The CBI From A to Z- August 2010

By Robb Edmonds

I don't know how memory works. I'll leave that to they that claim to know. I just got smacked between my brows with another recall from 1944, and I know not from whence it came.

"Blondie" Ashford, my Brit Army friend, took two of us for our first visit with "Poppa", who lived in a basha in a clearing in a bamboo grove behind our tents at the Tulihal Air Strip in Assam.


He had taught the old man to speak English. Well, a couple of words, anyway. He asked him "Kitna baji hai?" (What time is it?)

Poppa looked at his bare wrist for a second or two and said "Nine clock" (Missed it by an hour and 14 minutes).

He had a homemade water pipe from a coconut shell to hold the water and what reminded me of a hollow chair leg that had been turned on a lathe. It protruded upward from the shell and had a bowl on top for the tobacco. Only it wasn't.

He had taken moist cow droppings, rolled it into small pellets which he dried in the sun. These he put in the bowl and, with a pair of tongs made of flat strap metal, took a glowing ember of bovine waste and placed it atop the pellets, put his weathered lips to a hole in the shell and inhaled Nature's Best with much slurp and bubbles.

Blondie asked, "What are you smoking, Poppa?"

His answer? The only other English in his vocabulary: "Coe (cow) plop." Only he used the common 4-letter crude word.

What do you say when you drop a hammer on your toe, "Oh, PLOP!"?

On our way home to Shanghai, our C-47 stopped at Hankow Air Base, formerly occupied by the Japanese Air Force, for lunch and refueling (the plane).

The ammunition dump exploded, causing four fatalities and numerous injuries from falling phosphorous bombs, shrapnel and debris.

After we got settled at Wayside, in downtown, metropolitan Shanghai, Tom Watt was telling someone about the explosion, illustrating his narrative, describing the towering, almost mushroom cloud, by squatting, then rising in three quick stages while waving his arms in large circles.

"Yaddy, yaddy, yaddy!"

I, for sure, remember feeling the concussion and hearing the explosion, but not the "Yaddy, yaddy, yaddy!"

Today, most of the old (there's a new one?) Ledo Road, like most conditions in Burma, is falling apart. Jungle creepers and grass have taken over almost half of it. When it was built, much of it was widened portions of the original trail.

The wartime labor force was one of the most mixed anywhere in the world.

Chinese, Chins, Garos, Indians, Kachins, Nagas and Nepalese slashed, hauled and dragged.

"Negroes (sic) drove machines. Black, brown, yellow and white men worked up to their armpits in streams and fanny (you should pardon the expression) deep in red mud.

In one camp, 2,000 laborers spoke 200 different languages and dialects.

Ideal crew for building another Tower of Babel. In their spare time.

Sometimes- OK, usually- I let fly with off-beat quips, comments and prattle. In civilian days I've been careful for a couple of weeks after I start in a new place of employment to whom and how I toss my bon mots. (I hope that's not dirty).

My wartime diary notes that, "Today I made an off-hand remark that LeRoy (our CO) took as fact and I had to explain before I found myself with my head in my hands."

I wish I had noted what I said, but, sink me, I didn't. It couldn't have been too bad. I kept my two stripes.

At the Denver CBIVA National Reunion I had the pleasure of a face-to-face with Elmer, from our detachment, who I hadn't seen since 1945. He told me he had a verbal set-to with LeRoy in India and, in a fit of pique, called him a "crazy S.O.B." (not abbreviated) and nothing ever came of it.

LeRoy (MHRIP) wasn't all that bad, although he occasionally made strange decisions that made us wonder "What the hey?"

Like chewing "tabacky", with betel nut, one does not swallow the (ugh!) juice, but makes many a "P'tooie", red in color.

I've read that, when the first colonists from Britain arrived on Indian soil and saw the red splotches on sidewalks and walls, they naturally thought the majority of the population had TB.

In a back issue of Roundup, I remember seeing a photo of a sign on a wall that read, in English and Urdu, DO NOT SPIT ON WALL.

The white sign and light colored wall were spattered red.

And it probably wasn't catsup. Ketchup? Tomato paste.

Addendum to "This is the last time".

Like so many CBI'ers I have referred, in my items, to Japanese planes as Zeros, then learned that the more than ten thousand built went to the Navy for carrier and land-based operations.

The ones in CBI were, reportedly, Zekes.

Now another source says they were Nakajima KI-43's, dubbed Oscar by the USAF.

Zero-schmero, who gives a fig, right?

I was on guard duty at Camp Kanchrapara's main gate as native laborers and help left for the day. There was a Sentinel Louie, a small shelter for use in case of rain and to get in out of the hot sun.

I don't think my carbine was loaded, but it came in handy this time.

One of the "help", probably from an office in the camp because he wore a Fedora-type dome piece, sport coat over a white shirt with necktie. He wore a dhoti in lieu of trousers, and sandals.

I guessed he probably wanted to practice his English, which was near-perfect, but he seemed to think if he "got in my face" and shouted (almost), I would understand more easily.

I had to hold my carbine at port arms (across my chest) as he had me backed up against the shelter. That's when the rifle came in handy.

He took a flat metal box out of his pocket and offered me a chaw of betel but. I had seen it as a white paste wrapped in a green leaf, all of which was chewed, but this looked like a chunk of root with a dusting of soil, with 3 or 4 thin slices.

I politely refused but, later, kinda wished I had risked permanent damage to my taste buds for the experience.

Heaven help me, I might still have "the habit"!

A man with a photographer from the Public Relations Department (I hadn't known we had one) showed up one morning and photographed each of us on the XJOY staff seated at the console. The photos were sent to our hometown newspapers. Mine appeared in the Hollywood Citizen News.

The other staffers were Station Manager J.Noel "Johnny Noel" Schramm at KOMO, Seattle pre-war; Fred Carl (Zolonas), Lt. Bob Muhs and, technicians Ed Bales and Harold Hansen.

The Lieutenant was "Bob" until we had visitors, then informality disappeared.

Loved it. Great guy.

When I was assigned to a travel unit to go home, Bob was my CO and presented me with my third stripe. Did I deserve it? Who cares? It added a point or two to bring my total to 56 that got me off and away toward home.

Bless 'im.

XJOY, Armed Forces Radio Service, Chengtu, actually located at A5, H'Sinching, a former B-29 base 20 miles from the city, had the only electric lighted-from-within sign in that part of the world.

Line Chief Ed Bales and Tech Harold Hansen built a 2x4 frame and installed light bulbs. They fastened a sheet of plexiglass from a wrecked C-47 windshield from each side. Then they added the letters with masking tape, painted the lash up with blue paint. When the tape was removed the letters glowed white on a blue background.

Maybe it has been the model for merchants to make signs in Chengtu. It would take a lot more masking tape.

The rest camp for we Yanks from the 7 airfields that surrounded Chengtu was in the mountains on the bank of the Min River.

Tents were set up in the town park with a broad path bisecting it. Foot traffic from Kwanhsien was constant and remained between the ropes marking our reserved territory.

On the other side of the park from the tents was a permanent building with a full size swimming pool which had a large inflated life raft, in which happy GI's played King of the Mountain.

I couldn't watch. I went away from there.

At the north end of the path was an ancient foot suspension bridge, reportedly using no metal in its construction. The suspension cables were of woven bamboo strips, and a plank floor separated so that due caution was definitely advisable as the river could be seen through the gaps.

Flat boats brought coal down the river and unloaded near the end of the bridge where coolies filled baskets and trundled the loads on Jin poles across their shoulders to somewhere in town and returned empty for another load.

Also near the pool was a combination bar and coffee/tea shop where there was a hand lettered sign on the end of the bar and I copied it word for word:

Don't you like cherry and lemon? Do you drink for pleasure? How do you find these drinks?

Mariskino Crème and Liquer

Mariskino Crème and Liquer are two delicious mixed drinks
It is a pleasure to introduce to you with our new brand of drinks
They are good to drink. They drink well for their prices
Eye it
Try it
Then buy it at the Golden Tripod

I don't know. I didn't name the place. And this is no way intended to make sport. I couldn't even label a door "MEN" in Mandarin. Not even in desperation.

Woody Paige, Borger TX, said that when he got out of the Service he was going to school to be a mortician.

When the CBI Vets Ass'n had an All West Reunion in Las Vegas about 1998, Woody and his wife were in town to visit her sister, who was employed in a casino across the street from our hotel.

We got together in the hospitality suite while Jean went to find her sister.

Woody was one of five of our 28 man detachment with whom I had personal contact in the late 90's. (I corresponded with three more over the post-years).

I asked Woody if he had become a mortician and he said, "No. Every time someone willed their body to science, it was a dead giveaway."

I'd heard that morticians had their own brand of humor.

Instead, he enlisted in the National Guard, served in Korea as a 1st Lieutenant Mess Officer. When discharged, went to work for an oil company in Texas, "taking something OUT of the ground."

He worked in an office, which spoils that last line.

Ah, well, he tried.

I awoke one early morning and before I turned over to try to go back to sleep, a verse related to other data and datum in this collection began emerging from the fog inside my pointy head. I got up and wrote it on a scrap of paper and finished it later.

I think I shall never C
B I twenty one or eighty three,
Calcutta, Imphal, Cheng tu and more,
The way they were in '44;
In '45 and '46, as well,
Not quite as bad, I've heard, as Hell;
But close enough for this here poem;
I won't go back, I'm staying home!

You might (or not) say I went from bed to verse.

Here's a WWII parody on a WWI song entitled, "Oh, Joy, Oh, Boy, Where Do We Go From Here?"

Mother, take down your service flag, your son's in the S.O.S.;
He's S.O.L., but what the Hell, he never suffered less;
He's awful thin, but that's from gin, unless I miss my guess;
So, Mother take down your service flag, your son's in the S.O.S.

Glossary of terms:

S.O.S. = Service of Supply. Non combatant Quartermaster Corps
S.O.L. = Sure Out of Luck

And, the Service Flag hung in the front window (if any) back home to show the household had a son or daughter in the armed service. It was about 6 inches wide and 8 inches tall, white with a red border and, in the center, a blue star for each service member.

Gold if deceased.

The Gold Star Mothers had lost a son or daughter while serving his or her country.

Altogether, now, sing along...Hmmmmmm...

Spontaneous Stanley, "he was know'd as in them days". He had a genius for spur-of-the-moment, harmless practical jokes.

One warm day- hardly a rarity in that part of India- four or five of us were have a bull session when Satien, our dhobi wallah, arrived to collect the laundry for the next day.

Stan happened to be standing in the middle of the tent while the rest of us were seated, so he motioned for the boy to join us and began chanting in a monotone, "There once was a girl from Bel Aire----", and after the last line of the off-color limerick he added "And they'll do it to ya, too". Which he repeated, with difficulty, while suppressing snickers.

Another verse with attachment and Stan led us out the door into the dark where the bewildered lad couldn't see us. We watched him as he looked in our direction for a moment, then got up and collected the laundry, no doubt convinced he had witnessed a solemn religious ritual.

Not bloody likely, Babu!

"It Could Happen To You" (Song title)

In a letter to the Editor of Ex-CBI Roundup from Augie Catahano of Congers, NY, he wrote:

"Before a bombing raid at Kunming, my buddy, Ira Bonham and I were headed out to seek shelter. We were caught out in the open as bombs dropped and had nothing but a Chinese grave, a mound of dirt, to hide behind for protection. During the excitement, I passed gas without knowing it. When the smell reached my nose, I panicked and yelled "GAS!!"

Both Ira and I put on our gas masks in record time. Then it dawned on me what had happened. We both had a good laugh."

A trifle hysterically?

Armed Forces radio, in Hollywood, provided scripts for 15 and 30 minute programs which were sent with recordings of complete programs. "Miss Parade" featured a different female vocalist each program, "GI Jill" played pop music, etc.

After a spell, ever a risk taker, I began writing my own scripts for "Here's Me" (Theme, Eager Beaver by Stan Kenton's orchestra) and alternated them with the ones from H'wood.

One disaster, and I'll bet my 8 hour pass that nobody noticed, I put on a sound effects record of jungle noises. Birds, elephant, lion roaring, and told a joke.

Oh, drat! At the end I found I had neglected to turn on the mic and all that went out was 30 seconds of weird noises.

Undaunted (my daunt was out for repair) I figured the humor was worth sharing, so I let fly with it while playing the next recording. (Carmen Miranda singing "Chik, Chicky Boom").

I didn't get any pan mail, so I guess nobody admired my cover up.

Related: After civilian life became a reality again, I had a friend in Hollywood that lived off Laurel Canyon and I passed AFRS HQ to get to his Digs on Lookout Mountain Road.

I knew you'd be impressed.