Kagnew Memories


Bill Prout ( 10 Dec 1964 / 23 May 1966 )

On a cold, rainy December morning, Vince Witkowski and I awaited our departure from Augusta, Georgia. We had been assigned to the 4th USASAFS, Kagnew Station, Asmara, Ethiopia. Since graduation from the Signal Corps School at Fort Gordon, we had been “holdovers”, awaiting our passports and travel arrangements. We would have a layover in Washington, DC, and our international flight would leave from John F. Kennedy International Airport. At Kennedy airport, we were joined by Ron Rowe, who was an 058 or 059 from Fort Devens. I was nineteen, Vince was seventeen, and Ron was the “senior” member at 21.

The flight left New York the evening of December 8, 1964; an uneventful, short layover in Rome followed the next morning. Our next stop would be Athens, where we would have a several hours layover. On the bus from the airport, we set our plans for the evening. We would visit as many bars as possible, limiting our consumption to one beer at each bar. Great strategy, but execution of the plan would fail.

However, the first order of business was trying to find a hotel room where Vince and I could change out of our uniforms into civilian clothes; Ron had been instructed to travel in civvies. Near the travel office where the bus dropped us off, we found a small hotel. The desk clerk knew enough English (Greek was certainly foreign to us!) to understand that we needed a room only for a few hours; we could change and store our luggage. A price was negotiated, and the necessary drachma changed hands. We were instructed to tell the night clerk the arrangements when we returned to retrieve our luggage.

We started our bar tour around 5:30 PM that evening; we had to be at the travel office by 11:00 PM to meet the bus for the return ride to the Athens airport. Our first stop was the Copacabana Club (I believe every large city has a bar by this name). Ron and I took seats at the bar and struck up a conversation with the female bartender. Vince had hustled off to a corner with about four bar girls, and a bottle of champagne was soon ordered for his new found friends. As Ron and I finished our beers, we turned around to find Vince standing behind us with a goofy smile on his face. The bad news was he had no money left; the good news was, he had one hell of a happy time spending it. We told Vince we would cover his expenses for the rest of the night, but there would be no more champagne under any circumstances.

Now, it was on to the Kit Kat Club, another name that seems to show up in many large cities. We were seated by a very attractive hostess, and soon a waitress came to the table to take our orders. Not seeing a menu, I asked the waitress, “What have you got?” Her response was to lift up her skirt, revealing the fact that she wore no panties! I knew right then and there that the next eighteen months were going to be a great adventure. During the course of our stay at this wonderful club, we met some Syrian Air Force Fighter Pilots, who were in Athens training with the American Air Force. They asked if we would like to join them at their favorite club for drinks......and where skin flicks were also shown. Needless to say, the vote was unanimous. In addition, this was to be their treat; these guys had a wad of US twenties that would have choked the proverbial horse.

As we left the Kit Kat Club behind, we walked down a series of small streets and narrow alleyways. I was sure we had been set-up and were going to be mugged at any time. Very shortly, however, we arrived at the Moulin Rouge Bar (again, I know I have been in at least fifteen different Moulin Rouge bars around the world) and were greeted very warmly by the owner. Being the only patrons, we were shown to a mezzanine table and immediately joined by several beautiful bar girls. After the first round of drinks, we noticed that our departure time was nearing. “Bring on the dirty movies” we chanted. The owner pulled down the window shades, pulled down a projector screen, and dimmed the lights. We knew we were in for some hot viewing. As the film leader flickered on the screen, our hostesses cuddled up even closer to us. The movie began; it was a vintage version of Steamboat Willie, the animated cartoon that introduced Mickey Mouse. We doubled over in laughter and figured we had time for one more round of drinks, but we would be cutting it close. Tossing down this final round and kissing our lasses good-bye, we bolted out the door and headed for the hotel to pick-up our luggage.

We made it back to the hotel with about fifteen minutes to spare before it was time to board the bus for the airport. Unfortunately, we were confronted with a night clerk who understood no English. For a moment it seemed Vince and I might be leaving all our worldly possessions in Athens. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however. We raced up a flight of stairs to the room and tried the door; it was locked, and we had no key. The night clerk was yelling in Greek; we were yelling in English. Finally, we persuaded him to unlock the door.

When we hurriedly pushed open the door, a Greek woman in the room was aroused from her sleep and began yelling. It seems the day clerk had given us the quarters of one of the daytime maids and had not told anyone what the arrangements were. There was no time to make amends. Vince and I grabbed our luggage and got the hell out of the hotel. Ron had managed to persuade the bus driver to wait for us, so we made it only a couple of minutes late. We cleared customs at the airport and boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight for Asmara sometime around 1:00 AM on December 10, 1964.

The three of us slept until we landed in Cairo for a short layover, which was basically uneventful. The only interesting part of this layover was an Egyptian soldier who appeared to follow us wherever we went in the airport. Of course, this was a time when US-Egyptian relations had deteriorated. As I recall, president Nasser had told the U.S. to Ago to hell with its foreign aid. Re-boarding the flight, we slept until we landed at Asmara”s airport.

We deplaned, retrieved our luggage, and were transported to Kagnew Station. I remember thinking to myself how truly different this country was. Within six months, though, everything seemed as if I had been there for years. But on this morning I was fascinated with the scenery and the people as we traveled in on the airport road. Once we entered Kagnew Station, we were dropped off at the company barracks. We were assigned temporary bunks and told that processing would not start until the next morning; we were on our own for the rest of the day.

I slept until sometime in the afternoon and then decided it was time to explore the base. I have always been a “warm to hot weather” person, so I was immediately pleased with the climate. In addition, I remember being so impressed with the green grass and flowers in December. As I explored the post, I was pleased at the availability of recreational facilities. I located the post theater, the PX, the snack bar, the library, the gym, the bowling alley, the softball field, the miniature golf course, and the Oasis Club.

I recall that in-processing/orientation was basically obtaining a lot of initials on forms presented to various personnel around the base (payroll, dental/medical, security badge, etc.). We were assigned to our quarters; because we worked different tricks, I do not recall seeing much of Vince and Ron until we were ready to leave eighteen months later. Those eighteen months would pass quickly; temporary friendships would be made; and Kagnew would become a permanent part of my life. I could not even attempt to put most of those events in chronological order, so the following are recollections of people, events, and places (as I remember such)(I hope no one is upset by the use of some of the slang used to refer to our career vets and their families; however, it is a part of the army slang in use while at Kagnew):

Operations Company

I was assigned to Operations Company. My recollection is that I was assigned to C Trick. The Company Commander was Joseph N. Miccioto (? spelling), who had been a former infantry line captain ( the “for twenty-something years, and I don’t like it, I love it” speech almost caused a mutiny at one company formation after he first arrived). I think the mail clerk’s name was George Shinn. Our quarters were on the top floor of the barracks. I slept in the bay area; senior personnel had individual rooms (two to three per room). The barracks was convenient to every area of the post. Sometime during 1965, construction began on a new barracks. I think that sometime in early 1966, it was completed. At that time, communications center personnel (and others I can not recall) were moved in to what became Company B. The 058’s and 059’s (and others) remained in the old barracks and became Company A. I do not remember the specifics, but in January of 1966, we actually had a parade ceremony. A band from one of the U.S. Navy ships played, and we paraded around by post headquarters for an evening retreat ceremony. In the course of eighteen months, it seems we had several visiting generals; this meant barracks inspections and other military madness for which I had no appreciation. Those barracks, however, were home for my tour.

The Bowling Alley

This was the first recreational facility I discovered. It was a nice ten lane facility. When I arrived, pin boys were still used, but I recall that automatic pin setting equipment was eventually installed. On my first night at Kagnew, I walked into the bowling alley to look around. Although I grew up bowling duckpins (this may be an unheard of sport to some folks), I had bowled ten pins a few times. As I looked around, I spied a bowling ball sitting at the main counter. It was for sale for maybe $15.00 or so; scotch taped to the ball was a note that said “Probably.” Unbeknownst to me, I had encountered my first Kagnew slang expression. Of course “probably, or proprio” meant no way or just flat out no! It was an expression used hundreds of times each day at Kagnew. I would bowl many games in that house. Some were bowled during the day, some at night, and many after the mids shift ended. I even have a sterling silver pitcher that was earned for a second place finish by the Company team in the post bowling tournament, team division.

Intramural Sports Program

The post had a great intramural sports program, with leagues for basketball, fast pitch softball, golf, and flag football (no equipment and a rougher version of touch). I played basketball for C Trick, softball for B Company, and golf for C Trick. I remember that there were some very good athletes on the post, and one could always find a game. Once, the post all-star basketball team played some visiting foreign team (nationality not remembered, but I think it was the Italian National Team). I certainly cannot recall much of the game, but I believe it ended in controversy involving the amount of air in the ball (played under international rules, not the U.S. rules). Mostly I remember there was one hell of a party at the Oasis Club afterwards. Golf was a real challenge in Asmara. There were packed sand “greens,” the Ethiopian Army Medical Corps grazed their cattle on the fairways, a couple of fairways went between barns on each side, and the dishes at Stonehouse presented targets I could never pass up. The young Ethiopian boys who caddied, however, could hit the hell out of the ball, and they taught me much about the basics of hitting a golf ball. I also remember a softball game that pitted our post all-stars against the team from the Embassy in Addis Ababa. Again, I recall no particular highlights, only a good party that followed. Not under the auspices of intramural sports, but sports related, I remember watching the dependent high school boys play basketball against local school teams. We even scrimmaged them many afternoons in the gym. I also recall a dependent tackle football game that was a “powderpuff game.” The girls were the players on the two teams, and the boys were the “cheerleaders,” skirts and all.

I remember asking Howie Vann, who had boxed golden gloves in New York City, to teach me how to box. What I mostly remember is getting the crap beat out of me in several “training sessions.” Seems I could never really land a punch unless Howie wanted me to; I think that was only so he could continue to have a sparring partner who did not know any better.

The Swimming Pool

This was the place for relaxing; soaking up the rays; downing many Blue Ribbons, Miller’s and Bud’s; and checking out the dependent girls in bikinis and two piece suits. Spent many hours here working on a sun tan and listening to music played by the AFRTS jocks. One of my favorite places on post!

The Post Theater

What a bargain! For twenty-five cents admission Hollywood’s films were available on that silver screen. The movie usually changed every two to three days, with the “feature” attraction usually being on a weekend. The movies that seemed to do well were the James Bond series and any Elvis Presley or beach party type of flick. The troops seemed to love the bikini clad women in these movies. Do not know what agency controlled film distribution, but some movies seemed to show at the theater about every three months. Other films that did well were military theme movies; the troops loved to make comments during the showings.

My favorite memory of this theater is the witty comments/remarks that oftentimes came from the audience. These were not always appreciated by the lifers and their families. One Saturday night, after several brews at the snack bar, three of us were thrown out by the manager after a complaint from the post laundry officer. It was a B Western anyway; the most troubling part of this is we did not get our admission back. The other two guys involved in this notorious incident were Howie Vann and Jordy (his last name was Jordan, and I believe he was from New Jersey; I cannot remember his first name. He was a hell of a softball player, though).

Also watched many a midnight movie after the eve shift. Those tended to be particularly rowdy as the troops unwound after a nights work.

Lastly, I seem to remember this is where most of our quarterly (?) training and “character guidance” sessions took place. Talk about your 100 greatest movies; evidently the American Film Institute did not have access to the training classics we were subjected to. One in particular involved cleaning up after a nuclear attack; think we were supposed to use some concoction called “dank.” My favorite line was “dank your tank.” And those “character guidance” sessions hosted by the post chaplain (his nickname was Handles, because of his large ears); seems he had served with one of the airborne units, and he was always plugging for re-enlistments. Never got much of a positive reaction from what I remember.

The Mess Hall

Not much to say about this, except for an incident involving “fresh eggs.” It seems that the mess folks did get some “fresh eggs” from the States and word quickly spread. The breakfast meal before mids had an unusually large crowd that night. Everybody wanted some of those “fresh eggs.” As it turned out, I think the cooks had to crack about five eggs before they could find one that was not green inside.

The Post Snack Bar (located next to the PX)

This was the place to grab a milk shake or a cold brew if you were near the PX. One night, and I do not remember what occasion we were celebrating, the C Trick party crowd (at least fifteen guys as I recall) rolled in for some quick brews around nine o’clock in the evening. Before long, the beer can pyramid was quite an architectural sight, and some one suggested a group sing-a-long. After Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and Frankie Laine’s “Wanted Man,” someone suggested doing “Hey LiLi LiLi,” a song made popular by the folk group The Limelighters. It had a catchy chorus, and one could make up the verses as you went along. We must of sang this song for an hour or more before the poor girls who were the snack bar attendants called the MP’s. By the time they arrived, we must have had a beer can pyramid that was 150 cans or more. The singing was fairly boisterous at this point. The MP’s were very understanding about the situation and suggested we move the party to the Oasis Club. For some reason, we ended up at the miniature golf course across from the Oasis Club. As curfew approached (you could not be on the streets of Asmara from midnight to six in the morning), someone suggested going down town. A bunch of us ended up at Rosie’s house for the night. I do not believe we were ever allowed in the snack bar again as a group.

The Oasis Club

What can one say about the Club; thirty some years later I still have my membership cards and my invitation to the short timers’ party. These are cherished artifacts from those eighteen months long ago. Who can forget chit books, 10 cent bar night, 10 cent beer night, bingo games with fantastic prizes (some lucky guy was the winner of red 1965 Alpha Romeo automobile), slot machines, pinochle games, bands, Peace Corps girls (who sometime in early 1966 were instructed by the U.S. Embassy to quit associating with the GI’s from Kagnew), and the annual New Year’s Eve all night blast. I believe the head waiter’s name was Kelly, and my favorite waiter was a big guy named Haile. My twenty-first birthday was celebrated at the Club, but it was no more an occasion than a few hundred other nights I spent there. Too much fun, too much booze, and too many good memories to write about. Many thanks to the club managers and others who made the operation of the Club possible. Nuff said.

Special Visitors to Asmara and/or Kagnew Station

During my stay at Kagnew there were some noted visitors to the city or the post. Haile Selaisse visited the base for a medical/dental check-up at least once, and maybe twice in those eighteen months.

King Gustav V of Norway visited; it was a festive occasion for the city. The women were very colorful in their dress, and the motorcade route from the airport was lined with the locals hoping to catch a glimpse of Haile Selaisse. It was at this time I first heard the “gobbling” sound of the crowd; I learned that this was a sign of honor and appreciation from the people. On the darker side, it was also the first time I saw an “Ethy stick” used by the mounted police. It was not a pretty sight and left a lasting impression. A momentous visit was that of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Haile Selaisse had spent his exile in England during the occupation of Ethiopia by the Italians in World War II. As I remember, this was the first visit to Ethiopia by a reigning British Monarch. Again, it was a very festive occasion for the city. The most unusual thing about this visit, as I recall, was the British Ambassador filing a formal protest for the Ethiopian Air Force endangering the Queen’s safety. Seems several of the Ethiopian Air Force planes had dropped rose petals on the motorcade; it sounded like quite a nice gesture to me, but the Brits must of been concerned about the low flying planes. I believe I read of this in the Kagnew Gazelle or the Armed Forces newspaper. Can anyone confirm this story? Or was this visit after a long night at the Oasis!


This was a town I came to really enjoy. Many times I rented a bicycle outside the front gate and just rode around the city until I was too tired to petal the damn thing anymore. Then I would usually persuade a gherry cart driver to transport me and the bike back to the base. Visited most sections of the city at all times of the day and night. Some of the more innovative members of C Trick invented this game of hide and seek from the MP’s during the curfew hours. We would go down town shortly before midnight and each buy a large bottle of vino. We would then spend most of the night hours drinking the vino and trying to lure the night MP patrols into chasing us. To my knowledge, no one was ever caught by the MP’s. Didn’t take much to entertain us!

There was the time some captured bandits were hung in the public square in the less visited section of the city. Someone on post had managed to get some pictures, and they were furtively passed around and copied. This was not the type of publicity that the Ethiopian government wanted. There was also the time that Howie Vann (he had bought a car) and I were exploring the city and ended up at the leper colony. That certainly was an educational experience.

So many good memories of the city. I truly wish that I am able to make a return visit to Asmara one day. The current hostilities have reminded me that the ELF had been very active during my stay, even hijacking and blowing-up one of the two 707 airliners that Ethiopian Airlines had in service (the planes were named the Blue Nile and the White Nile). Many times I watched the Ethiopian Third Army troops work over the local college protesters. These are all reminders that differences run deep in that region of the world.

And there were the many nights in the bars down town. There was Rosie and Momma Kathy. Was it an “urban myth,” or did Momma Kathy’s son once shoot up the motor pool because of his mother’s reputation? I do believe that the troops at Kagnew had more “jumps” than the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions together.


A city not visited enough during my tour of duty. Made five or six visits and enjoyed each one. Remember going to North Beach and swimming in the Red Sea; the temperature always seemed to be about 110 degrees and the water was like a warm bath. But it was great. Mohammad, the North Beach camel driver, always had his creature available for rides. Must of ridden that camel about twenty times. If one felt like taking the risk, you could ride into the practice range that the Ethiopian Air Force used for target practice. Pick-up a few spent shells and get the hell out of there, but I never remember seeing a plane during the three times I ventured into this area.

There was snorkeling provided by special services. And there was the bar hopping at night. The bars down by the harbor docks were especially interesting, as you would meet sailors from all over the world. Visited many a ship at the invitation of new found acquaintances. The ride up and down the mountain was always a thrill. Baboons, cattle, stick women, switchback turns, and beautiful scenery. Made the trip once on the back of a Honda motorcycle; the owner’s last name was Nipper, but cannot remember his first name (Ted, I think). Jerry Lowe (and his wife) also made the trip. We all worked in the communications center at Tract C. I do remember that it was during the rainy season and it was very cold on that bike during the night.

Another city I would like to visit one more time.

Tract C

This was where we plied our trades. Remember many bus rides between here and the post and remember the many Ethiopian bicycle commuters we would see in the morning on their way into Asmara.

There was “Sarge,” the tortoise. I believe he got a promotion before I left. Some one painted a rocker under his stripes, thereby making him a staff sergeant. There were the Gazelles that lived inside the compound. One, whose name was Fred, broke his neck on the fence surrounding the compound. Guess he longed for the freedom of the plains around us and attempted an unsuccessful jump of the fence. The MP in the guard shack at the front gate of the compound called the trick officer and said “Fred has killed himself.” This poor lieutenant raced out of the building thinking that some poor ditty bopper had finally snapped and done himself in. Seems the lieutenant did not know who Fred was.

Of course I remember being the NUG running around looking for the basement so I could raise the antennas a little higher. I also remember being low man on the totem pole and thereby assigned to making fresh coffee for the next communications center trick, a particular chore I did not like. One night I put about a pound of coffee in the hopper and only filled the coffee maker about half full of water. Needless to say, I was never asked to make coffee again. Finally, I remember having to pull guard duty at the site. To this day, the reasons for such guard duty remain a mystery.

It has been written that “all good things must end,” and our eighteen months drew to a close. We did our out processing (which meant obtaining another set of many initials on many different forms), packed our belongings for shipment to our next duty stations, caught a few rays at the pool, and awaited our travel plans. If you departed on certain days (Tuesday or Thursday is the recollection), the travel route would be through Beirut, thus giving the weary travelers a different return trip. We would not be lucky enough for that; it was back through Cairo, Athens, Rome to New York. Our overnight layover in Athens was much milder on the return leg. We visited the Acropolis and had a quiet dinner at the hotel. I think that Vince stayed in Rome. Cleared customs in New York and we went our separate ways.

As the years passed, I became more and more aware that my time at Kagnew (and the other duty stations) was a special time in my life, not to be duplicated ever again. Even though I enlisted to become a career soldier, I very quickly learned I was not career military material and would curse the “lifers” more than once during my enlistment. However, the Army became the vehicle which helped me grow up. It did instill in me certain positive qualities and disciplines that I believe have carried through my life to date.

Life has been good to me—a beautiful wife, a son (who swam competitively from age 6 until he graduated from Mary Washington College in May 1998), a daughter (a member of the James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes, one of the top college marching bands in the country), and more blessings than I deserve. I have had a good career as a CPA and am moving into what will be the twilight years of my life.

In the future there are people to see and places to go. There are nights, however, when I think back on things and believe that the only work I have done that really mattered was what we did as members of ASA. There are many former vets I would like to say hello to once again; the stark reality is that this will probably not happen. That is part of life, also!

Three years after returning from Kagnew, I would run into my travel friend Ron Rowe at Virginia Commonwealth University, where we both were attending college. We would see each other on campus a few times over the next three years. I would be an usher in 1969 in Doug O’Donnell’s wedding in San Diego and see several former Kagnewites. We, also, would eventually fall out of touch.

I am probably more sentimental than I should be, but I look forward to perhaps a reunion with those that served at Kagnew. There were good times, bad times, and times I just cannot remember; but I know that others do remember! To all those long lost ASA friends:


Would like to hear from anyone wishing to talk about Kagnew. For all you career military men and women, thank you for your life of service to our Country. And to all, continued success and much happiness in your lives.

The top ten percent -- ASA All The Way!