The CBI From A to Z- November 2009

By Robb Edmonds

As of January, 1945, the CBI (India and China, but not Burma) was "home" to 287 ladies of the WAC, Women's Air Corps. In every theater of operations in which a total of 7,000 served, they showed they could contribute to the effective operations of higher headquarters in those many parts of the world. (Just two WACs) served in the Pacific Ocean area.)

Before WAC units arrived in the theaters, officers on the "welcoming committee" often were concerned about the extra trouble required in housing and caring for female personnel. Visions of disciplinary, health, and morale problems caused some commanders to hesitate in requesting them.

The experience of the WAC overseas soon showed that most of the fears were groundless.

Thanks to Jo Shupe's "History of the AAF in World War II".

In Calcutta, any WAC on pass or business may have seen me approaching and went "that-a-way". I don't recall seeing any of them…first.


To build the Ledo Road - or any - "from scratch", a survey party had to keep ahead of the construction crews. The advance group consisted of a divisional engineer, an intelligence sergeant and a couple of additional men. The captain (for instance) used the transit, sort of a small telescope mounted on a tripod. The sergeant held the stadia. That's a method of determination of distances and differences in elevation on a rod or staff with graduated lines and numbers. Another crew member recorded the readings, then, back at camp, he transferred the numbers to a map showing the prospective road center line, with cuts and fills that bulldozer operators used to shape the road.

There! That's sufficient information so you can build a path from your back door to your compost heap. Worked for me.

Many of us had our first trip by air in a C-47. Our communication detachment rode bareback (no chute) from Barrackpore to Sylhet, Assam, then on to Tulihal. Then, over the next 15 months, in three stages to Shanghai. This outstanding airplane had many names, set many records, and scored many "firsts" (including being flipped upside down and recovering during a violent - is that the word? - storm over the Hump). It has flown more miles (there are a few still airworthy and "working"), has amassed more flying time, carried more passengers and cargo than any other aircraft in history.

It was known by many (good) names: Douglas Aircraft Corp. called the DC-3 "Sky Train". To commercial airlines it was "The Three". U.S. Air Force, the C-47 and, by some, the "Dizzy Three". The U.S. Navy (want to test your memory?). The British called it the "Dakota".

Wherever it was on the ground warming up, taxiing or in flight, day or night, when we hear those twin engines, we knew it was a C-47.

Oh yes, the USN called it the "R.D."

I didn't realize until after my first commercial flight at home that in the CBI, not one Crew Chief stood at the door as we disembarked, saying, "Good bye. Thank you for flying C.N.A.C."

A few more facts of the C-47, one name we neglected to include, "Gooney Bird". It had a crew of three: Pilot, Co-Pilot, Crew Chief and two cabin crew. That's five, isn't it? My source says "Three". So be it.

It was able to deliver 27 troops or 10,000 pounds of cargo.

Powered by two Pratt & Whitney 1,250 hp R-2830 radial engines.

Maximum speed, 230 mph; cruising speed: 180 mph.

Flying ceiling: 23,000 feet.

Cost: $138,000.

And began military service in 1941.

And that's that.

Until the 60's when I began to gain a few pounds, I was below my normal weight for my height. As a result, I had several (printable) nicknames bestowed upon me: "String Bean", "Slim", "Stretch", and the one I liked best hung on me by my British GI friends in Assam, "Lofty".

I was a tad self-conscious about my measurements, 22, 22, 22, and almost always wore long trousers, because, as Phyllis Diller said, "My legs don't go all the way up." However, the heat and humidity of daytime India forced me to wear shorts and go shirtless when out of the sun. This exposed the fact that above the waist I looked like a broken umbrella, and below, like a pair of pliers. (Straighten 'em out and I'd be 6'5".)

I'd continue but Pat, my wife by marriage, just hid my joke book.

Accepted as logical fact: "Neither we nor the Japs flew fighters in this mountainous (Burma) area after dark. Both parties would simply get lost and a missing airman and plane to either side was unthinkable. While we were "combat expendable", we were not foolishly risked. Contrary to Hollywood's portrayal, we were never asked to do the impossible."

So sayeth, in print, Don Taylor, December 1988 Roundup.

Did you know (I didn't) that Mahatma Ghandi had a son, Hiralal? (See? I don't know everything, after all.) He turned against his father and Hinduism, of which Ghandi was a fervent apostle. Hiralal became a Moslem- and worse, took to drink. Islam is strictly a prohibitionist religion; all alcoholic beverages are forbidden in the Koran.

Eventually, Hiralal's mother made a public appeal to her son, he returned to Hinduism, and made peace with his father.

In William Boyd Sinclair's "Confusion Beyond Imagination":

"Navy personnel were having to wear photographs of themselves on their ID badges worn on their uniforms. Navy Captain Willis A. "Ching" Lee, convinced that no one had ever given his picture so much as a glance, replaced it with one of Adolf Hitler and wore it several days of comings and goings throughout the Navy Department and never once was challenged by anyone high or low."

Sounds contrived? Brought to mind a personal, similar ploy.

Post-war, I worked at Lockheed Aircraft Corp. in Burbank, CA - irreverently known as "Lockjaw Aircrash Corruption" - and we, too, had a personal photo on our ID, which we displayed for the guard at the gate as we arrived for work. I was also working a second job at night in a photo finishing plant, found a postage stamp size photo of a sweet little old lady with small hat perched on her head. I put it inside the plastic cover of my ID badge over my real portrait and passed through the gate unchallenged for at least two or three days. Then I removed the false "me" before I pushed my luck too far.

I hope I haven't given the bad guys any ideas.

I was sent as far from home in California to basic training in Florida. Difficult to go AWOL. I had 3 years of high school ROTC behind me so, disregarding the admonition, "Don't volunteer for nuthin", when a request came for someone who could instruct close order drill, i.e., Column right, march; parade rest; to the rear, that...I raised my hand. I was assigned 6 rookies who couldn't "quite catch on" and marched them a short distance from the others. With infinite patience, I marched them around me while I stood in one place and bellowed.

The Army had truly loused up the municipal golf course with drill grounds and tent rows. The soil, with no grass left worth saving, was as black as coal dust. Maybe it was. One of my charges had an overbite and, by the time we done for the day, the upper part of his front teeth showed white where covered by his lip but the lower half was ebony.

Oh, how picturesque!

When the B-17 "Flying Fortress" went to work over Europe, we marveled at its size. (Not many of them saw duty in CBI). Then came the B-29, with a wing span of 141 feet versus 104 feet for the '17; gross weight of about 70 tons against around 25 tons for B-17. B-29's required a runway of 8,500 feet long ( a mile, you know, is 5,280 feet). And 200 feet wide. The B-17 could manage with 6,000 feet by 150 feet.

Chances are the comparison will seldom come up in casual conversation (bar room?) conversation, but you might encounter an 8th AAF Vet angling for bragging rights.

In China, the B-29's were based at Pengsan, Kwanghan, Kiunglai and Hsinching. We saw the last B-29 leaving Kiunglai (A-5) as our communications detachment neared the field on assignment and if flew across the road a mile or so in front of our jeep. Not knowing it was their farewell journey, we were excited to think we were going to a B-29 base. And we were, only it was devoid of aircraft.


Before my entry into this Vale of Tears, my Dad had been a veterinarian, specializing in farm animals. When he married Mom he told her he didn't care to eat his patients. She could have all she wanted but, to quote Samuel B. Mayer, "Include me out." So, she never bothered and I had my first steak (it was a T-bone) when I was 15 years old. Thus, when I got the taste of Army chow it was different, and I had other, more important things to belly ache about. I'm sure, in time, I joined the chorus, but I don't recall now.

We had fresh vegetables in China, which suited me just fine.

That reminds me. At Chengtu, a corporal from another unit brought a couple of watermelons back from town and, when they were cut open, they were orange inside. Like cantaloupes. The taste was the same, though.

In this lifetime, as a member of the California State Military reserve (AKA "militia"), I had the opportunity to sample an MRE, Meal Ready to Eat. The menu was more varied and better tasting than the old K and C rations of WWII, and I might be able to live on 'em if it ever became necessary.

An American officer in Burma noticed a goodly amount of government issue materials for sale in Bhamo at a stall in the bazaar at the side of the river. The first thought, naturally, was that the Kachins were swiping items from our supply dumps and warehouses. There were cooking utensils, underwear, boots, Army pants and shirts, even some hand tools. It turned out that these were from the huge number of items, personal and issued, discarded by the 124th Cavalry Regiment as they struggled up the steep, nearly impossible trail over the mountains the prior December. The steep climb forced the men to discard everything but absolute necessities and the Kachins hadn't done anything wrong, but were merely selling discards.

From O.J. Taylor, Editor of the 1905th A & E Battalion Newsletter

Ladies. Sheltered gentlemen, children of all ages…do not read the following slice of life (and still picturesque in my mind's eye). It concerns a daily natural function, with no malice of naughtiness….

While waiting for my turn to vacate China forevermore through the log jam of war-weary GI's waiting to go home, I was assigned to the Jukong Docks of Shanghai on the bank of the Whang Poo River. The big switchboard was in a warehouse on a pier, sleeping quarters upstairs. In an adjacent building also on the pier, was the GI movie theater. I don't recall the motion picture that was featured, but following "THE END", we all lined up at the edge of the pier (outside) and "relieved the pressure" caused by the coffee at suppertime.

There was a full moon, which accentuated the scene to make it memorable- for me, at least- twenty-five or more narrow silver streams in a synchronized arc into the river below.

Maybe you had to be there. Something brought it to the surface of my aged memory. Not too shocking, I hope...

How many times in a restaurant have you been served a glass of water which you either ignored or pushed aside? Come with us again to those days of yesteryear in the jungles of Burma when you thirsted for water that wasn't chlorinated to the point where you had to chew it. First you find a clump of "young bamboo", not much over thirty feet and three to four inches in diameter. By hitting the base of the stalk with a karate chop or two, you can tell by the sound whether there's water in the sections. (The majority are dry). You plug in your chainsaw... just wanted to see if you are paying attention...and lay the stalk on the ground to hack each section open and transfer the meager few drops to your canteen cup. A thimbleful at most, but combined, maybe a pint and a half. Delicious, we're told. I never got farther (in camp) than half a block from a (ugh!) Lister bag. I read about the bamboo ploy in "Easy Into Burma", by Russell Prather, Roundup, April, 1966.

"Not nice to fool Mother Nature". Quote CBI Dateline, Roundup, July '78: "AHMEDABAD - It is possible to produce rain by "shooting" clouds with special shells prepared from strong peppermint, says a young agricultural scientist. Based on experiments conducted the last 14 years at Mount Able, it is also possible to "unshoot" clouds with shells filled with chemicals like lime to stop the rain."

Want rain? Wait for a cloudy day, chew peppermint candy or gum, tilt your head back and burp.

From a report by S/Sgt Dudley Soper, 54th Air Service Group: In the Garo Hills of Assam, the tribes march to a different drummer than we do. No surprise and I hope this doesn't put ideas- theirs- into our ladies' heads. In the Garo tribes, all property is owned by women. Unless they give it to their husband or a brother. Parents can leave their land and property only to the female children. The eldest has "dibs".

After all these years a puzzle that will never be solved, unless a lucky guess does it but can't be proved.

At A5, Kiunglai, China, we had a building with four doorways on the roadside. The first led to the AFRS radio station and broadcast room. The second to the orderly room (office) of the 8th ABCD, communications detachment and the next two were to sleeping quarters, one large area divided by a partition and we could go around the end from one room to another.

I'm a light sleeper and was enjoying my off duty time with an afternoon nap. I was awakened by the sound of running footsteps going through the next room, around the partition and out "my" door. I jumped up and ran outside in time to see a male running across the road and a flat area about 5 yards wide, then disappear over the edge. There was a dry creek bed at the bottom, then a similar slope up the other side.

By the time I got to the rim, the miscreant was nowhere in sight. The vegetation was dry grass and scattered low shrubs, impossible to hide behind, even on flat ground, so I walked a zigzag route almost to the creek without success.

He had grabbed a work shirt off of my bed post as he sprinted by with a wrist watch from the other room.

Spider hole? If there was one and not far down the slope I might have stepped in it.

I didn't.

Do you remember, did you notice, did you care? The way Indian men hold their cigarettes to enjoy it to the utmost? Make a fist. Tighten your ring and pinkie fingers close to the knuckles of your fist, lighted end pointed upward. Now, place your fist with the "O" formed by thumb and index finger to your lips and take a deep breath. Your fist acts as a wind tunnel, sorta.

Before you start your friends will say, "I'll see you inhale."

Could it happen in America? Sure.

An Indian boy who used to gather coal from the cinder heaps of the Chopra Katchery locomotive shed yard and watch with envy and admiration engineers shunting locomotives in the yard, had an opportunity to realize his dream. An engine was standing unguarded in the shed. He got into it and managed to get it rolling. The engine that could huffed and puffed down the siding, gathered speed and then jumped the tracks at a bend before coming to rest in a 15-foot ditch. The boy, was not hurt, was arrested by the police.

And probably got his tanny fanned by Dad.

On the good ship of the Liberty class, Leland Stanford, mid-Atlantic, someone rightfully decided we needed some entertainment, so arranged boxing matches atop one (if there were two) of the forward hatches. One lieutenant, of my memory has been scanned properly, knew from nothing about the manly art, swung his arms in wild gyrations, in the midst of which, his opponent landed a punch. The looie laughed along with the rest of us and never did connect with his opponents face, body nor shadow. The ref stopped the match and declared the junior officer the winner.

Hey! Wait just a cotton-pickin' minute, there!

Three fishermen from Madras (India) chanced upon a fortune on the high seas, but landed themselves in Durance Vile (a suburb of Barrackpore) (no, that's "jail"). The men were fishing when they came upon a rubber buoy with a gunny sack attached to it which they discovered, contained a large number of wrist watches. Police became aware of the "catch" and raided the fishermen's huts, finding 1,452 time pieces. Into the slammer with the miscreants!

That's it? No finder's fee? The watches were probably rusted unto uselessness, anyway.

Three or four of us were assigned to alternately help a GI caretaker, quartered in a warehouse with one room for his living quarters. We took his meals and mail to him. He had a dog for company and said he didn't otherwise mind being alone. I, for one, usually stayed for a little while for conversation and, when there was a movie one of us didn't care to see, we'd relieve him for the evening. One was "Salome Where She Danced", with former strip queen, Yvonne DeCarlo. To us it was a strictly "Ho hum", but better than nothing. To Hector though, "That's the best 'pitcher' I ever seen."

"Everyone to his own taste", said the farmer as his wife kissed the cow.

Nancy Stilwell Easterbrook and her sister, Alison, returned to Peking for a visit in 1976. When they saw their once beautiful 1930's home, now a police building with living quarters, Nancy said she cried, overcome by how drastically the building had changed.

My rented cave started out not so attractive and when I return home, tears flood my orbs, too.

This item is from India so it must be true, right?

According to the Calcutta Statesman a pigeon, as a chick six months ago (before the item appeared in 1959), settled on a Japanese ship when it docked in Bombay, and has traveled more than 14,000 miles aboard. The pigeon flies ashoreor a few hours at ports of call, "gets its friends aboard and bids them goodbye just as the ship leaves port."

I'll believe it if you will.