Going to Afghanistan – Part Two

April 26th, 1958

This is Post #2 in the Series “Going to Afghanistan“.

The guy from Burma now worked at ICA – the International Cooperation Administration.  It was the US foreign aid program.  ICA was the federal agency that delivered aid to foreign nations, not military aid, but economic aid and food aid and all the aid other than military that foreign nations might need.  Military aid was delivered through the alliances, the treaty apparatus, through organizations like NATO (North Atlantic), SEATO (Southeast Asia), CENTO (Central Europe, which meant more the Middle East or the northern Mediterranean), ANZA (Australia and New Zealand).

Of course the UN gave aid to foreign nations, to less wealthy or less well-off member states.  Afghanistan was a member state of the UN, it joined in the beginning, the Afghan flag was the first flag in the UN row of flags at the UN Building in New York.  The UN started with Afghanistan some would say.  The point of the comment was generally lost.  The point that was not lost was that the UN aid was not enough, people in Afghanistan were starving (or were until recently), the Russians were taking over the world (and they were right next door to Afghanistan) and finally of course there was always the story about how the Afghans were like us (and liked us) because we had fought off and defeated the British just like they had done.  Something about “The Great Game”, British India, Gandhi and independence and the fact that the Brits were moving toward the soft underbelly of Russia and somehow the Afghans had stopped them.  And finally, oh yes, the US would have lost all of Europe without the Marshall Plan, not just eastern Europe where we never sent funds, so that proves that foreign aid not only works but is often necessary.

Anyway, all this was carefully explained to Fred in a three hour meeting with three ICA representatives held on March 5th, 1958.  Maybe the emphasis of the meeting was not so much about Afghanistan, but each nation had its story, a reason for need and aid, a hook to connect it to America and a threat from the Russian Bear.  This was the cold war.  Economic assistance and food were the icebox part that if effective would keep our GIs at home and safe and out of harms way so we would not have to commit them to a new “hot war” like the Korea fiasco which just cost blood and money and didn’t get “US” anywhere as we didn’t even win the war; “it’s just a truce there you know”, the ICA guys kept talking.

“We don’t send aid to Burma.”  Burma was always still a question in my father’s mind.  The family was supposed to return with him to Burma in the fall of ‘52.  The family bought tropical clothes, Hawaiian shirts, stuff for the heat of the tropics and then camped out for the summer at a summer cabin at Lake Tahoe waiting for orders and tickets to Burma.  It was a disaster when politics got in the way.  The government of Burma changed and Fred was blamed for being foreign and the construction outfit out of New York was dropped and so they dropped Fred and my brothers and I with my mother sat at 7,000 feet above sea level in a small cabin waiting to freeze to death or something worse while my father (Fred) looked for a job, any job that might feed the family and make everyone forget about the Burma plans.

[Read the Big Snow post to get a sense of part of the pathos].

The real question Fred explained, was do families get to go?  Fred was probably quite willing enough at the time to go off to Afghanistan or just about anywhere else a good “career-advancing” job might take him, but he was not willing to get a divorce and it was pretty clear in his mind that a repeat of the Burma Fiasco certainly could lead quite directly to a divorce.

“Families can go,”  was the short answer.  Then there was discussion about “hard-ship posts” and extra pay and how housing works and how everyone would fly first-class and there was a family car allowance and the car could not be too nice, no Cadillacs or Lincolns certainly, and that was all very fine because flying first-class would be new to Fred and the family didn’t own a Cadillac or Lincoln.  “Yes, the 1955 Mercury Station wagon would be a fine car to take wherever you might go”.

The second meeting with ICA was on March 7th, by March 20th Fred’s application for employment was in the hands of ICA.  It was probably clear from the beginning that Fred was going to Afghanistan and not some other nation where an exceptionally qualified engineer was not so important.  The next three months were mostly involved with trips, New York, secret missile tests, Portland, Oregon and a photographic redoubt in Reno and a visit with Ken (my brother) in Carson City, a Cub Scout outing in the Appalachians with Donald (meaning me).  The physical for Afghanistan was scheduled for June 27th.  Fred passed.

August 18th was the hire date.  The job title was impressive.  “FWC – Chief of the Transportation and Industry Division – United States Operation Mission (USOM) / Afghanistan – International Cooperation Administration (ICA).  Supervisory responsibilities included numerous project sites both in and outside of Kabul including Kandahar International Airport, the Kabul Gorge, the Helmand Valley, and the road project between Kabul and Kandahar.  ICA wanted Fred to leave for Afghanistan at the earliest opportunity.

To understand the situation one must know a bit more about the family.  My mother’s name was Lloydine; Fred and Lloydine were married on March 19th of 1938 in Sacramento, California where they both worked at the time.  “Martin” was born about a year later in Reno.  In 1958 he was serving in the US Navy on a carrier after leaving Harvard College after his Freshman year.  Kenneth (Ken) was younger, he finished his Junior Year in High School in Carson City, Nevada in the summer of 1958.  He lived with the Lynchs that spring because he had severe asthma that made living with the rest of the family in D.C. impossible.  I had just completed Fourth Grade at Janney School (I mention the school in other posts).

In spite of the assurances about families getting to go (to Afghanistan) there were practical considerations that influenced “when”.  First, the family home in Carson City (rented out for the year in Washington D.C.) was not yet sold.  A career in the foreign service would make the sale of the house practical; it’s hard to collect rent from Afghanistan; meaning the checks in the mail, but it might take two months to reach you and then there were not really banks in Afghanistan willing to cash Carson City checks.  Sure one could impose on relatives, have them mind the store, give powers of attorney for emergencies.  The decision was made to just sell the house, it was so much easier and the money from the sale might be useful.

Then Ken might or might not do well in Afghanistan due to his asthma.  Transferring schools would be hard enough as a Senior, ignoring the fact that there was no Senior High School in Afghanistan for non-Afghans, no private school, no military school, no International School.  And even if, what if he had to leave for his health, traveling sick across half the world, no adequate “western” medical care in the whole country.  I however was good to go; but it was not me or the family that went that twenty-first day of September – it was Fred.

405 North Roop Street (old numbering) in Carson City, Nevada circa 1954 - The Clayton house.

This is the “Clayton House” at 405 North Roop Street in Carson City, Nevada.  The car is not the Clayton’s car, but is the car of someone visiting.  Notice that Roop Street is still dirt and curbs have not been put in.

405 North Roop Street (old numbering) in Carson City, Nevada circa 1956 - The Clayton house.

Donald Clayton with chickens and his white duck circa 1955.  The white house in the background is the Lynch house with their garage woodworking shop to the left and their barn behind that. 

[First posted:  2010.02.26 / FridayGoing to Afghanistan – Part Two]
“Afghanistan Central” at Qala Bist.com is linked HERE: