About Bill Dawson

By Jack C. Higbee

Bill Dawson was assigned to the 69th Depot Repair Squadron during May in 1944. There were some 320 of us. Our leader was Colonel Hancock. There were Lt. Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Master Sergeants, Tech Sergeants, Staff Sergeants, Sergeants, Corporals, Privates First Class and Buck Privates. Bill and I were Buck Privates, but about a year later he was a Sergeant, and I was a PFC. We were assigned to the Bombsight Group, which included Automatic Pilot mechanics and Gunfight Mechanics, as well as the Norton Bombsight Mechanics.

One section of a fairly large building was the Training Center for our group. We were trained there for several months before we left for overseas. This group included, beside Bill and me, Lt. Vogh, Staff Sergeant Allen Wilson, Stan Wenc, Harry White, Gordon Smart, Marty Martin, Everon Klinkenburg, and two others.

We would be awakened about six a.m. by a bugler. We got up and showered and shaved and ate breakfast. We then went to a parade ground to be greeted by the fifty-five year old Master Sergeant, who knew every swear and crude word in the English language. He would tell us if we screwed up, we would be fu----- monkeys. He used the "F" word in every sentence. He went on for some fifteen minutes, and then we went through some fifteen minutes of exercise, and then we marched to our training building. As we went around some corners, some GI's peeled off the end of the line, and snuck back to their barracks to hide for the day. Bill and I avoided this.

We waited until we got to our building, along with the ten other Buddies to begin learning for the day. This went on for several months, and we learned all about the three items we would be maintaining when we got to our destination, wherever that was. We all began bonding to one another and learned to like each other. We became a great group.

Our real leader was Allen Wilson, a Tech Sergeant. We all learned to like and actually love and admire him, even though he was a bit of a Fuddy Duddy, in some ways. But, oh so dedicated.

Bill did Bomb Sights and Auto Pilots. Everyone in the group had mechanical training as civilians and Bill had worked in a factory before he enlisted. He was also married to Ruth and had two children. I was the youngest in the group, being just eighteen years of age. Bill was in his late twenties, but was not the oldest in the group.

We were in the 69th Depot Repair Squadron and virtually every one had some mechanical skills like Auto Mechanics, Plumbing, Sheet Metal, Welding, Salvage Yard, Parachute Packing, Tire Maintenance, Aircraft Engines, and Propeller Maintenance. Virtually every trade to maintain and repair airplanes and other equipment for an up-to-date Air Field was represented. There were also cooks, truck drivers- almost everything. There were some three hundred twenty of us.

We all left Kelly Field during February 1945 on a train, going toward California. Kelly Field was a few miles from downtown San Antonio. It was a fifteen cent ticket to ride the street car. Ruth Dawson and their two children came from San Antonio to visit Bill for several weeks. They stayed in a small apartment and Bill would go visit often. Several times, I would go baby sit so they could go to dinner or attend a show. They trusted me with their children as I had done a lot of baby sitting in my growing up days. Ruth was so very pleasant and kind to me.

In our barracks, we spent quite a bit of time gambling. Stan Wenc from our group was addicted to playing dice, and Bill and I and other members of our Unit played also, but we preferred playing poker, nickel ante and a fifty-cent limit. Bill was usually a winner, but not with any great amount of money.

It took about two days to arrive in Los Angeles and once we got there we headed for the Troop Ship, the Admiral Benson. It was in Los Angels Harbor and could hold some 10,000 soldiers. We were loaded in like sardines.

Bill and I and most of our small group were on a lower level. The hammocks were five deep and one had to get out onto the floor to go from you back to your stomach, or to go from your stomach to your back.

We got two meals a day, unless you worked. To find a place on the deck, you had to get up early, rush upstairs and save a place for four people and sit and play cards. There was not room on deck for all that many bodies, that is, if you did not have an officer's uniform. There was a roped off area for officers and female soldiers. They could have played tennis in their area.

On the deck, four of us played cards most of the time. Bill Dawson, Stan Wenc, Bill Kelly and I, but there was some trading off a bit, if someone was ill for a day.

I fell in love with a female Lieutenant as she strolled around the deck. She was beautiful, but I gave up on her when we got off the ship, and she was walking down the gang plank with the ship's captain.

Our small group spent a lot of time talking with one another and we learned a lot of personal things about most everyone. We began to bond as a group, and to like one another.

One G.I. named Kessler had a large scar that went all the way around his left arm. Yet, he could chin himself with that one arm, by grabbing onto an overhead pipe and pulling himself up and placing his chin on that pipe.

After seven days, we came to the equator. We had some crossing ceremonies and the Poly Wogs had to be ducked into the water from a high platform. That was most of us. We then headed south toward Melbourne, Australia. We spent two days on the ship on the wharf, and then headed West and North toward Bombay, India. But we did not know where we were going at the time.

We ate in a mess hall with rather high tables, and we stood up to eat. An occasional G.I. standing on the other side of the table would quickly place his hand over his mouth and throw up from motion sickness. One had to quickly cover your plate with both hands to avoid the splash, but some usually came close to your plate and you had to make a decision as to whether to go hungry or just pretend none hit your plate.

We later discovered that there were Japanese submarines in the area and that was the reason we went to Bombay and not directly to Calcutta, which was our intended destination. As we landed in Bombay we looked over the side of the ship at what seems like millions of Indians in white clothing from head to toe. They were just standing there looking at us; men, women, and children.

We were on the Admiral Benson about thirty days until we arrived in Bombay, India. This meant that we were on the other side of India, away from Calcutta.

As we looked at the huge numbers of people, none of them seemed angry and they waved to us and smiled. We wondered why they were not working and concluded that there were more people than jobs. We observed some of them going to the bathroom. They stepped toward an alley and the men stooped down and urinated and the women stood up and did the same, and then grabbed their skirts and waved it up and down until it quickly dried off in the intense heat. None of the many people we observed seemed to be angry and many of them waved. I never remember seeing so many people so close together. I concluded that there must be a lot of Indians, but none of them were Native Americans.

We left the troop ship and were surrounded by huge numbers of people, walked some distance to the train station. Our group of some 320 soldiers boarded the cars of the narrow gauge train, with four rows of seats going the length of each car. They were not individual seats, but row seats. They were our beds with no blankets or pillows. There was not enough room for all of us to lie down at the same time, so we took turns. Also, there were about three of four hammocks.

We ate C rations and K rations. The C rations came in three cans about the size of an evaporated milk can, one was meat and beans, another was beef and potatoes and the other one was biscuits. We shared some of them with the beggars that were with us at every stop. Many were little kids with running noses. The K rations were better and most of them were for the officers. They contained a small can of cheese, some biscuits and three cigarettes, often Lucky Strikes. That is where the phrase "Lucky Strike has gone to war" came from.

At every stop, there were dozens of beggars, mostly males of all ages. Many were severely crippled, some with open sores showing. They would rub a stick over the exposed wound to show how aggravated it was. Some had leprosy. If one threw a C ration can to them, they immediately rushed away to protect it.

At night the train continued to run, but the windows were closed and aerosol cans were used to spray for mosquitoes. With those awake smoking, the air was terrible. And, it was four hours lying down and four hours sitting up. We were on the train for six or seven days before we arrived in Calcutta. The train stopped and we were driven in trucks to our base some five miles away. The base was called Kampshapera or something like that. We were based there for about a month.

We slept in tents holding some three or four of us sleeping in cots. They were canvas and one had to put your shoes up high so the scorpions would not crawl inside. One learned to tip the shoes upside down anyway. We all had mosquito netting. We drank water from blister bags and it was cool, but never cold. I do not remember of any assigned tasks for most of us, so we did some hiking. There were no enemy soldiers in the area. We ate in a mess hall and there was a PX store where we could buy cold drinks. You could buy a very, very cold beer there, but only two cans a day.

Bill asked me to line up and buy two cans for him. I did this and after standing in line for fifteen minutes, they put one ice cold can in each hand. When I felt how cold they were, I sat down next to a building and drank both of them, immediately. The next day I was in the line again. I figured, if the Savior could turn water into wine, perhaps I could turn beer into water, or at least I called it water.

We were there for two or three weeks and were aware that we were going to drive trucks to our destination; that is, if one could drive a truck. We had to be tested and Bill and I both passed the test. Bill knew he would pass, but I was not so sure. The night after the test, I did not sleep a wink worrying whether or not I had made the grade. The next day, when they called out the names of those who would be driving, Bills Dawson's name was called and also Jack Higbee. Almost every one of our Bomb Sight group made it. If one did not drive, you rode as a passenger. Also, some flew in a C-46 or a C-47 over the Hump from India to Kunming, China.

We all attended several lectures, some about the area and special problems, but we also heard from the Chaplain and Medical Doctor. The Chaplin told us to avoid the local women from a morals perspective. The Doctor told us that here in India, every woman who might be available for sex had at least one venereal disease. And further, in Burma and China, it was seven times worse. Was he trying to scare us?

Finally, it was time for our great adventure, driving a fully loaded six by six General Motors truck from this part of India into Ledo and Burma and then into China. After being in this case camp for a few weeks we finally loaded our trucks with equipment to enlarge an air base in China. I had twelve fifty-five gallon drums of gasoline in the back of my truck. I did not have a companion. Bill was in a truck with an older fellow named Tilden. Their assignment was to be the last truck on our convoy to work with any vehicle that was having problems. Both of them had the skills and the maturity to fill this assignment.

We drove toward the downtown area and then loaded our vehicles onto flat bed railroad cars. This train was to take us to where the Ledo-Burma Road began. Some one hundred and nine convoys preceded us on this trip. The road from India into China had been completed just three months before. It had taken some three years to get this project completed. Some two hundred G.I.'s had lost their lives during the building process. One soldier a mile had been killed; some from Japanese bullets, and some from accidents. It was an engineering marvel that some people thought was impossible to build.

Bill's diary gives a day to day account of the journey and I will just summarize what took place. I was alone in my truck and just followed the truck in front of me. We usually drove from about eight in the morning until some five or six in the evening. Some days it was one way driving, so we stayed in the campsite. A few times we would hike into the hillsides, and one time into a jungle area. One of my buddies, Larry Berry and I hiked into a jungle area and we had to crawl on our hands and knees at times. It was a bit scary, but we had our 30-30 carbines in our hands. Larry claimed he saw a lion, but it was probably a stray cat. Several months later, when we were in Shanghai, Larry borrowed forty dollars and never paid me back when we were in China. Several years later, when he lived in Texas, I called him on the telephone and during the conversation I mentioned the $40 debt. He said that he remembered and he had given the money to his first wife to mail to me. Do you believe that? Anyway, he did not then promise to send the money. He never came to any of our reunions. Maybe that was the reason.

It was a bit lonely driving the truck, but there was a lot to look at. Sometimes while driving on a hillside, I was some fifteen inches from a four-thousand foot drop off. I was hugging the cliff on the other side of the road, but it was a bit scary. I remember we only lost one truck in our convoy, but the driver was not injured.

One day I left early and drove for ten hours. I went forty miles in the truck and averaged just four miles an hour. There were many, many hairpin turns. There was a mess of trucks on the road and some were pulling trailers with tractors on them. I was often within twenty feet of the truck in from of me. When I arrived at my destination, I looked back and could see where I left that morning. It was ten miles away. Forty miles as the road wavered back and forth and ten miles as the crow flies. I saw Bill Dawson later on that evening. He was worn out.

We went over two or three bridges, some with pontoons holding the bridge sections. One bridge permitted only one truck at a time. We went over the wide Salween River. I remember several of the truck drivers had monkeys, which were fun to watch. I never saw a live Japanese soldier, but I saw several dead ones, but they were not buried and just laid there decomposing. Not burying them seemed to convey a message of contempt.

After some twenty-eight days, we finally came to a camp that overlooked the Kunming area. We were at the top of a mountain and there were several miles of rice paddies. It was amazing and it must have taken several hundred years of hand labor, with some help from water buffaloes, to move so much of that mountainside.

I saw a number of Chinese peasants. They were dressed in native wear with quilted tops and bottoms. They wore tiny wide slippers to cover their bound feet, which were some six inches long and four inches wide. Every one of them had a smile on their face. Further, they were all females. They were there begging for food, but only after we had our fill, and went to the pit to throw away the leftovers. The Chinese peasants had a fairly wide can where the G.I.'s dumped their leftovers.

The next morning we jumped into our vehicles and started the final day's journey to our destination, Kunming, Yunnan Province. We drove down the hillside toward the city and an hour or so later we went by a cemetery. There were a lot of tombstones and many people were buried in crypts above ground. I saw a dog dragging the body of a dead boy. We stopped our trucks and one of our buddies brought out his carbine and shot the dog. This memory is etched in my mind. We arrived in Kunming, China on May 14, 1945.

Let me add that President Roosevelt died and the war in Europe ended during the time we traveled the Ledo-Burma Road. Also, the President of the Mormon Church, Heber J. Grant, died.

We then drove less than ten miles and we ended up at Hostel Ten, about three miles from the gate where you drive your automobile to enter Kunming City. Our hostel had double bunk beds in one large room and small rooms at each end, for non-com officers. I slept in the lower bunk for a few days, and then switched onto the upper bed. He was a Sergeant, but he would come in quite late, and would often urinate next to the bed. He was usually drunk, and I urged him to let me trade sleeping space with him sleeping in the lower bunk. That way, the urinating was less of a hassle.

As we all went to bed Harry White, one of our Bomb Sight buddies would tell jokes. Some of them were very funny and we all chuckled. He knew at least ten thousand funny stories. The one that sticks on my memory channel is so crude that I cannot repeat it. But, it was so very funny. Harry was the oldest of the Bomb Sight group. He died at the age of 95, and one time Marty Oxenburg visited him after our returning home. Harry was 91, and he was at the top of a twenty-five foot ladder doing something to the chimney. I last saw him at our Gettysburg get together during 2003. His son was with him. At this meeting I bought a classy piece of pottery made by Cleater Meaders, a Smithsonian recognized expert potter from Georgia. He died some five years ago, but he made a 24-inch tall by ten inch wide vase, that has the names of every one of our 69th Depot Repair Squadron veterans. I am now proud owner of this item, as Marty Oxenburg had Federal Express deliver it to me. It must be worth close to $1,000. He gave it to me, rather than giving it to a grandchild. What a kind gesture! My name is right at the top of the vase, and Everon Klinkenburg is two names away from me.

We stayed in this barracks a couple of weeks and drove or walked the one half mile to the airfield where we worked. The eleven members of the Bombsight group were assigned to a rather small building. It was made with concrete on all four sides of the roof. The only door was steel. It was a virtual vault, as the Norden Bombsight was top secret.

We ate at the nearby Mess Hall and, in general, the food was good. We had corned beef and gravy on a piece of bread, called "shit on a shingle", some three times a week. This must have been the Chef's favorite. The only thing to drink was water or coffee. As we left the Mess Hall, there were dozens of Chinese boys waiting outside, next to a high fence, begging for our leftovers.

About thee weeks after arriving, Stan Wenc, Bill Dawson and I moved to a small building next to the Bombsight Vault. We got beds and a table and rigged up an empty fifty-five gallon barrel onto a platform, so as to take showers. Bill rigged up a water line to fill the barrow. We got by with cold water.

We also hired a twelve year old Chinese boy to help keep the place clean. This was just a gesture to help out the young man, but we enjoyed relating to him and taught him some English,

Our new sleeping place was right next to a field where a Chinese couple farmed and raised their family. One night we heard a baby crying, and as we looked over the small fence the next morning, we saw the wife working in the field, with a new baby on her back.

We all worked eight hour days and usually had the weekends off. I was the only Sperry Gun Sight Mechanic, and the others worked on the Bombsights and the Automatic Pilots. It was actually fun to all work together, and we bonded and developed a lifelong relationship.

One day, after being there for a couple of months, Bill Dawson was called to the phone to hear from his wife Ruth. She announced the birth of a new baby. Bill passed out cigars for the group and we took a picture of our full group with a cigar in our mouths. Some we lit. But the nonsmokers just chewed on the tips.

Bill Dawson, Stan Wenc and I often went to visit our buddies working in the Parachute building. It was just off the airbase and they all lived where they worked. There were five of them; Adrian Davis, Carlos Medina, Durkee, Joe Lopez and one other G.I. We chatted about the olden days and played cards. We all bonded and developed lifelong relationships.

The war with Japan ended in August, 1945, and immediately the emphasis was on the dream of returning home. But there were still a lot of things to do, and it was ten months before I was on a troop ship in Shanghai returning to the United States.

We were assigned to help put things in storage, including the many fighter aircraft like the P-47's and the P-51's. We locked up the Bombsight Vault and moved to an area where the G.I.'s from throughout China were coming. There were many hundreds of them.

For those in the 69th Depot Repair Squadron, some three hundred twenty of us, there was still a lot to do, but those buddies with a wife and children at home and depending on their length of service, and utilizing a point system, some started to leave for the United States. Bill was married and had several children and he flew back to the United States near the end of 1945. He flew from Kunming to New York, but with some stops in between. He did not go via California and probably landed somewhere in Europe in between.

Most of the 69th Group, those with few points, flew to Shanghai between September and December of 1945. I left Kunming on New Year's Eve, 1945. I flew in a C-47, which was safer than a C-46. I went downtown and got in a fight and knocked a G.I. from Utah through the largest plate glass window in China. It was at the King George Hotel. I spent the night in a free room at the local Brig and saved a five dollar room rental, but they later wanted me to pay for the window. That is another story. Bill Dawson should have been there to protect me.

Some G.I.'s did MP duties and helped put United States aircraft into storage. Some did some training of Chinese soldiers. I left for California during June 1946 and was discharged to return to Salt Lake City.

The former buddies and partner have been getting together for some twenty-seven years. We first met in Seattle, Washington in 1983. Marty Oxenburg was the Buddy who gathered the names and addresses and helped organize our get together, along with Ben Brown, from Seattle for this first meeting.

I will be eternally grateful to Marty Oxenburg for the efforts he made to get us together. It has enriched my life, and Helen's too. Also, my life had been enriched by knowing Ruth and Bill Dawson and our other World War II buddies and their partners.

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