By Robb Edmonds At the end of my CBI and overseas experiences, I stood on the fantail of the General Hugh L. Scott and watched China disappear (without moving) over the horizon. I thought, "I'll never come back", and, so far (over 65 years have collapsed), thus it is so. Yet, sink me if I don't get an occasional twinge of nostalgia, without a logical reason, for Camp Kanchrapara in Bengal, India, Tulihal in Assam, H'sinching, Kiunglai and Fung Whan Shan in central China. Nothing really rewarding happened. I occasionally wonder if the kids then, grandparents now, ever think about that funny lookin', tall and skinny soldier that suddenly moved away, never to return. I'm sure some of the elders have good memories, although they failed to understand my attempts to be friendly with humor when they were children. I do hope they think fondly of me and my buddies, now and again.
The CBI From A to Z- February 2010
I was on the overnight shift on the base switchboard at Tulihal and got a call from the mess kitchen. The caller didn't have to take time to explain to me why he wanted to be connected with the dispensary, but a cook had been burned by hot grease. I monitored the call long enough to make sure the correct person answered and heard, "We're on the way. Your name, Sir?" "Lieutenant Byrnes". (Burns) On the Bible, Moe.
Our weapons carrier, 3/4 ton vehicle, was piloted by Tony Budzinski. We were lost- but making good time- and came up behind a pedestrian on that country road. At the last possible moment he veered right and ran across our path. We were told they did that sort of thing so that the evil spirits or dragon that dogged their path would be exterminated. This chap almost didn't make it, because he got a fanny full of fender, went sprawling and sliding on his face into the ditch. We were sure he had become a statistic, but he got up grinning and limping, and gave us their thumbs up salute, meaning, "Ding hao!" "Good!" And, in this case, "Thanks, Yanks!"
We were in a truck convoy going through downtown Calcutta one morning and came up behind a stake truck with 4 or 5 water buffalo carcasses. With every bump in the road, and there were many, those remains bounced, wobbled and quivered like a load of water balloons. The memory bothers me more now than it did that warm summer day, oh, so long ago. I can't remember what triggered that mental picture now.
How many of us spent time at Camp Kanchrapara, waiting for assignment to a permanent base, camp or to a unit, know - I didn't- that it was a supply point and also housed a military prison? All up river from Calcutta some 28 miles. River? All I ever saw was a small lake formed by monsoon rains. The year I was there was 1944. I learned the above fascinating facts (except the location) in 2007. Nothing so slow about me that I can't stop fast.
Romantic- til we got ashore and my cold cleared up- was the background for this unfortunate slice of life: Pariah Hawks kept seagulls away and we on the deck of the SS Maloja in the harbor amused ourselves by tossing bits of food aloft for the big birds to catch in the talons "on the fly", as it were. Well, a hawk in need is a hawk indeed, and "Bombs away!" A poor GI chose that moment to toss a chunk of bread into the air and watched it as the, uh, "bomb" hit the bridge of his nose and caused major discomfort in both eyes. Funny 'zell to all but he, who was led to the head (bathroom) for a washout of the peepers. He wasn't a member of our detachment, so we never knew if he got tired of explaining any nickname he undoubtedly acquired.
The Maloja had to wait offshore at Bombay for high tide to get into the inner harbor. The temperature in the shade- with no shade- was probably 100 degrees-minimum. A British GI, who resembled Victor McLagen, got up on the hatch cover. No sun helmet nor shirt, he wore khaki shorts, knee socks and army boots and perspired quite a bit more than somewhat. He shouted to be heard as he recited, from memory, all of the verses of the "Gunga Din" in his foggy voice. His accent, no doubt authentic, made the entire scene and performance well worth remembering.
I have a vivid-to-vague memory of many nouns- persons, places and things- from my army years but many, try as I might, are lost in the fog inside my pointy bonce. F'rinstance, the view of the Leland Stanford Liberty Ship before we boarded at Hampton Roads, VA, and looking back after we went ashore in Oran, North Africa. The same for the General Hugh L. Scott at Shanghai and later at Seattle, where we were allowed to go ashore after roll call, stay overnight if we wished, but had to return for roll call at 0900 the next morning. If still no room ashore, we could repeat the procedure. I can picture the faces of all 27 EM's and our CO of our detachment and, in the afternoon when I can't sleep, I can recall all of their names, because before we left Camp Pinedale (Fresno, CA) we had a group photo taken. I had it enlarged to poster size and it's above my desk as I flail the keys of my word processor. But I can "catch it" if I forget my wife's birthday. It's the same day as mine…but different years.
Five of us were assigned briefly to a China air strip near the base of "some of the highest mountains in the world". We never saw them. Only three weeks to a month were we there with low clouds and a little snow at night a couple of times. We were told that as soon as an aircraft left the ground it had to make a sharp bank to the left or right or collide with that very rock pile. I, for one, was disappointed that those peaks were never visible to us. They might have been. One afternoon we were told to pack essentials only, take warm clothing and trudge into those very mountains. A rumor that an enemy force was en route, as I remember. No details, nor verification were forthcoming, and, a short time later, the alert was canceled. Forever a mystery. Nobody I can ask now.
When the Coast Guard Troop Transport, General Hugh L. Scott, arrived in Seattle from Shanghai we boarded semi-trailers as I vaguely remember, because we couldn't see outside, to Fort Lawton. In the mess hall, German POW's were the KP's and servers. One of our GI's, not much over 25, had snow white hair and I wondered what traumatic experience, if any, he'd had. Otherwise, he appeared "normal", indulged in a smile producing conversation with a buddy. I think my Mother expected me to show signs of combat fatigue when she met me at the Pacific Electric Terminal from San Pedro, where I'd been discharged in Los Angeles. I'd kept my letters home on a positive note and she had memories of returning vets from WWI. I almost had to swear on the Bible that my army career was relatively free of perilous experiences. My dome is snow-capped now but I attribute that to longevity.
Indian workers at Bengal Air depot were taking home stolen 2 x 4's...how did they get away with it? (for awhile). How did they get them past the guards at the gate? They cut the 8-foot lengths into short blocks which, with permission, passed as scrap lumber. Too short to build a basha or even a garage, the petit thieves claimed they were much better for cooking fires than dehydrated (by the sun) cow plop. No doubt smelled more appetizing, too.
How long did it take you (if you were there, of course) to get used to traffic on the "wrong side" of the road in CBI? (For our civilian readers, you may have had the following experience in other foreign countries). After a few weeks or days we got used to driving on the left (British influence). Equally as dangerous was looking to the left instead of the right before stepping off a curb ("Kerb", to the Brits). I, for one, almost learned "the hard way".
Planning ahead on the Ledo Road, a whole system of "way stations" was included between Ledo and Teng Hawk Sakan. Truck convoys and casual travelers got food and lodging, as well as vehicle maintenance and refueling. Sort of like a truck stop between Bakersfield and San Jose? Not exactly, but functional all the same. I found the following related data composing (or de-composing) the above: People coming from the Myitkyina area tell us (member of the 1905 Engineer Aviation Batallion) that near our Company C's old campsite, a big convoy service station has been constructed. The complex consists of 10 or 12 buildings for truck servicing and overnight sleeping accommodations as well as a large parking area. Those China-bound truck convoys now have a midpoint service compound. O.J. Taylor, Editor, 1905 News Letter
Would you believe it? According to Robert E. Heno, who was there ("A Soldier's Saga", Roundup, 1978): "At another part of the 'front', a river was the boundary line between the Japanese and Chinese-held territory. At one point, there was a town on each side of the river with a bridge across. People and commerce went back and forth, paying graft, of course, to the Chinese guards at one end and to the Japanese guards at the other end. Some GI's couldn't stand the sight of the Japanese strutting around across the river, so took pots shots at them, until (here's the would you believe it part), "orders came down to cease and desist, and there would be a $200 fine for anyone shooting at the Japanese." We wouldn't want them to get mad at us, would we now?
Let's tune in (that's radio talk) to a snippet from "The History of the 1880th Engineer Aviation Battalion", author unknown. "During the last part of July and the first half of August 1944, several Chinese armies marched over the road from Luliang to Poseh. Footsore stragglers soon conceived the idea of hitchhiking on our trucks, which would have all been very well if they had confined their activities to the Stateside practice of "thumbing a ride", but a number of the more undisciplined Chinese waved guns when the drivers refused to stop. According to several Company B men, unlucky enough to be stationed on that section of the road, it is not a pleasant experience to have a "trigger happy" Chinese stick a Tommy gun in your ribs or belly, or to hear bullets whistling around your ears as you "gun" the truck down the road. Luckily, none of our men have been hurt, although several of them had to suffer the indignity of running "taxi service" for the Chinese at one time or another, and serious trouble was averted by the narrowest of margins on several occasions. At one time the situation became so intense we had to stop work on the road for several days until the most obstreperous division of the troops had passed through." "Obstreperous"? I don't know. I'm going back to school to lean just one word?
A bit of recognition for a pioneer/hero, China National Aviation Corporation pilot Hugh Woods, who took a DC-3 to look for a feasible route over the Himalayas (Satsung Range on maps) to China. That was on November 2, 1940. On May 9, 1941, William L. Bond, Operations Manager for CNAC, said "We know the country is high and the route can be flown in similar weather to what we had, but if it should be much worse...it would be extremely dangerous, costly and very nearly impractical. The best air freight route would be from Myitkyina in North Burma to airports…in the vicinity of Yunnanyi. There are many difficulties…the country between is high and rugged. West and north of this is even worse." Based on this report, the British built an airport at "Mitch".
When is a Japanese a "Jap"? From "Pacific Microphone", William J. Dunne says: "He's referred to as a 'Jap' when he is flying en enemy airplane, occupying an enemy bunker, pacing the bridge or deck of an enemy warship, or merely trying to eliminate you from this Earth." In these items, stories, blurbs if you will, in CBI From A to Z, the term is used only in WWII topics. No present-day disrespect is intended or implied.
When our jeep was assigned to us, Lt. Bebout said if we cared to name it, to put our suggestion on a slip of paper to be drawn out of a hat. Sun helmet, that is. The winner was "Alcoholic Adeline", lovingly submitted by Tony Guzan (Calumet City, IL). The Lieutenant exercised his veto power and dubbed the little car "8 Ball", what with our being the 8th ABCD. Walt Tegan (Birmingham, AL) was artistic and decorated the panel below the glass of the windshield with the name and a pool ball with an 8. Thus it remained til we bade farewell in China as we left for home. Probably some local businessman is still driving it, renamed SHANGHAI PLUMBING SUPPLY, LTD.
The only genuine hero with whom I had contact with was a medic on an airbase in China. He was silent, but his buddy told how a P-51 fighter plane blew a tire while landing, veered off the runway and flipped upside down in the wide drainage ditch. Fortunately for the pilot, the fuselage was parallel with the excavation, held off the bottom by the wings at ground level, which allowed the canopy to pop off. Gasoline was dripping and the pilot was having difficulty with his safety harness. The hero-to-be jumped from the ambulance before it stopped rolling and, getting soaked by the leaking fuel, reportedly asked, "What the HELL am I doing?" He was able to release the harness and to help the man to the ambulance, with an assist from the driver. His C.O. recommended him for a medal but, at that telling, it was still pending.
Jackie Coogan (best known to our generation as Uncle Fester in the TV series "The Addams Family"); Merian C. Cooper, General Chennault's Chief of Staff in 1942, and director of 1930's "King Kong"; Andrew Duggan, familiar face but not well known by name, postwar actor in many TV roles, was a real life Merrill's Marauder. All were CBI Veterans. But we don't read much about Senator Barry Goldwater, (Rep., Arizona) who, postwar, was a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, a jet pilot and the first ever member of the U.S. Congress with a Command Pilot's rating. In CBI he served with the Air Transport Command.
Somewhere the prior occupants of our bashas at Tulihal had acquired a mule but left it behind when they moved on. It wasn't tethered but evidently had no place to go, so wandered the acreage close to its home. Nobody of authority seemed to have noticed it, as we were off to one side at the end of the runway and the beast could have wandered into the path of an aircraft and caused an accident. Luckily it hadn't, or it would have been long gone. Good-deed doer Ruben Meyers lassoed it and tied it to a stalk of bamboo, provided water and feed of some sort from somewhere, pending further disposition. A C-47 taxied farther toward the end of the runway than usual, parked preparing to take off and warmed up the twin engines. Dust, dirt and gum wrappers, along with the two Sams- Flot and Jet- blew every which way, here and there, including into Ruben's animal's face. Well Sir, we could see that "Mulie" didn't like it, for it broke loose. Ruben ran to save his, uh, mule, but it was last seen gallopy-trot south on the parallel road toward Kohima. We hoped it found a loving home.
Our detachment had a pup acquired at Camp Pinedale and, as we were the 8th ABCD, we named him Eight Ball. We didn't take him when we left the States, because aboard ship he would have been too much to care for and to feed properly. I don't recall seeing any pets aboard any of the four ships on which I was transported. At Camp Kanchrapara, a GI from the 1st ABCD had a small monkey he kept on a tether. One time the animal got loose, went into a tent which Ruben Meyers was writing a letter, and grabbed a pen. "DROP IT!", Ruben explained and the monkey, startled, complied and fled the scene. About 1989, at a meeting of the General George W. Sliney Basha of San Francisco, I told the late Bob Gillespie about how I had asked the monkey's owner if I could hold him on my arm. When I did, in my so-called Donald Duck voice, I had said, "Hello, Joe". The monkey reached up and bopped me on the end of my nose with his little fist and jumped back to his master. "That was me", Bob said. "I bought him in New Market in Calcutta and I did name him Joe. When we were going to leave for China, I sold him to another GI and that was the last I heard of him." Another "It's a Small World" vignette, as true to life as possible.
A QUAINT AND QUIZZICAL FACT WORTH REMEMBERINGThe city of Calcutta was founded in August, 1690 by a British chap, Job Charnock. Ten years later the population was 10,000 and, in 1800, it was over 200,000. By the time World War II passed through town, several more people had taken up residence. Some in homes and apartments. Today? The count probably exceeds even that of Beautiful Downtown Burbank. But, who's counting?