A funny thing happened…
December 18, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
When I say a funny thing happened, I don’t mean funny like this.
I mean, really unusual.
A few days ago, I got an e-mail asking about my Great-uncle Colonel Curtis Yarnell Kimball, O.B.E., U.S. Army (ret.)
Here he is being awarded a medal by Field Marshal Bernhard Montgomery in Munich, April of 1945. At the time Curtis was a major with the 129th Infantry Regiment.
After the war Curtis joined the General Staff, and in 1951 he was attached as a lieutenant-colonel to the United States Military Mission with the Imperial Iranian Gendarmerie. His job was to improve the capabilities of the Iranian national police.
Curtis was a very mysterious man. I didn’t know much about him, having last seen him in 1977. Mom saved boxes of his papers, so when the e-mailer explained his motivations, I spent a couple of days going through Curtis’s records.
He was adopted, which was very unusual for the time, and he became an accomplished photographer at the age of seven. I found identifications from several European nations—including Nazi Germany—that all date from the late 1930s, when Curtis was in his twenties. He joined the army in 1938 and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1948, though there’s nothing in his records describing the reason.
I also don’t know why Montgomery personally awarded a medal to a U.S. Army major.
In the box of his military records is a notebook titled “Record of Field Trip, 15 October 1951 to 5 November 1951.” His itinerary was Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Fasa, Lar, Bandar Abbas, Shiraz again, Bushine, Abadan, Khorramshakar, Ahwaz, Hamidan, and back to Tehran. Though his handwriting was nearly illegible, I managed to transcribe some of what Curtis experienced.
Field Notes of Lieutenant-Colonel Kimball
October 21, 1951
Road Security at Darab.
Tribes at present are remaining in area because no rain in warm areas while it has gotten too cold north. This has resulted in incidents on road—in accidents and some robberies. This has necessitated added patrols and added hours of duty.
For example a robbery occurred several nights ago. Five killed, including a bride and groom and a sixteen-year-old girl. A gendarme on bicycle tried to stop it and was wounded. He died a day later.
His will was ten toman [100 rials] to his mother, ten toman to his wife, and a salute to his commanding officer, with a statement that he had fired nine rounds. He managed to save his rifle for the gendarmerie.
He asked his commanding officer to have his son circumcised and that the commanding officer see that he could go to school.
After making this will, he died.
Communications and transportation for the gendarmerie are the things most urgently needed. Phone is unreliable. The same for telegraph. The wires are cut or taken for construction material. Robbers also know enough to cut wires.
Note: The idea should be considered of mounting a radio on a vehicle so that it could be placed at different locations as circumstances change—as with this area and with the present situation at Narez(?)—and during tribal migrations at which time temporary strong posts are suitable.
Water truck trailers are very important here.
A few overage men have been examined by State Department doctor and declared unfit for further service. Application for retirement has been initiated. A few medical records inadequate, however certification by doctor must be made to suffice.
Tuesday, 23 October, 1951
0915 – Gendarme company and captain out after bandits. Tires bad on vehicle. Four are rebuilt with sections of other tires and tubes.
1000 – Aralen tablets issued for four months for 152 men. This is a malaria area.
1215 – Mansourabad
Police post of Lar Battalion. Twelve men at police post. Six more posts of six men each.
No water at any of posts.
3rd Sergeant Baharami police CO [commanding officer].
Six horses at police headquarters, private phone (government).
Canteens issued are OK except stoppers are a piece of wood with a piece of tin around it. They are mostly rusted out.
Communication with other posts by horse—takes about five hours to most distant ones.
They usually get paid around the 22nd -24th of the month. This is about two days after the Finance at Lar gets the money.
Police CO has nothing. Police CO is from Khorasan—there are six in his family. The climate here is bad for their health. No school. He wants a transfer so he can put his boys in school. Wants transfer to Khorasan. He has been in present grade for eleven years.
Company CO says application has been forwarded for appointment to Tehran.
1715 – Medical situation.
Water in district.
Water supply is almost entirely stored rainwater. It is bad—a form of worm develops and about six months after drinking, some worms reportedly start wriggling out of one’s skin. Unless water is from known sources and certified free from these pests, don’t drink.
[Regimental] CO recommends each post have one LMG [light machine gun] or TSMG [tactical submachine gun].
Short shirts and short trousers not liked. Men won’t wear them. Mosquitoes and sunburn. Bushes scratch their legs, etc. Recommend issue of regular summer uniform. Men wear winter uniform rather than short sleeves.
Uniform caps no good. A waste of money. One size only and poorly made. After a rain shower they’re finished. Helmet liners ideal for this area.
Men need haversacks. Must have something to carry food and urgent supplies on patrols. At present none issued.
No oil available for motor vehicles. Funds totally inadequate to maintain condition of vehicles.
Wednesday, October 24, 1951
THEY MUST HAVE WATER.
In this area the roads are bad and in some spots nearly impassable but the gendarmes must still use them. The former company now platoon at Bashagard is so located that it takes about a month for it to complete a patrol.
They have only one jeep for work and one for the platoon CO. A large area, few posts. Nearly impossible job. Of the 28 posts nearly all can be reached only by water. Customs has a motorboat but the Border Guards don’t. This boat is used to contact ships.
Needn’t worry about any transfer [theft] of equipment. They don’t have any.
Central headquarters places such restrictions on battalion and regimental COs that it is impossible for them to do their jobs. They can’t go on trips in their own areas except after approval from Tehran.
Example: Warrant Officer Doctor in area went after a patient at a distant post. It was an emergency. On return Tehran said that the government wouldn’t pay for gas or other allowances because wasn’t prior approval. Gas allowance is 700 rials per month.
Approval from Tehran takes a minimum of three days.
This is NUTS.
I have several undated photos of Curtis and his wife Marian, my great-aunt, in whose house I now live. Curtis left Iran in 1955, so these images were taken before then. First is Curtis and what I assume are Iranian Gendarmerie officers. Curtis is the tall man.
Next are Curtis and Marian.
The e-mailer is the grandson of Curtis and Marian’s closest friend in Tehran. This friend is still alive, and his grandson wanted to know if I could tell him what happened to Curtis and Marion. He was sad to learn that both had died, Curtis in 1979 and Marian in 2006. I sent the young man—who contacted me from Tehran—high-definition scans of photos, Curtis’s Iranian identification papers, and US Army letters describing Curtis’s time in Iran.
I also found the name of the e-mailer’s grandfather in Curtis’s field notes and included a scan of that. To establish his bona fides, the e-mailer had sent me photos of his grandfather and Curtis. One was his grandfather at Curtis and Marian’s apartment during a Christmas party. The e-mailer knew of Curtis and Marian’s two large dogs, which in 1955 they’d sent to Los Angeles for my mother to pick up at the airport. The dogs understood only Farsi, one of the many languages Curtis spoke and wrote fluently.
Mom’s trip back home from the airport was memorable, as the two Iranian dogs threw themselves all over the interior of the car, and then settled down in the back seat. One dog sat on either side of Mom, draping its paws over her shoulder onto her chest and panting loudly in her ear.
The e-mailer in Tehran sent a message after he got all the photos and documents.
I’m sorry for your parents. God bless them. I think you are influenced by your father. However, We (my grandfather and me) want to say thank you from miles away for your cooperation.
It was my pleasure. God bless you and your grandfather.
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