Retired Army Lt. Col. Vincent L. Curl, 74, a commando officer with the Office of Strategic Services in Burma during World War II, died of cancer Monday at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Col. Curl was a member off the OSS's Detachment 101, which operated behind Japanese lines in Burma during the war. The detachments's assignment was to direct sabotage missions against enemy installations, pinpoint bombing targets, and encourage Burmese to fight the Japanese.
As the commander of less than a dozen American officers and about 350 native Kachin tribesmen, Col. Curl gathered intelligence, ambushed Japanese patrols, and scouted for Allied air and ground forces for 28 months before being evacuated with injuries.
His decorations included the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart. By the end of the war he was helping direct plans for an OSS-sponsored projected to forment an uprising in Korea, thus preventing Japanese from withdrawing troops from Korea to reinforce Japan itself.
Col. Curl was first sergeant of an infantry company in Hawaii when the war broke out. He was a native of Winchester, Va., who during a 17-year career as an enlisted man, had earned a reputation as an athlete and a soldier who could get things done.
When his company commander, Carl Eifler, was chosen to lead Detachment 101 to the Far East, he asked for St. Curl. Before they left for Burma, as the two-man vanguard of the detachment, the sergeant was commissioned a lieutenant.
Things never seemed to go smoothly, even in its early days. The OSS had not yet officially come into existence, and Eifler and Lt. Curl were caught between the Army and the nearly moribund Office of the Coordinator of Information (soon to become the OSS).
Part of their baggage consisted of 40 pounds of plastic explosives, and the two officers could not get Army authorization to carry the explosives overseas. Yankee know-how prevailed. Eifler, a reserve officer, had been a U.S. Customs officer before the war.
Eifler, now a retired psychologist in California, said in an interview that the two men, posing as an assistant military attache and his aide, smuggled the explosives (blasting caps were carried in their pockets) from New York, to Brazil, to Egypt, and finally to China.
Richard Dunlop, the author of "Begind Japanese Lines," credits the future Col. Curl with enlisting the Kachins as part of the detachment's team. The deadly combination became known as the American-Kachin Rangers.
According to the official history of the OSS, "casualties inflicted on the Japanese (during the Burmese campaign) by 101 were conservatively estimated at 4,350 killed. Fifty-three Japanese were captured. OSS combat casualties consisted of one American killed, 75 Kachins killed and 125 Kachins wounded; 101 troops also guided 228 Air Corps personnel to safety. A total of 470 were wounded American, British and native troops were evacuated by the 101 light plane squadron."
By the end of the campaign in northern Burma, 101's strength consisted of 566 Americans and 9,200 natives, according to the history.
By the end of 1943, a new fighting band was taking the field against the Japanese in Burma. The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) under the command of Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill were to become known as Merrill's Marauders. Detachment 101 was their protective screen.
Dunlop writes that the Marauders ffinally met the 101 one day when they swung around a bend and "were confronted by a white man in a partly Australian, partly British, and partly American uniform."
"I'll be damned," the Marauder point man said.
Col. Curl reportedly held out his hand and said, "Glad you got here, boys. We've been waiting 18 months for you to arrive."
Col. Curl remained in the Army after the war. He served as a recruiting officer in Baltimore for a time, then returned to combat in Korea during the conflict there. He retired from active duty in 1954 and made his home in Washington until moving to Fort Myers, Fla., two years ago.
He was a member of the 101 Association, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Survivors include his wife, Phyllas, of Fort Myers, two sons, Dr. Mark, of Deale, Md., and Vincent S., of Bowie; a sister, Monica Dawson of Falls Church, and one grandchild.