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Ken Schuster

February 13, 2008

Selectman's meetings minutes here.

Crossing paths on a small planet

    Many decades before Robin Williams popularized it in the movie "Good Morning Viet Nam," the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service was pumping American music and news into the airwaves of Africa and the Middle East.

Robin Williams at the AFRS radio board in the 1987 movie "Good Morning Vietnam!"

    Asmara is the capitol of Eritrea, an east African country bordered by Sudan on the west and north, Ethiopia and Djibouti to the south and southeast, and on the entire eastern border is the Red Sea, with Saudi Arabia and Yemen across the water. It's only about 40 miles from the sea, but Asmara is on a plateau at the top of an 8,000 foot mountain, and the journey takes hours, first through the desert, then up the zig-zag road built by Italians who invaded and colonized Eritrea in the late 1880s.

My VW beetle (left) a few days after Ethiopia switched from left-side to right-side driving.

    As Italy prepared for World War II, they found a perfect location near Asmara to send and receive radio signals that would assist in their planned invasion of the rest of Africa.
    Britain captured Eritrea in 1941 and administered it as a UN Trust Territory until it became federated with Ethiopia in 1952. Ten years later, Ethiopia incorporated it as a province, and that started the 31-year guerrilla war, ending with Eritrean independence in 1993.

    After WWII, thousands of Italians chose to stay in Asmara, continuing the cosmopolitan quality they had contributed to the architecture, food, language and culture. In the late 40s, Americans modified the Italian radio station, and began broadcasting entertainment and news for the American civilians and military who were there to assist post-war reconstruction. Because of the location, reception reports came in from places as far as Norway and South Africa.

    The number of Americans increased in proportion to the agricultural, technical and military aid to Ethiopia. By the mid-50s, you would hear on the hour, "Broadcasting in affiliation with the United States Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, this is KANU radio, Asmara, Ethiopia."


Ken Schuster at the AFRTS radio board, at  Asmara, Eritrea in 1965. "Good morning Ethiopia!"

    So there I was, in the middle of Africa, talking on the radio. I introduced "Diana Ross and The Supremes" and "The Beetles" to that part of the world, in 1964.

    Fast-forward to about 2003. After living in California for 34 years, I'm living in Newbury, and driving home from shopping. I see a name on some political signs that makes me pause a second. Next day, I see more of the signs. It's one of those names you just know from somewhere, but can't place it. A few days later, I get an email from a guy with that same last name. He said he had been browsing the Website set up for folks who had been stationed at Kagnew Station, Asmara, and he saw my name and e-mail contact. His name is Norman,  the man I had replaced at the KANU microphone more than 40 years ago, and he lives in Concord!

    I asked if he was running for office, because I saw his name on signs all over the place. He said, "No, that's my son Dan." It turns out that Norman St. Hilaire married that cute little Italian girl he met in Asmara. They had two sons who became county attorneys; Rick St. Hilaire in Belknap, and Dan St. Hilaire in Merrimack.

    Two guys meet in the middle of Africa and 40 years and tens of thousands of miles later wind up living in New Hampshire, 45 minutes from each other. I think that's pretty amazing, but definitely not unique. I'm sure you have had similar and maybe even more extreme experiences where paths cross, and what-ifs… happen. Tell me your story and we can share it here.

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