainment at mainside for young 17-18 yr old Marines were just too tame.  More than likely, we went into the city of Kenitra.  We were warned to stay away from the Kasbah because it could be possibly dangerous to Americans.  So we usually hung out at the "Fleet Club", which was a night club.  At the Fleet Club you could usually pick up a girl for companionship if you were so inclined.  Some of the guys liked being with the Berber girls, whom most had tribal tattoo’s.  For some reason the tattoo’s turned me off.  One girl in particular would always sit at our table, lord did she have the tattoo’s, her nickname was Whiskey.  There are a couple of stories about Whiskey & certain Marines I could relate, but don’t want to embarrass them.   Some of us, me in particular would hang out in the French area of town, and partake entertainment at local French neighborhood bars.  These bars had little tables sitting out on the sidewalk in front, where invariably you would find 3 or 4 Frenchmen playing cards.  The game was a sort of Rummy, using 4 decks.  Those fella’s would get excited at times, it was fun to watch them.  It was also fun to watch the local French girls, some of which were quite beautiful, and much better eye-candy.  Once, I believe it was Paul Savage, and I was walking around Kenitra, we had been walking along the side of a massive building, with no windows.  We came to the corner, made a left turn, and came to the entrance of the building.  It had large stone steps leading up to the door.  As soon as we laid eyes on the entrance, we backpedaled and cut out of there.  Because there were 4-6 Policemen on the steps with automatic weapons, and they didn’t look none too friendly.  We figured it was a bank of some sort.   If we could wrangle a 96 hr pass, we could go to Casablanca, Tangiers,  Fez, almost anywhere, as long as you got back on time.   I also remember a beach near Kenitra on the Atlantic that had some pretty big waves, and the coldest damn water.  On the 4th of July there was a ceremony at the outdoor theater, we were in Undress Blues, at Parade Rest the whole time.  Sweat just rolling down my face, my back, into my eyes.  Lord it was hot.  But it was a pretty neat 4th of July.

              

 

On July 16th I was promoted to PFC.  Not too long afterward, on Aug 3,  I had been relieved from guard duty (12-4 shift), didn’t have to go back on guard until midnight.  As soon as I got to the barracks, I  showered, then headed to the Sportsman Club for a bit of relaxation.  In a short while it was time to go back on duty, so I went straight to the Guard Shack from the Club.  My Guard Post for this shift was the Ammo Bunkers.  The Sgt of the Guard escorted me over to the Ammo Bunkers, and we went thru the process of relieving the man on duty.  He unloaded the 12 gauge, and gave it to the Sgt of the Guard, plus the 5 rounds it had been loaded with.  He then removed the magazine from the .45, gave it to the Sgt of the Guard, and gave me the .45.  The Sgt of the Guard then gave me the magazine, which I inserted into the .45.  Yes! Yes! I know.   We didn’t check & clear the .45 first.  I then put on the pistol belt, holstered the .45 and started walking my post, in a military manner. 

After a couple of hours of walking my post in a Military manner, I guess you could say that I became a tad bored.  So I folded the flap back on the holster, and started practicing my quick draw.  Got pretty good at it also, which wasn’t anything to write home about, since the 45 holster isn’t made for quick draws.   I’ll never forget my last quick draw, I jerked that .45 out as fast as fast can be, really quick, and the damn thing went off.  Yep, I must have had my finger on the trigger.  Because it sure as shit went off with a very loud boom, at about 0200 or so.  I about soiled my britches, broke out in a sweat, I had just committed a major no-no.  I looked over toward the Guard Shack, hoping that the Sgt of the Guard hadn’t heard anything.  We all had spare unauthorized ammo, and I could have replaced the round I had shot off to make the count right.  Unfortunately for me, within seconds, of my glancing over toward the shack, the outside light came on, and I could see two men walk out and head my way.  One of the men was the Sgt of the Guard, the other dammit all, was the Officer of the Day.  Now WTF is the OD doing up at 0200, an unusual occurrence to say the least?  On Aug 6, I was charged with Violation of Article 134, UCMJ, reduced in rank to Private, Restricted to the limits of the Company Area, and forfeited $25 month for 2 months.   Plus, the Colonel, gave me an ass chewing from hell.   I was a PFC for 21 days.

 

Another memorable occasion occurred a few weeks after I was promoted to PFC the 2nd time.  (Six and one-half months after attaining the rank of Private, mentioned the above paragraph).  I was chosen to help escort a prisoner (Sailor) to the Brig at Rota, Spain.  How I got chosen is beyond me, but there I was, with a night stick, and .45, along with another Marine from the Barracks.  Upon arrival at Rota, we dropped off the prisoner at the Brig.  From what I saw of the Brig, I decided not to ever be a guest.  Wasn’t a very nice place.  We then checked in at the  Transients Barracks,  then went over to the Air Terminal to check about transportation back to Morocco.  The next scheduled plane was the morning after next.  So we visited the EM Club, where we made friends with a couple of off duty Rota Marines.  During our conversations, we learned that we could go over to Gibraltar without too much trouble.  The next morning we headed over to Gibraltar, and toured the Rock.  Lord is that one big Rock….  We toured some of the caves that the Brits had dug during WW2.  The whole thing was a honeycomb of caves.  We also discovered the Gibraltar Rock Apes.  They were everywhere.  And they were mean, especially when they came up to you begging for food, and you didn’t give them anything.  They would show their teeth and really carry on.  If you felt sorry for one and gave him a bit of food, you then had bunches more come running to get some also.  That’s why you didn’t feed them anything.  We walked around the British base there at Gibraltar, strolled thru the small town, and discovered a Casino….  I had never been to a Casino before.  That evening we visited the Casino, lord was it a fancy .  I immediately felt out of place, I didn’t see one person playing Poker.  They were playing a game called Baccarat, the one James Bond always plays in the movies.   Being a naturally inquisitive guy, I watched for awhile, then decide that I would like to play, sorta get my feet wet.  I went over to the Cashiers window, and tried to swap out my Dollars for Pounds.  And learned that I didn’t have enough dollars to get into the game, much less play a game.  This was a high stakes Casino, that we had wandered into. 

So we headed back to Rota, slightly inebriated from our day on the Rock, (and drinking English Beer).   The next morning we caught our flight and went back to Morocco. 

 

My most memorable trip was to Tangiers.  Five of us got a 96 hr pass.  When we arrived we immediately checked in to the Hotel Rif.  It was in the French section of town and near the beach. Memory tells me we all stayed in the same room.   Our first night there we blew all our money.  Only a small amount of Durham left, just enough to buy some French bread in the morning.  That first afternoon and night is a bit blurry.  However I do recall that we went to the Kasbah (which we had been told to stay away from), rode a elephant & camel at a carnival, and ended up in the eastern part of Tangiers at a Club that had Belly Dancing.  Visualize a movie of the Near East, lush colorful carpets on the walls, and floors.  Large cushions with little tables where you sat, the waiters wearing the Red Fez’s, Belly Dancers gyrating all around you to strange music, in a smoky dim room.  That’s what the club was like.  Tis no wonder we went thru all our money.  The Kasbah is just like they say, crowded, narrow, tunnel like, and exciting.  No telling what all goes on in there.  After we ate our French Bread, we headed to the beach, and lord was there eye candy.  This beach was on the Mediterranean, the main drag followed the shoreline and beach thru Tangiers.  After awhile we started walking along the main drag, just goofing off.  One of the guys had a guitar and started playing a few rock & roll songs as we strolled.  As he played we sang along with him.  Soon we had a small group of people following us, mostly kids.  So we stopped at one of the benches, and sang songs, sounds strange don’t it, but that’s what we did.  The really weird thing about it was that people started handing us money.  We didn’t know what to think about that, however someone put on the ground a hat, and folks were pitching money into the hat.  Soon we had quite a crowd around us, some singing also.  We were really rocking…, the crowd was rockin, and the hat was really getting quite full of money.  We were having a great time.  Like all good times tho, it had to end.  Ours ended with the appearance of the Police.  First we heard a sound that sounded like that nursery rhyme “Here we go around the mulberry bush” over and over again, and getting closer.  The crowd started thinning out, someone mentioned Gendarmes.   So we gathered our loot and wandered nonchalantly away.  A couple of blocks away we stopped at a bar to divvy up the money.  While we’re discussing how to do the divvy, the owner of the bar came over and asked if we were Americans.  When we answered in the positive, he broke out in a grin and said that the drinks were on him.  He was a Englishman who had been in Morocco many years and didn’t get to talk to English speaking folks very often.  We couldn’t understand too much of what he said because of his accent, but were happy to drink his beer and eat his food.  We stayed until late that night, thanked the Englishman for his hospitality, and some how got back to the hotel.  The next day we returned to Sidi Yahia.  I’m sure that if any of our Officers and Sgt’s from the barracks had seen us singing, in reality begging, they would have had a fit, and we would have been in boucoup trouble.

 

Sometimes when off duty, I would go to the weight room at Sidi…They had gadgets called  weight machines.   I used to work out a little bit.  One day, while doing bench presses, I strained a bit too much.  The next morning my groin area was sore as all hell.  Went to sickbay, they said I had a hernia.  I was sent to the U. S. Naval Hospital at Kenitra. 

 

Now being a young Marine, I was always looking for a way to ‘skate’.  And this seemed like a golden opportunity to me.  A week or so at mainside recuperating, sounds good don’t it….heh heh   Only thing tho, the Hospital was run by the Navy, and I was a Marine.  I was put in a room with another guy who had elephantitis, and who moaned a lot.  I reckin I would moan a lot also if my cojones were that big.  Lord that guy was in pain.   After the surgery, I’m still groggy, laying in the bed, when a Navy Nurse (Lt.) comes into the room.  She asks me how I’m doing, and like an idiot I say just fine.  She then helps me out of the bed.  Now I have stitches in my groin area, when I tried to straighten up, I could feel them pulling and they hurt like hell.  I was bent over at the waist and that was as high as I could get.  The Nurse leads me out into the Passage way (hall to non-Naval types), then hands me a MOP and Bucket, and sez’s…Mop this passageway.  My response was Lt,  I can’t straighten up….She then sez, “That’s okay, your in a perfect position to swing a mop”.  I pleaded with her, I begged her, I would have done almost anything to get back into bed and lay down.  (Including listen to my roommate moan.)  However, she had a heart of stone.  So I mopped, and mopped, by the time I left the hospital 3 days later to return to Sidi, my  mop was familiar with every room, passageway, and head in the hospital.  I’ll tell you, after 3 days,  I was ready to return to Sidi, and get out of that place.  Never once got a chance to go to the EM Club or do any fun things.  Ever since that experience, I shy away from Navy Nurses….Strange folks  

 

I ran afoul of the Medical folks a couple more times.  One time I went to the beach.   The water was so cold you couldn’t swim, so I just hung around on the beach and watched the eye candy.  It was a pleasant day, also a bit windy, so kept my shirt on.  However I didn’t keep my cover (hat) on or have any thing on my head, therefore my head got sunburned.  So badly, that by the time I got back to Sidi that evening, my head was so sunburned it was already blistering.  After a very painful night, I went to sickbay.  By then the top and back of my head, was literally a mass of blisters of which most were leaking, and dripping down my neck.  After a bit of hee hawing, and tittering around, the Dr & Corpsman put some kind of ointment on my head, and wrote out a “Light Duty” slip.   The Dr told me that I could be written up for destruction of Govt property.  But he decided that the pain I would be in for a few days would be enough punishment.  I got out of there as fast as I could.  Back at the Barracks, my Plt Commander told me that I would still stand Guard Duty, and that since I was on light duty, I was restricted to the barracks.  Wouldn’t you know it, I was back to mopping again. 

 

I spent a year with the 1st Guard Company, Sidi Yahia, Morocco, arriving 9 May 65 and leaving 15 May 66.  While I was stationed in Morocco, I hated it.  Looking back at it now, it was the best Duty during my tenure in the Corps.  The following link will take you to a website dedicated to the Marines who served at Sidi Yahia, and the other Marine Guard Detachments in Morocco.   http://www.usmcmbkm.com/usmcmbkm/Home%20Page.htm