By Robb Edmonds I went to the Base Provost Marshal's Office...no, I wasn't in trouble. I don't remember the reason but, in the service, I always, well, almost always- behaved. I knew the PM would send a note to my mother and I'd be in real trouble. That is not the subject of this précis. While waiting for the clerk I looked at a framed 8 x 10 photo on the wall. The caption merely told the date and location of the incident and no other details. An army command car (sedan) was passing a tank as the tread on that side locked and the huge juggernaut spun a 180 with the other tread rolling from hood to tail light and stopped on top of the outmatched pride from Detroit. And that's Detroit, the whole troit, and nothing but Detroit. (Thanks to whomever I swiped that from).
The CBI From A to Z- May 2010
I went to HQ to sign some papers, along with a lot of other GI's. We sat on benches waiting for our name to be called to the counter, pen in hand. One of the "waitees" I had noticed before because he didn't seem to be aware that the headband inside his plastic helmet liner could be adjusted and was too small. This caused the dome piece of sit high on his head and wobble when he walked. This, combined with a naturally blank look in his beady eyes, made him stand out from the multitudes. The following names are fictitious, even though I do remember his true moniker. The clerk behind the counter intoned, "Robinson? Robinson?...John Robinson?" Ignatz finally stood and walked to the counter. "Robinson?" "Oh, no. Walker." And returned to sit down again. Well, the names DID sound similar. Great Scott! So to speak.
The New Year's Eve before I was drafted I was on Hollywood Blvd with a friend and, as we got to the Warner Brother's Theater, an usher was out front announcing a special stage show in addition to the movie. Fifty cents was a bit steep, but we went in. The live show featured specialty acts and the girls from the Earl Carrol Theater. One of the featured bits was a record pantomimist. I'd been doing that at home for my own amusement and though I had invented the idea. But, this fella was good at it. Jump forward to Hsinching, China, where I was a staffer on AFRS XJOY. One day while I was off duty I was in the office watching Fred Zolonis through the window to the studio where he was on the air. He put on a V Disk featuring Danny Kaye singing "Deenah", so I pantomimed it for his admiration. Chief Engineer Ed Bales saw me and, that evening, asked me to go along to the post theater where he was to set up the sound system for a visiting soldier show. He asked me to take the standing mic to center stage and, without warning, he put "Deenah" on the turntable. So I lip synched the lyrics. The theater was just beginning to fill and the audience was sparse and, I assumed, because I wasn't introduced, some of them looked a tad bewildered but applauded politely as I headed off the stage. A star is born? Not bloody likely, but it was fun.
Lloyd Connell, in "Recollections of a GI in Burma", tells how Chinese laborers (troops) built bridges. They would "often have to go quite a way from the bridge site to find suitable trees. They would cut the tree into logs that were the proper length, then with a system of cross pieces under them, got enough men around it to physically carry it to the bridge site. Then, by hand, with axes, adzes and hand saws, they would trim the logs into the desired timber. When it was finished, it was so straight and true and square that is was hard to tell that it hadn't been formed in a mill." OK, so could you have done it? Be thankful you didn't have to.
The late Past National Commander of the CBIVA, Dr. Jack Hardeback, got into print in the Winter 2000 "Sound Off" with this report: "In a spoof of 'Airplane Drivers', former CBI war correspondent, Hugh Crumpler, told the Col. Paul L. Jones Basha in San Diego, that the Air Command assigned GI's as parking attendants at air bases and strips throughout the theater because pilots got lost on the ground and next morning couldn't remember where they had parked their aircraft. As proof of this, the GI parking attendants arrived before every arriving plane with a jeep carrying a sign on the rear that read, FOLLOW ME in letters two feet high. "It was a message that most- at least some- airplane drivers could read and understand", Crumpler said. "One of the pilots drove right off the strip (without a guide) and parked in front of an installation housing 30 Flight Nurses. Another pilot located his plane when Tokyo Rose said in a broadcast that 'When the sun came up this morning, his C-47 was parked in front of the Grand Hotel in Calcutta!'"
When I was posted (that's British military talk) to a permanent detachment, our CO appointed me to be the mail clerk. When I went to the post office of HQ to pick up the mail, I also sometimes bought PX supplies (they paid me back or no "next time") when we were off the base on training exercises. On the Leland Stanford from the States to North Africa, I was the Special Services "Officer", (a Corporal Colonel?), responsible for distributing games and reading material to our guys. I did such an outstanding job- either that or nobody else wanted the title and duty- I was permanent. I still have a couple of special edition books that were returned after they had made the rounds. Honest, I never pulled rank, nor did I get mumps above my ears because of the lofty title.
In a letter to his parents from China, William Hames wrote, in part: "Shortly after we settled into the rice paddies, some Japanese planes, flying low, dropped bombs on some of our fighter planes parked near our bombers. The next morning, a few of our Chinese workers were killed when they examined an unexploded small bomb and shook it to hear the internal rattle. In the process they caused it to explode." That sort of thing happened when the mid-twentieth century came to an eighteenth century peasant population. They could never quite understand, even when warned that bad things happen if they didn't listen and believe what we told them.
When Myitkyina, Burma, was finally wrested from Japanese control, a Railway Shop Battalion had its work cut out for them when clearing the rail yard and tracks of wrecked and damaged rolling stock and, in addition: The water tank and tower had miraculously escaped destruction, although the GI's counted 699 bullet holes. These were arc welded shut from the inside. The Japs had plugged many earlier holes with chunks of wood and many were tight enough so the welders left well enough alone. "699 holes?" Couldn't they have made a rough guess to save more time for the welding? Or did they?
Before Pearl Harbor, many of us who were eligible for military service had never been outside the U.S., or very far from home while growing up. I, for one, had been to Boulder Dam (under construction), and that was the farthest from our home in Los Angeles I had been until my number came up in the draft. Then I was sent to Florida for basic training, about as far from the west Coast as possible. That sort of discouraged any thoughts of skipping out and heading for home. Not that I had any inclinations of that sort. Everything was new to this 19-year old and I wanted to stick around to find out what in thunderation (how picturesque) was going to happen next. Then came India and China, where "next" happened frequently. In Burma, just south of Myitkyina, Frank Tozer (Felton, CA) and another sergeant were in a jeep following the Chinese Army truck with troops that sat at attention facing each other on parallel benches, rifles between their knees and pointing upward. The truck had no tail gate and when the wheels dipped into a large chuckhole, the hindmost "ping" flipped out and lay motionless in the road. The jeep braked, but the yoyos in the truck merely looked back at their buddy but didn't cry out as the truck disappeared down the pike. Frank and friend picked the unconscious man up and placed him on the hood to take him to the nearest aid station They wondered if the poor victim would be AWOL when he was discovered missing? Yep, whatever was going to "happen next", always did.
A group of GI's from another nearby tent challenged our detachment to a volleyball game during our stopover at Oran, North Africa. Our CO jeeped to Fleures, the nearby village, with a jerry can and returned with gallons of yummy (Ugh!) red wine to fuel the athletes. Jerry Cincotta, Walt Tegan and I didn't drink anything stronger than water from a Lister Bag (again, Ugh!) and watched the game gradually deteriorate to pratfalls and missed opportunities (by a mile) anytime the ball was anywhere on their side of the net. We three left to seek the outdoor movie theater, and when we returned a few hours later, everyone was asleep. Temporarily. I had just sacked out when, as if Toscanini had given the downbeat, there was a choir of Harbor Seals yelling "RALLLLLPH!" Such sounds coming from 24 American solders in chorus caused unrestrained laughter. Mine. As quietly as possible. Somewhere, off in the distance, one poor soul was asking, "Why? Blawfff! Why?" Well, we three paid for our abstinence. Next morning, Harry, our company clerk, came into our tent, trailing noxious fumes, and informed the three of us that our buddies that were assigned to KP couldn't make it and we were to report to the chow place. That evening, when we returned, we were told the detachment had moved to billets away from all of these mess tents.
At Tulihal Air Strip (Imphal), a Combat Cargo group and Canadian Hurricane fighter squadron occupied the field. Two (2) mornings in a row I awoke to the sound of voices. My basha mates were returning both times from an interlude in the slit trenches outside. Twice, Jap planes arrived overhead, but the valley was completely socked in by heavy ground fog. The bad guys took their bombs home, rather than waste them, possibly, on a target they couldn't see. If it weren't for Tokyo Rose broadcasting that our area had been bombed with heavy loss of life, mentioning units by number and personnel by name, I might have thought my companions-in-peril (not!) had played a joke on me and merely told me I slept through two successive aborted air raids. At least they didn't lie, even if Tokyo Rose did.
At Camp Crowder, MO, we ate at picnic style tables where the entrees were in serving bowls and on platters. When the green flag dropped (not really….needed a picturesque description here), we took the bowl in front of us, scooped or forked out a ration and passed it on. I started with mash potatoes, then the gravy, and sent them along to my right. When I took that first bite I discovered the "gravy" was butterscotch pudding! Too late to shout a warning (silently), so I just watched everyone else at the table do the same thing. Luckily, nobody seemed to have noticed who started this revolting booboo. This memory surfaced yesterday when I put butterscotch topping on my ice cream. On purpose.
Watching a cop directing traffic in downtown Calcutta was a pleasant and interesting way to bide a wee. (I hope that's not naughty. I think it means to stick around a spell). Usually they were stationed in the middle of an intersection on a raised small platform or box, some with an umbrella to shield them from the sun and, in monsoon season, pelting rain. What made the duty interesting was the comparative pace of the taxis, trucks, rickshas, bullock carts and pedestrians. I, personally, never witnessed a mishap amid all the confusion. The cops were almost all of the Sikh class, fierce warriors, bearded and always with a turban. They usually worked as doormen and other jobs that were better suited to coolies and lower castes.
From the daily diary or historical record of the 1905 Engineer Battalion, O.J. Taylor, Editor: Just the facts: Did you know that until 1937, Burma was part of India? In 1885, British troops captured Mandalay, and the following year, Great Britain made Burma a province of India. I agree. Gee, that's interesting! As we choose to continue to call it Burma, the name we knew it (by), I did locate the source of the present name, Myanmar. The full name of the country in Burmese is...ready? Pyee-Daung-Su-Myanama-Nainggan, meaning The Republic of the Union of Burma. Myanmar (pronounced, if you want to) MEE-an-mar. It seems to be a derivation of Myanama. Possibly of interest to they who served in "that festering of paradise", as one called it who was there.
Our C.O., stationed in downtown metropolitan Chengtu, with part of our detachment, rotated we who were in detached service at surrounding air bases. My turn came eventually to work a daily two week stint on the main telephone switchboard. In my "off time" I was "on my own". One afternoon, I heard a squeak and squawk (to my accidental- or on purpose- ears). So I looked over the low wall into the yard beyond. An elderly gentleman sat on a bench under a tree with a "Hu chee" (I've since read a different name) played with a bow on two strings. The sounding board was a 4-inch section of bamboo with snakeskin stretched over the openings. A stock with tuning keys went north from that. I can picture it, why can't you? I eventually found a for-tourists model in a village shop but left it behind when I went back to "my" air base at H'sinching. I couldn't even play Mairzie Doats on the thing.
"Burn A Pole". A term used to describer hugging a phone pole- or tree trunk- and rocketing to the ground when your foot or feet slip after or during climbing to the top to secure telephone line when installing or repairing it. Sorry, that's the best I can describe it…. Now, it came to pass I was following a line on a China base attempting to locate a break. To do that, every hundred yards where you can't see every foot of wire, a climb to hook up the field phone (EE8A) and give the crank a heckuva yank to find out who will answer. Switchboard, you're not to the damage, phone at the other end, you're past it. On this excursion I was soon joined by for young Chinese lads who watched my every move. Trees were few and far between, so any over 8 or 10 feet were utilized. This one was about 6 inches in diameter at the ground and got progressively smaller toward the top. The "climbers" are metal strap iron that strap below the knees and, with a sharp, pointed spike at foot level that encountered a smaller and smaller target as I gained altitude. You know it. I missed and found myself "burning the pole", instinctively hugging the trunk in a senseless effort to stop- or at least slow down. Those spikes leave splinters pointing north and, as I slid south, I got lumbah in my rhumba. The kids probably thought I did it for their amusement and they laughed. What could I do? I joined them. But I wasn't sincere. When I found the break it was, and still is, a puzzle devoutly not to be wished. The two poles were opposite each other on the dikes separating flooded rice paddies. The line was down in the water and submerged between them so, when I pulled the ends out there was an 8 foot or so gap. I had a coil of wire with me, spliced it in, details in a plain brown envelope on request, and completed the job. How that gap was formed that far above the water I have never been able to fathom. A possibility, this was a pursuit plane field and maybe a low-flying P-51 chopped the chunk out of the span with its prop or landing gear on its way to Wherever ( a suburb of Damifiknow).
Recently (that's anytime this year) I was looking for something else and I found a copy of an original Confidential map of Route Oboe and Love (O & L), eastbound, and Route King (K), westbound for aircraft flying the Hump. It has a wealth of vital information for pilots, radio ops and navigation, including the many check points. SM = Statute Miles from one to the next; elevation, code name (2 letters, as FC for Myitkyina), the beacon ID and tower code name and letters. A for instance, you beg for? Tulihal, Assam, where I was stationed for three months is OM, elevation is 2500', Beacon 780 OPM, Tower 6440 Corsair, and was 131 SM at 256 degrees from Shamshernagar, elev 55; Beacon 1660 BX, tower 225 BX. The route eastbound went through Kurmatola Control, Chabua Control, Jorhat Control, Myitkyina Control, Chengtu Control and ending at CU Hsinching Control. Of course, westbound was the same but last to first (here) and with different check points and data. Open book test tomorrow, 0900, Room 3.