By Robb Edmonds On my CBIVA cap I have a Chinese Army enlisted man's accoutrement, the familiar 12 point sun on a blue background. A ping (GI) offered it to me in exchange for an American cigarette (I had no other). I don't recall if he took the emblem off of his cap or if he had a spare in his pocket. I just hope he didn't get into trouble because it was "missing". And by now I'm sure he doesn't remember where it went in order to support a bad habit. American cigarettes were preferred everywhere we went outside of the U.S. The habit didn't fully grab me 'til post-war, but I carried a pack for bartering in North Africa and, later, in India and China. Copyrights, American in this case, were ignored in China. "What can they do to me?" Logos were blatantly copied and I remember the familiar Raleigh, Lucky Strike and Camel packet designs with Chinese brand names in "our" lettering. The only one that comes to mind was CHOY QUO CIGARETTE...I emptied the contents and sent the rest home. For testing, I fired one up and it was very mild and may not have been tobacco but more like dried lawn clippings...not that I ever tried any.
The CBI From A to Z- January 2010
Other than one Red Cross lady and the server in a portable British Canteen on a railway station platform during a brief stop crossing in India, I don't recall talking with a feminine person in India or China- no, not even "one of those". One night a four-letter male tile brought a poor, gap-toothed, unsanitary woman-for-rent to our tent area. Her caretaker could have taken a night school in merchandising. "World's oldest profession". "Oldest professionals", in some cases. Don't fire off a complaint to my boss (unless you want to). This subject matter is milder than what we have thrust upon us on cable and satellite TV- and dam' close through your roof-top antenna.
In a Chinese village near our former B-29 base I saw a small crowd of laughing children and adults gathered in front of a building. A "Punch and Judy" show was entertaining them but with an Asian cast of characters and voices and, naturally, I didn't understand any of it. I wondered if China was the origin of "Punch and Judy", if they got the idea from the Western World, or if "we" borrowed the whole lash up from them, 'way back? I tarried awhile, enjoying the show and observing the reaction of the audience where entertainment of any kind is rare. They do have devertisements (spelling notwithstanding) - and one large population to prove it.
It could have been in a combat zone anywhere we were engaged in "making the world safe for TV commercials". We read, possibly in YANK, of a lieutenant and a non-com driver in a jeep that hit a land mine. The officer was killed and the corporal was taken to an aid station, stripped, examined and found without so much as a scratch. The doctor reportedly took a scalpel and sliced the driver's bare heinie and recommended a Purple Heart, Believe it...or otherwise.
"Like a Hot Dog With Mustard, The Ledo Road Is American" is the source of this next bon mot, by Pvt. John McDowell, Ex-CBI Roundup, November 1944. He tells of a trip on the Ledo Road and stopping at Shingbwiyang's Metz Theater, where five American girls were putting on a USO show. When they featured a jitterbug contest on the stage with contestants from the audience, they picked a small, nimble GI with a conspicuous bald pate as the winner. His award was a kiss- not one of those casual pecks on the cheek, but a long, lusty osculation. The crowd roared its approval. Also known as "envy". We saw a show at Camp Kanchrapara, but nobody got kissed. It was all males from Special Service, Calcutta. Incidentally, Major Melvin Douglas was CO of Special Services for CBI. Yes, the movie Melvin Douglas.
At Shanghai there were disarmed Japanese soldiers in uniform. If there were any guards, they weren't obvious. Our former enemies were as anxious to go home as we were. They were going to run away? A number of civilians were preparing to leave and had set up shop, much like our street Fairs, to sell personal possessions they couldn't take with them. I bought a couple of kimonos for Mom. No "girl back home". Just lucky, I guess. I also sent home a fan (not electric. Hand held, folded up and had a design on it). Also a knick knack or two, suitable for not much but paperweights or dust catchers. The whole lash up set me back less than $5 (American) if I remember. Mom wore the robe for a housecoat for several years. No, not constantly...
Camp Kanchrapara (most of we Yanks pronounced it "Kanch-uh-PARE-uh". Local residents of the village said "Kanch-RAH-pa-RAH", and all of us pronounced it near unfit for human habitation. It was 28 miles north of Calcutta and I have an uncollected railway ticket with that data. We were quartered in tents provided by the British Army, two layers with about a six-inch air space between, which made them sort of cooler than our heavy canvas pyramidals. I think that the man that eventually invented the pressure cooker must have dwelt in one of our olive drab portable saunas. The detachment living next door was a Signal Corps unit like ours and one of their number was nicknamed "Goosie". We didn't give it any thought "why?" until one day he was standing outside his tent, gazing off at nothing, when a buddy (some chum) walked by and poked, AKA "Goosed", him in the ribs. He shouted "Drug store!", or whatever he happened to be thinking at the moment. When anyone wanted to know what was on his mind, they'd prompt him. Another time he came running down the path, laughing and jumping as another GI chased him and was reaching for a ticklish spot. And asp in the grass!, that's what.
One common denominator with us (we) CBI vets, we all had the India experience, even just passing through on our way to Burma or China. That chapter in our lives was punctuated by unpleasant things (NO!), including, for this dissertation, kraits (can you say "crates"? Go ahead). If we never saw one, we knew by being told that it is an extremely poisonous small snake. I heard that if one sank its fangs into any area of a victim, ol' vic' would be dead before hitting the ground- or matted jungle debris. Our base field telephone switchboard, about the size of a large tool box, was on a table with folding chair in juxtaposition. One morning when I relieved Ralph "Pop" Peirson, I noticed that sometime during the night a creepy krait had explored his shoes, or whatever they do- and Pop had stepped on it several times, from the looks of the flatness of the remains, but he was apparently unaware of his snakecide. I never told him but I kinda wish that I had, just to see his reaction. I think mine would have necessitated a change of laundry.
The P-40 was, perhaps, the greatest all purpose workhorse combat plane in history. CATF (China Air Task Force) had a single P-40 with a borrowed RAF camera which had seen service that did all of the Task Force's photo reconnaissance. When the newer P-51's arrived in the Fall of '44, Chennault's men were not sorry to see the old P-40's finally go. But, to the Chinese, the shark-nosed planes would forever be the symbol of their deliverance from the terror and horror or unrestricted Japanese bombing and of the sorely needed help that American fliers gave to China in the hours of critical need.
Wherever Yanks, or servicemen and women of any nationality, were stationed, pets were welcome companions. A bit hard to come by in the jungles or Pacific Islands, unless they came with them. Monkeys, dog, parrots, mongooses (great snake repellant), small bears (in Burma), just to suggest a few. They, no doubt, inspired one of my favorite book titles by a British soldier, "Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys and Fall In Facing the Boat." I doubt if it's on the internet, but might be worth a read if it is.
Not CBI, but in training for, at Camp Crowder, MO. We were off to a three night bivouac as part of our Signal Corps school finals. I was in a squad that moved out ahead. Out of sight of the main body, we were issued firecrackers and 30-caliber blank ammo for our Springfield Rifles. We were to ambush the main contingent. Around a bend in the dirt road I found a large tree stump straddling the roadside drainage ditch. Perfect concealment. The main body appeared and we "opened fire". They halted. Real bullets would have decimated them because they just stood there until the fearless leader yelled "TAKE COVER!" and they ran off the sides of the road. As I continued to fire and light firecrackers, a voice behind me asked, "What the hell's going on?" In my best Jerry Colonna vocal impression, I shouted between shots, "Ah-hah! So you're wondering, tooo!" A snicker. I glanced over my shoulder and there, hiding with me behind our concealment was a Bird Colonel, probably, and damn near certainly the Camp Commandant. When my firecrackers were all gone, I turned to apologize but he had left. I never saw him again. Whew!
Had your T.S. Card punched lately? T.S. for "Tough Situation", for the edification of non-military readers. When one complained about something of anything service-connected or just conditions that prevailed, theoretically we had all been issued a T.S. card and were told to go see the Chaplain, unload your woes on his broad shoulders and he, with a ticket punch, supposedly put a hole in it to validate your visit. Whenever anyone bemoaned his fate, someone was bound to say "Punch, punch!" Paul Spencer, San Francisco, has been Chaplain of the General George W. Sliney Basha (CBI Vets) for many years and, in an informal ceremony, was presented with a ticket punch. There was a bit of explaining to do to the bewildered spouses and guests. OK, in case you don't "get it", the card and punch were imaginary.
An Aerial mine? Sounds like a shaft in a mountain where they dig for air. The term IS misleading, right? Briefly, it is an underwater mine used for shipping interference, but instead of the mind fields being laid by surface aircraft, aerial mines are dropped from aircraft. The system has many obvious advantages, being more rapid, offering practically an unlimited range of operations, and permitting repeated replacement of mined areas without hazard to the dropping surface craft from previously l aid mines. That really makes more sense (but what doesn't) than the hole in the ground theory. This interesting info is from a Roundup article, June, 1945. Author unknown.
Marv "Dinty" Dintenfass and I wandered the sidewalks of Calcutta's main drag in search of adventure. Well, a movie, at least. Being a warm day, he had his shirtsleeves rolled up a couple of turns. "Out of uniform", the MP's that confronted us, called it. They marched Marv off to a courtyard for a half-hour of close order drill in the hot sun with three or four other lawbreakers. You might say (go ahead) that I got punished too, because all I could do was lean against a wall and watch them until their sins were forgiven. If they had extended the drill a couple of hours I could have gone to find a movie and come back later. NOW I think of it.
Although I saw and experienced a bit more of India and China than I really wanted to at the time, there are a few scenic vistas and world famous sights I am sorry I didn't see nor experience. (So much for a one sentence lead-in) I missed the Taj Mahal, the Ledo/Burma Road, the Himalaya Mountains (we flew over and among them at night with our backs to the windows of a C-46), Mount Everest, the Toy Train to Darjeeling, Bombay, to name just a few without consulting a picture book. We docked at Bombay after dark and debarked directly to the train on the pier. I used to call it "dock" until I learned that is the space between piers or jetty, or whatever, that is 99% water and 1% yuck and ick. I'm not going back at this late date (and bankroll) so shall be content with photos of the places and things that I missed.
Before we left Shanghai (an not a moment too soon), I thought it would be "fun" to take small bills for tips where Chinese food was served back home. (Along with proper U.S. currency, of course). It didn't take much to entertain me. The rate of exchange was unbelievable. The highest I remember now was 4500 CNC (China National Currency?) to one American dollar. I'm sure that, by then, it was even higher. Walt and I went into a bank, thinking the teller would give us change but, when we made our request, we were ushered into the Bank President's office. We sat and tea was served while a teller went to get our change. We had asked for 5's and 10's. Meanwhile we had time to casually inspect our surroundings. Most memorable was the desk, which was huge, dark and highly polished wood, with a country scene that covered the entire front, complete with farmers and water buffaloes. We each had enough "tips" and souvenirs to last a long time.
After Action Report, Burma: Only six tanks had been in action before. Some of the (Chinese) drivers had only seven hours of driving experience. Some of them were children who vehemently claimed they were 17, but, who, on medical examination, had proved to be not more than twelve! Most of them had been recruited from the poor fields of Szechwan only a few months before and had never seen a tank, nor an automobile. Not even a screwdriver. Some Americans that were going with them on this battle initiation weren't even combat men. The vehicles were manned by mechanics, electricians and former gas station attendants. Their mission: find and destroy a small enemy patrol, which turned out to be a full battalion of one of Nipon's crack jungle divisions. There were casualties on our side, loss of two tanks and a bulldozer (later retrieved and repaired). With the help of a battalion of Chinese infantry of the 22nd Division that ran to the rescue, victory was hard won. So, how was your war?
Camp Kanchrapara's roads were little over a one lane wide. Fortunately there was a fairly broad shoulder on each side- fortunately, except when turned to oatmeal by monsoon rains. I was ordered to a cleanup detail at the Red Cross Club, but the "army way" being what it is, two other dog faces were there first and had the sweep down completed. So, we each chose a dog-eared magazine to wile away the remainder of our "volunteer" time. The nice Red Cross lady chose me to take the British lorry- about the size of our weapons carriers, to a warehouse to pick up supplies. This was my first, and only, experience with a right hand drive vehicle and shifting with my left hand. The truck had a snub nose with most of the engine between the two bucket seats (which didn't fit my bucket). Off I went in a shower of gear teeth. At first I had a little difficulty staying on the pavement, but by the time I appeared (to others) to have sobered up, I was back at the club. Intact.
In addition to my assigned military spec (AKA "MOS", Military Occupation Specialty), I was also our unit's mail clerk and, when no mail had arrived at the base post office (if any) or HQ, the useless question was, "How come no mail today?" My answer was, of course, "I don't know", or "Beat's the sawdust (yeah, right) outta me." Somehow, as much as we moved around, mail caught up with us within a few days after our arrival, wherever it was. Even at our 19-day stopover in Oran, Algeria, mail was waiting for us that had accumulated while we were en route from California. Bless the fellas (and maybe WAC's in the U.S.) of the APO (Army Post Office) for an outstanding job.
I often- well, every ten years or so- muse on how someone, possibly in a barrack or Navy sleeping quarters, woke to the sound of a bugle or whistle and shouted sleepily, "grab your socks!" Yet another coined "S.O.S." (Something On a Shingle) when served creamed chip beef on toast. I'm sure you can think of more examples of slang in the service. The point being, how common (and that's the word in many cases) catch phrases and naughty nouns spread from one camp to all others or ship-to-ship, started by just one person. If you don't wish to think about it…don't.
Boyd Sinclair, a CBI Veteran (too), wrote a twelve volume series entitles (Confusion Beyond Imagination", which the experience certainly was. This set my imagination in gear for more translations of CBI: Constantly Being Inconvenienced Couldn't Believe It Cold Breakfasts Inevitable Chewed By Insects And the Brits got into the act with Corn Beef Indefinitely.
ON THE ROAD TO CBIMany of us that crossed the Atlantic by boat had a stopover in Oran, Algeria, North Africa. GI's returning from a day on the town waited for the shuttle bus in front of the Continental Hotel. We noticed a swabby (USN) in tropical whites with brown shoes, obviously in a semi-state of alcoholic euphoria, surrounded by a group of laughing soldiers. I asked what was so funny and was told that their buddy had swapped uniforms with an equally befuddled sailor, but their shoes didn't fit. Too bad we couldn't have found out what had happened at the camp and on the ship.
During my tenure as columnist for the Ex-CBI Roundup, which has now ceased publication as a magazine, I received a couple of comments from readers that were complimentary. I got only one that gently took me to task for misspelling (allegedly) the name of a town. I bravely and generously accepted the blame for copying it correctly, all 13 or 14 letters, from my source. The point is, yes, there is one...there were many names of places we heard but didn't see in print, right or wrong. And, many names in CBI have been changed; Burma to Myanmar, Bombay to Mumbai, as a couple of for instances, since WWII. Also, in all three countries, China, Burma, and India, there are sometimes two or three variations of names, all of which are acceptable. Wasn't it classical composer Jan Sibelius who said, "Pay no attention to critics. You've never seen a statue erected for critics."