LETTERS HOME 2 – 1960-1961 – from Keith Wheeler


Not great works of literature – Devoid of refined or eloquent writing style – These letters home are presented with only minor editing for general interest and basic clarity.  They represent the observations and impressions of a 24 year old drafted GI as he wrote to parents and friends in the States.


LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

29 October 1960


Dear Mom & Dad –

            This letter will probably find you both very busy with the olive harvest- How’s it going?

            I might say that things have been quite busy on this end also – so this will have to be another fast letter.

            Yes, you were right about the mustache.  That was just the beginning of my feeble, masculine attempt.  Actually, the reason for this lies in my activities with the local people.  It might not seem like much, but it is the custom here for men to wear a mustache, if not a goatee or full beard.  To many local folks, a clean shaven man is immediately tabbed a foreigner.   So although I could never pass for a native, they appreciate this respect shown for their customs.

            As for my relations with my friends here, - I’ve had to slacken off a bit, as the work in the office and other projects have been taking so much time lately.  I just hope things get back to normal before too long.

            If for nothing more, I wish work would slow down so I could get caught up on my writing.  I was hoping to have time to write the Million family about seeing Marla Ann [in Beirut, Lebanon] – also I wanted to tell all of you more of this trip – Maybe later – Inshalla (Allah willing).  Also I have about 15 letters that need answering.  Anyway there are good intensions –

            I might say that – finally – it’s cooler here – During the day it’s very pleasant, ranging in the 80’s and 90’s (which is cool) – in the evenings the temperature drops fairly low and before midnight it actually is chilly.  They say the winter gets quite cold here, with the temperature dropping below freezing at night.  I wish I would have brought along some warmer clothes.

            Now, with the roar of the air conditioner off and sleeping with the windows open, I’m just now becoming aware of the night sounds of Saudi Arabia --- As I sit here this evening with the terrace windows open I can hear the monotonous beat of some native drums and strange chanting, as they are celebrating a religious period (also strengthened by the excitement of the up coming visit by the president of Pakistan).  After they are through, the air will be still with a deathly silence – magnifying many times any sound that is made.  Then the dogs will start to howl.  This is the most maddening and frustrating sound of all.  These semi-wild, desert animals prowl in packs at night – giving forth with long concerts of mournful howls and screeches – with others keeping up a background of steady yelping and yapping.  The sounds they make are unlike any I’ve heard before – sometimes a steady low pitched moan that makes one’s blood curdle – sometimes it’s a massive chorus of all sounds.  Worst of all is trying to sleep with all of this piercing out of the desert night – and – there’s nothing we can do about it!

            Still speaking of music, but of the more pleasant type, I just ordered the component parts of a stereo system (amplifier, record changer, speakers, etc).  Undoubtedly I can’t afford it, but its something that I’ve wanted for a long time and I hope it will ease the taxing life here (I think you understand my weakness for music).  I just hope it gets here before Christmas.  (Speaking of Xmas, there’s absolutely no chance of coming home for it this year – It’s not that I wouldn’t love to, but there’s just too much world between here and there.)

            Well, I’d better close and try to get some sleep.  Hope everything is going well for you both and that this olive season isn’t too tiring on you.   Tell everyone hello for me. 

                                                                        Love, Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

11 November 1960 - Friday


Dear Mom & Dad . . .

            Well, at last, I have time to get another note off to you - - - still busy, but now have a two day holiday to relieve some of the pressure.

            I received your letter (& clippings) dated the 5th.   Last Tuesday I got your letter of Oct. 31 and the package containing the magazine.  Thanks a lot for everything.

            I was glad to get the article on Israel so that I could have my own copy – however, I have seen the article previously - - - Actually – I was confronted with it.   Somehow our head translator at the Ministry (a young Palestinian refugee – about my age – and a fairly good friend of mine) got a copy of the magazine.  He’s quite a student of world and Middle East politics and, for obvious reasons, quite involved with the Palestine-Israel issue.  I think you can readily see how this article looked to him.  We spent several hours hashing over various paragraphs and statements - - - I still wonder if I have convinced him that this article wasn’t written under the direction of our government aimed against the Arabs and “Arab Nationalism.”  Obviously, it was pro Israel - - -this cannot be denied.  It just seems a great injustice that we Americans haven’t seen the whole picture of this situation in the Middle East.  We have seen only one side, and, at the hands of Zionistic propaganda and political influence, have blindly supported a great movement – at the cost of our prestige in the Middle East and the loss (or weakening) of ties with many allied countries.  And, when articles like the one in question (or prejudiced and biased stories such as Exodus) are published and widely accepted in the States – how do you justify our good and democratic intensions to a young fellow who was helplessly driven from his home, his mother and sisters raped and tortured by the sadistic psychotics seeking revenge from the German concentration camps - - or to a fellow who now has to labor under the severe conditions of Saudi Arabia to support his mother and large family, who were rendered fatherless and homeless as a result of the crack Jewish “storm troopers” armed with the aid of generous American financial support. - - - Or, how do you try to tell these people of the danger and threats of Communism, how the Soviets quietly infiltrate a country, gain control of its government and bring its people under cruel domination; how we of America, as leader of the “Free World”, are against this for the sake of the people – when we turn around and support the Zionist’s movement which used the same tactics, took over a country, and caused close to a million people to become refugees and thousands of others to become “second class citizens” in their own land.  How would you justify this . . .?  Possibly, from this little dissertation, you can see part of the problem which we are confronted with here.  There are many ramifications to this particular issue (plus several other disturbing political problems), but one thing is for sure, and that is through my research, studies and experiences I am now definitely against Zionism although I still consider myself as non-prejudiced towards the Jewish people as an ethnic group as I have always been. BUT, as to the final outcome or solution of this grave problem, I can see no easy solution, and that is even more disturbing.

            Well, enough of this “off the cuff” political digression - - - The world news is disturbing enough as it is - - - It is just that when one is taken out of the security of the States (where concern for World Affairs always seemed distant and somewhat “second hand”) and thrown into a place where the world situation isn’t so “rosy”, that one abruptly finds himself confronted face-to-face with these unpleasant “facts of (today’s) life.”

            Well, and how did you like the outcome of the elections?  Personally I was sorry to see the Nixon-Lodge combination lose, but I imagine that Kennedy will do well for the country (at least I hope so!).  We got fairly good coverage of the elections – They radioed in the returns from Dhahran where they got them direct from the States – so, about every hour, we got the count (which was only a couple of hours old at the time).  By the way, regretfully I didn’t vote again - - - I could have voted by absentee ballot, but one has to be a registered voter - - Some of these days maybe I can live in one place long enough of become same.

            I was glad to hear that you got the olives all picked okay and that it was a good crop.  How’s work at the plants coming along?  Speaking of olives – I haven’t received them yet but they will probably get here before too long.  Thanks a lot for sending them. 

            In closing, I might state that the weather here is getting much cooler now - - bringing with the change the subsequent cases of colds, flu, etc.  The nights are cold, with the days varying between cool and warm (never know how to dress) – for the past several days, we have had scattered clouds (some even giving the appearance that it might rain some day).  So goes life in Arabia.

            Give my love to all . . .      Love - Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

18 November 1960 – Friday


Dear Mom & Dad -

            Another fast one to let you know I’m okay and to make an attempt to catch up on my writing.  It seems as though lately I just have a few scattered moments now and then to write, so I try to whip out at least a couple of letters – and as I am never too well organized, I never know what I told to whom – so if you find me repeating myself, please understand – I’m not really cracking up (at least I hope not).

            First of all, I want to let you know that I received the olives alright – I really do appreciate all the trouble (and expense) to send them – Thanks ever so much.   My friends, Jamal and his father, are, however away on business now, but as soon as they return I will give them a few of the cans – I’m sure that they will appreciate it greatly.  Also, thanks for the booklet on Corning – It will be (& has been) of great help and use.  I’m sure that Jamal and his father will be interested in it, as they are always asking me about the States, California, and my home town – they are quite interested in our way of life, agricultural development, industry, etc.  I have already shown it to several of my other friends, with the result of great interest.  Something like this is more personal and first hand and “down to earth” than some of the more elaborate “propaganda.” 

            Speaking on the topic of so called “propaganda” – My roommate (the one from New Jersey) just bought a two band radio.  Its reception is good considering, but in no way could be compared to the reception we get in the States (short wave) – late at night we are usually able to pick up a few western stations or some of the Middle East stations that broadcast in English or play western type music – it’s wonderful to hear a little touch of the outside world, even though it is usually garbled over with static.  Well, anyway, getting back to my subject - - - Some of the stations that we can occasionally pick up are Voice of America, British Broadcasting Co (BBC), Radio Cairo, Radio Moscow, and Radio Budapest.  Through Voice of America and BBC we can usually get some of the current (world) news and some good music – the others usually have good music (especially Classical,) but Moscow and Budapest are mostly news broadcasts, political discussions and propaganda series – It’s interesting but greatly disturbing to listen to these.  One must admit that the Communists go about all this in an effective way – boy do they cut the States, the Western World, and all aspects of our government and society – and they do it on a subtle, pseudo-educational  level.  It’s terrible to hear all this, especially to move the dial slightly to hear Voice of America and realize that our counter-propaganda efforts would probably not be so convincing to the unknowing ear – and then to hear us start to put out some good counter material, only to be snowed under by peculiar and “convenient” static (another Russian tool.) – This happened a lot during and right after the elections.

            Enough for today’s political digressions - - -Another bit of news that might bear mentioning is our local flying - - - We have turned one of the rooms in 08_01fly.jpg (29793 bytes) our house into a transient hotel for visiting Saudi Air Lines pilots.  These fellows are all American TWA pilots who have adventurously contracted to fly this line (their headquarters, homes, and families are in Jeddah.)  With one or two of these fellows around (one is always here for the King) we have become quite well acquainted and, when we have the time, they are always happy to have a couple of us go up with them.  It’s quite an experience – just a couple of us fellows roaring around over the city (in the King’s personal DC-3) – zooming out over the surrounding desert – buzzing roaming herds of camels or packs of dogs, -dropping down occasionally into a canyon or valley to do a little closer exploring – a heck of a lot of fun in an adventuresome sort of a way - and it is a well welcomed break in the routine. [See Flight in King's DC3 Photo Album]

            Another item of current news from the desert -- Tomorrow I go to Dhahran.  (I don’t know if I told you this yet.?)   It will be for a few days TDY (“Temporary Duty” – in other words, on business,) but as it will be on Mission activities, it won’t be exactly a holiday, but, again, a break in the routine.

            Last, but by no means least - - - IT HAS FINALLY RAINED IN SAUDI ARABIA!!!  Late the other afternoon the clouds were a little heavier than usual – the air was still and there was a deadly silence – then started a small breeze and within just a few minutes the breeze had reached gale force – the dust started to rise and everything became dark – the sun was blocked out by the swirling clouds of dust – and it was impossible to see even ten feet away (no exaggeration!) – it was almost like a very heavy fog, but you could tell it was dust as it filled your eyes, mouth and lungs - - - this raged on for about fifteen minutes – then it was gone – you could see the dark cloud of dust moving swiftly away over the barren distance - - silence, again - - - and then – a few drops could be heard – then the beat picked up as the intermittent drops increased to a staccato pounding, as the few but large droplets came showering down - - - Yes, it was finally raining in Riyadh – only for about ten minutes though, but it was a  welcomed sight to behold, as this strange moisture from the sky cleared the dust from the air and dampened the dry and sandy ground - - - Refreshing to say the least!!

            And how are things in the “land of plenty”?  Has it rained lately?  I might mention that I received your letter dated the 10th today.  Thanks for the picture – I gave it to one of our houseboys - - Yes, well I hope Kennedy will do well for our country.  I have heard some pretty good things about him now that the elections are over (this was pre-election material – just goes to show you how current we are.)  One thing in particular that interests me is his proposal of a “Peace Corps” – I imagine you have heard about it, haven’t you?  If you happen to see any article or clipping on this subject, I would appreciate it. – I would like to know more of the details on this idea.

            You were right in your supposition that the Saudis don’t observe Thanksgiving or Christmas - - We have the 24th and 25th off for Thanksgiving – and I imagine at least a couple of days off for Christmas.  No, it won’t be like being home, by any stretch of the imagination. 

            Well, Mom & Dad, I’d better close for now - - will be looking forward to your next letter.  Give the family my love and my regards to everyone else.

                                                            Love, Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

2 December 1960


Dear Mom & Dad –

            Another Friday and a little time to get a note off to you.

            I received your nice letter today (25 Nov) and the clippings.  Thanks a million for the “letters to the Editor” article - - It was a terrific article - - one I have been hoping to see - - and well in line with my sentiments.  I just hope it did some good back there - - - it will be put to good use here!!  I’d really appreciate it if you could keep sending any such, related articles you might see.  Also – I’d appreciate the date that they appeared.  Also I truly thank you for your interest and understanding in this problem which I have become concerned with.

            About the books mentioned in the article - - - no I haven’t been able to read any of them but I have heard them favorably mentioned.  I would very much like to see them, but I don’t want to put you to all that expense.

            I am hoping, that  IF I can ever find enough time, to try my hand in writing a “Letter to the Editor” - - - it would probably never be published – and, much less, I’ll probably never have the time to do it justice - - - It’s just that I feel I owe some attempt (however feeble) to elucidate this grave problem – for the sake of my good friend here – and for the sake of our waning prestige and influence in the Middle East.  I sure hated to see Kennedy make the stand that “we” would back Israel and assure it protection from the aggression of the Arab World - - - I’m sure the communists are making good use of this in their propaganda attempts here.

            On the lighter side - - - I now have my stereo – have it assembled and installed in our room – and playing beautifully right this minute.  It’s really wonderful feeling to have my own music again!  The only trouble now is getting records.  I ordered several stereo records from the States, but only five arrived.  My roommate received two.  So those seven get played over and over whenever we’re in the room - - - but, to the mellow strings of Montovani or the 101 Strings or Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” – our whole situation and the conditions are much easier to take.  I might mention that it is quite a problem getting records (& players) into this country, as it is apparently against the Saudi law to have them.  The way we Americans get around this is by having all such material marked “Educational Material.”

            I can’t remember if I told you that I gave some of the olives and the Corning booklet to my friends, Jamal and his father (Mr. Sharif).  They were very, very grateful and happy to get them - - Quite impressed with the size and processing of them!  They told me to thank you very much.  And the booklet has really made the rounds!  Mr. Sharif was so impressed with it (& truly interested) that he called many of his business and agricultural friends in to see it, including many of the King’s and Princes’ farmers (as many of them can’t read English he translated all the writing for them).  He has now grown very interested in California’s agriculture – and now he hopes to visit our state when he comes to the U.S. in 1964 to the World’s Fair.  I was wondering if Chico put out a similar booklet.  Also, I was wondering if you might have some farming magazines you could send for him and also their subscription rates, so, if he is interested, I might subscribe for him. . .?

            I’m still having trouble with my intensions about Christmas gifts.  Presently, I’m struggling trying to get my cards sent out.  Speaking of the holidays - - It looks as though we might be able to spend a few days in Asmara around New Years – Still too soon to tell for sure.

            Well, must close for now and get a few more cards sent – as I am meeting my Arab friends this evening. 

            By the way, thanks for the complimentary thoughts about my diplomatic abilities - - I just wish I were more qualified and talented along those lines - - as it is, I shall be content to try in my small, simple ways. 

            Give my regards to all the family - - I will be thinking of you all (even more) as we go into the holiday season.

                                                                        Love, Keith


P.S.  It’s cold now in Arabia - !!  No more rain though - -

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

26 December 1960


Dear Mom & Dad . . .

            Well Christmas has come (?) and gone . . .  And now I must admit that it wasn’t a pleasant one this year!  I hate to complain but – well – rather than go into a long dissertation on my activities of past, I’ll just say that I have been working constantly for the past week or so, and this includes the day before Xmas, Xmas Eve (until the wee hours of the morning) and some on Christmas Day.  Leaving the Ministry Thursday on a “theoretical” three day holiday, I brought my office with me to our living quarters and here I spent the “joyous holiday season,” save for one diplomatic banquet at the local hotel (which was nice, in an unusual way, and although I was very tired I found it very interesting) and our own Christmas dinner, which physically was quite nice and elaborate, but overshadowed by the heavy and despondent atmosphere that prevailed. One of the most pleasant happenings on Christmas day was being able to get a few good restful hours of much needed sleep.  Yes, I must admit that I passed through these marks on the calendar too busy to get the “spirit” or to have time to think of what was actually going on in the rest of the world.  I might mention that the only touch of the outside atmosphere was being able to hear a couple of Christmas carols on the short-wave radio thru heavy static and interference, plus also hearing a few bars of Handel’s Messiah.  I regretfully say that I did miss a great deal this year – but at least it was here and gone before I had time to become depressed (as many of the fellows did).

            Now isn’t that a hell of a way to start a letter, especially at this time of the year when I should be in better spirits and asking how Christmas was at home.  (I had to blow off a little steam and get it off my chest – please forgive.)  [See Xmas 1960 Photo Album.]

            I received all your very thoughtful and delicious gifts in good condition, and thanks a lot.   You and Janice are great on candy making!  (not to mention the great cookies and cake, plus the MacFarlane’s candies).  Thanks again!  I also received the magazines, and for this I am very thankful too - - I will give them to Jamal and his father as soon as I am able to make it down to town again.  By the way, the packages were covered with commemorative stamps, which I gave to my friend.  He has promised to bring me some more of his stamps.  Also, I have made a new contact relative to stamps – He’s an Arab that works in the local post office, speaks a little English, collects stamps himself, and is the one who gave me the stamps that I am enclosing. 

            Well, Mom & Dad, as I’m still not in a very good writing mood, maybe I should stop for tonight.  We are still planning on flying over to Africa and if everything goes as planned we should leave day after tomorrow (the 28th) and return the 30th.  However, the “situation” on both sides of the Red Sea has not been too static lately, so there is still some doubt related to our trip.  I imagine by now you have heard some report of the recent change in the local government here in Arabia, have you not?  Can’t say too much as of now, but it looks as though everything will work out okay.

            And so – Good night until next time - -  Again, many thanks for all you have done - - - And here’s to your pleasant New Year’s Day and the following year (& years) and may the future bring you all the greatest in peace, love and contentment.

                                                            Love, Keith

POSTCARD –Ferrovia Eritrea” – from Riyadh


30 Dec. 1960 (postmarked 2 Jan 1961, APO 616)


TO:      Mr. & Mrs. John Carter

            Corning, California  U.S.A.


Dear Mom & Dad –

            Just returned from Asmara this afternoon.  

Very tired – but we had a wonderful trip 

& time (beautiful weather).

                                                Love - Keith

 Picture: We flew over much terrain similar to this 

nearing Asmara.


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