By Robb Edmonds Air crews for Hump flights from Chabua India to Kunming, China normally consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and radio operator, with an occasional flight by the crew chief to check out his aircraft. If not required to help on aircraft maintenance on the field, he could relax and be ready to meet his plane when it returned. It also made an additional 250 pounds available for important cargo when he "stayed home". 250 pounds? They could have left two of me "home", had I been a crew chief, which I wasn't. After the base at Chabua had been established, two FOLLOW ME vehicles were added to direct incoming planes to designated parking places. Each vehicle had that sign on the rear that could be lighted at night. They also had radio contact with the tower and the aircraft. I remember reading a short item in YANK about a jeep with FOLLOW ME sign for the strip on a coral island in the Pacific. At the end of the runway there was a sharp drop-off and the jeep driver was looking over his shoulder at the following plane and…right! KERSPLOOOSH!!! The vehicle with the headlights still aglow could be seen in the crystal clear water, ten feet under. No, I wasn't the driver. Sounds like something I would do, though.
The CBI From A to Z- March 2010
The late Hugh Crumpler, Ex-CBI Roundup columnist for many years, was a war correspondent in CBI. As the guest speaker at a CBIVA National reunion, he told of being aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to witness the formal Japanese surrender. He bemoaned the fact that no women from any of the services, WAC, SPAR, WAVES and Lady Marines, were represented. Missing, too, was a prominent officer. General MacArthur looked for and asked, "Where's Claire Chennault?" He was in Europe on his way home from CBI to the US. The Japanese had labeled him as their number one war criminal, even above Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chennault later said, "I never had any trouble with the Japanese. It was Washington I had to worry about!"
For a Signal Corps corporal that served his country installing and repairing EE8A field telephones and, as a lineman, a parachute seems a bit incongruous. The poles and trees we used for poles weren't all that tall. We were issued those silk life preservers prior to our one and only Hump flight. Although the odds are pretty good that I won't ever again wear a 'chute, it doesn't cost anything to remember the instructions. If you're going down in the jungle, keep your feet close together so you won't straddle a limb and do yourself a mischief. If you're going to land in water, as you approach, unfasten the harness straps that go between your legs. You are now hanging by the ones under your armpits. Unfasten the buckle on your chest, push your hands to your wrists in the harness that goes over your shoulders. Just before impact with the dampness, push your arms the rest of the way through the harness by spreading them wide. You'll fall free of the 'chute which would otherwise drag you under. This précis brought to mind a bit of humor: A farmer went out to talk with a new arrival in his wheat field. "I sure admire your paratroopers that jump in a heavy wind like this." "I'm not a paratrooper. I went up in a TENT!"
On our trips to town, someone usually brought back the Hindustan Standard, an English language newspaper from Calcutta. I even read the ads and found this one from October, 1944. I counted 35 1/2 lines, very small (1 point) letters, one column wide, so the following is just a smidgen of the text. Truth in advertising, to the max?
REWARD 500 POUNDS"Octogen (vitamin tonic) makes a man or woman look and feel 15 to 20 years younger than their actual age...it darkens whitish grey hair permanently for life and gives natural new teeth to the old man...Octogen was tried in Switzerland upon an emaciated male patient aged above 100 years. By one month's regular use of this marvelous preparation, this patient of 100 years gained the health of a 30 year old man." It must be gospel, because the clincher is: "A cash reward of 500 pounds will be awarded to any scientist or medical man or any of the public that proves the inefficiency of this wonderful invention. Price Rs 51 only." A rupee was 33 and 1/3 cent American in 1944. Drat. No address (in England). I'd like to try a gallon.
In the beginning there were no assigned altitudes for Hump flights. No designated routes and no radio or navigation aids. Until months later when this was corrected, nobody knew how many collisions there were, only reports of planes that never reached their destination. On our one and only Hump flight as passengers, it was a smooth night trip and uneventful, until the bottom dropped out. When we regained level flight at a much lower altitude, the Crew Chief, who had been standing behind the pilot of our C-46, came back and sat next to Woody Paige (Borger, TX) and told him he had narrowly avoided a head-on when another ship came at us out of the darkness. Blacked out with no running lights on either ship. One of us was at the wrong altitude, he said. Luckily, the mutual evasive action was not in the same direction. That was January 29, 1945. Our destination was Kunming, China. If the scenario had been tragic, Ignatz Vanderschnort might be writing this section of our website…and doing a dam' fine job of it, too.
We had two cooks in our self-sufficient detachment, but after we arrived at a camp or airstrip we saw them only at night when they came home to roost. They were always up early but not bright and were assigned to the mess hall to work with cooks from other units- if any. When they got "home" at night they usually hit the sack to be ready for another shift the next A.M. What an existence! The other four occupants of the tent or bashas found quiet activities, or went elsewhere for conversation. Mike Garbowski had retired and I got up to leave and, as an afterthought, I asked Teddy Mauricio, "Does it bother you when everyone complains about the food?" Before he could answer, Mike sat bolt upright, out of character, and asked, "Did somebody complain about the food?" To this day I still don't know if he was serious, which he almost always was, or so exhausted he merely thought he heard a negative comment.
Every time I put on my shoes- well, not every time…where was I going with this? Oh, yeah. When I look at my feet I think back and realize these pedal extremities (mostly with shoes on) have disturbed the dust and mud of North Africa, India and China in some areas where today's tourists don't visit. Everyday, with a "Drat!" memories of the war years grow dimmer and seem like they never really happened, but I made up my mind (before I lost it in Vegas making mental bets) that I'd bring enough of those adventures to the surface in case they ever invented websites. And a magazine nonpareil named "Ex-CBI Roundup." So far one memory, even someone else's gleaned from research, begets one of my own. Not as interesting or perilous, for sure, but enough to help fill these spaces with, I hope, readability. Thank you. Turn out the lights when you leave.
Chaos on the high (REALLY High) seas: Aboard the MS Maloja, July 8, 1944: Luckily everyone I observed had their sea legs by now because we experienced the heaviest swells in the Indian Ocean I had ever seen. A Liberty ship about 100 yards to starboard disappeared into the troughs between waves until just the uppermost part of the superstructure was visible. At Aden we had picked up a contingent of Free French Navy men and a group of about six of them sat in a circle on the deck behind me playing cards. I was leaning on the rail looking down at the heavy sea, when a special delivery wave hit the Moloja broadside. All I saw was a wall of water coming up the side of the shop toward my unprotected facial area and I instinctively let go of the rail and turned away, just as the ship rocked violently to port. The next thing I knew I was running uncontrollably (I could do it in those days) downhill across the deck with our French allies directly in my path. I had no option but to hurdle one of them- but a tad too low. I kicked one poor guy in the side of the head and sent his cap flying. I continued and literally slammed into the bulkhead (wall), cushioned a little by my outstretched hands. I looked around and many of our India-bound chaps were picking themselves up from the deck and laughing. I hurried back to the sailor, picked up his cap and returned it to him. I apologized and rubbed the side of this head in lieu of being able to speak French. He indicated "That's OK" (I hoped), but I fear begging forgiveness while laughing didn't sound very sincere. On the Bible, Moe.
Our first troop train from Bombay to Calcutta had the "luxury" of a boxcar with field kitchen. Portable stove and all, well mostly all, the equipment necessary to provide meals. The coaches had no connecting doors at the blunt ends, so at chow time, the train had to pull off to a siding or, if double track, stop so we could line up to get hot water from the engine for coffee and, at other times for shaving or a sponge bath. At one stop about 25 yards away, a gang of coolies was working on the other track. Counting or rearranging the rocks between ties or something. The foreman and another man came along with a two cylinder utility cart and, as he passed, destination unknown to us, each worker stopped and Salammed with a bow. Lord High Foo looked straight ahead and appeared not to notice the admiration of his gandy dancers. Our first encounter with the caste system?
Can you forget the cement sized crackers that were included in the K ration package? Try. Four graham cracker sized (there the resemblance ends), wrapped in wax paper. Tooling along at a blistering 20 mph on the Bengal and Assam RR (Roach Residence), a GI at one of the windows noticed we were approaching an elderly gentleman (closing speed 20.2 MPH). The sojer leaned out and tossed a package of hard tack saying, "Here ya go, Joe!" The missile hit the poor guy in the chest and broke open. When last seen, he was crawling around picking up the manna from heaven. In spite of the pain and nasty bruise, he probably appreciated the addition to his daily diet. And the donor appreciated the opportunity to do a good deed.
Do you remember seeing boys in India holding their fingers in a "V"? Obviously they didn't know our alphabet, but that was their way of asking for a cigarette. Winston Churchill often appeared in photos flashing the familiar "V for Victory", with his palm forward. Occasionally (intentionally?) he did it with the back of his hand forward the cameras and populace. That's the same as our rude display of just one finger. (Showing our IQ?) Did we detect a note of recidivist heterodoxy?
A former sergeant wrote to Ex-CBI Roundup and said he had been told that General Stilwell would be arriving by train to visit the base, so he drove a car to the station to pick him up. A Lt. Colonel went up to "Vinegar Joe" and quipped, "General Stilwell, I presume." When the sergeant saw them approaching on the pedestrian bridge over the tracks he "snapped to" and opened the car door for General Joe. The Colonel told Sarge to step aside and took over the doorman duty. Nose up and locked, as pilots often advised on takeoff.
We had been at Hankow Air Base, where a Jap ammunition dump blew up the day before, necessitating an overnight stay while our C-47 was commandeered to take wounded to Shanghai. When we arrived over the Kaingwan Air Base, instead of landing, our plane made two or three circles, very low, over downtown Shanghai. Why? Who knew? A sightseeing trip for someone in the cockpit? Atanyrate, we were 25 feet, well, not much higher, and I felt a pang of pity (is there any such thing?) for the population below. I'm sure our transport must have sounded as if it was coming in one window and going out the back door. It was a bumpy, uncomfortable ride and about the time I thought my stomach was going to rebel, we entered the glide path for a smooth landing. We debarked and stood in formation to take our mind off of the recent war until a Bird Colonel arrived in a command car. He was for sure a Hollywood-looking officer with immaculate Class "A" uniform and swagger stick under his left arm. From his mouth beneath a perfectly waxed moustache came welcoming phrases. How nice of him. Not necessary, really. Hot sun and all.
In the northeast area of India is Manipur State, where we provided ground communications for the air strip personnel on our side of the runway, which housed the 3rd Squadron, 1st Combat Cargo Group. The west side belonged to a Canadian RAF Hurricane fighter flight that flew cover for our C-47's as they air dropped supplies and ammo to combat troops in Burma. Any time our detachment wasn't on duty, we could volunteer to go along on the drops and kick parapacks out of the removed rear door. I'm not really sorry I stayed earthbound. It sounded like an exciting adventure. They called them "kickers" but, properly, they were Dispatchers, a dangerous position because they stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the plane's interior, easy targets for Japanese small arms fire and anti-aircraft bursts. Dispatchers kicked and shoved those heavy bundles, some on pallets, out the door manually or by sitting on the floor and boosting them out with their feet, hence "kickers". They had no safety belts nor tethers and occasionally one went out with the drop. I didn't know all this at the time, but I still wouldn't have volunteered. Mother didn't raise any dumb kids- and I'm one of them.
Years ago I read of a soldier, we'll call him "Joe", in Assam that received aspirin from home. He also had prescribed pills from the dispensary and kept them both in the same small box. To keep them separate, he took a pencil and marked the meds with an X, as both were the same size and color. A Basha mate confessed that he had borrowed three aspirin while "Joe" was on duty and asked why some of them were marked with an X. "Oh, that's potassium cyanide, in case I get captured." When his buddy turned ashen of complexion, "Joe" laughed and told him the real reason. Ho, Ho, that's rich!
Here's one that bears repeating. And, if you haven't heard it before, or have forgotten if you have, it's new. Just remember: No man, in days of yore
Could say, when Adam told a joke,
"I've heard THAT one before!" Eavesdropping at a Milwaukee CBIVA luncheon meeting: 75-year old vet: "Herman, do you remember when we were in the service that saltpeter was put in our food so we wouldn't think about sex?" Second vet, same age: "Yep. Why?" First guy, again: "Well, you know what. I think it's starting to work!" That was a well-worn rumor, but nobody I know could prove it to be true.