The CBI From A to Z- September 2010

By Robb Edmonds

This item is for you who were guests in India and/or Burma and missed some of the "perks" in China. No malaria, for one thing, but many of us still slept inside our mosquito bars. (Why didn't the Army call them "nets"?). Not as a deterrent for non-resident mosquitoes, but from marauding rats and creepy crawlers. Also from messages dropped from rafters. Before I stopped sleeping out in the open one night I was half wakened by a rodent running from my hip (I was on my side) to my head, which I shook, now fully awake. I'm not sure to this day if I was dreaming, but it sure seemed "for real".

Heaven protect us from ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go "bump" in the night.

Old Irish prayer.

In a convoy on the Atlantic I wished I had learned Morse code in Signal Corps school so I could read the messages sent between ships. Large spotlight-types with hand operated levers on the side that alternately opened and closed Venetian-blind-like shutters provided blinking signals. Probably, we figured, most of the time they were commands for ships to change from zig to zag and back again. Or maybe it was, "Did you hear the one about the two drunks that -------?"

Not exactly with envy but on a hot day- there were cool ones? - in Calcutta I saw a man bathing at an open water faucet at a street corner. Modesty prevailed and, without taking them off, rubbed his hands over his wet shirt and dhoti (bed sheet pants). Exposed skin got attention, too. The damp clothing gave him a little cooler relief until it dried as he went on his way, leaving the running water to the next man. Ladies? Never saw one doing that so I don't know where- or if- they bathed.

None of my business, anyway.

After all these years of Julia Childs denying she was anything more than a clerk for the OSS in Ceylon (CBI), we quote a news item from the San Jose Mercury News (and probably every other newspaper), "Washington-Famed chef Julia Childs shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis (and Japan) threatened the world.

They served in a spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The secret comes out today, with all of the names and previously classified files being released identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States."

That's OK, Julia, you did a great job denying you were a spy for the OSS. No hard feelings. (Julia passed away recently).

"I've told you a million times, 'Don't exaggerate'".

A large Jap invasion fleet sighted off the California coast the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked turned out to be a garbage scow that had been cut loose by the tug that "made for port at flank speed" in case there were Jap submarines in the area.

Panic then, humorous now.

Is this any way to run a police department? Back in 1964- and even that seems like a lifetime ago - transportation was said to be a prime need of most of the West Bengal police stations, including Calcutta. The minimum requirement for a station was a jeep, which, however, was not available. Many of the stations, about 300 of them, had neither transportation nor telephones.

"We have a suspect in custody. Write a letter to Booking to see if they can have a pair of roller skates they can lend us to get our prisoner there and..."

For no known (or cared) reason, the subject of those canvas hernia holders, hammocks, came to mind. We were sentenced to them on the S.S. Maloja from Port Said to Bombay and, after one night, I preferred to sack out on the picnic-style table. No inner springs but preferable to being forced to sleep on my back all night. No lying on my side, one doesn't bend that way very long. On the stomach is even worse, a hazard to the spinal cord, and that's for sure! The next day you walked like a concave or convex banana.

A little humor there. Very little... Ed.

I've heard it said (in English) that Russian, Polish, Japanese and Chinese are right up there at the top of the scale of difficulty for foreigners to master. English isn't so far behind. But here's an example of a Hindi word that at first seems confusing. Kal - pronounced "kul"- means both "yesterday" and "tomorrow". Not so befuddling when you say "Hum jagga Krotchricketpur kal". Hardly "I'm going to K yesterday". You gotta mean tomorrow. See?

Some of the names of the gentle folk of India were strange to our ears, as I'm sure ours were odd to them. Maybe some of then even translated as R-rated and X-rated Hindi, Mandarin and Burmese. Examples of lilting, rhythmic names gleaned from here 'n there: Sanjit Ram Das, Deva Nananda Das, Manmohan Lolet Lal, Sushil Shamaresh Senha- and the ever popular Transportation Minister (1978), Purshottam Kaushik.

To get your mind off of that one, if actress Tuesday Weld had married actor Frederick March's son, she would have been Tuesday March the Second.


As soon as out TAT (What's Tat? Beats me) equipment had been unloaded from the hold of the Leland Stanford at Oran, North Africa, we, who had remained aboard to monitor the process and had determined all was right and proper, Woody, Tegan and I lay below (I heard that in a movie) and had the entire sleeping arrangements from which to choose, as everyone else had gone ashore.

My two buddies chose lower bunks (of the 5 high) and I decided to explore some of the Liberty ship's interior before turning in.

My wandering took me to the Loonie Bin, two padded cells. Just to be on the safe side, I propped one of the doors open with a garbage can so that, if my friends found me and decided to close me in, I'd hear it scrape the floor and wake up.

They weren't the types to do that, but this was war time.

The upshot of the whole adventure was that I got a good night's sleep on a cot with mattress and springs.

Coming home across the top of the Pacific on the CG Transport, General Hugh L. Scott, we headed toward the sunrise every morning and, in the afternoon, followed the sun.

Not really. The sun is 93.3 million miles away.

One day it was on our right and we thought there was a possibility we were headed for Hawaii. Maybe we'd be able to go ashore where my older (and only) brother had been a civilian employee at Pearl but was now a Honolulu police person.

Almost disappointed, the next morning we were again headed east. Doc moved back to the Mainland a couple of years later, so it all worked out alright.

Coming home there was the usual pool to be won by the person that could properly guess at the exact date and time (or the one closest to it) when the hawser (tie up rope thing) would hit the dock or the anchor would drop into the water in the harbor - or wherever.

$1 entry fee.

Maljan (from another unit…I don't remember his front name) won.

He missed the exact time by something like 2 hours and 11 minutes.

I didn't expect to win. With my luck, if it rained soup I'd be standing there with a friendly fork in hand.

Beggars never went so far as to touch me. I had heard that some grab a shirt sleeve to get attention. But I came through unscathed.

One trip to Calcutta I was alone and boarded a rikkity riksha (song title) and told the boy my hoped-for destination. We took off and pretty soon I realized that I hadn't seen another serviceman nor white face in quite awhile and was sure he was dragging me through Out of Bounds or Off Limits areas.

What would I tell the MP's? Would they believe me? Would they send a note home to Mother?

We had to stop when a narrow street was crowded with men and beggars. The Baksheesh Bandits swooped down on the white guy, or whatever they called me. One poor wretch's arm had been amputated at the elbow and he waved the remainder at me. Unsettling. I tried to ignore it as I hollered at the ricksha wallah to head for Chowringhee Road, the main drag and safe haven. Sorta. He didn't acknowledge the command, but soon we were back to civilization and exactly where I told him to take me.

The New American Kitchen, a favorite restaurant with almost-home cooking.

And I wished I was. Home, cooking.

We were a Signal Corps detachment of 28 men, one officer. We cooperated, of necessity, in providing ground communications for four air strips. One in Assam and three, plus HQ in the Chengtu area of China, with groups of 5 or 6 of us on DS (Detached Service).

When all in one cluster we gravitated to "our own kind". Married and older men ("Men of the world"), and we younger 18 and 19 years olds in other tents.

Some of us didn't imbibe, smoke, play cards, or shoot craps (they had just as much right to live as we did). Generally "Goody Two Shoes", ignored socially by some of the others.

In 6 man tents we of a feather, flocked together. Under stress of our daily duties (nothing, compared with everyone else in the CBI), petit bickering was bound to happen.

One of the 6 man cliques bought a gunny sack, it may have been smaller, of peanuts and denied access to any but a select few from another bunch.

I was, among other jobs, the mail clerk and, when I entered the restricted zone, I was offered a handful of nuts, which I politely refused on principle.

All I had to do was to return to my digs with peanuts on my breath, and --------.

Our olive drab, heavy canvas pyramidal tents were not designed for sunny clime- especially heat oppressive CBI. Areas thereof. There are, of course, temperate areas where one can breathe without scorching one's tonsils. If any. But the majority of us experienced tropical heat to the max.

The British tents are far more habitable because they have more experience in their colonies and territories "where the sun beateth down on the hairy and the bald alike".

The shelters are in two layers- a dark blue inner one and a six inch (or so) outer white canvas "cover".

This allows the air space between to stave off more heat than our single ply greenies.

Fortunately the British supplied us, in many camps and airfields, with livable shelters.

Thank you, Mr. Churchill.

Standard procedure at bed or nap-in-the-afternoon time was to climb inside the mosquito bar - and why it was called that instead of mosquito net is known only to the gink that named it- with flashlight to scan the interior for those bugs and hoped that, during our slumber, we didn't let the netting rest on exposed skin.

Those flying devils had a long enough siphon and could reach through the mesh to make a withdrawal and, if Anopheles, carrier of malaria, could possibly make a trade.

Take something, leave something.

When we were out and about after sundown, we pulled our socks up over our pants cuffs and doused exposed epidermis with mosquito repellant.

As I recall, as meticulous as he was with those precautions, one of our guys contacted malaria because he may have slept too close to the net. He was out of commission for awhile but, with treatment, he recovered in due time.

Somehow I was delegated to drive the jeep to transport 3 other fellas (and me) to chow and back. Our daily journey took us across a former drill field that had been stomped flat and smooth by countless Chinese infantrymen's feet.

When it rained that mud was, as Garverick so crudely put it, "Slick as snot on a doorknob".

Oh, Al, we should have hung a yellow flashing light on you. You were a caution, you were.

On occasion I sped up to about 25 mph, cranked a hard left, which caused a slonchwise slide and I corrected to regain straight ahead progress.

I did that often enough so that, even once in snow in Ohio, later, I instinctively corrected an unexpected slide by turning the steering wheel into it.

On that same base in India, the road crossed a short bridge over a creek with wheel wide planks for a smooth ride. It was raining and I slipped off the track and quickly corrected to avoid going over the side. No railing.

Oh, heroic me.

This appears to be a school for snake charmers- in case the talent didn't come naturally. Pass or fail...the hard way.

(Anonymous photographer)

Ritz Theater in Old Delhi featured films "Made in India". GI's that attended out of curiosity were thoroughly confused trying to understand the plot. Forget the dialog.

(Walt Johnson photo)

When our Air Force arrived in the Pacific Islands, Prince Hagashikuni, Commander of the Home Defense Command, realized this was the end of Japan's hope for victory.

He said, "We had nothing in Japan that we could use against such a weapon. From the point of view of the Home Defense Command, we felt the war was lost, and we said so."

CBI Q's and A's

Did code clerks have to have special security clearance- or whatever it was called? Seems logical.

Yes, because even in the Boonies someone might leave "sensitive" intelligence in a wastebasket to be retrieved by a houseboy "spy". Sometime in a headquarters, even routine messages were encoded and decoded, but "Eyes Only" messages were handled by the code clerk, sealed in an envelope and delivered to the officer personally. General Stilwell's Burma walk-out messages were the code clerk's responsibility.