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Our War: Swansea veteran braved Bedouins to aid Russian allies in WWII

Paul Funkhouser now.
Paul Funkhouser now.

Paul Monroe Funkhouser of Swansea spent two years of World War II in a place few had even heard of at the time -- Iran.

In 1943-44, he was part of a U.S. effort to shuttle war supplies to the Russians so they could fight Germany on the Eastern Front. It was incredibly hot, dirty and dangerous even though there were no Nazis.

"Our biggest problem was copper wire theft," he said. "The Bedouins didn't have much, and that wire was worth money. You didn't go out at night to work, except in pairs."

They solved that problem by coating the copper wire so the copper didn't show. But before that, it nearly got him killed. Funkhouser was working one night when he was jumped by a local with a knife.

"But my clerk knocked him off me and saved my life," he said.

Although he was a first sergeant, he often ended up splicing cables himself because there weren't enough men for the work that needed to be done.

"I had people scattered throughout four countries," he said. "Some of the company was in Moscow, Cairo and Basra, Iraq. I had to visit them sometimes."

But some of those visits meant getting yellow fever shots, which he did not care for.

The Americans arrived in Tehran, improved communications and transportation and moved so much war material from the Persian Gulf to Russia that the Russians later struck a commemorative medal for the service people.

Funkhouser, who is 90, said he was born across from Chanute Field in Rantoul on the day that the first airplanes came to the new airfield.

He earned a degree in history at Blackburn College but joined the Army for three years because it was the Depression. He was a member of a horse-drawn artillery unit that later became the Second Cavalry.

Funkhouser said he was promised a promotion to staff sergeant if he re-enlisted, but instead he got out, took a job with Bell Telephone and became a cable splicer, working out of Peoria.

When Pearl Harbor shocked the nation, he applied to go back in as a lieutenant.

"After one midnight shift, my supervisor called me and said they want you in the recruiting office right away," he said.

He was immediately assigned to the signal corps and shipped to Tennessee.

"I was called an 'especially qualified private,'" he said, because of his cable splicing ability.

He eventually was sent overseas via the Pacific Ocean. He spent two months on a British troop ship and was sent to New Zealand, India and then to Ceylon.

"We were supposed to go into the jungle, on the Burma Road," he said.

But instead his company was shipped to the Persian Gulf to Iran.

After the war, he served in occupied Germany as a member of the military police, guarding trains and supplies.

He later was chief sergeant of a transportation division, and after some training in finance, was put in charge of the entire European transportation budget. He also spent time in charge of scheduling for chemical corps training and was an administrator in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Jerusalem, which included diplomatic duty.

After 30 years, including almost 16 years of overseas duty, he retired in 1966 as a captain.

He used his Army education benefits to earn a degree in sociology while working for the state of Illinois as a social worker.

He now lives in Grand Manor in Swansea. He was a frequent letter writer to the News-Democrat, is an avid genealogist and still corresponds with friends all over the world. And his Army uniform still is a good fit.

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