THE IRAN MAPPING PROJECT was a “dream come true” for a young guy like me. I was a shiny new Army Engineer soldier when it all happened, and these are my recollections of that great adventure.
The major mapping phase of the Iran survey project was already underway, an ambitious undertaking given the conditions. The men of the 64th Engineer Bn. were tasked with the extraordinary challenge of conducting large-scale topographic survey operations with minimal resources and personnel in an exceedingly difficult, remote, and culturally unfamiliar environment. We rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm. What we lacked in material support and resources, we made up for with an abundance of dedication, determination, and plain old-fashioned “perspiration”. And throw in a dash of creative genius for good measure.
We had one standard. Excellence. We worked fast, hard, and never busted any lines (that I know of). At least that’s my recollection. To sum up, we all learned what it means to bust your ass as a topographic surveyor in the Army Engineers, and took immense pride in the accomplishments that we all shared.
IN THE BEGINNING the Army recruiter had told me that topographic surveyors do most of their work overseas on worldwide mapping projects. That was true. The recruiter also told me that if I wanted to be a topographic surveyor in the U.S. Army, the Army would send me to school for it. That was true, too. What the recruiter failed to mention was, “When ya get to Ft. Ord, yer gonna wish ya never met me.”
FAST FORWARD - OVERSEAS In due course, the recruiter’s predictions came true. Less than a year later I was in Iran, where I served with the Topographic Training Team from February 1963 to December 1963, including 8 months on field assignment in Baluchistan Province, southeastern Iran. I had enlisted in the spring of the year before, completed topographic surveyor MOS school during the summer at Ft. Belvoir, and arrived at Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya, assigned to the 64th Engr. Bn. (Base Topo) Army Map Service Special Foreign Activity in the fall of the year…... a “cookie cutter” Private E-2 school-trained topographic surveyor.
WHEELUS Although a major topographic mapping project was underway in Libya at the time of my arrival there, I ended up spending 4 months in limbo at Wheelus, along with some other recent arrivals from Belvoir, pending orders to report to Iran (see my narrative of the garrison life of an army private at Wheelus under the section on Libya). Those of us destined for duty in Iran were volunteers, and had been through an interview process at Wheelus prior to being selected. Our long wait ended on a bright, crisp February morning as we gathered at the Wheelus passenger terminal, anticipation high, anxious to be on our way.
LCOL DANIEL HRITZKO.… A SOLDIER’S SOLDIER
LCOL Daniel Hritzko had been appointed Battalion Commander of the 64th just prior to the formation of Level One – Longhorn. With major mapping projects already going full bore in Libya and in Iran, and another major mapping project about to get underway in Ethiopia, LCOL Hritzko’s plate was full, and then some. Fortunately for the 64th, he was the right man for the job. It’s a reasonable assumption that his qualifications were well known to the appointing authority, but to us he was “just another commander” in an endless line of commanders.
LCOL Hritzko’s background and experience, therefore, were of little interest to us as we contemplated the task before us. We were preoccupied with the challenges of the present; that our CO (commanding officer) had been a part of our country’s military history was the last thing we cared anything about. Certainly, it’s not something anybody would ask about, nor was it a subject that a person in his position would be inclined to bring up in conversation. The fact is, according to some who had served with Daniel Hritzko prior to Iran, he was a quiet person, not one to blow his own horn.
NOTE: The photo above was taken at noon. Like they used to say in basic training: If you got em, smoke em, if you don’t, bum em. It was sort of a “catch can, if you can” C-rat kind of a lunch - rest break. After that, we hit the road. It was a nasty, treacherous canyon road, and we called it quits for the day after we got past the worst of it. No sooner had we pulled off the road when somebody observed that our dog was missing. So they sent me and Jack back down the road to find her. When we got back to the area in the photo above, there she was, walking up the road in the background. Did you ever lose your dog, and then, luckily, find her? Then you know how we felt. When we got back to the convoy (mission accomplished), Knobby was waiting for us with a meal of fried spam and scrambled eggs. As I recall, it tasted really great. (a photo of our dog may be seen under “Level One” on this web site.)
It was a different story on spike. During the early months, we basically got along on mainly C rations. I soon discovered that the best canned c-rat of all was “Ham and Eggs, Chopped”. Since no one else felt the same, I was always able to trade for my favorite. Of course, there was the universal favorite “combo”…… .pound cake and peaches….. prized above all else. We had a trailer full of C ration cases, which were always available when you were desperate for a change from the regular camp cooking.
Sometime after we got to base camp no. 4, we started sending spike crews out with an extra man and two trucks. Each day we would rotate positions so that one of us would always stay back with a truck and prepare the noon meal. For example, chili beans over rice, or fried potatoes with onions. This arrangement made it possible for us to eat better on spike, and the crew would get more rest.
A word about water. We were equipped with pumps and filtering equipment, but were lucky to even get the pumps going. Forget about filters (a T-shirt worked quite nicely, thank you). All water was obtained from the open/underground ditches used for transporting water throughout Iran. We called them “jubes”. To be on the safe side, a liberal dose of granular chlorine was used for purification. I got so used to the taste of chlorine that when I eventually returned to the States, the water back home tasted “funny” without the chlorine treatment.
“The Time We Went To Iran” by Paul Helwer
WILDLIFE At times we would see a gazelle or two, but they were pretty well gone in a flash. More bizarre were the giant lizards that appeared unexpectedly from time to time. Larger ones were probably up to 4 feet in length, and they would endeavor to hide upon discovery. Unlike their miniature cousins, they didn’t seem to move too fast.
One amusing experience with a trio of overfed vultures occurred on a late afternoon in November. We were traveling in a three-quarter ton truck (don’t remember if I was the driver) off-road in a relatively flat coastal area of the Gulf (of Oman), enroute with a crew to a location further inland when we surprised three of these monster birds feasting on a dead camel. How big were they? Standing upright they were as tall as the front of the truck. We were clicking along at about 30 mph when the big birds spotted us. The engorged birds began running and flapping their wings desperately for take-off. As we followed in hot pursuit, they struggled to get airborne, but it soon became evident they were not going to get off the ground. We couldn’t stop laughing. Lucky for all of us, the chase ended abruptly when we encountered an obstacle in our path that we couldn’t attempt to drive through. We stopped, and the big birds were gone.
Then there was the memorable second night of a spike, working out of base camp No. 4 (Fanuch) during the month of August. After a long and arduous work day, we camped for the night on a barren, rocky hillside above a mountain stream. Following a hot meal, we set up our cots alongside the truck, and bedded down under the cover of our mosquito nets. As we were beginning to fall asleep, we were suddenly jolted awake by the sound of unbelievably hideous animal noises in the distance, like you would imagine witches screaming on Halloween. A cross between a cackle and a shriek. Very unsettling. Then, after not too long a while, we heard muffled animal sounds around the pitch-black campsite. Then, loud crunching noises as they were chewing up our discarded c-rat cans only a few feet from where we lay still on our cots. As we held our breaths, it eventually became quiet again, and the mystery beasts disappeared into the night.
HELP APPEARS In August we received a visit from a warrant officer who was sent to the field to assess “needs”. His name escapes me now, but the white mane was an indication the seasoned old salt had been around the block a time or two. We had been talking with him about our work, when my personal waterbag, which was hanging on a post nearby, caught his eye. He seemed to take great interest in looking it over, as it was the only one of its kind anywhere on the project. The crummy waterbags we had been issued must have been purchased on the local market, as they were of very inferior quality. They were small and leaked like a sieve. In contrast, my waterbag was much larger, made of very high quality canvas. That’s because a month earlier I had sent a letter home requesting a specific type of waterbag, and a few weeks later received the waterbag of my dreams in the mail. And guess what. In only a few short weeks, a shipment of identical waterbags showed up in the field and was distributed all around.
None of us were aware, nor do I believe it was generally known, that LCOL Hritzko had begun his military career as a private (Army Engineers – 1942). Along the way he had become a commissioned officer with his unit, the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion. That is all I know about his military experience until the Battle of the Bulge when Captain Daniel Hritzko was the Commander of Company B, 35th ECB. Company B was situated in the Ardennes forest, not so far from Bastogne the night of the December 16, 1944 attack. This I learned from a terrific web site (author Shawn Umbrell) that chronicles the combat activities of Captain “Dan” Hritzko and his unit during the ensuing Wehrmacht offensive. To anyone who wants to look it up, this is good stuff, I promise. (The web site may be located by using the “key words” Mose Umbel 35th Engineer (Combat) Battalion and clicking on Home.)
A few months later, in March 1945, the 35th transported elements of the 87th Infantry in the assault across the Rhine River, taking substantive casualties among their own personnel.. They lost 9 KIA, 6 MIA, and 19 wounded in that action (Shawn Umbrell). Some time ago (2006), I ran across the following first person web site account of that action (author and title unknown, as the web site now appears to have been taken off the internet.... Part Three - John Standridge, Robert Taylor & Saltpeter Cake ):
There were a lot of medals handed out after the assault. Captain Daniel Hritzko received a Silver Star for gallantry in action. It was said that Company B had the mission of transporting an infantry battalion across the Rhine River in the face of heavy enemy resistance. Captain Hritzko was constantly in the open during the entire time, directing his men. He showed undaunted courage and he was an inspiration to his men.
The Captain was a fine officer and friend to Robert. One night he showed Robert several medals that had been sent to him regarding the assault on the Rhine. He told Robert that he was supposed to give them out, but he said, “I can’t say who did more than anyone else. They were all brave men. I don’t know how to handle this.”
Robert advised the best way he could, by telling him to just do his best, it was true they were all brave men.
The sum total of all that I knew firsthand about our CO was limited to what I had observed of the two trips he made to our base camps, and the improvements that followed during the 8 months I was in the field. His first visit was on June 6-7 when, accompanied by an Army Map Service inspector general, he visited our base camp no 2. By the time of his second visit during early September, conditions had already been steadily improving. More frequent aircraft support, more replacement parts, refrigeration, and so on.
The second visit (to base camp no. 5 on the Gulf of Oman) was notable for numerous reasons. The resupply aircraft the CO arrived on was a twin-engine DC-3 / C-47 “Gooney Bird” contract commercial cargo airplane (rather than the usual Otter) which came in for a very impressive landing on the improvised strip immediately adjacent to our camp. The aircraft taxied right up behind our tents, and out came LCOL Hritzko, in flight suit, and carrying a large box which turned out to be an incredible case of ice cold bud in bottles (with my name on it). As there were few beer drinkers with us at the time, only a couple other cases were handed out (I’m guessing Rice and Galligan).
Also on that memorable resupply flight were major vehicle replacement components, the latest and greatest army radios for our trucks, and (as they say) much, much more. Let me just say, when LCOL Hritzko handed that case of bud over to me, right there he made a true believer out of me. I was truly impressed.
After unloading the airplane, most of us were given the rest of the afternoon “off”. Knobby prepared a great dinner which we shared with the CO, who was spending the night with us. In the evening we set up a slide projector, and put on a slide show for the CO, who was making up a collection of slides from the field parties which could be used by the Army Map Service at a big convention in the states in October. (I was the only person who had any slides on hand for the showing, including some that had just arrived with the mail on this flight.) He got about of 8 of my very best ones to take back to Tehran, promising I would eventually get them all back (And I did. Many months later the package of slides arrived at my home in California while I was at Hood.)
A package of a different sort arrived at the Hritzko Tehran residence that May of ‘63. Retired TTT Adjutant, Major (Hank) Krueger, remembers the day Diane Hritzko brought home baby Shirene (which means “sweet” in Farsi). Again, we were totally unaware that the Hritzko’s had adopted a baby girl while in Iran. Typically, the news just never filtered down to our level.
Following his retirement in 1971 as an honored member of the Officers Candidate Hall of Fame, COL Daniel Hritzko was active in teaching and coaching for another decade. He died on July 23, 2001. His devoted wife, Diane (Dana) Hritzko passed away a few months later on September 28, 2001. They are survived by daughter Shirene, and 2 grandchildren. The COL Hritzko obituary may be found in the section of the web site titled “Obituaries”.
Today, these many decades later, I feel humbled and privileged to have been associated with this fine man in the service of our country. To repeat what I’ve said before, I didn’t know it then…. but I know it now.
R&R Yes, I actually did get R&R before my time in the field was up. Jack and I were scheduled for an October 6th flight on the Otter, but were preempted by a Longhorn medical evacuation (Galligan) on that day. Thus we caught the next available flight on October 16th, returning on the 30th after a very nice “vacation” at the topo house in Tehran. Were there any more R&Rs granted after that? I wouldn’t know, as my field duty ended 6 weeks later.
LAST LEG “Like a dream!” That’s how I would describe my last day “on the job” as we completed our 250 mile level line. It was the last leg of the survey, and on a fantastically perfect day in every respect, Bob (SSG Rice) sent me, Bobak, and Grego to complete the final 5 miles of our level line, about an hour’s drive from base camp. I was on the “gun” that morning, and George and Larry were the recorders. The conditions couldn’t have been more ideal, and indeed, we completed the last leg in record time.
No, it wasn’t just because we had been promised the rest of the day off (i.e., to go to the beach, and/or to enjoy an afternoon with cold beer at hand). It was sunny and warm (not too hot) that morning, not even a breeze, and we were in a perfectly flat “dry wash” that meandered gently toward the Gulf. I can still remember it. I was taking “long” shots (the full 250 meter allowable distance), and effortlessly banging out the 3-wire readings 1-2-3; bang-bang-bang. It was all over in nothing flat. Perfect “closure” and all. And it was the best possible way to wind up my last day as a “topographic surveyor” in Iran.
HOMEWARD BOUND Many times since leaving Iran, I have kicked myself for not extending another year, as did Grego and Yetter. But, alas, I was caught up in the months of looking forward to going home. Whether it’s the last day in a “tour of duty”, or the last day of an enlistment, it’s always an unbelievably great experience when that day finally arrives (I’ve done both). The momentum of expectation is so overwhelming that it’s virtually impossible to overcome.
Of our group (Longhorn), Jack and I were the first to be scheduled for return home. We left Chabahar on November 27th, spent Thanksgiving day in Zahedan, and were back in Tehran on the 29th of November. The original date of departure, December 4th, had to be moved ahead to the 9th. Just as well, as it was snowing in Tehran on the 4th, and we were spared having to “rush” unit clearance.
I well remember the day I was completing the “installation clearance” process at TTT HQ. As it was very informal, and I was in “civvies” that day, I was unprepared for it when they told me to “report” to the adjutant, Major Krueger, in his office. I am pretty sure this was the first time I had been required to render a military “salute” in at least six months (Yes, I still remembered how. It had not been that long since basic training.). As I stood at attention (feeling weird not to be “in uniform”), Major Krueger began to read from a document. It was a certificate of appreciation, which he was about to present to me for my service with the Topo Training Team. Need I say, it was probably about the last thing I expected, catching me totally by surprise. But a nice surprise, at that.
UP, UP…. AND AWAY! At last! The magic moment when the many months of expectation crystallized, as the Pan American Airways 707 lifted off from the international airport in Tehran. Jack and I, traveling in Class A “greens”, had unanticipated company on that flight: LCOL Hritzko, our battalion commander, with whom we were well acquainted, was also on the flight (last time we had seen him was on that memorable visit to Level One in October).
We had stops in Beirut (the airport was deserted except for security guards), Rome, and Paris. Couldn’t see much of Italy from the air, but I enjoyed seeing the Alps as we crossed over to France. Unfortunately, the entire country was covered in a blanket of fog. Due to the dense fog in Paris, we were diverted to Orly where we were delayed waiting to board our plane for the last leg to the States.
LAGUARDIA New York City was also under a cloud blanket, and I missed getting a birds eye view of the city. From the Pan American terminal, took a shuttle bus to the American Airlines terminal (unbelievably freezing cold outside that December 9th) and settled in at the American Airlines bar and lounge to await my late night flight to San Francisco (never saw Jack again). I was drinking scotch and sodas, and, as I was in uniform, not paying for anything. As on prior occasions in my brief army experience, the unexpected show of appreciation from the general public and well-wishing strangers was always a mind-blower. I especially remember the bartender getting my attention to point out a celebrity passing through the lounge…. Sam Cooke (of “You Send Me” fame).
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS! Ahhhh…… who could ask for more! It couldn’t have been going better. And to top it off, I was the only passenger on my American Airlines 707 flight (we were delayed on the tarmac while they loaded up the main passenger area with U.S. Mail). I flew all the way in first class with the stewardesses (yes, that was before the modern age of the “flight attendant”). Going home on 45 days leave, baby! This chapter of my “army experience” coming to a close….…. FIRST CABIN!
OUR VEHICLES WERE WAITING FOR US
PERSONNEL We started out with 16 personnel on Level One, but after a few months settled down to a fairly steady 12 personnel. Of the original 16 personnel, 4 ended up in the hospital in Teheran at one time or another. After MSG Erskine left for another assignment (on May 28), SSG Gilliard took over as NCOIC. At that time, Level One personnel consisted of 1 E-6, 2 E-5's, and all the rest E-3's. In addition, we had added an Iranian cook (Knobby) and a cook's assistant (Reza). We had also received, after several weeks, 4 Iranian Army rodmen (privates).
THE MISSION Our mission was to run a 3rd order level line about 250 miles (north to south) from approximately near Bam, and heading cross country to near Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman. To achieve 3rd order precision the methods and specifications were necessarily 2nd order. We would run 2 lines at once (called “double rodding”), using two rodmen. (Freeze has a good technical description of the methods we used). Initially, our instruments were the time-worn “military level”, but after several months we received the newer, better Wild N-3 instruments (hot dog!). An Iranian Army Officer survey party was attached (very loosely) to our operation, ostensibly in a “training” capacity, and presumably they were doing the necessary 4th order spur lines to secure the elevations of picture points.
JUMP-OFF Our first base camp was located only 25 miles easterly of Bam, and we benefited greatly from the availability of fresh food. MSG Erskine was a great cook, especially when he had something decent to cook with. Unfortunately, the good chow ended after we left that area.
Our little convoy, which consisted of a 2 1/2 ton cargo truck, a 3/4 ton truck, and CARE utility van, could have easily been mistaken for the Iranian Army on a “conscription sweep”. That’s how it’s done when they need soldiers: the Iranian “draft”. They simply go out into the countryside and round them up, at gunpoint if necessary. What?? Register for the draft?? Report to the local Army Induction Center?? Unfortunately for the citizenry we encountered in our travels throughout SE Iran, the conditions of life under the 10th year of the Shah’s “takeover” were starkly primitive, if not desperate. Not that they had ever known differently.
The food situation finally began to look up by the time we got to base camp no. 4 near Fanuch. We had received not one, but two fully functioning kerosene refrigerators. To utilize them to capacity, some of the guys came up with the great idea of purchasing local beef “on the hoof”. They had discovered that the locals had a few “range” animals roaming the high country around Fanuch, and brought one in to base camp. Karl and Charlie, assisted by Larry, slaughtered and butchered the animal, and Knobby cooked us up a royal feast. His specialty: stroganoff. Fantastic! Knobby also prepared an amazingly tasty and tender dish of fresh liver. The secret was to chow down on the liver the first day. From then on, you could say we were spoiled. We made it a priority upon establishment of the next base camp at Chabahar to purchase local beef on the hoof to keep the frig stocked up. But there was another big plus with being located next to the Gulf. We had fresh seafood all the time, a la Knobby.
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We were on a mission with CARE International to distribute food, clothing, and medical supplies to the outlying areas of Chabahar. Word had evidently spread throughout the surrounding area that an Iranian naval vessel and an accompanying U. S. warship (the USS Strong) had put in to Chabahar and were anchored off shore.
“CARE” COMES TO VISIT There was nobody to be seen coming out of the few dwellings of the small hamlet upon our arrival that morning. The main structure was completely deserted, we soon discovered. Somebody had left in a big hurry, as hot tea and plates of food were still on the table. Could it be that our approaching vehicles had spooked the inhabitants? The first of three planned stops, our three vehicles had driven the last few miles cross-country to get there. As the going was slow, it would have given the inhabitants ample time after the first sound of approaching vehicles to “head for the hills”.
THE HEAT As we progressed cross-country, we traversed barren, craggy mountainous regions, desert basins, and monotonous salt flats. (I highly recommend Google Earth for an excellent satellite view of the geography and terrain we lived and worked in.) Not too far from our base camp no. 3 you can find a location on Google Earth that is listed as the “hottest surface on the earth” (located about 50 miles NE of our base camp, and about 50 miles N of Iranshahr). A temperature of 159 degrees Fahrenheit as recorded by NASA satellite at that location is the hottest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the earth.
Heat was always the major factor regulating our work days (the wind could also be a problem). We were forced to shut down survey operations during the hottest time of day, which meant early a.m. and late p.m. were the best time of the day to work (if it wasn’t too windy). The hottest it got was at base camp no. 3 (Iranshahr) in about June of ‘63. Rather than quote a meaningless “temperature” from the heat wave we endured briefly at base camp no. 3, let’s just say that during the hottest part of the day, walking around was out of the question. It was not an option. You would lie, unmoving on your cot, in the shade of the big tent (sides rolled up), a wet towel over your naked body and face, breathing through the wet towel.
ENTERTAINMENT There was little to do for “entertainment” in your spare time, such as it was. The microchip revolution was still a long ways off. We did have a very nice portable radio, which was hooked up to a wire antenna, but unfortunately, most of the time we could not get any English speaking programming. The only available music was your basic “Radio Baghdad” fare. But, over time, I found that the local music “grew” on me. By the time I left the field, I found I had developed a genuine affinity for it.
We had a movie projector, but no “wide screen” attachment. The only movie I remember seeing the whole time in the field was “Butterfield 8” (without the attachment). Off-duty recreation was pretty well limited to playing marathon poker during “down” times (and that was only at base camp no. 3). Occasionally, someone would get a “care package” from home. D’Amato would receive the world’s best Divinity fudge which he would share all around. And once a month the latest Playboy magazine would come in with our commissary order (whoo hoo).
WATER BAG OF MY DREAMS
Lt.Col Daniel and Mrs. Diane Hritzko
NEXT STOP - IRAN We departed Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya, on February 9, 1963, destination Tehran, Iran. The behemoth 4-engine prop C-124 “globemaster”, loaded to the max with heavy machinery, labored mightily down the runway, lifting off with seemingly enormous effort, in defiance of the natural law of gravity. And we were on our way. Along the coast of Libya and off over the blue Med. It was easy to convince myself that the “army experience” was well worth all the trouble.
ARRIVAL After an in-route overnighter at Incerlick AFB, Izmir, Turkey (we slept on the airplane, and I pulled graveyard shift, walking my guard post outside the parked aircraft), we continued on to Tehran . On board the MATS (Military Air Transport Service) flight was a contingent of 15 topographic surveyors, mostly recent graduates of the topo survey school at Belvoir. Our new assignment was with the Topographic Training Team (called the TTT, for short), a “duty station” of the 542nd Engineer Company (Survey Base), 64th Engr. Bn.
LAUNDRY It goes without saying, you don’t get quartermaster laundry in the field. At Base camp No. 2 we hired a local to do our laundry and KP. That arrangement didn’t work out so great, and thereafter we became experts at hand-washing our own clothing in a wash pan. A new cook and cook’s assistant came on board about then, and thereafter KP was taken care of. The work environment was tough on the Army issue clothing, which could not be replaced when it got worn, torn, and stained. Civilian attire was not an option for us, so we did the best we could with the resources at hand. The rag-tag-soldier army.
Nothing about our tour of duty in Iran was ordinary, it seems, and that unforgettable occasion was no exception. Yet in the context of the moment, Diane Hritzko’s gesture of good will was a perfect fit. As we were about to embark on one of the most challenging assignments the peacetime army can throw at a soldier, it was encouraging to be reminded that we were appreciated. Yes, the “army experience”
was continuing to amaze me, as did Diane Hritzko that fine sunny winter morning in faraway Tehran. And she became a part of the story of the time we went to Iran.
Another unforgettable “moment” was the day of “shots” for the field. We thought they had thrown everything in the inventory at us prior to shipping to Iran, but they had saved the “best” one for last. I well remember the visit to the American doctor's office, which was located opposite the Shah’s palace. Looking out the upper storey office window, you could see a side street sentry box and an Iranian soldier standing guard (with WW I era bolt-action rifle and the ever-present oversized fixed bayonet). On that memorable occasion, the doc had us lean over the table (pants down) and look out the window as he administered a double dose of gamma globulin with a horse syringe, one in each cheek.
Travel in Tehran was like being back in the lawless wild west. Only designated drivers were allowed to drive our vehicles in the city, as traffic was a virtual nightmare. I nearly had a heart attack every time I went downtown. Most cars straddled the white line to keep others from passing. I witnessed accidents on every trip downtown, not to mention many more near misses. One of my group (PFC Williams) was injured in a motor vehicle accident during that first month, and ended up in the hospital for a number of days
FIELD TROOPERS The time spent in Tehran was a memorable experience, brief though it was for us surveyors. Tehran had to be the ultimate “dream” assignment for anyone permanently stationed at the topo house. Conditions in the field, however, were in stark contrast. The “mission” (our top priority) was accomplished under extreme conditions in a hostile environment. Cross country survey operations were conducted in a “moonlike” no-man's-land, with ancient vehicles that were ready for the bone-yard (and no spare parts). Malaria was rampant among the sparse civilian population (a fourth of my group came down with it). We endured dysentery, skin afflictions, poisonous reptiles and insects, sand storms, winter flash flooding, extremes of high temperatures, sand traps and hidden mud lakes, bad food, bad water, flies without end, and were subject to a host of potential medical afflictions with immediate care simply not available. Yet, as difficult and challenging as it was, it was nevertheless a “priceless” experience that we shared out there on the “moonscape” of Iran…… not for sale at any price!
OFF TO THE RACES After about a month of in-processing we reported to field HQ in Zahedan (SE Iran) on March 13, 1963. Most of us were assigned to a newly forming survey party, Level One (call sign Longhorn). Our vehicles were waiting for us, and so was our first party chief, MSG Jack Erskine , NCOIC of Level One. We met him out on the “flight line” where he was waiting for us to assist him in loading up an aircraft for a resupply run. Hatless, shirt out, no rank insignia, MSG Erskine set the standard for field informality right out of the chute.
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TOPOGRAPHIC TRAINING TEAM
TEHERAN, IRAN Feb 1963 - Dec 1963
PFC PAUL HELWER FEBRUARY 1963 - DECEMBER 1963
Mr. Paul Helwer has prepared several photo-illustrated narrative presentations and two mini slide show presentations concerning his time with the 64th Engineer Battalion in both Iran and Libya, and is in the process of preparing another presentation and slide show concerning his experience as NCOIC on Sudano surveys with the U.S. Army Map Service Far East (USAMSFE) while on assignment in the Southwest Pacific.
Listed below are two of Mr. Helwer's narrative presentations, and the two mini slide show presentations.
His first narrative presentation is titled "Who We Were". This tells of PFC Paul Helwer's introduction to the Topographic Engineers and gives a general overview of his U. S. Army experience. This presentation appears on his personal page under the “Libya -- 64th Engr.”
His second narrative presentation (which appears on this page) is titled "The Time We Went To Iran" (click title to read MS WORD document) which speaks to his experience in Iran with “Level One – Longhorn”. Paul says -- This is the “flagship” narrative of my time with the 64th….. “my baby”.
Paul's first “PowerPoint” mini slide show presentation is taken from his “Letters Home” collection. The selections document the early days of “getting started” in Baluchistan Province and describe the rigors of survey operations in the barren wastelands of “moonscape Iran”.
The second PowerPoint mini slide show presentation is a photographic record of the five Level One base camps established during his eight-months in the field, which began in March of 1963. At the time, Level One was a newly forming survey party. With the exception of the NCOIC (party chief) MSG Jack Erskine, all personnel were new arrivals in-country. Paul says: "I would like to say we hit the decks running and got the “mission” off to a flying start, but there was an initial acclimation and “break-in” period. Once we put the learning curve behind us it was “rock ‘n roll – balls to the wall” from there on out.
LEVEL ONE MINI SLIDE SHOWS
(You will need Microsoft PowerPoint or PowerPoint Viewer to see the slide presentations. A free download of PowerPoint Viewer is available at Microsoft.com. CLICK HERE to get there quicker.
CLICK HERE for "Letters Home" slideshow. The presentation will open in a new window.
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CLICK HERE for photos of Paul Helwer's passport on PowerPoint. Paul writes: "Something I always wanted to document is how we were required to travel to Iran on a US passport. Unfortunately, until this week I was never able to locate the old passport, even though I knew it was around "somewhere". A few days ago my granddaughter (age 10) was looking through some boxes I have been keeping on a bookcase shelve and found a bunch of our old passports. So, now I have it, and have put it together into a mini-slide show."
THE SET-UP Due to the miniscule number of personnel assigned to the TTT, our presence in Iran was virtually invisible. There was no gargantuan U.S. military base. We were swallowed up by the environment around us: a barely noticeable speck among our surroundings.
All TTT personnel were in-country on a U.S. Passport, duly stamped by Iranian immigration upon entry. As there was no Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in effect at the time, Iranian law took precedence over the Army’s Uniform Code of Military Justice. The way it was explained to us, we were there on a government “work permit” in the official capacity of a “training team” to work closely with the Iranian Army and actually train them in some aspects of our work. Being as we were subject to Iranian law, Iranian driver’s licenses were mandatory, and were issued downtown at an Iranian government facility (It was a really creepy place - a police facility maybe?). During our stay in Iran, we were not issued weapons of any kind, nor any associated combat field gear (didn’t break our hearts). During the entire time I was there, military formations were not held, nor was military training and indoctrination conducted (didn’t break our hearts, either).
My memories of Tehran include venturing into the interior of the main bazaar; getting lost (on foot) for most of the day while trying to locate the hospital facility downtown; and being invited with my group to a “welcoming tea” hosted by the very gracious Mrs. Diane Hritzko, wife of 64th Engr. Bn. Commanding Officer, LCOL. Daniel Hritzko.
HISTORY UNFOLDING We were totally ignorant of all matters relating to current events and unfolding history right there in Iran. What we had been observing and experiencing was a secular Islamist country, on the surface at least, led by a pro-western monarchy (which had come into power following a U.S.- engineered coup back in ‘53). It was a mix of the traditional and the modern, complete with a “Howard Johnson’s” on the main drag to downtown Tehran.
We were blissfully unaware that less than a month before our arrival in February of 1963, a 62 year-old Shia Muslim cleric by the name of Sayid Ruhulla Musawi Khomeini, the man who would later oversee the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, had issued a strongly worded declaration denouncing the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This was in response to the Shah’s announcement earlier that same month of the “White Revolution”, a six-point program which included land reform, enfranchisement of women, and a literacy campaign, to name a few. (As I recall, there had been mention of the controversy surrounding the land reform program upon our arrival in-country.).
According to my source of information on the internet, Khomeini continued his campaign of denunciation and organizing resistance through June. At the time, Level One was working out of base camp no. 3 near Iranshahr. On June 3, Khomeini gave another incendiary speech denouncing the Shah as a “wretched miserable man”, warning him that his days in the country were numbered.
Two days later, predictably, Khomeini was arrested and imprisoned by the Shah, and that is what set off three days of major riots throughout the country. The rioters destroyed anything and everything they could put their hands on. In response the Shah ordered an Army crackdown, and in the ensuing violence some 400 deaths were reported.
Clueless, we were untouched by the violent history unfolding in other parts of the country as we went about our work. Thus, it was a real shocker when we received the unforgettable priority radio message from Tehran on that afternoon in June which alerted us to the dangers we might be facing as we proceeded with our work. I remember well the equally unforgettable three-word reply that SSG Gilliard (Gil) sent back to Tehran: Send 12 Chadoris.
The TTT response to the perceived danger was to arrange for armed guards to accompany us on all our spikes. These were to be provided by the local gendarmeries. Subsequently, Gil sent me to Iranshahr where (along with a dude from another survey party) we reported to the chief of police at the local gendarmerie. I returned with two gendarmes (police), and from that time on we always had a local gendarme with us on all our spikes.
In my opinion, it was “questionable” whether these armed guards could have actually protected us from anyone bent on harming us on our travels throughout the remotest regions of the country. Their presence was mainly “symbolic”. Who knows what factors were in play. Suffice it to say, the people we encountered in our travels were always friendly and helpful. I never detected any hostility from the Baluch people
As for Khomeini, historical records reveal that he was held under “house arrest” for 8 months and released in 1964. Then, in November of 1964, Khomeini was at it again, denouncing both the Shah and the United States, and was re-arrested, this time under sentence of death. Facing execution, he was given the title “Ayatollah” by his cleric friends. The title made it possible for him to go into exile, where he then spent the next 14 years “fine-tuning” his ideas on “governance” (the Islamist way). By the time the revolution rolled around, he was ready and prepared to “rock’n roll”.
A CLOSE CALL During the camp move to base camp no. 3 (Iranshahr), our mess truck, (a 2 1/2 ton van) lost brakes on a hillside curve, ran straight off an embankment, and crashed to the ground below. About a 20-foot drop off. No one can explain why the 3 passengers were able to walk away - with only minor injuries - from an accident that should have killed them all. (Military vehicles in those days had no seat belts.) Even the truck got off with no major visible damage.
It so happened that the spot where the truck hit the ground was just up a little ways further on the same roadway they had been traveling on, right smack at the edge of a small hamlet that consisted of a rest stop for bus travelers on one side of the road, and a gendarmerie on the opposite side of the road.
The driver, Bob Rice, received only painful bumps and bruises, as did passenger Jack Erskine. Unfortunately, the other passenger (Knobby, our Iranian cook) received a large gash on the side of the nose from hitting the window latch in the cab. Knobby was taken to a hospital for treatment, and showed up back at camp some weeks later with a fresh unsightly scar down the side of his face next to his nose. It was indeed an emotional reunion with Reza (our Iranian cook’s assistant) when the man who should have been dead returned.
A MOB GOING CRAZY On that same camp move convoy, Jack and I were delayed because of problems with our 3/4 ton vehicle. Running a day behind the convoy, we eventually joined up with Cloyd’s 2 1/2 ton cargo truck which was waiting for the stragglers about the half way point. From there we proceeded on our way to Iranshahr.
Around evening we came to the “wreck” site and decided to spend the night on the side of the road a few hundred feet past the spot where the wrecked “mess” truck had been left beside the road. It was a tiny hamlet with a gendarmerie on our side of the road, and about a hundred fifty feet further down the road on the opposite side, a kind of rest stop for travelers. So, we set up our cots and mosquito nets between our trucks, on the shoulder of the road. About the time we climbed into our sleeping bags, a bus full (men only) pulled into the rest stop, and before long it sounded like they were going to riot, with all the din of shouting and boisterous carrying-on. Evidently, they had noticed our U.S. Army vehicles and had become extremely agitated. An unruly mob going crazy. Even though they were speaking Farsi, you could still hear the occasional “American” being loudly proclaimed, which made it clear we were some kind of a “problem” for them. Jack probably slept through the whole thing, but I was pretty darn nervous. Nervous enough to find a machete to put next to me in my sleeping bag. As if that would do any good. Cloyd was sleeping on the canvas top of the deuce & a half, so he probably felt pretty secure. Well, all the clammering and yelling went on for so long that I finally fell asleep before they stopped. Woke up during the night and was glad to see the lights out at the rest stop, and all was quiet as the bus full of “hotheads” had finally departed.
THE UBIQUITOUS DUST-DEVIL From the vantage point of an airplane, flying high over the empty desert below, you could look down on the wind-swept wastes of the countryside and see ample evidence of the twisters which rake the surface incessantly. On the two flights I took in the Otter I remember seeing dozens of the mini-twisters as they marched across the barren terrain, the meandering scars of their random paths leaving a clearly visible crisscross pattern of trails as far as the eye could see.
I was so well acquainted with the twisters of SE Iran that you could say I had a personal relationship with them, albeit one-sided. In spite of the affinity they seemed to have for me, I offered them no encouragement or reason to seek me out. Yet they always knew how to find me. Like on a day when we were running “practice” levels out of base camp no. 2. We were running a line down a rocky ravine
onto the adjoining open plain, and I was rodding. As I was holding the meter board steady for a shot, I heard the noise from a twister approaching from my rear, By then it was already too late. The next thing I knew I was lying face down on the ground, on top of the meter board. Was that laughter I heard coming from the direction of the crew?
After that episode I kept a wary eye out for “trouble from the sky”. Lesson learned. And several months passed before another encounter caught me completely off guard. On that occasion, we were in camp for a few days rest at base camp no. 3. The other crew was out on spike and recon was out. It was just the few of us and the cooks.
Let me set the scene. I had been sewing canvas in the shade of the no. 2 large GP (general purpose) tent (side flaps rolled up for ventilation) all morning. We were using it as a mess tent and general work area. It was noon, and the food had just been laid out on the long table where I was sitting….. alone in the tent. Somebody had called the guys to come to lunch, and so they were walking toward the tent when without warning there was a very loud noise. A strange noise. And suddenly, a giant fist came down on top of the tent and flattened it and everything in it to the ground, The heavy duty ridge pole, which extended the length of the tent, crashed down only a few feet from where I had been sitting.
We were all a little bit shaken up, me most of all. Luckily, I was OK, but that was the end of the GP tent, as it could not be salvaged. The story doesn’t quite end there. We had a small wall tent already set up behind the mess truck, basically unused except for the kerosene refrigerator we kept inside. So we squeezed in a table and chairs, and it worked out very well as alternative mess tent.
But the twisters weren’t through with me yet! Somehow they discovered that I could be found in the new mess tent during mealtime, and a few weeks later, guess who showed up. A group of us had just sat down to a meal when we all heard a faint noise, but no cause for undue concern. From experience, I knew it was Mr. Twister, but not close enough to worry about. Unexpectedly, however, the noise suddenly grew in intensity, unmistakably an approaching twister very close by, and I gave the alarm. Yelling “RUN”, I sprang out of my chair and ran for the exit. I had just made it out when the twister hit, flattening the tent and everything in it. Nobody had made the slightest move to leave, so they all got to experience the fun of being smashed to the ground by a twister. Moments later, watching the guys as they stared in disbelief at the destruction wrought by the twister, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Camera in hand, I snapped the photo below showing the aftermath of the twister.
The connection with the ships was that on board were the Iranian medical personnel (Naval physicians assisting CARE) as well as an American Army Major, who was the liaison for the CARE operation.When he showed up at base camp that afternoon and asked for volunteers to provide transportation for CARE, I recall I was the first to offer my services. My preference was the 2 1/2 ton truck, and several others jumped right in to provide additional manpower and transportation support.
And so, with our cargo of food, clothing, and medicine, we set off the next morning on our mission of mercy. After the aborted first stop, we were hoping to have better luck at location number 2. I guess the word had gotten there ahead of us, as there were plenty of people waiting for us when we arrived.
FIELD CONDITIONS At the time I reported to the TTT, we were designated the “advance” deployment of the 64th Engr. Bn., and the Libyan mapping project was designated the “rear”. Looking back on the Iran mapping project, I would venture to say the whole operation was a “financially challenged” undertaking. Resources were stretched thin. When it came to funding priorities in the Department of Defense, peacetime Army Engineering projects were evidently low on the list.
We had to “make do” with vehicles that were the “rejects” and “hand-me-downs” of the Army, and spare parts were virtually unavailable at times. None of our vehicles were equipped with radios. Our only base camp radio, the antiquated, war-worn “Angry 9” (an extraordinarily serviceable radio), didn’t even exist as far as the Army was concerned (Or so I was informed a year later as I attended 2nd echelon radio repair school at the Ft. Hood NCO Academy).
Our travels took us to far-flung locations without the accompaniment of medical personnel. There were no “local” medical facilities where you could get treatment if you needed it. Only time we saw a medic was once when a surveyor (Larry) had to be air-lifted to the hospital in Tehran. Luckily, all our base camps were accessible by air. Depending on such factors as availability of aircraft, weather, and distance, the wait for a medical evacuation might be anywhere from one to three days.
There were no drug stores where you could get the common over-the-counter self-treatment medications such as alka seltzer, antacids, aspirin, etc. If you needed a medicine to control severe diarrhea, you had to rely on Iranian folk medicine, i.e, chewing raw tea leaves. It worked well, but maybe too well: we had nothing to treat the resultant constipation.
REFRESHMENTS With no refrigeration until midway through Base Camp No. 3, the only opportunity to enjoy a cold soda was in Iranshahr. On trips through town, we would stop at the “store” where there was always plenty of “Iranian-bottled” Pepsi-Cola in the frig (use caution when removing cap due to danger of bottle exploding in your face). There was also an “ice plant” in Iranshahr where on a few occasions one of the guys passing through town would pick up a 4 ft. tall x 8 in. sq. chunk of ice and bring it back to base camp (wrapped in burlap to slow the melting).. A rare opportunity to enjoy a cold soda in camp.
Alcoholic beverages were not generally a part of life in the field. During the first few months in the field, the only available beer, purchased locally, was an Iranian government-produced beer known as “abijol”. (The Farsi word for beer is ab’jo, which we pronounced “ahb uh jole”. I knew only too well the root word, which is “ab”, the way you say “water” in Farsi, one of the very first words I learned.)
I can personally vouch for the fact that Iranian beer was pure poison. The absolute worst beer on the face of the earth. I would get stomach cramps and diarrhea for more than a day on less than a bottle of the stuff. I tried it three times before giving up, twice ill-advisably on nights before a camp move. On the third occasion, which I remember well, Tim had returned from Bam with a case of cold “abijol”, and several of us joined him at the outside table for an afternoon of imbibe-ment. As I recall, about 2 bottles of the poison was all I could get down, which was enough to leave me having conversations with a tent pole (so I am told). What I do remember clearly, the next day, was suffering an unbelievably terrible hangover. That miserable episode completely cured me of drinking abijol forever.
During the first several months in the field, we were not allowed any American beer with our monthly commissary order. Later, at base camp no. 3 , the “policy” loosened up a little, and the NCO’s began to receive some beer (Schlitz in cans), which was shared around on occasion with the guys not out on spike (surveys). As we had no refrigeration at the time, the cans of beer were wrapped in wet burlap and hung from a tent rope during the early evening. Such was my introduction to “less than cold” beer.
By the time we established base camp no. 4 (at Fanuch), I was told I could put in a beer request with the monthly commissary order (limit: one case). By then we had gotten adequate refrigeration, and I was able to find time between spike (survey) assignments to “kick back” and relax with my cold (American) beer and a couple months backlog of hometown newspapers.
CIGARETTES Those of us who smoked would endeavor to order enough cigarettes to last us until the once-a-month commissary order came in. Occasionally, we would not make it through the month, and everybody would be out. For back-up, there were “sample” cigarettes in the pile of C-rats we had stored in one of the trailers. After using those up, we tried the locally available Iranian-manufactured cigarettes. Non-filtered and made from cured camel dung, the extremely harsh smoke would sear your throat as you inhaled. The taste was putrid, but it did provide a dose of nicotine. I guess you could say we all learned “the hard way” not to under-order our cigarette supply from the commissary.
WHAT WE ATE We received a once-a-month shipment of rations which we ordered from the American Commissary in Tehran. I would have to say the menu was unremarkable “at best”. No fresh meat, no fresh vegetables or fruit, nothing frozen. We endured a lot of macaroni salad meals before our Iranian cook (Knobby) came on board.
One of Knobby’s specialties was fresh baked bread. That was a big help. Along with local fresh eggs and other treats he came up with from Iranshahr, the food was improving. Then, there was the “Bob Rice” sandwich, a gastronomic delight that always came through when all else failed. It consisted of 2 slices of Knobby’s fresh baked bread, filled with miracle whip and sliced dill pickles. The dill pickle sandwich. (There was always plenty of miracle whip on hand as it did not require refrigeration.
During the late afternoon return to base camp, we encountered a family walking along the coastal roadway, and stopped to give away some items.
The photo of the little Baluch girl below, as she holds a small item of clothing, is my all-time favorite lucky shot.
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without the mention of our most basic “standby”: SPAM. Over the months we fixed it every way we could think of: fried or out-of-the-can, plain or doctored with hot sauce and garlic powder. We swore we’d never eat another bite in this life. Not so. To this day, I still like the good stuff on occasion.
The doctor told us afterward that there was widespread tuberculosis among the people, and that all they could do for them medically was give medicine to relive symptoms, but nothing to cure anybody. In effect, the CARE mission was only able to address the less serious medical problems and to take inventory of the general condition of the people. For major illnesses like TB, the band aid treatment was all they could provide in this limited scope of endeavor.
LT. COL DANIEL HRITZKO
Later, I visited Bam on a side trip to get a hot shower (the only one I remember during my 8 months in the field) at the local “harmoon” (phonetic spelling, probably a G.I. bastardization of the word used for Persian baths, which is hammam). I remember tree lined streets where we found the bathhouse. Late that afternoon we camped for the night a ways out of Bam, and I remember an unusual chance encounter with a student from Harvard who was backpacking across the country. He just appeared out of nowhere as we were cooking dinner. Talk about somebody really glad to share our dinner with us that evening, probably the only American style rations he had seen in a long, long time. It completely blew his mind to find fellow Americans in the middle of nowhere. Blew ours too.