The CBI From A to Z- December 2009

By Robb Edmonds

Why do geese fly in a V formation? Because Oswald at the point has the map… inane lead in, though your kids or grandkids might enjoy it...

The campaign in Burma and work on the Ledo Road had been handicapped by a lack of adequate maps. We Yanks had to depend on the British and the Chinese for them, and many, if not most, were out of date and inaccurate. The British Geological Survey, responsible for mapping India and Burma, did not have the resources to revise and distribute the charts and the Chinese were too disorganized to do any mapping.

It's a safe bet that the BurGasco station on the corner of Jungle and Elephant Grass didn't have any decent maps, if any, to sell either.

What is so rare as a day in June? An albino Chinese.

The rest camp in a valley northeast of Cheng tu was in one half of the village park on the River Min. The tents, mess hall and swimming pool were roped off and a broad path bisected the park. Small coal barges brought their cargo down the river to the north end of that path, where they were unloaded onto baskets to be carried on jin poles across the shoulders of coolies. Empties returned and were loaded again.

A variety of other foot traffic passed through, among them was that albino Chinese, white hair, pale complexion and almost colorless eyes. He was almost a head taller than his compatriots, who, by nature, would stand quietly observing even the most mundane activity or sights.

It was thus that a group of possibly ten men and young boys followed the poor "unusual" man who wandered aimlessly through the park. I stood at a distance watching and, at one point, he sat on a low stone wall. The group formed a semi-circle and watched him although he was doing nothing more unusual than looking right at them as if they weren't there. Passing GI's merely glanced at him, did a "double-take" and looked away. I felt a pang of sorrow for the man, who probably had been teased, even abused as a child. Every day for the rest of his life would be like this day in Kwan H'sien Village Park.

If you were stationed in or around Cheng tu, here are some facts you can read and forget, or not. It was in 883 A.D. (before WWII) that printed books were first discovered in the booths along the streets of that city.

Before the war, Cheng tu had one university, the famous (to some) National Szechwan University. By "pour" time, there were seven, among them some of the greatest institutions of learning in China.

Somehow, while on pass to the city, I failed to absorb this knowledge and never noticed book shops nor college campuses. Too late now.

In the 13th century, Marco Polo arrived on a rich and fertile plain in central China and a beautiful walled city of Sin-din-fu. It's still there but today (and during "our war"), it's known as Cheng tu, capital of Szechwan Province, for nearly 800 years.

We might have seen Marco's footprints in the dust if we had looked. Then again…..

From far-off Berhampore comes word that by injecting poison into the carcass of a sheep, a village doctor succeeded in killing three leopards which had been preying on cattle and livestock in the area of Shibnagar.

The leopards, all measuring over 6 feet, nose to tail tip that is, died after returning to feed of the sheep's remains.

Man! Talk about the perils of fast food!

A barber was the first in Madras to be charged with an offense under the 1956 Untouchability Act. The barber had refused to shave a Harijan (Untouchable, a member of the lowest caste in India), claiming his services were available only to Brahmins and Caste Hindus.


For almost two years I was used to our detachment (and 19 others identical in structure/make up) being 28 enlisted men and one officer. Then, when the point system determined some of us had enough of them to go home, we were assigned to the 8th Airdrome Squadron as a "travel unit" (for orders, etc.). By then our C.O. had left and those remaining (if any) after I left were unassigned. Now our 8th ABCD collected 36 men and became their travel unit. I saw the new roster and it seemed strange to see so many names.

"Good luck to them and a safe journey home", was our reaction.

From an October 1945 article in the China Lantern:

Shanghai (Chinese for "Up From the Ocean") braced for the arrival of some 30,000 homeward bound American soldiers, sailors, and Marines.

"Major General Douglas L. Weart, commanding the Shanghai Base Command, said, 'These boys have been fed on raw meat and gunpowder and have been trained to combat a ruthless enemy. This is their first real touch of civilization in months or even years and they're going to blow off steam. It would strain any community.'"

I personally did not see any "problems", except for one tipsy GI that tried to shoplift a fifth of liquor by holding it under his blouse. The shopkeeper was restraining him, so two of my buddies and I went in, talked the bad guy into returning his prize and told the shopkeeper we'd turn him over to an MP. We walked him a couple of blocks, and turned him loose after telling him not to go back. We were sure he wanted to go home as much as the rest of us and didn't want him to get fouled at the last minute.

I hope he didn't.

Poor bombing "skills" and bad eyesight were the best 1944 Christmas present to personnel and planes at Kharagpur ever had. One Japanese bomber reached the field and dropped a string of bombs, including fragmentation clusters and incendiaries across the runway, road and parking lot. Three C-47's were hit but sustained minor damage and two bashas were destroyed.

"Poor eyesight"? 45 B-29's were loaded with bombs and were fueled for a flight over the Hump to Pengshan, China. The bad luck (for whatever reason) of the Japanese pilot and bombardier was the best Christmas present Kharagpur Air Base personnel received.

From Denny Pidhayny, Roundup, December 1995

"What is a 'Ghat', you well night wonder. "Is it pronounced 'Guh-HAT'?

No, it's "Gat". And no, small ones are not "Ghittens".

They are established on the banks of rivers. At Calcutta they are on the edge of the Holy Hooghly River, a branch of the Ganges, and behind grey moss-covered walls. Translated, a ghat is a building by a body of water with steps leading down to the river.

Beside the burning ghats, there are public bathing ghats for men and women. At the burning ghats, Hindus dispose of their dead in the open and broad daylight by cremation. These sites are open to all sightseers and were first on the Red Cross tours. Hundreds of American GI's and GI-esses visited them while "guests" in India.

The ghat is surrounded by an ancient disintegrating wall with archways to the steps. The center is an open area similar to a vacant lot.

I took the tour and walked around a pyre that had been burning awhile and, to my surprise, it was just another unique experience in a land with "different" beliefs, rituals, and customs.

Glad I went.

More on the Burning (and Bathing) Ghats:

The previous article be-ghat a question, namely, do Untouchables (the lowest caste, often born, live, breed and die on the sidewalks and complete their cycle of life in abject poverty) rate cremation?

No. Though discrimination against Untouchables is now against the law, some loophole allows the body of the deceased to be deposited in the river to float downstream to meet God. The same for deceased families too poor to be able to afford the (wartime equivalent of $3.30 American) burning fee.

There are vendors that earn a living selling wood for the pyres.

At Calcutta, there was a teenage boy with a water buffalo horn "bugle", a dirty rag tied around his head, two human skulls and assorted bones hanging from his sash, and he earned a few annas for pictures taken by GI tourists. He appeared to be retarded and posed to look like he was tooting his horn toward Heaven.

Just when I had put the subject of Ghats to rest I came upon a reprint of an article in a Milwaukee newspaper by Dance Kathleen Meroff, who toured with a USO group.

In part: "Picture taking is permitted in ghats. A sightseer is permitted to wander as close to the corpse or fires and to take pictures of whatever he chooses. Relatives will bare the faces of their loved ones or of a row of corpses for you to photograph. The relatives delight in answering your questions, for they are anxious for you to understand and respect their customs."

When I took the tour, I snapped some pictures and had them processed in a British owned shop in Calcutta. They came back light-struck and though not completely obliterated, I'll never know if the lab did it on purpose or, more likely, if I goofed.

Our communications detachment arrived at Tulihal, south of Imphal in Assam, just a few days after the base began operations. Until the landing strip was paved with rolls of burlap-like cloth coated with bitumen resembling roofing paper, the dust cloud churned up by C-47's and the RCAF Hurricanes that shared the field could be seen for miles.

As long and as wide as that strip was (a B-29 made an emergency landing for repairs, then took off again), it would make a super main street for a village. Maybe it was after we all went home.

Pulling the overnight shift on the Tulihal field switchboard, the buzzing night alarm told me someone wanted my attention. I answered and heard merry voices behind the caller, who said, a tad thick of tongue, "This is Lieutenant Hoozis. We're havin' a cebrel-celebration, 'cause I'm goin' ho-hic-ome tomorrow. Wouldja wake me at 5 a.m.?"


"What's yer name?"

"Corporal Edmonds, Sir, 8th Air Base Communications Detachment."

"OK. Wake me up an' I'll put you in for Sergeant."

Came the dawn and I cranked the ringer over and over and finally got a sleepy hangover with Lieutenant attached, who assured me he was on his feet.

He lied. Still a Corporal, that ended that. Not that I was surprised. I finally got my third stripe almost a year later from my (sober) C.O.

I seem to be a target for nicknames (all but "Nick"). Luckily I don't lose any sleep over it. "Stretch", "Lofty" (by my Brit friend in India), and, in China, "Soodza" (Skinny). A mess attendant would smile and, when I'd say, "Hao bu hao" (How's things?), he'd grin and say (phonetically), "Sin Yeh Min". I asked the camp interpreter, if there was such a job classification, if that meant "good morning" and he said, "No, that's a 'nervous condition' or 'mentally unstable'." OK, maybe I deserved it. No, strike "maybe".

But the unkindest cut of all was in India, not by the nice basha boys but by my C.O.

I'm 160 lbs now but can still get into my Class A uniform, which was baggy by then. I can still button the blouse and the waistband. I can't breathe but I can still button them. The nickname? (Hindi) "Khali Hadde" (Bag of Bones).

Are eggs a vegetarian food? Dietary-wise, that is. According to the Indian Vegetarian Congress, eggs are not taboo for its members, who are expected to abstain (lay off- you should pardon the pun) eating fowl, fish, and meat. The Chairman of the Congress said it had not included eggs, honey and milk among non-vegetarian foods. The government department was set up to promote vegetarianism.

What do you do with this fascinating information is no concern of mine.

A lot of English-speaking citizens of India are having a good time poking fun at themselves and each other. The laughter started with a New Delhi newspaper article describing Indian modifications of English, a language imported by British colonial rulers centuries ago. A few examples: There was the host who hoped his guest wouldn't feel shy about asking for a second helping. "Eat shamelessly", he said. "No thanks", the guest replied. "I'm fed up."

"You stay behind the class", one teacher told his student. "I am not empty now." Meaning, "Stay after class. I'm busy now."

And a clerk wanted time off to attend his mother's funeral.

"May I please be granted three day's leave? Because the hand that rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket."

I think the reporter that submitted that for publication should have added "allegedly". That last one sounds familiar.

"You're one to talk", you snort.

A nice day for hiking- in the States, maybe, but not in the Kaoli Kung Range, west of the Salween River in Burma? Captain Donald H. Knight, in an August 1944 Roundup story, says, "This area is typical of similar mountains and ranges. Because of the sheerness of the trails and the altitude of this 'highest battleground in the world', breathing becomes labored and there are times when the only way a man can reach a mountain crest is to sight a tree stump 50 yards ahead and say to himself, 'I'll get that far or die trying', then pull himself to the goal by sheer determination alone."

Before 8 or 10 of us on Detached Service had been assigned, the base PBX (phone switchboard) and individual phones installed, wire had long ago been strung and, as my "job" was to do all that, plus maintenance, I was now a switchboard operator.

"Hello, Central? Give me Heaven."

I gave them Hell.

(Old Jokes at Home)

We took care of the ground communications at 3 of the 7 former B-29 bases around Cheng tu. Some of our detachment and C.O. were quartered at the Li Cheh Sheh Hotel in the city. The Lieutenant decided to rotate personnel so that we all had a change of scene for a week. When it came my turn I spent much of my off duty time seeing the sights and sites of the Capital of Szechwan Province, which I would have missed had it not been for Lt. Jack LeRoy Bebout, our C.O.

Was I dreaming? Since logic entered the situation, probably not.

Our detachment boarded a train and a day and night later we were at Parabatapur, where we had to transfer to a narrow gauge line at about 2 a.m. in the gloom. The other train was behind schedule so I lay my raincoat, outside down, on the stinky cobblestone platform and went to sleep. For a sample, go to www.stench.oy!

I was awakened by the sound of a feminine voice. It spoke English. I opened at least one eye and espied a Red Cross lady in quiet conversation with Ruben Myers. I was almost sure I was asleep but went back to. Their conversation was none of my business in the first or any other place, anyway.

When our transport finally arrived, she had left.

Do you remember- of course you do- we could send letters postage free? We wrote "FREE" where the stamp would otherwise adhere (til it fell off in transit). For Air Mail, a stamp (6 cents) was needed but probably didn't really expedite much. Somewhere I picked up on "Thanks, Sam" written under the FREE and many of my letters home express my gratitude thus. Mom saved all of my letters which I still have, and there are 156 home plus an unknown number to other correspondents. That saves a bunch when Corporal's pay was $66 once a month.

Meanwhile, around the corner and up your block- in Burma, April 5, 1945:

Everyday we go about doing the job assigned to us. It is hard work but our living conditions are the best they've been since we (1905 E. A. Battalion) arrived in the CBI.

This area, near the city of Bhamo, is on one of the more pleasant ports of the country. People are better educated with many English speakers. We are learning a lot about them.

Most people living around here are of Tibeto-Burmese origin with several language groups. The main one we know best is the Jingpaw Kachin. Under the British, the Kachin tribes practice their own form of semi-democratic civil administration. One interesting distinction of this system is that the youngest in the family- rather than the oldest, is the legal heir when a parent dies.

Overheard just yesterday in a coffee shop. I could have sworn I heard a man in a booth behind me say, "My younger brother, a year older than me…." Maybe I'm starting to get osmosis of the ear lobes?

Nearing the end, April 4, 1945: This has been another good day for road work. Slowly, ever so slowly drilling rock, blasting, clearing, ditching, graveling- we are turning this little oversized trail into a military highway….

More good news from the fighting front. The old Burma Road section between Mandalay and Lashio is now cleared of Japanese. The British 36th Division, under U.S. command, captured the last stronghold at Kyaukme a few days ago.

British soldiers coming through tell us their army has done away with all Special Forces such as Wingate's Chindits. (The late) General Orde Wingate (killed in a B-25 crash) was the bright proponent of such Special Forces. He took a force behind Japanese lines to raise havoc with enemy supply systems. A lot of our air transport tactics were developed for those operations.

Apparently, top commanders don't think the results now justify stripping regular divisions of their most capable people and expending the huge air service support systems necessary for a successful operation.

From a copy of the 1905 Battalion newsletter sent to their alumni by Editor, O.J. Taylor, Fresno, CA.

There was some disagreement about the proposed route of the Ledo Road beyond Myitkyina. Some top Chinese officials and American officers in China wanted the road to go from Mitch through the mountains on the China-Burma border to the Chinese city of Teng-chung. General Pick and Road Headquarters staff wanted to go over the pre-war road south of Myitkyina through Bhamo to link up with the old Burma Road near the Chinese border at Wanting. Before reaching his final decision, General Pick sent a reconnaissance party to check out the Teng-chung route. The party included Ralph Snyder and Rex Trumbo from Company "A", 1905th E.A. Battalion. They said there was an existing trail over the proposed route but it would require a great deal of road building through a mountainous area. The experience of putting a road through the Patkais Mountains from Ledo to Shingbwiyang led the survey group to recommend against the Teng-Chung route. The Bhamo-Wanting route would be a little longer but substantially easier and quicker to complete, so this was the way to go. Ralph and Rex said they encountered Chinese people that had never seen white people before. "It was truly a trip we'll never forget", they said.