Remembrances of Topographic Training Team February 1970 to December 25, 1970

Somewhere among these words I’ll list those I can remember of that tour of duty 40 years ago.  My memory was better then, but some things could have happened yesterday, they’re so clear in my mind.

I’ll begin and end with MAJ William Sprinsky.  While with the Defense Mapping School, I received a call from AMS to drive up from Fort Belvoir for an interview along with MSG Astor Cornett (he had been working at Arlington National Cemetery at the time) where we ultimately were interviewed by MAJ Sprinsky who happened to be stateside at the time and was looking for a couple of senior NCO’s to send to Iran to “get things moving.”  Long story short, we both headed out toward the end of February.  Cornett ended up going into the field with the level teams and I ran the operations in Gorgan.

I only spent two nights in Tehran, one at the International Hotel where Sprinsky dropped us at 0200 and promised to pick us up in the morning at 0500.  The second night was at the Team House in Tehran before heading northeast to Gorgan.  I remember Phil Dunn was spending his last night (or close to it) in the same room.

Arriving at Gorgan, who should I run in to but an Iranian Army Lieutenant by the name of Karimsadeh (I confess up-front that I can only spell Farsi names phonetically, so moan all you want).  The interesting part of that encounter was that I had been his instructor a year or two earlier when he was at Belvoir taking the Topographic Computing class – small world.  I soon found myself immersed in managing or overseeing our satellite commissary, cook, houseboy, project computing, tending light (including my first encounter with a heliotrope), and recording observations while keeping an eye open for Camel Spiders (lovely creatures, they).  The stories of those days abound and would fill more space than anyone would want to read (but just in case you can read Will Freeze’s book elsewhere on this site); like the idiosyncrasies of the various observers, CWO Nyus’ dog and my laundry hanging on the line; Cleo Taylor’s penchant for going to sleep while driving down the highway after lunch, fresh bread baked by Knobe at the Gorgan Team House, using Tellurometers to communicate rather than the radio (won’t name any names), a light tender left on station while the rest of the observation team left (won’t name any names here either), and on and on.  I do have to give one short testimonial, though, and that is that Will Freeze writes the best damned “To Reach” I’ve ever seen.  Cleo Taylor and I were following one in late afternoon one day and dark was fast approaching.  I was using the compass and watching the odometer, Cleo had turned on the headlights as we crossed and re-crossed dry stream beds, when I told him we were there.  We both dismounted the truck, and I swear by all that’s holy, that damn station marker was directly (well, pretty much) beneath our bumper.  Amazing.

When the field work was done somewhere around October, I think, I closed up Gorgan and followed Cornett to Tehran (he had departed earlier).  I could have returned to the States but in order to get credit for the tour I opted to remain until December 26 (ten months, one day = one tour).  The pool was still open at the Tehran house and temperature be damned, I was going to swim.  A couple of laps is all it took, but my summer had been spent in the hills; although I did get to spend a weekend at the beach on the Caspian Sea with several Armenian families, the males of which worked in the Motor Pool.

After several months of microfilming level books, rechecking some computations and dining at various homes (thank you LTC Smith, Mannie Quintero, Cleo Taylor, ?? Hutchinson, and others long gone from my memory banks), LTC Smith hauled Cornett and me to the airport for the flight home.  We had a layover in London and had to settle for a club sandwich Christmas evening as the turkey and ham were long gone.

Soldiers and civilians names not mentioned elsewhere (that I recall) are: Hank Albert, John Austin, John White, Bruce Bright (communications), Warren Light (Motor Sergeant in Gorgon), Bill Scott, MAJ Olson, MAJ Schwend, and Bill Smith.

I cannot stop writing until I comment, again, about COL Bill Sprinsky.  He and I crossed paths many times after Iran.  We became close friends, he and I especially, but also his family and mine.  In retirement, he loved teaching surveying and cartography at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Penn State.  Shortly after his second retirement he succumbed to a battle with pancreatic cancer and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on February 4, 2009 after passing in November of the previous year.  He is survived by his wife Lynne, son Matthew, and daughter Judith. His obituary can be found here.
I could write forever about Iran.  I loved the work, the soldiers, most of the civilians, the country and its people, and especially the kindnesses shown to an unaccompanied soldier in a foreign land.  It saddens me to see what has and continues to happen in this amazing country to a people I learned to admire.  If you’re of a mind to swap stories or just say hello, it’s as of August 2010, but will likely be by the end of September.

C. William (Bill) Locke