While growing up, I never gave much thought to my father's service in the military or to that of my grandfathers. I knew my father was in the Army during the Spanish-American War and that both my grandfathers served for the North during the Civil War. It was only after I reached 30 years of age that I became curious about their experiences and by then the best sources of information were no longer available to me. It is with this in mind that I am prompted to put on paper some of my experiences and recollections in and of the Army during World War II. I am also tempted to match wits with a computer and printer sans a word processing program.
In order to put my military service into perspective, it is necessary to have some knowledge of my activities between graduation from high school in the spring of 1935 and the outbreak of war December 7, 1941. Upon graduation there was no job waiting for me or to be found. I entered the Kansas City, Mo. Junior College in the fall with nothing specific in mind. I did get a part time job with the Public School System working in their greenhouses for $0.25 per hour. I worked 10 to 15 hours per week which was sufficient to pay my carfare and my lunches with enough left over for an occasional date or movie. As I was required to enroll in a science course, geology appeared better than any other. Being a city boy, I thought a rock was a piece of concrete. It was almost the end of the first semester before I truly became interested in the subject. The second semester introduced historical geology and I was hooked. The following year permission was granted to me to sit in on the courses for a general review. Subsequently I spent two summers with the professor doing field work in central Colorado around the little town of Eagle. During my two years at Junior College, I earned 65 hours of college credits of which 64 hours were accepted by the University of Oklahoma.
In the fall of 1937, I enrolled in Geological Engineering at OU. This switch from Arts and Sciences to Engineering cost me an extra year for my B.S. degree as a number of my credits did not fit into the engineering curriculum. In the long run, the extra year was invaluable.
At the start of my second semester, I was offered a job in the mineralogy laboratory to inventory and catalog mineral and rock specimens. The position paid as I recall about $15 per month. At a time when room and board was costing $20 to $25 per month this was not bad. Furthermore it was as though I were being paid to take a seminar course. The job lasted until I received my B.S. degree and was instrumental in my obtaining a Graduate Assistantship in the School of Geology that enabled me to work toward a Master's degree. Late in my senior year, a small group of seniors and graduate students took a Civil Service examination in geology. In my favor the exam was weighted towards petrology and petrography. As a result I passed with the best grade in our small local group. Nothing more was heard and I forgot about it. I was happy to fall back on my assistantship which paid me $50 per month and to enroll in Graduate School.
Instead of continuing work in the College of Engineering, I transferred to Arts and Sciences. This was when my Junior College courses that had not counted in Engineering became acceptable. By the second semester my thesis work was started. Out of the blue, I was offered a geologist position under Civil Service with the Corps of Engineers. The position was a permanent appointment and it paid $2000 per year. Top salaries for starting geologists in the oil and gas industry were $110 to $125 per month and there were not many offers. It was too good to pass up. My graduate studies came to an end with the close of the semester.
In mid summer of 1941, I reported at Mountain Home, Arkansas for work with the Corps of Engineers. My job was with the foundation engineers on the Norfolk Dam. Excavation work was just starting and we were charged with detail mapping of the exposed rocks. One evening in the fall, I returned from the dam site (a legitimate, non profane statement) to find an old acquaintance, Bill Foster, sitting on the verandah of the one and only hotel in town where I was staying. I had known Foster in Kansas City and at OU where he obtained an engineering degree and a Reserve Officer commission from ROTC. He had obtained a temporary job with the Corps and was working on a core drilling program at the prospective Bull Shoals Dam site on the White River. Norfolk Dam is on the north fork of the White River. He disappeared suddenly a couple of months later having been called to active duty. Preparations for war were heating up.
The romance was wearing off of my job. It was very narrow in focus from both a geological and geographical point of view and entailed far too much drafting. I had about made up my mind to look for another position when December 7, 1941 arrived with Japanese bombs falling on Pearl Harbor. I determined to enlist and made inquiries but found no one wanted me and was classified '4F', unfit for active service. My determination to find something more useful to do, resulted in my resignation and subsequent hiring by the Fort Worth, Texas office of Gulf Oil Corporation.
My job with Gulf was in a core analysis laboratory dealing mainly with samples from wells in West Texas. It was rather fascinating and educational. I became acquainted with a number of interesting geologists including Fritz Aurin, then president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. In May, 1942 after a little more than 3 months with Gulf, I received the famous postal card that started with 'Greetings: You have been selected by a committee of your friends and neighbors-----------'. I had been drafted.
On June 10, 1942, I reported to my draft board in Kansas City, Missouri, was transported by bus with a motley looking group possessing only the clothes on their bodies to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was inducted into the U.S. Army. A week was spent there being fitted (if you could get into it-it fit) with proper garb, having our bodies examined and our brains picked with a battery of written tests. Our spare time was utilized policing i.e. picking up trash. After all was said and done, I was still classified as 4F but now they had just the place for me.
A half a dozen of us found ourselves on a train heading east. At long last I was going to see the Mississippi River and a whole lot more. We left the train at Birmingham, Alabama and were taken by bus to Fort McClellan, a permanent military post. It was a major infantry basic training facility. I was assigned to a company of 200 men that was part of a 4-company battalion. It did not take long for us to discover that we were a guinea pig company of 4F's. The majority had deficient but correctable eyesight. The remainder had various physical problems ranging from club feet to injured limbs. For instance there was a big red headed Irish man by the name of Pagano (that is correct) who had broken his leg in a college football game. The leg had not healed properly and it would swell after two or three miles of marching. He was deadly on the rifle range and top notch in every other respect. This may have been the most highly educated company of enlisted men the Army ever assembled. There was a college degree in at least every other bed. The degrees were in business, accounting, law, various arts and sciences, engineering, pre-med, etc. We only had one veterinarian, one mortician, and one weak-eyed geologist.
The company went through exactly the same programs as the three other companies in the battalion. We won the honors on the rifle range. After all a one-eyed man is not distracted by a second eye. We even won the baseball tournament. At the end of the three months of training about half of our company were shipped out. The rest of us were formed into three ranks with rank #1 going to the Quartermaster Corps, #2 to the Military Police, and #3 to the Medical Corps. I was in rank #3. Then we were loaded into trucks and taken about 40 miles to Camp Seibert and dumped on those poor unsuspecting and unfortunate people. I have often wondered what happened to the men of this experimental company during the remainder of the war. Most, I feel sure, gave a good account of themselves.
Camp Seibert was being established primarily for chemical warfare training. Upon our arrival, from the Commanding General's Headquarters to the infirmary and on down to us, everything was in tents with one exception. The Post Exchange was in an old barn. There was one long gravel street lined with big tents. Our first duty as Medical Corpsmen was to pitch and ditch pyramidal tents for our quarters. It rained hard all day. When we finished we were allowed to appropriate some hospital cots. It was a thoroughly bleak day for me. I had no interest in medicine and my only thought was 'How can I escape from this situation?'
That night I wrote two letters phrased as diplomatically as I could asking for help. To say the least, this tactic is frowned on by the military services and it might backfire on me. One letter was sent to Mr. Fritz Aurin, president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. The other was sent to the National Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel in Washington D.C. This organization had been established in 1940 to centralize a list of personnel that might be needed in case the U.S. became involved in the War. I had been registered with the organization while I was a student at OU. The National Roster was run by the government but it had only an advisory function to other Federal Agencies including the Military services.
That same night I decided that I would apply for admission to the Army Administration Officer Candidate School. The visual requirements were not as high as for other Officer Candidate Schools. My scores on the clerical and the administrative aptitude tests at Fort Leavenworth were well above average and I thought I had a reasonable chance to be admitted. Within the week, I had filled out the forms and filed them.
After a few days of sorting out personnel, the Captain for Administration called me into the headquarters tent and put me to work filing records, forms, and correspondence. A few days later he asked my if I could do any drafting. On the basis of my positive reply I was sent into the private office (in the same tent behind a canvas flap) of the full Colonel (M.D.) for an interview with him. Someone had looked at my records and noticed my background. Plans were being drawn for a more permanent hospital and the Colonel wanted someone directly under his control to work with and serve as liaison with the Corps of Engineer's office in Anniston, Alabama. I got the job. From then on I spent more than half of my work time at the engineers' office in Anniston and the remaining time doing clerical work in the Hospital headquarters. At the end of a month, I became a corporal. At the end of an additional month, I was a sergeant to the consternation of a few of my fellow transferees. At the moment the fast track was mine but it had a dead end. I continued to want to be in another lane.
At the start of my third month as a 'MEDIC', I was called before an Officer Candidate School Examining board which consisted of a Lieutenant Colonel, a Major, and two Captains. It was as though I were back taking my orals for a masters degree but a whole lot more stiff and formal. None of the officers were from the Medical Corps or another service corps. The Colonel started the questioning which soon took a twist that left the other officers looking at each other and holding their tongues. All of my records, both military and civilian, were in the hands of the board. My education and past employment were thoroughly probed. I quickly learned that answers must be short and explicit with nothing additional to be volunteered. When my brief employment with Gulf Oil in Fort Worth came up, I was repeatedly asked if I knew some individual. If I did, all was well. If I did not, I was curtly informed that I was very unobservant and subjected to a lecture. Sometime later, I concluded it was his way of trying to rattle me. At the time, I was just puzzled. The tactic is standard operating procedure in Officer Candidate Schools.
It seemed as though the interrogation would never end. "Do you know Keith Anderson?" "Yes, Sir." "How did you meet him?" "He is my brother." The other officers exchanged glances. "He lives at such and such a street number in Topeka, Kansas. Well, doesn't he?" My moment of triumph had arrived. "No, Sir." '"Then he has just moved." "Yes, Sir." "What is his new address?" Fortunately, I had recently written to Keith so I was able to give a prompt answer. The interview was over. To some extent many of the questions were to reinforce the growing suspicion in his mind as to who I might be. My memory was refreshed. We had been introduced at Keith's home in El Dorado, Kansas several years previously. He had been in charge of production from Cities Service properties in the El Dorado Oil Field. Unfortunately, he lost his life a few months later while testing a new design for a flamethrower.
Military life continued as usual for several weeks. One day while I was at my desk in the Hospital headquarters, I looked up and noticed the Captain in charge of administration staring at me, then at some papers on his desk, and then back at me. He went back of the flap to the Colonel's private office for a few minutes and then summoned me into the inner sanctuary. The Colonel handed me orders from the top office of the Army's Department of Services and Supply. The orders were "By command of Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell" and signed by a Brigadier General. That got immediate attention. With my current commanding officers concurrence, i.e. the Colonel, I was to be transferred in grade into the Corp of Engineers. The Colonel asked if I wanted the transfer and if I did not he would be happy to block it. My reply was to thank him for his consideration, but that I felt as out of place in the Medical Corp as he would feel in the Corp of Engineers. He was very understanding and signed the orders. The next day I was on my way to Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
CORP OF ENGINEERS
Fort Belvoir is a permanent installation and a showcase for the military. It is located on the west bank of the Potomac River 15 miles downstream from Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia. The national headquarters for the Corp of Engineers is located here. Mt. Vernon, Washington's home is adjacent to the north. Belvoir in the Revolutionary War period was the home of Colonel William Fairfax, Washington's neighbor and benefactor. It was quite a change from the tents and outdoor plumbing of Camp Seibert to the brick and wooden buildings, manicured drill fields and gardens of Belvoir.
My trip (first time without escort in the Army) was by train up the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains and down the Shenandoah Valley to Alexandria. It was mid December of 1942. On reporting for duty, I was assigned to a battalion that was in the process of being organized. The unit was to be one of two (the other was at Fort Lewis, Washington) 'Topographic' battalions, one for the Pacific and one for the Atlantic theaters of war. It was contemplated that mapping would primarily be of enemy held territory using aerial stereoscopic photographs interpreted by a multiplex process. I had been briefly exposed to the technique at OU.
Equipment and men were arriving daily. Very few had any idea of what they were expected to do. Since I was sergeant and non-commissioned as well as commissioned officers were in short supply, I ended up in a staff sergeants job with a platoon of 30 men under me. The Lieutenant in command of the platoon always seemed to be somewhere else. My standing orders seemed to be to exercise and drill the men and to keep them busy and out of trouble. I learned a lot about military drill to the point of its becoming automatic. A few months later, this experience was a great help to me.
The barracks were designed for a 30-man platoon with a two-man room at one end for the ranking non-commissioned officers. Occupancy had been doubled by using bunk beds except in the NCO quarters. A staff sergeant and I occupied the NCO quarters. To me, it was deluxe.
Near the end of January, I received orders to report to the Officer Candidate School of the Corp of Engineers. The School was located a little more than a city block away. The only fly in the ointment was that I knew my eyesight was not acceptable.
OFFICER CANDIDATE SCHOOL
Orders are to be obeyed. I reported at the appointed time and place. I informed the First Sergeant that I wanted to report to the Company Commander and told him why. After a brief wait my request was granted. I informed the Captain that my vision would not meet the standards set for active duty in the Corp of Engineers. He listened and then told me that the Army would not have sent me here if that were true. I was dismissed and I started the course.
All cadets were simply Mister and no evidence of previous rank was worn. Everyone had the exact same issue of clothes in type and numbers. Only the sizes could be different. Our quarters were in a three story brick building facing a paved street. There must have been ten to a dozen of these buildings on the same side of the street. We were issued a footlocker to be placed at (where else) the foot of our bunk. The bunks were equipped with T-bars for mosquito netting. We were instructed exactly where everything was to be stored and how they were to be folded. For instance towels were folded twice lengthwise and hung evenly on the T bar at the head of the bed with the single fold on the right side. All bedding was folded in a specific way and placed in a specific way on the foot of the bed. All windows were opened wide so the quarters would be aired out daily. Sleeping quarters were on the upper two floors and completely rimmed with large windows. The first floor had offices, the armory, supply, and the mess hall.
Reveille was at 6 AM seven days a week, breakfast at 7:30, and assembly at 8:30. Before assembly every one must shave, sweep and mop around their bed, arrange all items, etc. for the daily inspection. Each day except Sunday new officers were selected from the Misters and they were in charge of the full days activities under the supervision of the 'Tac' officers. Lunches often were served in the field. The last afternoon class ended at 5 PM with supper at 6 PM and another class or a critique on the days activity at 7 PM. This was usually over at 8:30 or 9 PM. Then you had time to take a shower, make your bed, write a letter, study or even say good day to the guy in the next bed. Taps were at 10 PM and all lights were controlled by the duty officer on the first floor. Saturdays were the same except the afternoons and evening were free time. That meant one could work off his demerits during that time. Everyone had demerits. Sundays were livable except for 6 AM reveille.
Overall OCS was very interesting but it did have bleak and difficult periods. The instruction was good and written exams far from easy. Field exercises could be both enthralling and disagreeable at the same time. Weapons training was limited to machine guns (up to 50 caliber), shoulder fired anti-tank weapons (bazookas), and flame throwers. Demolition classes were exacting and field exercises exciting. I was reminded of my first use of dynamite under the supervision of an alcoholic professor of mining at OU. Blasting caps, prima cord, dynamite, and special military explosives were all used one time or another. It was a noisy group that suddenly became quiet when ordered to clear a field of booby-trapped land mines. It was a time when all were thankful for the previous lectures about the subject. Though the mines were unarmed, if they were mishandled the booby traps attached would set off large firecrackers. A more exacting final exam for a course would be impossible to devise.
Construction of roads, landing strips, and bridges was emphasized. The principal to remember for roads and landing strips is to get the gravel on and keep the water off. Bridges are to be built strong enough to get the unit to which you are attached over the obstacle and no stronger. Battalion engineers are to see the last equipment and man across and then watch the bridge collapse. Regimental and divisional engineers do the same. It sounds wasteful until speed of movement is considered. One sub freezing day our Company was ordered to put a pontoon bridge across Accotink Bay on the Potomac River. Another Mister and I were ordered to break the ice on the bay in advance of the pontoons. Armed with M1 rifles and outfitted with chest high rubber waders, we plunged into our job to break ice and watch out for snipers. As the water rose to our chest, we climbed aboard the lead pontoon and used our feet and rifle butts to continue breaking ice. It was a day to remember.
We had courses in sanitation including operation of portable (if not potable) water purification units. The Potomac just down stream from Washington overwhelmed the units. Lectures on Army Administration and Supply were attended. Tactics for platoons, companies, and battalions were taught and day and night exercises were held. Topographic maps and the use of a compass received considerable emphasis. One dark and cloudy night, four man teams were dumped out in the wooded hills along the upper reaches of Accotink Creek, some ten or more miles from Fort Belvoir. With a topo map and a compass we were to follow a specified route back to the Fort. No roads could be used as they were patrolled by the enemy i.e. Tac Officers. This was one exercise where my geological training came in handy. We were one of the first groups to get to bed. Reveille at 6 AM faced us.
Neither the academic instruction nor other facets of the OCS program should be belittled. The determination of the mental stability of a candidate under adverse circumstances is important. War is always conducted under adverse circumstances. It is necessary to know how quickly one becomes rattled to the point of losing his composure. Right or wrong, the hazing system attempts to determine this. It is not important whether demerits result from logical or illogical, fair or unfair events but how one reacts. A few cadets were dismissed for academic reasons but more for failure to keep their cool.
One windy day upon returning to the barracks, the bulletin board showed two new demerits opposite my name. One for not displaying my towels properly and one for littering outside the barracks. My towels were missing from the T bar. Outside my window on the ground lay my towels and my free time for the next Saturday afternoon. My consolation was that I was not alone. Grin and bear it.
My day as acting company commander started with difficulty. I had received instructions as to the location of the first class. The company was assembled in the street and the first marching order was in process of execution when an orderly ran up and handed me new orders changing the classroom location. My next commands changed the direction of the march (detouring around a company coming from the opposite direction) and put the company into double time. A greatly concerned Tac officer appeared from nowhere and wanted to know where I was taking the company and why. There just was not time to stop and discuss the matter as numerous obstacles had to be avoided and I barely had time to reach the location at that appointed hour. Intermixed with my orders was his diatribe. At the first opportunity, I handed him the new orders and explained what had happened. All the while the company in formation was moving on the double. My first crisis was over without further comment than a simple 'carry on'. The rest of my day in command was more or less routine.
One Sunday afternoon a group of us went to the PX which did justice to a permanent military installation near the outskirts of Washington. We ran into Bill Foster, my old acquaintance form Kansas City, OU, and northern Arkansas. He now wore a Major's gold maple leaves. He wanted to talk with me but fraternization with Officers was forbidden for Misters. This could put my tenure in OCS in jeopardy even though he outranked the West Point Captain in command of our Company. He fathomed my problem and in a voice that could be heard far and wide he ordered me to sit down in a booth. Then he slid in facing me and we talked for more than an hour. During the conversation my entrance into Engineers OCS without the proper visual requirements was discussed. He was informed of my verbal report to my Company commander but all he said he could do was to wish me luck as he was not associated in any way with the School. I did not see him again at Fort Belvoir.
Late in the school term, another candidate and myself received our first and only weekend pass to leave the Fort. Since neither of us had ever been in Washington, we took the first available bus on Saturday afternoon for Arlington and then on to Washington. Our most important business was to find sleeping quarters so we inquired at every hotel we saw. Our sightseeing was done between hotels. By 8 to 9 PM we gave up and headed for Alexandria, Virginia figuring we could find something there. There was not even an empty chair available in a hotel lobby. We were determined not to stand reveille at 6 Am. I thought about my old quarters at the Topographic Battalion and I was sure we could find a couple of empty bunks. So we took a bus back to Fort Belvoir. It must have been 2 AM when we entered the back door of my old barracks and looked into the NCO quarters. My old bunk was empty. We located another empty bunk and I returned to mine. The sergeant grunted a little when I started to take off my shoes and then he sat up and said 'get the hell out of here. This place is quarantined.' I never found out why the place was quarantined but my friend and I stood 6 AM reveille. So much for weekend passes and Washington, D.C., no more of them for me.
It was only a few more days before commissioning ceremonies; uniforms had been ordered; harassing had stopped and we were back in the gas chamber for the last time. That is a literal use of gas chamber. Our last lecture on chemical warfare was in progress when orders were handed to me to report immediately to Battalion Headquarters. I was informed that my vision would not meet regulations and that I could not be commissioned. I was to return to my quarters and stay there to wait for orders transferring me to a new assignment. There was nothing I could do. My feelings were more despondent that on my first night in the Medical Corp. Then my spirits picked up when I realized at least they will not send me back to the Medical Corp and I would remain a sergeant. I rolled with the punch. Late the following day, the powers called me to Battalion Headquarters. This time my company Commander was there with the adjutant of the Battalion. In view of the fact that I had reported the situation upon my arrival at OCS and had successfully completed the course, I would be commissioned but for LIMITED SERVICE only - not fit for overseas duty. The West Point Captain had gone to bat for me. There never was a time, a place, or a way to thank him.
On April 13, 1943, 10 months and 3 days after entering the Army, an Honorable discharge as an enlisted man was granted to me. I was immediately sworn in as a 2nd Lieutenant and ordered to active duty effective April 14, 1943 with orders to report within 10 days to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Out of 68 2nd Lts. similarly ordered were 2 others on Limited Service. A large number if not a majority of our classmates were ordered to North Africa as replacement officers. The invasion of Algeria and the battles for Tunisia were in progress and it was obvious that the combat Engineers were suffering heavy losses.
Since there were ten days to get to Camp Claiborne, a train trip home to Kansas City was in order. Needless to say, a few days with my parents were enjoyable. Since I would not be going over seas and officers could keep automobiles on the base, I drove my 37 Ford V8 to Camp Claiborne. Gasoline was rationed but as an officer I was entitled to enough to get me there with a little bit extra.
Camp Claiborne is located about 10 miles south of Alexandria, Louisiana in the center of the State. I was assigned to command of an independent platoon of 25 to 30 men that was termed a gas-generating unit. Usage of the word gas is always an obfuscation that cries for clarification. In this case, it meant generation of oxygen and acetylene. The units although theoretically independent were always attached to larger units such as a company, battalion or regiment. After a couple weeks of orientation, six of us, all 2nd Lts., were sent to O'Fallon, Illinois where the oxygen generating plants were manufactured. At O'Fallon six Air Force 2nd Lts. joined all our meals out and spent five and a half days a week at the manufacturing plant. All were on per diem and several of us received commuting expenses for our automobiles. This was not the Army but civilian life. After a month we became authorities and could disassemble and reassemble all components of the units.
Back at Camp Claiborne we passed our knowledge on to the men in our respective platoons. Fortunately for me, my Master Sergeant and second in command had worked for the Linde Products division of Union Carbide Corp. running oxygen generating and bottling operations. He was quite knowledgeable and most helpful to me. Oxygen was obtained by fractional distillation of liquefied air. At atmospheric pressure oxygen boils at -182.7 degrees and nitrogen at -195.8 degrees Centigrade. The oxygen is then recompressed to 2000 psi and stored in steel bottles. The purity is about 99.5% and is used for breathing or welding. An interesting sidelight is that pure liquid Castile soap was used in the compressors for lubrication instead of more flammable hydrocarbons.
We had two accidents. A recently filled bottle was knocked over before the safety cap had been screwed on. The valve stem was severed and the bottle became a jet-propelled missile. It went cleanly through the wall of the building without using the door and ended up in an open field. Fortunately no one was hurt. Safety caps ended up on all bottles promptly after that and no bottle was ever moved even a few inches without a cap in place. The other mishap occurred one night (we operated 24 hours per day) while I was in Alexandria bending my elbow. A 3/4-inch elbow was blown off the top of a silica gel drying bottle. The bottle was a foot or eighteen inches in diameter, and four to five feet tall and made of steel. The elbow went through a window leaving a clean hole like a bullet. The bottle was not a high-pressure vessel but pure oxygen was going through it before being compressed for storage. The plant was shut down immediately and no fire or additional damage occurred. When I returned from town the speculations as to cause had started. A spark caused by loosely packed silica gel striking the sides of the steel did not seem plausible, as there was nothing to burn. There was no indication of a constriction in any of the pipes. The next morning at 8 AM I was in the Commanding General's office admitting we had no explanation and not even a plausible speculation. Civilian experts from O'Fallon were called but they could not explain the accident either. Sometime later I heard that all silica gel drying vessels were being given a copper lining.
Although the oxygen plant was most efficient when running continuously, the acetylene plant was ideal for batch processing. It produced by reacting water with calcium carbide, drawing off the gas and storing it under low pressure in steel containers. All of the acetylene was used in welding and for cutting metal. There were no problems during my association with these plants.
777th ENGINEER PETROLEUM DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
In the late summer of 1943 after little more than three months with the gas generating units, orders were given me to report to the 777 EPD Company for duty. The Company was one of a number of EPD Companies that were being activated at Camp Claiborne. Their purpose was to build and operate pipelines for transportation of both 80 and 100 octane gasoline. They were used in all of the war zones to support operations of advanced airfields and advancing armies. I knew absolutely nothing about pipelines but only a very few officers did.
The Commanding Officer of the 777 EPD Company was Captain Thomas Jess Johnson from Tyler, Texas. Captain Johnson graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in geology in 1926. He also earned a reserve officer's commission through Army ROTC and had stayed in the active reserve for a few years. At the outbreak of World War II, he and an older brother were operating their own drilling company. The Army started recruiting men with oil field experience for pipeline construction and operations. When he was offered a Captain's commission, he accepted and was put in command of the 777th. The Company was activated and organized under his command.
The Army's Table of Organization specified there would be 7 Commissioned Officers (including the Captain)) and 210 enlisted men. Twenty years or more after the end of the war, I learned that Captain Johnson was given the right to select his Lieutenants from a list of available officers. His first selection was Lt. Leonard O. Wharton, a big burly Texan from Seymour with ten years of oil field experience. His next three selections were men with five to ten years of experience. Lt. E. S. Kinkler was from Beeville in South Texas, Lt. William Miller from Bryan in Central Texas and Lt. Collins from Southern California. By then the list must have been well picked over. The last two picks were Lt. Smallwood and myself.
I do not remember the details of the Table Of Organization for the enlisted men but it must have contained 70 or more NCO's. The basic organization encompassed 4 or 5 oversized platoons and an administration or headquarters platoon of 20 to 25 men. There was one First Sgt. and one Master Sgt. There were at least 6 Technical Sgts., 8 Staff Sgts., 20 line Sgts., and 30 Corporals. With one exception, all of the enlisted men were wartime volunteers or draftees. The First Sgt. was an experienced pre-war soldier with a lot of ability for administration. However most of the men were fresh out of basic training and they arrived from time to time in small detachments. It turned out that the majority came from northern and northeastern States. Among my papers is a complete list of personnel showing their home addresses. The records of each individual had to be reviewed and numerous interviews conducted. No two backgrounds were the same and a broad spectrum of education and work experiences was revealed. Now I knew what the officers in the Topographic Battalion at Fort Belvoir were doing while I was on the drill field.
One night at Company Headquarters, Captain Johnson looked up from reviewing papers on some new arrivals and said that he had found his Master Sgt. In response to the inquiry of who, he said Private First Class Scruggs. In response to why, he said that anyone that could work for a contractor that was notorious for worn out and broken down machinery had to be an excellent baling wire mechanic and that is just what was going to be needed overseas. After an interview the next day with the Captain, Scruggs was the Master Sgt. He was a tall, lanky, unassuming country boy from southwestern Oklahoma. I remembered the enmity that some had shown to me on my relatively rapid advance to Sgt. in the Medical Corp and thought a major mistake had been made in jumping a Pfc to the highest rank for an enlisted man with only one stroke of the pen. Any ill feeling that might have existed among the men quickly abated to Scruggs' attested by the fact that Scruggs received a field commission as a 2nd Lieutenant after a year overseas.
It was two to three months before most of the NCO's had been designated. A young banker from the eastern US became Staff Sgt. in charge of administration, payroll and finance under the First Sgt. The Captain never ceased to remind his officers to treat that man right as we all could end up working for him after the War. A man from Wisconsin became Staff Sgt. in charge of supply. The Staff sgt. in charge of the motor pool was from the Bronx. The Mess Sgt. was Chong W. Chin from San Francisco ably assisted by Ong Y. Hong of Phoenix, Arizona. These were the two best ping pong players in the Company. It truly was a cosmopolitan group of NCO's.
In addition to the selection of NCO's, individuals had to be designated for specific jobs and sent to classes conducted at Camp Claiborne for further training. Mechanics, welders, heavy equipment operators, and machinists were in great demand. At the same time, it could not be forgotten that this was the Army and that weapons training especially with 50 caliber machine guns was needed. The Table Of Equipment called for 24 of these heavy caliber machine guns in addition to the normal personnel weapons of an infantry company.
In reading or contemplating this brief recital of organizational problems, one should bear in mind the ages and the limited experiences of both the officers and the enlisted men. This was not civilian life where it is possible to hire qualified personnel as needed and to fire those that did not fit into the operation. It is important to understand the Company could be pulled off of pipeline work and thrown into a combat situation. This actually happened to one of the EPD companies working in Burma. This Company suffered 50% casualties defending one end of the Myitkyina (pronounced Mish-e-Naw) air field against a Japanese counter attack. We had no way of knowing where we would be sent or exactly what we would be doing. Much criticism was leveled at the military for inefficiencies but to me, they were amazingly efficient under the conditions in which they operated.
In October of 1943, the Captain suggested that I take a leave of absence and on my return not to bring back my automobile. He knew something that I did not, but a leave of absence is always welcome. As it turned out, this was the last time for me to see my father. In early November, Captain Johnson handed me orders to proceed to the Port of Los Angeles as Supply Officer for the Company. My responsibility was to make sure that all major and 90% of minor company equipment were shipped to a destination not revealed to me at this time. Then I was to rejoin the Company wherever they might be. So began the long journey that was to take over two years and circle the globe.
Three other Engineering Officers and I with Pullman tickets in our pockets left Camp Claiborne for Alexandria, Louisiana to board a train for Dallas early in the morning. Pullman accommodations were not available but we were assured they would be in Dallas. In Dallas, we were assured they would be available in El Paso if we proceeded by chair car. It is a long, long ways from Dallas to El Paso, so we started a bridge game to occupy the time. In El Paso we changed trains but there were no Pullman facilities available but we were assured we would have a five minute start for chair car accommodations. How could we pass up this bargain? The bridge game was revved up and we started for Los Angeles. It was not long until we became aware of all the war brides carrying babies that were standing in the aisle. That broke up the bridge game but only until the next stop. The game started again and finally ended in the outskirts of Los Angeles. It was the longest gambling game, I have ever been in, but every one of us had lost track of the score. We had been up day and night for three days and those other guys certainly needed a shave. We went on to Wilmington and reported for duty to the Port Commander. It is surprising we were not court martialed for appearance unbecoming officers and gentlemen. We were not presented medal for actions over and beyond the call of duty, but were told to check into the Hilton Hotel in Long Beach and report again in 48 hours. This we did.
When I first received orders, I figured that the company would be two to three weeks behind me and that we would all embark together. On reporting in for the second time, something seemed amiss, but I could not put my finger on what. A new Table Of Equipment was given me that changed our equipment from the largest bulldozers to the smallest. The small ones were capable of being transported by air. In addition the Table included pitons, crampons, Arctic sleeping bags and all sorts of mountaineering equipment. All were to be shipped to Calcutta, India. We were not going to the Pacific theater but to the China-Burma-India theater where we would be dumped on top of the Himalayan Mountains. My job was to check all manifests of incoming and outgoing equipment on the docks for items earmarked for the 777th EPD Company. If I could not locate our equipment, I was to check with the manufacturers by long distance phone calls and find out why it was not present and when it would be on the dock. After my first week, everything became repetitious and I could finish my checking and phone calling in the morning. That left me a lot of freetime to become acquainted with the docks and the ships being loaded. But even that became old hat quickly.
With plenty of time on my hands and lots of money in my pockets (full pay and full per diem), I was able to make numerous trips to Los Angeles and surrounding areas. I looked up and visited with the widow of my uncle Mark Baner Anderson and dutifully reported to my father. Visits were made to the campuses of UCLA and the University of Southern California, all the museums, the Brea Tar Pits, Knotts Berry Farm and Hollywood movie studios. For the first time since entering service, I was able to visit a USO club. On New Years Day several of us went to the football game in the Rose Bowl. The christening of the USS Carol Lombard, a Liberty ship on January 15, 1944 was passed up. Many Hollywood celebrities including Clark Gable and Irene Dunn officiated. Not going was a mistake on my part but I was on board for the maiden voyage. Many evenings I walked the circular pier near the Hotel, watched the sun set, and wondered what it would be like to sail across the ocean. After all this was the first time I had seen an ocean.
In early December while reading dispatches in the Port Headquarters, I discovered The 777th EPD Co. had departed from Camp Claiborne but they were not heading west. They were going to Norfolk, Virginia. I felt deserted and the Captain must have wondered if I had. The movements of the Company were available to me but mine were not to the Company. By Christmas the company was on Board the queen Elizabeth and on the way across the south Atlantic. It sounded romantic until the realization hit that they were probably sleeping and eating in shifts. It took them 30 days to round the Cape of Good Hope, traverse the Indian Ocean and land in Bombay, India. I discovered later that it had been a thoroughly unpleasant voyage on the English Ship. From Bombay they crossed India by train to Jorhat in Assam, the most northeastern province in India.
By the first of February the Company was at work and I was still trying to get electric welding equipment and a few more trucks. Each time I asked the Port Commander if I should depart and leave the responsibility for the remaining equipment to someone else, I was informed that my orders had not been carried out. Finally during the first week of February the last items arrived on the docks. Arrangements called for me to board ship on the night of February 14 and I was again cautioned that loose lips sink ships. By time my last hotel bill was paid, I felt as though I owned the 7th floor or at least one room on the 7th floor. A military vehicle awaited me at the door and took me and my foot locker to the dock where I boarded the USS Carol Lombard, the 10,000 ton Liberty ship whose christening I had spurned. These last three months can only be classified as the most pleasant duty that a young officer could draw in a wartime situation but adventures lay ahead. I was ready to depart.
The Carol Lombard was not a troop (passenger) ship. It was a freighter, now loaded with a cargo of pipe and ammunition in the holds and heavy machinery fastened to the deck. There were crates containing airplanes, bulldozers, and trucks on deck. In addition, immediately back of the bridge on deck were a number of temporary shelters (dog houses in oil fields parlance) for a few passengers. My quarters were in one of these. The crew consisted of about 30 members of the Merchant Marine and around 25 Marines to man the defenses and to stand lookout. The antiaircraft defenses were less than the 24 heavy caliber machine guns assigned to the 777th. There were two heavier guns, one mounted fore and aft that would deter any pirate boarding attempts. Being on its maiden voyage, there had not been time for the Lombard to pick up its quota of rats. It was a spotless ship.
The passengers totaled 25 plus or minus. One American civilian (if not, he was out of uniform) was shepherding 4 young Chinese men that appeared to be recent University graduates. The entire voyage was utilized for pondering calculus and higher mathematical problems in addition to being very polite and keeping to themselves. The rest of us were quite lowbrow, all being 1st or 2nd lieutenants in the Army. Only three or four of us were Engineers.
The morning sun revealed nothing but water and so it would for an entire month. After breakfast in the officers mess, the Captain issued his orders to the hitchhikers. We were to have the run of the ship except for the bridge. Our meals would be served in the officers mess at specified times but the ships officers would always take precedence. We were sailing alone and total blackout must be observed on deck at night to the extent of not smoking. We were advised that absolutely no lights would be available in our deck quarters so we had better learn our way around like a blind man. The mess hall would serve double duty as a recreation area but going to and from, blackout curtains must be used meticulously. There would be alert and abandon ship drills at any time of day or night. Then came our main orders to stay out of the way and stay alive.
Although, nothing was said about our itinerary, it was obvious that our heading was south southwest. As the days slowly went by, it became apparent that we were veering more to the west. The appearance of the southern cross in the night sky verified the hitchhikers navigation. At 10 knots we were covering 240 nautical miles (276 land miles) per day.
The ocean was smooth and sea sickness was not a problem. Several days out the Marines were put through gunnery drill with the 45 caliber machine guns and the fore and aft big guns. It was interesting but by then anything would have been interesting. All of us had made the full tour of the decks, the engine room, etc. and inspected detail all of the deck cargo many times. Even the so called library and the ongoing poker and bridge games were losing appeal. We found ourselves offering to help on garbage detail. Garbage was always dumped over the side shortly after sundown so that the ship could be 100 miles away before anyone would notice it at the Marines but never by ourselves. Then there was always the washing of sheets and clothes. This was old from the start. Only one thing did not seem to grow old. With complete blackout the sides of the ship at the water line seemed to be moving in a sea of fluorescence that extended several feet from the ships hull. I do not know whether it resulted from radiolaria or some other plankton but night by night it fascinated me. The only other signs of life were porpoise racing with the ship or flying fishes trying to come aboard.
Somewhere in the South Pacific, we ran into a typhoon that blew for several days. Orders were given that no one was to go fore of the bridge as waves were washing over the bow. The pitch and plunge of the ship was sufficient to raise the propeller out of the water. The removal of resistance to the rotation of the propeller sent a shudder throughout the ship. The roll necessitated sleeping(?) on your stomach while grasping the bunk with both your arms and both your legs. Surprisingly there was very little seasickness shown by anyone. After riding out the storm, the inspection of the ship by the crew revealed very little damage even to the deck cargo. The Captain said his only concern was with the pipe stored below. If it had broken loose it would have been a battering ram against the ships hull. The explosives and ammunition did not seem to bother him. How I know why so much lumber was used in securing cargo in a ships hold. The biggest bother seemed to be that the fore rope locker and anchor cable lockers were full of the ocean. Although power driven pumps were available, the hitchhikers requested permission to use the hand pumps to clear the lockers. It gave us something to do and was a different form of exercise.
As all good sailors know, the first indication of land is a bird in the air. The bird we saw was assumed to be an Australian patrol plane. Soon we could catch glimpses of a shoreline to the north but westward ho we go until nothing more of land was seen. We had passed through the Straits of Tasmania (Bass Strait) and into the Great Australian Bight. Five or six days later, the ship turned north and then east into Fremantle, the harbour (British spelling) for Perth. The harbour was a beehive of activity and most obviously an American submarine base. Our hope was that all crews would look us over thoroughly and leave us alone. As soon as we were docked, all passengers were granted 24 hour shore leave. Formally dressed in our best we went ashore.
Fremantle was founded as a penal colony and the goal in or near the centre of town was the second biggest business exceeded only by the docks. The town was out of the old west in the United States with board sidewalks covered by wooden canopies. Other than a few pubs missed, we had seen Fremantle. Breaking up into groups of four or five, we headed for Perth 10 to 15 miles away on board public transportation. Perth was a modern 1940 city of 250,000 and the principle city of western Australia. There were concrete sidewalks, many department stores, cafes, and pubs. The City was impressive but the people even more so. American sailors were common to them but they obviously had seen few or none in American Army uniforms. Even on the streets, they would strike up conversations that invariably would lead to a request for a memento from the uniform. The brass buttons of the Engineer Officers uniforms were their favorite. These buttons carried the Engineer Castle instead of the standard Army insignia. It did not take long for all the buttons and insignia of rank to disappear, mostly into our pockets. After all where could we obtain replacements? After buttons, American money went a long ways and we were celebrities. After a day and most of a night, all but one were back on board ship quietly sleeping in their bunks. The errant one almost made it on time but only with the aid of the Navys shore patrol.
Refueling and resupplying finished in a little less than 48 hours, we hove anchor and were once more by ourselves as we had been for more than thirty days. We knew that Japan controlled all of the coasts from Singapore to Burma, so our course was west northwest staying well away from all land. For two weeks all was peace and serenity with only practice calls for general quarters, usually in mid-morning, interrupting our duty of staying alive and staying out of the way. Then in late afternoon, the alarm for general quarters was sounded. Instinctively, we knew this was not practice. When the sun is near the horizon, that is the best time for a torpedo attack. Fully clothed with long sleeved shirt, head gear, and Mae West (life jacket) we took our positions by the life boats (where else?). From our vantage an object at last could be seen on the horizon. It multiplied until six life boats could be seen and fortunately nothing else. The Captain hove to and we started taking the occupants on board. They were the crew of a British freighter that had been hit by a torpedo three days before. The torpedoed ships officers were British and the crew were Mohammedan Indians. Nearly all needed help to get over the side of our ship and I can not imagine how they could have survived many more days. This was for all of us our first encounter with Indians and we were not well impressed. The first thing they did was to start throwing their life jackets overboard with thanks to Allah that they had been saved. Little did they think that there was a shortage of life boat space on the USS Carol Lombard. The British officers immediately gave orders that their crew was to wear life jackets at all times day and night. I do not know how they enforced the order but it was obeyed. With the population on board nearly doubled and the sun sinking rapidly, the Captain started a zig-zag course and stayed with it for a couple of hours of darkness. The hitchhikers were now convinced all was not peace and serenity in the Indian Ocean. Although our Ships Captain was presumably under orders not to go out of his way for any purpose, all of us believed he remembered being torpedoed off Murmansk, Russia early in the war. We do know he altered course and headed for the nearest safe port, Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
A week or so after the rescue we anchored outside the harbour submarine and torpedo nets of Colombo. Because of our cargo of ammunition and explosives, the British port authorities would not let us enter the actual harbour. It had not been long since the Japanese had bombed the harbour from air fields in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The unscheduled stop to land the rescued, was our good fortune as it resulted in a day on shore for us. Colombo was a city of nearly a half million residents and Capital of Ceylon. It was our introduction to the squalid cities of the sub-continent of India. The best that can be said is that our days excursion braced us for what was to come.
After about 48 hours outside of Colombo, we headed south, then east to get around Ceylon before resuming the northward course for Calcutta, some 1200 miles distant. The water between Ceylon and mainland India is too shallow for the passage of most ships. Four to five days later we were in the Hooghly River, one of the distributaries of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, making our way for Calcutta some 80 miles upstream from the Bay of Bengal.
CALCUTTA, INDIA (Clive Can Have It)
After a brief interview with an American officer and a US Army doctor who checked my inoculation records, I bid farewell to the Ships Officers and to the crew of the USS Carol Lombard. The voyage had taken 64 days of which 60 were on the water.
An Army vehicle took me downtown and deposited me at 12th Engineer District Headquarters. The 777th EPD Co. had been assigned to this Headquarters which was in charge of all pipeline operations in India for the US Army to mile post O of the Ledo Road. It was commanded by Colonel W. C. Kinsolving, who had been Vice-President in charge of pipelines for Sun Oil Company. Among other officers in the District, three were to stand out in my memory. Major Charles Spahr became Chairman of the Board of Standard Oil of Ohio and was the major force behind the sale of a majority interest in Sohio to British Petroleum. Major A.H. Barbin was my traveling companion to Kashmir in 1945. Major (I do not remember his first name or initials) Garner was a nephew of John Nance Garner who served as Vice-President during Roosevelts first term. Garner had received a direct commission out of civilian life and was rushed overseas before he had time to obtain a uniform. More on this character later.
On reporting to the adjutant, he looked over my papers and exclaimed more or less what the @@ h--- are you doing here? For the first time since receiving my commission at Ft. Belvoir, someone had noticed the red stamped Limited Service Only - Not Fit For Overseas Duty on my papers. Without much hesitation, he said he would deny ever having noticed the limitation. I was instructed to check into The Grand Hotel around the corner on Chauringhi Street and to report back in the morning for travel orders to the 777th at Jorhat in upper Assam. With a bearer carrying my foot locker on top of his head, I started for the Hotel making my way through the pedestrians. Calcutta is reported to have a population of two and a half million, but it would be easier to count the ants in an ant hill. Everyone was going someplace using not only the sidewalks but the streets as well. The taxi cabs driven almost exclusively by turbaned Sikhs added to the noise with their horns sounding constantly. The only clear spot was on a corner where a snake charmer was putting his cobras through their paces before restoring them to their baskets. Most men wore dhotis and most women saris and the children nothing. I quickly found out how to tell an incoming GI from a veteran. Only the new arrival would turn their head and gawk at the completely bare men, some covered with white ashes from the burning ghats, and the completely bare women. The only serenity, I noticed, was in the starving cattle mingling with the multitude. The streets were clear of any cattle droppings as they were quickly snatched up and plastered on the side of a building or wall to dry for use as fuel for cooking. Buffalo chips were similarly used in our old west but I feel sure they did not carry such nice hand prints.
On registering at the Grand Hotel, I was assigned to American Officers quarters. These were more in the nature of a suite with individual bedrooms, a central living area, and a central bath and lavatory accommodations. Always present were several native Indians to be of assistance. I quickly learned my first Hindustani, baksheesh, sahib. I also learned to exchange my US money for rupees and annas. A rupee was worth about 33 cents and would spend like a dollar. In 1985, a rupee was worth a little more than 8 cents. An anna was 1/16th of a rupee. The smallest coin was 1/12 of an anna. To add to the monetary confusion, the 1985 dollar is worth only 5 to 10 cents of a 1944 dollar.
Before going down to dinner, I decided to take a bath and put on a fresh khaki uniform. Even in March, Calcutta was warm and steamy. As soon as one of the babus devined my intention, he drew the bath water and was ready to scrub my back. It would have been easier to let him proceed but I finally convinced him that I was up to the task. On going down to the cocktail lounge, I immediately ran into Major Foster, my old friend from Kansas City, OU, northern Arkansas, and Fort Belvoir. That convinced me our paths were to cross forever. Unfortunately to date, this was to be our last meeting. I have absolutely no idea of his whereabouts. He introduced me to Careaus Booze before dinner and to Lily White brandy after dinner. On retiring for the night, a babu carefully tucked my mosquito net in for me.
At 8 A.M. the next day I reported to Headquarters as instructed and was informed to be at Dum-Dum Air Field on the northern outskirts of Calcutta the next morning for a flight to Jorhat Air Field. That gave me an extra day to get oriented to this strange land and people. Being a geologist my first desire was to obtain a book on the geology of India. Through a little conversation, I was directed to the Geological Survey of India which turned out to be located within a short walk of the Grand Hotel. I found the people there most helpful. In fact it was difficult to be polite and still get back out of the door. A book had been published in 1943 and was obtainable at a store a few blocks away. With the book in my hands I went sightseeing.
Calcutta is basically built around a large park a mile or so square. One side is bounded by the Hooghly River and the opposite side is Chauringhi Street. The park is the site of historic Fort William which in turn is the locale of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta where in the 17th century a number of British were imprisoned during a revolt of the natives. There was a well manicured golf course in the park and a military parade ground. The entire area known as the Maidan was in another world from the rest of Calcutta. Government Buildings occupied the area to the north of the Maidan and 12th Engineer District Headquarters was located in one of them.
During my wanderings along the streets, my attention was drawn to large metal cylinders (perhaps 18 inches in diameter and 3 feet tall) fastened on the rear of the taxi cabs. Upon inquiry, I was informed that they were methane generators providing fuel for the engines. The emaciated cattle were certainly too valuable to eat. I also noticed in more senses than one that all of the buildings had drain pipes running down their outside walls emptying into open gutters along the streets. There the incessant rain showers swept the contents along to places unknown to me (the Hooghly River - where else?). Certainly some buildings (probably including the Grand Hotel) had holding tanks for more solid matter as the gunga wallahs made morning rounds with their honey wagons. It was enough to convince me to become a tea (boiled tea) drinker. The 1952 edition of the Encyclopedia American sums up the situation as follows - The sanitation of Calcutta, though vastly improved in recent years, is still defective, more especially in the suburban districts, where the bastis or native huts are so numerous.
Besides the gunga wallahs morning excursion, another group made the rounds loading up the sidewalk and doorway dwellers that could no longer move. Journeys end was not the burning ghats where more affluent (those that could afford the price of wooden fuel) went but the raised platforms further up River where the buzzards congregated.
The trip to Dum Dum Air Field the next morning was made on the wrong side of the road scattering pedestrians as a ship leaves a wake. The driver of the military transport used the horn more than the brakes but no one was hit. We passed the only sign of industrialization, a large steel mill, that I had seen. After ten or fifteen miles Dum Dum welcomed us and I boarded a military transport plane for the flight to Jorhat. Of my many trips to Calcutta, only the last one when we boarded ship for home was enjoyable.
The CBI Theater was activated in January, 1942 with the arrival of Lt. Gen. Joseph Stillwell (alias Vinegar Joe or Uncle Joe) in China with a staff of 35 officers and 5 enlisted men. By the end of May, Japan had completed its conquest of Southeast Asia including Burma. The fall of Burma completed the isolation of China to surface access. The United States deemed it important that China not fall to Japan as it might be needed as a base of operations and China also was tying up 15 to 22 Japanese combat divisions with support troops --- a total of nearly 1,000,000 men. Support for China was to be supplied by an airlift based in Assam, India.
By September of 1942, a goal of reestablishing a land link to China by the building of a road through northern Burma to link with the Burma road from Lashio to Kunming (which had been opened in 1938) was set. Discussions of augmenting the road with a pipeline were also held. By the end of 1943 there were 95,500 Americans in the CBI. Almost all were Corp of Engineer and Air Force personnel building air fields in China and Assam and flying the Hump with supplies. The road starting at Ledo in uppermost Assam extended about 50 miles into Burma. At the same time US forces in the Pacific numbered 700,000 and those in Europe 1,400,000. No US combat units were used in CBI except 3000 special volunteers that became known as Merrill's Marauders. The Japanese, determined to cut off the US air bases in Assam, invaded India in January, 1944 and surrounded the British forces at Imphal. It was not until April 20, 1944 that British forces drove back the Japanese advance at Kohima in the Naga Hills only 30 miles from the Bengal and Assam Railroad. In February, Stilwell advanced with three American trained Chinese divisions to clear Japanese troops in northern Burma from the proposed route of the Ledo Road.
It is not my purpose to go into military details but a bit of background seems necessary to set the stage for our activities. Barbara W. Tuchmans book titled Stilwell and the American Experience in China 1911-45, published in 1970 is excellent for a broad overview. Leslie Anderss book titled The Ledo Road published in 1965 by the University of Oklahoma Press covers operations beyond Ledo and Tinsukia where the activities of the 777 EPD Co. ended.
GEOGRAPHY AND TOPOGRAPHY, ASSAM
The Brahmaputra River is one of the great rivers of the world. It rises in Tibet between the Great Himalaya and Ladakh ranges (where it is known as Tsang-po) at an elevation of 16,000 feet and runs east for 1000 miles, passing south of Lhasa, and then turns south cutting through the Great Himalya range. In this sector it is called the Dihang. After picking up a couple of Burmese rivers, it emerges from the mountains and enters Assam at an elevation of no more than 500 feet. It now becomes known as the Brahmaputra. The course turns to the west going around the 6000 foot high Shillong Plateau. The Plateau is an east to west feature about 200 miles in length jutting out at nearly a right angle from the north to south trending Patkai Mountains and Naga Hills. These north-south mountains form the boundary between India and Burma. Flowing around the western edge of the Plateau, the Brahmaputra River heads south to the Bay of Bengal. The river is navigable for 800 miles from the Bay.
The Encyclopedia Americana states that even in the dry season the volume of water is equal to 146,188 cubic feet a second, while at the same time and under the same circumstances the Ganges discharges only about 80,000. My book on the Geology of India states that the Indus River carries on average per day 1,000,000 tons of silt to the sea with the Ganges River less and the Brahmaputra River more. The Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers more or less coalesce some 200 miles from the Bay of Bengal and branch into an extensive number of distributaries to form the broad delta region. The Hooghly River along which Calcutta was built some 80 miles from the Bay of Bengal is one of these distributaries.
The Shillong Plateau rising abruptly from near sea level triggers the monsoon winds to drop an average of 400 inches of rain per year on the southern escarpment. The highest rainfall for a year was in excess of 600 inches. All of this runoff enters the Brahmaputra River. Most of the precipitation is from May to September. South of the Plateau, the population is predominately Moslem and is one of the greatest population concentrations in the world. It is now the country of Bangladesh. The Plateau itself is almost devoid of residents. There is one road that crosses it. That is a one way road open for north bound traffic for four hours and south bound for four hours. As I found out one makes the check points on time or waits for the next day. The road is closed at night. North of the Plateau the population is Hindu and concentrated along the main (almost only) road paralleling the Brahmaputra. To the east along the foothills of the Patkai-Naga region is one of the principal tea growing areas of India. In the Patkai Mountains and Naga Hills live the Naga Headhunters. Anders reported in his book on The Ledo Road that this tribe was credited with 150 Cachin heads in 1943. Immediately north of the Shillong Plateau a road runs east from Manipur Jct. into the Naga Hills to Kohima and then southeast to Imphal where in early 1944 the Japanese had the British surrounded. Northwest of northern Assam and across the Brahmaputra is the land of Shangri La in the foot-hills of the Himalayas. (See my topo maps.)
JORHAT, ASSAM--MARCH, 1944
The first five pipeline companies including the 777th EPD Co. reached the CBI theater in January and February of 1944. Two or three including the 777th were assigned to the Calcutta based 12th Engineer District. All my efforts to ship Artic and mountaineering equipment melted in the sun and rusted in the humidity as far as we were concerned. At least seven more EPD Cos. arrived in the theater during the summer and fall of 1944. Maybe one of them got some use out of that superfluous equipment of ours and the lightweight D4 tractors that we never saw. All of our equipment was replaced with the heaviest available.
The mission of the 777th was to put a six inch line across the Brahmaputra River at Goalpara 375 miles roughly paralleling the River, and build a 200,000 barrel (42 gallons per barrel) tank farm at Tinsukia near the head of the Ledo Road. Headquarters for the Company were established at the Jorhat Air Base, an American Transport Command facility in use for flying supplies over the Hump to Kunming, China. Jorhat was midway between Goalpara and Tinsukia. Eventually there were 10 Air Fields in upper Assam all but one in proximity with the pipeline route. In March, 1944 all were receiving their fuel by barges on the River and by the Bengal-Assam railroad.
Upon reporting for duty, I found only Captain Thomas J. Johnson and his headquarters staff of enlisted men in Jorhat. Quarters were in bamboo bashas with thatched roofs, much more comfortable than Army tents. Soon after the arrival of the Company, the Captain requested that Lts. Collins and Smallwood be transferred out. This left him only three officers on duty and he seemed glad to see me. In general he appeared pleased with his NCO's. Lt. Leonard O. Wharton with 50 men was at Goalpara working on the River crossing. Lt. William Miller was at Timsukia working on the tank farm with a like number of men and Lt. Earnest S. Kinkler with 50 was stringing, connecting, and ditching pipe. Master Sergeant Ellis O. Scruggs had 20 men building pump stations. The remaining 30 were at headquarters under first Sergeant John J. Kane handling administration, supply, mess, PX, motor pool, machine shop, etc. This is where I was supposed to fit into the organization.
The crossing of the Brahmaputra was a major project. It obviously had received a lot of attention and planning from the 12th Engineer District. The River flows in a broad flood plain with only very low or no natural levees. No man made improvements on nature had ever been attempted and probably still have not. The river in the dry season would commonly bifurcate and have an overall width of four to five miles. In the wet season of May to September, the flood plain was entirely covered by water-muddy water. At Goalpara near the northwest edge of the Shillong Plateau the flood plain narrowed and the River ran in a channel only 2 and 1/2 to 3 miles wide before turning south towards the Bay of Bengal. It was here that the pipeline was to cross.
Simply stated the idea was to weld a three mile section on land, place it on rollers and skids, fasten floats and small pontoons to it so they could be simultaneously released, and pull with large tug boats specially brought up river from Calcutta and push and pull with D8 tractors, the largest in India. Perfect alignment and perfect welding were critical. Remember that these were young men and not old timers experienced in welding but no one wanted a second chance even if one had been possible. Supervision and inspection by 12th District personnel was not lacking. Before moving the pipe it was pressure tested with air to more than 1000 pounds per square inch. All went well. The rollers and skids were greased. The tugs arrived and the bulldozer hooked up. It was an impressive array of equipment. The pull started early in the morning as it was semi-dry land, was pulled ashore and firmly anchored. Then with a pull on the cable the pins holding the floats and pontoons were unseated and the pipe sank to the river bed all in apparently one piece. The worries were not over.
The pipe was filled with water and pressure tested. All o.k. Then it was time to run a go-devil through it. With the pumps on the far bank pumping water and forcing the go-devil along, the pressures started to rise. Finally it became necessary to connect pumps to the near side and force the go-devil backwards. By rocking back and forth the obstruction was loosened. It soon became apparent when dead snakes by the thousands started coming out of the pipe what the problem was. The snakes of all varieties including small to king cobras would crawl in at night for a little extra warmth and then be cooked by the sun on the pipe during the day time. Lesson number one had been learned. Plug all open pipeline ends at night.
By time the pipeline was across the River, the Company had suffered 20 to 25 cases of malaria although all personnel were on suppressive atabrine treatment. From then on, no supervision of atabrine consumption was needed. If it was not on the table, it was requested. Our incidence of malaria became negligible. Malaria, amoebic dysentery, and fungus diseases were endemic through all of Assam and Burma. (Probably all of India and SE Asia). The standard joke among the men was that no Purple Heart medals for combat wounds would be earned but all would received the Spotted Liver.
One night after day our supply sergeant, Staff Sgt. Joe Brandon and myself departed the River crossing site heading for Jorhat. I was driving a jeep and Joe was following me in a light truck. On coming out of the flood plain and going over a steep rise, I nearly hit the rear end of an Indian switch engine and Joe came close to helping me along. The elephant, one of several in the road, turned its head and swung its trunk to ascertain the reason for the commotion to the rear. Then it lead the way off the road into a dense bamboo thicket creating more noise than did our squealing brakes and skidding tires. Yes, elephants were the main if not only switch engines used at railroad sidings and marshaling yards in this part of the world. That presented a problem to the US railroad battalion that had taken over the Bengal-Assam route until they discovered each engine came with its own driver.
At the other end of our project, Lt. Miller was having problems. Mud made it necessary to build bases of gravel and sand on which to build the tanks. Since air field construction and work on the Ledo road needed the same material that came mostly from the same sources, almost each truck load was the result of a battle. The tank parts were coming up the River on barges to Dibrugarh and thence 30 miles by road to Tinsukia. By time he received them, they had been loaded on ships at US ports, unloaded at Calcutta, loaded and unloaded from river barges and many crates were badly damaged. The crates held parts for 500, 1000, 5000, or 10,000 barrel tanks. None of the parts were interchangeable although all were similar. Sorting was a tremendous warehousing job. Some staves or other parts would be damaged beyond repair. Lots of tons were received but few complete tanks. Nothing is more useless than a 10,000 barrel tanks with one missing stave or more dangerous than one with a crinkled stave. Experience with an Erector Set as a boy is a big help for tank construction. An even temper also helps.
The tanks were bolted steel with neoprene gaskets between parts. Native labor was used to do the bolting but our men checked all bolts for alignment and tightness. We were ahead of the times in being an equal opportunity employer. Hindu women working in pairs, one outside and one inside the tank to back up the bolts, did most of the bolting. Bamboo scaffolding was necessary for the erection of the tanks.
One day a python showed up in the tank farm looking for a bite to eat. Since it was making the natives as well as our men a little bit nervous, the men killed it. That snake could easily grow a foot to eighteen inches per year. After the past 41 years, it is at least 60 feet long.
Lt. Earnest S. Kinkler had his work party working on the pipeline and as men became available from other construction, Lts. Wharton and Miller put crews to work on the line. Pipe was delivered by both rail and barge from Calcutta. Along sparsely settled regions invasion weight Victaulic coupled pipe was used. This type of coupling consisted of two metal flanges inserted around a neoprene gasket and into grooves in the abutting ends of two joints of pipe, all held together by two large bolts. Through villages, welded pipe was used for an extra safety factor. To my recollection the Company had only one major leak after the line went into operation. Fortunately, it was repaired before a fire started. All of the line was put in ditches 18 inches deep dug by native labor using ghodalys, a large tool similar to a hoe. Back filling was done by bulldozer.
Whenever a long welded section was being laid, it seemed as though Major Garner of the 12th District would be present. Usually he could be found back of a welding face mask showing some man the proper technique. He did not like Calcutta and wanted nothing to do with his CO, Colonel Kinsolving. He had finally obtained some proper uniforms after his shanghaiing in the States. He did not like the army and refused to wear any insignia except for his rank. He was very conscientious with his work, wanted nothing to do with protocol, wanted to get the job done and go home. He was probably the most popular officer with the men in India. He knew his business but played havoc with the chain of command. He was a character but it would be nice to have an ex Vice-President of the US as an uncle.
There were a number of old Hindu Villages along the route of the pipeline, but one stands out in my memory. Sibsagar had a large Hindu temple dating from more prosperous times, say several centuries ago. The spire of the temple was reputed to be gold or at least gold plated. British soldiers of yore had heard of this and tried retrieving some of the gold by shooting it off with rifle fire. I checked this out one day with a pair of binoculars and did observe a number of holes around the base of the dome. The other towns come to mind as extensions of the culture of Calcutta complete with the open air meat markets with fly covered carcasses of goats hanging on hooks in the open air. C and K rations issued by the Army looked, smelled, and tasted great.
There were 14 pumping stations between the crossing of the Brahmaputra River and the tank farm at Tinsukia. Master Sergeant Ellis O. Scruggs and his men were in charge of constructing and tying in these stations to the pipeline. Since the terrain along the Brahmaputra River was quite flat, centrifugal pumps were used. Each station had 1000 to 1500 barrels of tank storage. The installation was surrounded by two barbed wire fences, one four feet high on the perimeter and one six feet high around the tanks and pumps. Living quarters of a bamboo and thatched bashi and the same for a mess hall and kitchen were inside the four foot high fence. To operate a pipeline, it is necessary to have communications up and down the line. This was accomplished by having a teletype machine at each station. It was no small task to string 380 miles of connecting wire.
Routine administrative duties were well handled by the NCO's. First Sgt. Kane knew all the tricks of the trade. On visits by officers of the Inspector General, he always had a backlog of questions to keep them on the defensive. Only occasionally could they be answered on the spot and if they could be, there would be a follow up question that could not be. It is difficult to criticize a man with such a thirst for knowledge of Army regulations.
Meeting the payroll for 200 men was no problem, but for up to a 1000 native laborers was. The Army pays once a month but many of the natives came and departed on a schedule of their own and always logically wanted immediate payment. The Army makes cash payments with the smallest number of coins and paper bills possible. If some one were owed 107 rupees, they would receive a 100 rupee bill, a 5 rupee bill and two 1 rupee bills. The natives would not accept 100 rupee notes as they could not spend them and there were no local banks. The saving grace to these problems was that all of them signed the rolls with an X. An illegal but practical and well known conspiracy evolved. We padded the payroll and made sure that no native was to receive more than 99 rupees. Since the pay ran a little over $1 per day, it was not uncommon for a native to earn 105 to 110 rupees per month. Our war chest was kept in the Company safe except for some emergency funds in the hands of officers in charge of work parties. To the best of my knowledge and with my strongest belief, I will say that not one rupee was misappropriated. How else could the matter be handled? Once a month, I would fly by hitchhiking with the Air Force to the nearest paymaster who was always on an air base, draw the pay for our men and labor. It made a good gunny sack full and usually approximated 120,000 to 130,000 rupees ($40,000--45,000). With a 45 on my belt, I would return to Jorhat by air, grab a carbine and take a jeep ride up and down the 380 miles of the pipeline route. I never had any trouble on the road.
All roads were gravel surfaced, rough and rutted. That took a toll on our vehicles especially the jeeps. The jeep steering gear was anchored on a steel pin an inch in diameter and about four or five inches long. After several of these pins broke with one nearly causing a fatality, our motor pool sergeant, Staff Sgt. Frank J. Tetro from the Bronx, New York, suggested replacing them with brass pins made in our machine shop. The idea was that the brass would wear causing the steering system to shimmy but would not break. It was tried and it worked. We had no more broken pins but a whale of a lot of replacements. One day during the middle of the monsoon season, the British requested our assistance in unloading a power shovel from a barge on the Brahmaputra River. The Captain sent me, S. Sgt. Tetro and a couple of men to see if we could help. On reaching the River about ten miles from Jorhat we found the unloading dock under water. A temporary ramp made of some heavy timbers had been fashioned but it looked downright dangerous to us. Tetro looked the shovel over and asked me where the fourth cylinder was. It was the first time we had seen a 3 cylinder engine. Tetro was sure he could get it started and show the British how to drive it off of the barge but declined the honor for himself. I explained the situation to the British officer who after much discussion with his men failed to come up with any volunteer. Our motor pool could not get along without Tetro so we headed for Jorhat leaving the shovel on the barge.
Along about the same time, the Air Force requested that we take over the operation of a pump station and pipeline from the Brahmaputra to Jorhat Air Field. It was the principal, if not at this time the only, source of gasoline for the Air Field. Their operations were being curtailed for a lack of gasoline. The current operation of the spur line was under British supervision. Captain Johnson took me and M. Sgt. Scruggs for a detailed look at the pump station and barge unloading line. The dock was not far from the one now under water that Tetro and I had visited. It quickly became apparent that the only way unloading gasoline from barges could be speeded up was to put the pump station on around the clock operations. The British for lack of lighting were operating only in daylight. To obtain lighting, it was necessary to obtain at least a 5 kilowatt generator and devise some means for protecting electrical connections from explosive vapors. The generator must be located a sufficient distance from the barge so that explosive vapors would not affect it. Since vapor shields for connections were not to be had, it would be necessary to use rubber tape on all connections including each and every light bulb. All could be handled if ---- we could find a generator. Supply officer, get to work, beg, borrow, or steal said the Captain.
My first action after getting back to Jorhat was to have our Supply Sergeant, S. Sgt. Joseph O. Brandon of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, requisition a 5 KW generator from the 12th Engineer District. Armed with a copy and with a full realization that there was no way of knowing when if ever we would receive a 5 KW generator, I headed to see the supply officer for the Air Field. He was a Major and I a 2nd Lieutenant. (I think Captain Johnson had made up his mind that he would deal only with Air Force Full or Lt. Colonels. Any lesser rank was up to his Lieutenants.) After explaining the request and our problems, I asked if he had a generator. This elicited a brusque reply that they had no surplus generator. I showed him my requisition and stated I had little hope of having it filled within a reasonable length of time. It was also pointed out to him (I had done a little snooping) that the Air Force officers quarters had a couple of 5 KW generators and that the elimination of half of the light bulbs would enable one generator to do the work of two. I thought he was going to have me thrown out. So, as I prepared to leave I said it is either lights in the quarters and no gasoline or gasoline with dimmed lights. He became rather meek and excused himself. Shortly, he returned from an obvious conference with the base Commander and said the generator would be loaned to us. To this day I do not know whether they ever got their generator back or not. Thusly began my part in the private feud or war between the Air Force and ourselves. I am glad that those over ranked, pampered prima donnas were on our side but I wish they could have had the perspective to recognize on which side the bread was buttered and from whence the butter came. They got the gasoline and did not need to spend too much time in quarters. We had no lights in our quarters.
Supply problems were not always routine. We had a bulldozer blade for a D8 Cat disappear from the pipeline right away. It was readily apparent that the Air Force was not involved, nor the British, nor the native population. That left the Corps of Engineers and we pursued them assiduously. There is no honor among thieves. S. Sgt. Brandon was able to trace the blade as far as Ledo where it disappeared into another Engineer District and down the road into Burma. The lesson is to guard all equipment. We even had short-stopping of supplies within the Company.
All of my life I have been spoiled by having a good mess sergeant and cook. In India everything was either canned, dried, or powdered. Occasionally we would buy fresh duck eggs from the natives but that was it. Our biggest problem was trying to get small cans suitable from small work parties. A gallon of peas was a little too much for 10 to 20 men. With no refrigeration there was no way to save food for another meal. In other words leftovers did not exist. Water was always plentiful but not to drink. The cooks were charged with responsibility of chlorinating large canvass lister bags full of water. Canteens were filled from the bags. Checking the water was always the first chore of visiting medical men.
The most disagreeable task for an officer was the censoring of the mail. At first it might have seemed interesting but after the first half dozen letters it was a chore. There really was nothing the men could write that could cause any conceivable damage to the war effort. After a while the job kept getting shorter and shorter until it could be accomplished in about five minutes for fifty letters.
As an independent Company, it was necessary for us to run our own Post Exchange i.e. PX. Corporal Judson R. Sawyer from Roanoke, Virginia started out as an assistant to our supply sergeant and ended up running the PX. He earned a Medal but he never received one. Supplies were allotted on the basis of a strength return of men available for duty. They were issued from a central warehouse in Calcutta but it was up to the unit to arrange for transport to their destination. The Air Force handled this by sending a transport plane to Dum Dum Air Field on the edge of Calcutta and had their supplies in hand in half a days time. They would not transport ours even though we were headquartered at an Air Base. It was necessary for us to ship by rail. Sawyer would get the smallest box car, load it and ride in it as guard at all times. On arrival in Jorhat our supplies would be loaded into a truck and taken to the headquarters of the work parties where sales were made off of the tail gate. To make his rounds would take three or four days as sales could be made only after working hours. During the day he would catch up on his accounting and move on to the next stop. He was our itinerant peddler usually making his rounds twice a month.
Our merchandise was cigarettes, beer, candy, soap, toothpaste, and occasionally more exotic items such as stationery, playing cards, souvenir items (Indian Jewelry, hand carved wooden boxes etc.) and watches from the States. If we had very few of a valuable item a drawing would be held and a scrambled list of all men would determine the order of purchase rights. The same list would continue in use until all had a chance. Then a new draw and list would be made. If any item appeared to be in considerable surplus Sawyer would ration it. Everyone always buys their full ration.
Periodically an Army Doctor would visit us and spend a week or more in the Company's area of operations. Besides preventive medicine they would treat all our minor ailments, the most common being fungus related, such as swimmers ear. Our first doctor ( I recall his name as Willard) must have been greatly frustrated. He had been in Alaska before being transferred to India. His specialty was obstetrics. On one of his visits in early summer of 1944, he found me ailing and told Captain Johnson he was ordering me to the advanced (that does not imply scientifically but most forward in a theater of operations which does not mean surgically but closeness to combat) hospital at Tezpur. Tezpur was an Air Field on the other side (north) of the Brahmaputra river about a 20 to 30 minute flight from Jorhat Air Field. It was where the nearest Army paymaster held court and therefore was not new to me. After the short flight which was plenty long between rest stops, I made it the rest of the way to the hospital without accident. Upon examination including a stool sample (that was no problem to me) I was put in the officer's ward which accommodated 10 to 15 goldbrickers. The next day I was feeling better but was informed that amebic dysentery was probably my problem and that I would be held for observation. Next door in a large ward holding 50 or more enlisted men, each morning I could hear the command of bottoms up being given followed by ouch. The needle in use certainly would not have looked out of place at the Kentucky Derby. Such is the cure for amebic dysentery.
In the bunk next to me was a Captain suffering from a bleeding ulcer. He was or had been a member of Merrill's Marauders on General Stilwell's drive for Myitkyina which had started in February, 1944 and reached the Air Strip there in late May of 1944. This is how I date my hospital stay as early summer of 1944. The Captain had been in command of a Company of pack artillery. The mules or something had given him a bad case of ulcers. He was so happy to be out of northern Burma that everything looked good through his rose colored glasses even the greasy donuts sold at the hospital PX. They did not help his stomach but did wonders for his spirits. After a week without identifying the proper amoeba, the hospital staff turned me out without even a come again invitation. My welcome had run out.
The Company's next memorable visit from the Medical Corp was made by a dentist. He may have been disillusioned to find the Company Commander would not order the men back to headquarters for a dental check up but he was determined. He talked the Captain out of a truck complete with driver. With his new assistant, he set up shop in the back of the truck. Down the road they went, stopping and pulling rank on every American in sight. He cleaned teeth and filled a few cavities working from sunup to sunset. He was unbelievable and won the respect and cooperation of everyone.
The Medical corp did their best to keep this theater in operation. I am sure it was not glamorous to their personnel but they deserve a lot of credit for whatever success the theater had. On one of my trips to Calcutta, on getting off of the plane at Dum Dum I and everyone else was ordered to bare our arm for a small pox vaccination. No protest that one had recently been received was accepted. No one ever told me but after due deliberation, my conclusion was that Calcutta was in the midst of a small pox epidemic.
Outside of ping pong and card games there was not much in the way of recreation for the men. There would be an occasional movie at the work camps. We would receive the films by mail at Jorhat and send them up the line with a projector. At Jorhat, the Air Force would show movies several nights each week in an outdoor theater complete with wooden benches. During the day our uniform was basically as little as possible but at night we would dress up in long sleeve shirts and long trousers. Our cologne was mosquito repellent. If the mosquitoes would slide off, one had put on the correct amount. One night at the Air Force theater, I ran into Lt. Dave Dobie, a fraternity brother and friend from my days at the University of Oklahoma. Dave looked at me and my insignia and asked if I was the one who had dimmed the lights in their quarters. On my affirmative response, he said 'give us back the generator and keep the gasoline. These movies are becoming poor, poorer, and poorest.' I told him the 777th would do anything to keep the Air Force up in the air.
In July the Japanese forces around Imphal started their withdrawal from India and on August 3 Stilwell's forces completed the capture of the town of Myitkyina. Assam was a much safer place from then on. It seemed a good time to get rid of our excess baggage consisting of 24-50 caliber machine guns. Every now and then it was necessary to uncrate, clean, assemble, disassemble, oil, and recrate them. With a full compliment of ammunition, the guns took up a lot of storage space at headquarters. The request to turn them in was refused and our attention was called to the two and a half months of combat duty of Engineer troops in the Myitkyina area.
By late summer the finishing connections were made on our 380 mile segment of the Calcutta to Tinsukia 6 inch pipeline. On September 29 a 4 inch pipeline was opened from the Tinsukia tank farm to Myitkyina. The 777th was ordered to start construction on the 550 mile 6 inch pipeline from Chittagong to Tinsukia. Headquarters for the Company were to be at Chittagong. By this time we had enough rolling stock that drivers were almost in short supply. Headquarters and Lt. Wharton's work party went to Chittagong while Lt. Kinkler and Lt. Miller took their men to points along the proposed line. I am not sure if some of the Company's personnel ever saw Chittagong.
Chittagong is a city of 270,000 people located across the Bay of Bengal and the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta from Calcutta. The distance is about 220 miles by air and nearly 500 miles by a circuitous railroad route involving at least one ferry. The city and its port are several miles from the Bay up an estuary of a local river. Before the War, it served as the major tea shipping center for tea grown in Assam. A narrow gauge railway connected the tea plantations to the port. This railroad was to serve as the route for the pipeline.
Chittagong was the major base for British operations to retake the Japanese base at Akyab 130 miles to the south on the Bay of Bengal. The first British attempt in 1943 had been repulsed and the Japanese had remained a severe threat to shipping in the Bay of Bengal. This is the reason our Company disembarked at Bombay and crossed India by rail to reach Assam. Obviously ships were using the Bay to some extent as I made it. In support of the operation was one American Air Squadron based at the Chittagong Air Field. A few months later a Negro (white officers) American transport battalion moved to Chittagong to lend support with ground transportation. This resulted in some interesting problems with the British West African Division. The West Africans liked the American food and treatment and were prone to join their American brothers. Sorting out became a daily task. On starting their march toward the front, the African troops would look very snappy and sharp. All items of the uniform would be exactly correct and all movements exactly in unison. After the first rest break, all would change. On resuming the trek, all would shuffle off carrying the rifle by the barrel with a pair of heavy shoes tied together by the laces slung over the rifle, and rifle and shoes resting on a shoulder.
Headquarters for the 777th was north of town about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the beach along the Bay. However to get to the beach required a several mile jeep ride or wading across a snake infested swamp. The beach was clean sand with an abundance of large sand crabs. As a rule there was a strong undertow which took several British soldiers' lives. Our headquarters were a number of bamboo, thatched roof bashis built on concrete slabs. Gunny sacking was used for a ceiling to keep debris from the thatched roof from falling into the living area. The officer's bashi had four rooms in a row. Since only Captain Johnson, Lt. Wharton, and myself were based there, a guest room was usually available. The beds were wooden with rope springs, a straw mattress, and the universal mosquito bars. A well tucked in mosquito net gave a comfortable feeling as protection from snakes, rats, spiders, and all sorts of creepy crawlers as well as from mosquitoes.
I decided such luxurious quarters deserved a wardrobe closet for hanging and storing my clothes especially my winter uniforms. When I discovered a hole nibbled in the left rear bottom edge of my winter short coat, it went back to hanging on a bar suspended from a rafter with twine. The hole was skillfully patched by the officer's baboo that took care of our quarters and supervised the washing of our clothes. My next shock came on finding sawdust on the floor around the closet. The termites had made their presence known and valiantly resisted all my efforts to terminate them. It was with pleasure that I watched smoke come out of their holes and the entire wardrobe closet reduced to ashes. Rats continued to be a problem. At night they would run back and forth on the gunny sack ceilings and the men in their quarters entertained themselves trying to spear them with a sharpened nail previously driven into the end of a stick. How long had they been in India? I decided that the rats were more of a nuisance than a little thatch debris would be on the floor, so I had the baboo cut out the ceiling over my room.
A different medical doctor, Captain Karusitus from New Jersey was assigned to take care of our ills. He spent a lot of time in our guest room as for some reason he did not like Calcutta. He made numerous contributions at the officer's poker table and then took all back plus some more at gin rummy. Shortly after the renovation of my quarters which was one of the inside rooms, we were playing gin rummy when a rat came running into thin air. It landed on the table scattering the cards. The three of us were stunned and just sat there until one recovered and scampered out the open door. The rat road had been broken.
Fresh water was a problem at our Chittagong headquarters. After some investigation, a native well digging crew was hired to drill a well so we would not need to haul our water. We made available several joints of light weight 2 inch pipe and the four man crew went to work. The supervisor had an A-frame built to use as a fulcrum for a long lever. Next a tall platform was built for a man to stand upon. All were built with bamboo. A hole about a foot in diameter and two feet deep was dug with ghodalys, the hoe-like tool. A joint of pipe was worked vertically into the hole and drilling began. The ground hole and the pipe were kept full of water. Two men worked the lever (attached with a rope to the pipe) up and down. The third man stood on the platform and used his hand as a shutter valve at the top of the pipe. As the pipe was raised, he would close the end with his hand to maintain suction and keep the pipe full of water. The strokes were short, seldom over six inches. In the soft clay and sand of the recent deposits, they worked the pipe down ten to fifteen feet and obtained good returns of mud showing they were actually making a hole and not just sinking the pipe into the ground. When needed a connection was made using wrenches. All went well until circulation was lost. The answer to that problem was to mud off the lost circulation zone with cow processed straw. No wonder the Hindus worship cows. They are far too valuable to eat. At 40 to 50 feet, a sand layer was readied that carried fresh water and just enough pressure from the overburden to flow a steady stream of water two or three feet above ground level. The well was completed by cementing the pipe in place by tamping mud down the annulus. I do not think it will work either but it did.
Since headquarters was no longer on an American base and was in the vicinity of a large native population, it was necessary to mount a guard to prevent pilferage of supplies. Our men were needed for other tasks so we hired a squad (10 to 15)) of Gurkhas. Our work parties had utilized a similar arrangement whenever needed in the past. The Gurkhas are from the Himalayan country of Nepal and are small wiry men with a well deserved fighting renown. The curved Gurkha knives are respected as they are never unsheathed except to draw blood. If one needs sharpening and they did every day, a small drop of blood was taken by pricking a finger. I am glad I never saw one used for any other purpose. The Gurkhas handled their own ems as part of their contract. Their uniform in this region was a khaki shirt with khaki shorts supplemented if needed by a light jacket. In January of 1945 there was a little cold weather for which our guards were not prepared. Our men dug to the bottom of their duffel bags and came up with some government issue long handle underwear and outfitted the Gurkhas. The underwear ended up as outerwear and military decorum disappeared and was replaced by enduring friendship.
In Chittagong we were able to vary our mess by trading with the British and later on with tankers that came to unload. The mess sergeant and his cooks were always striving for a way to vary the diet. The men of the motor pool quickly discovered value in the dumps of the British Army and over a period of time assembled some functioning motorcycles much to the embarrassment of the British. A reluctant Captain Johnson had to stop this free enterprise but the men were allowed to keep their booty.
CHITTAGONG TO TINSUKIA
The 550 mile long pipeline was geographically divided into three distinct segments. The first 240 miles including an offshore unloading line for tankers was along the eastern edge of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in low lying rice paddy terrain. The second 140 mile long stretch was across the Shillong Plateau at elevations up to 5500 feet. The final 170 mile segment was in upper Assam at elevations of 400 to 500 feet north of the Plateau and east of the pipeline previously laid.
A buoy specially designed and made in great Britain was anchored 2 miles offshore in the open Bay of Bengal. Tankers would tie up to the buoy for unloading. Our job was to lay a line from shore to the buoy and install a flexible connection for ships. To accomplish this task the naval arm of the 777th was activated with a fleet of two landing crafts and a 35 foot (plus or minus) cabin cruiser. The construction of the line was essentially similar to that of the Brahmaputra River crossing. Major Garner from 12th Engineer District Headquarters was in overall charge. Technical problems were handled without undue trouble but a major incident arose with the U.S. Fighter Squadron based in Chittagong.
The distance from the Chittagong docks to the buoy by water was about four miles, two down the estuary and two in open ocean. The American pilots had decided that the buoy was ideal as a target for clearing their machine guns at the start of a mission. Captain Johnson had lodged a strong protest with the Colonel commanding the squadron and thought the matter had been settled. One day when Major Garner with a few men were on the buoy working, the clearing of guns was repeated and all on the buoy went into the water. An irate Major showed up at our headquarters after a quick trip and found out that this was a repeat but more serious performance. Garner headed for the airport taking Captain Johnson and myself with him. I was just an observer in case one was needed. On reaching the Squadron Headquarters and noticing an inner door, he hustled to it and barged in before the startled staff could stop him. The Colonel was behind a desk and Garner reached over and grabbed his shirt pulling him out of his chair. His remarks to the Colonel were short and to the point. If a single round is ever fired again at the buoy, the Colonel's hide would take a beating. If the Colonel wanted to bring court martial charges against him, have at it. He would welcome the chance to air the matter before or after further physical actions. Garner was the individual that was the nephew of Roosevelt's first Vice-President. He was a maverick and had been in trouble with his own Colonel. He had decided that the only insignia that he would wear was his rank. The Air Force Colonel was convinced that his safety was in following the Major's orders. No more incidences occurred.
Many years after the war, I ran into a retired Air Force Colonel, Bruce Kirkpatrick, on a golf course in Norman, Oklahoma who had a story to tell about building a fabulous $10,000 target south of Chittagong along the Arakan coast so fighter pilots would have a place to clear their guns. The two other players in the foursome were also retired Air Force officers. One spoke up quickly and told Bruce that I was familiar with Chittagong having served there with the Corp of Engineers. The conversation changed subjects. I feel this at least confirms to some extent my recollections.
The 240 mile segment of the pipeline north from Chittagong to the abrupt southern edge of the Shillong Plateau presented no new problems. A gravel road (that is the only kind of road that I saw in northeast India) closely paralleled the narrow gauge railroad giving us the best of conditions for receiving pipe from Calcutta and for the use of our vehicles. The six inch line was all welded and our welders by now were thoroughly competent. The area is heavily populated and labor for digging ditches was abundant. Six American Air Fields including the one at Chittagong lay along or in proximity to the route. Near the city of Comilla was a palatial (at least big) palace of a Maharajah. It completely covered an island in a fair sized lake with the only access being by boat. Dacca (1945 spelling) or Dahka (current spelling) now the Capital of Bangladesh is about 50 miles northwest of Comilla which was on the pipeline route.
Construction was not devoid of some excitement. One of our work camps was bombed by a lone Japanese plane one night, probably by mistake. No one was injured but severe damage was inflicted on some rice patties to the north of our camp. The bombs were most likely intended for an air field 20 miles distant but the pilot saw our lights and pulled the cord. Another of our work camps was bothered by what was assumed to be a big cat coming down from the mountains to the east for a little midnight requisitioning. Paw prints had been noted for several days around our dump and the men reported heavy breathing outside their quarters. To say the least, it was rather distracting. A trip to the butcher shop in the nearest town produced a ripe hunk of goat meat complete with flies. Some bare electric wire was wrapped around the hunk and it was suspended about six feet off of the wet ground over a metal plate four feet square. That night the wire was connected to a trailer mounted electric welding machine parked at a distance of 30 feet. The direct current generator was started at bedtime and left running. In the wee hours of the morning all were awakened by a blood curdling shriek. That was the last visit of the black panther (?).
On December 6, 1944, I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant so I assume Captain Johnson was not completely disappointed with me. My tasks were always sparked with interest and they gave me a good perspective of our overall assignment. On January 31, 1945 my father died but word did not reach me until the middle of February when a letter from mother arrived. He died of meningococcus spinal meningitis in the Army Hospital at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I hope and trust that he knew of my promotion before he became ill. The unexpected news floored me for the rest of the day. Captain Johnson was understanding and allowed time for me to regain my composure.
As I have previously mentioned, the 777th did not radiate very much military decor but our men were required to have their rifles, the Army M1, handy. A training allotment of ammunition was available. After all we were still in the Army. One Sunday a group had gone hunting and one man shot at a duck on a lake. The bullet ricocheted and hit and killed a native child on the far side of the lake. It was an obvious accident but just as obvious an act of carelessness. At the Captain's request the man was sent from his work camp into Headquarters. The Lt. in charge with a group of men had seen that the body was taken to the parents. No retaliation was anticipated but precautions were taken and it was best for the man to be removed from the area. No one, including the one that counted i.e. Captain Johnson, wanted the Civil Authorities or higher Army command to become involved. The Captain, 1st Sgt. Kane, and myself held a conference. Kane researched the Army regulations and suggested the possibility of a Summary Court Martial which could be conducted entirely within the Company. The maximum penalty of a Summary Court was forfeiture of one month pay and restriction to the Company Area for a like period of time. It was decided that I would contact the local authority, namely the head of the local police, offer our regrets and sympathy, and inform him that the man would face a Court Martial. Then I would act as Judge, accept a guilty plea of reckless discharge of a firearm, and sentence the man to forfeit one month pay excluding the amount being allotted for use in the States and restrict him to the Company area for one month. The fine was no more than a fourth of a months pay and the man had not been out of the Company area for more than a year. The 1st Sgt. would write the proceedings, I would sign them, the Captain would formally approve and submit them to the next higher Army command where hopefully they would be noticed and forgotten. The man was truly remorseful and truly concerned with his future.
Before the Court Martial, it was necessary to talk to the police and make sure they would not take any action. The next day I went to the prefecture and asked to see the head of the police. An audience was immediately granted to the well dressed American officer. (My khaki shirt and trousers were well starched and ironed, with all insignia well burnished.) I was startled to see that the man back of the desk was wearing a silver star on each shoulder. Yes, he had been informed of the incident and had been glad to hear of the thoughtfulness of our men in taking the body to the parents. I expressed our deep concern and regret over the event, stated that the man was in custody, and would be subject to a Court Martial. I carefully refrained from saying what charges were to be brought or what sentence would be requested. He seemed amazed and well pleased that we were taking some action and so promptly. As I departed, he thanked me profusely for coming to see him and that he was well pleased with our actions. I left assured that no civil action would be considered. Everything worked out according to plan and no one was more thankful than our enlisted man. This was the first, last and only Court Martial involving our Company.
Another incident that happened during the construction of this segment of the pipeline did not end so happily. The physically strongest and one of the least educated but most willing men in the Company decided on a one man crusade against filth and dirt in this part of the world. With a temporary surplus of soap in the PX, he decided that the native laborers needed a shower-a good cleansing shower. He purchased a large supply of soap, rounded up with his domineering appearance a number of the native workers and proceeded in giving them a good scrubbing. This was accepted as a good GI joke until it became a routine. When on the next trip of the PX to the work camp, he demanded the right to purchase several cases of soap and would level Corporal Sawyer if he would not comply, the matter became serious. Under a pretext the man was sent to Chittagong headquarters for Captain Johnson's expert appraisal. How would you handle the problem? The Captain under pretext sent him to 12th Engineer District Headquarters in Calcutta on an Air Force Transport plane. The next we heard was that he had been repatriated to the States in a straight jacket. I believe that within a month back in the States, he was perfectly normal whatever that means. Seeing little children in competition with big buzzards on a garbage dump, does not make one hardhearted but realistic to events beyond their control and ability to effectively change. It is the only way to maintain sanity.
Early in 1945, Master Sgt. Scruggs was offered a 'battlefield commission' as a 2nd Lieutenant. It was rare that such an offer was made except under actual battlefield conditions but he had certainly proved his value in the construction of pump stations and in supervision of men. With no exceptions, every one was back of him. The only problem was that acceptance entailed a cut in pay. A 2nd Lt. earns more base pay (not by much) than a master sergeant but an enlisted man earned 20% additional for overseas service and a commissioned officer only 10%. This differential meant a cut in pay for Scruggs. Only with some arm twisting and an explanation that he was for all intensive purposes at a dead end as an enlisted man but as a commissioned officer he would not be, did he agree with the Captain to accept the commission. The Company was now only one officer short of those authorized.
Corporal Sawyer and the Company PX was having difficulties. We were still unable to get the Air Force Transport Command to transport our allotments to Chittagong although they did so for the Fighter Squadron based there. The 500 mile plus railroad trip was longer in time than the 700 mile trip to Jorhat because of ferry crossings in the delta region. Even worse, Sawyer told me he was sure the Air Force was cheating us out of some of our authorizations. An Engineer corporal does not stand much chance against an Air Force Major or Lt. Colonel. With the concurrence of the Captain, I decided to try my luck the following month. With Sawyer, we flew to Calcutta and went to the PX warehouse where we were given a list of our supplies. On comparison with allotments set out by theater and Army regulations and with other drawing units, it was obvious we were being short-changed. I approached the Captain in charge of the warehouse and inquired where are our watches and a few other so called luxury items. After refusing to accept his explanation that we were not entitled to any, I pointed out the regulations. About that point an Air Force Lt. Colonel came to his support and was quite curt about it. This was no time for me to back off as I was standing on regulations which 1st Sgt. Kane had checked out for me. The Lt. Colonel was incensed and threatened to have me Court Martialed for insubordination. My reply was that I would follow regulations and salute the uniform as soon as we stepped out of the room but as long as we were doing exactly the same job I did not recognize any difference in rank and was determined to obtain our fair share no more or no less. The net upshot was that I gained some watches and a few other knick-knacks and a lot of satisfaction since they came out of his allotments. It was obvious he had been using his rank to augment his supplies at the expense of us and undoubtedly others. He was 2nd in command of an Air Field in the delta area. Our feud with the Air Force continued but we were not always to come out on top.
A few months later, the CBI theater suffered a severe shortage of cigarettes. Something had gone wrong with the allocation process. As luck would have it, the 777th received 10 months supply instead of one months. We did not have a good place to store them and certainly could not legally sell them. We sent word via the teletype to the PX officer in Calcutta. He requested we bring them back. Our reply was that we would put them on a train but could not guarantee he would ever get them unless he furnished a guard. We had no guard to spare. The word came back to trade or give them to American units in the area but to be sure to account for them. My next trip to Tezgon Air Base (not to be confused with Tezpur Air Base where I had been in the hospital) to draw money for payment of our men and labor was imminent. I obtained a list of items from Corporal Sawyer that he would like to have. My first stop was the Base PX office where I inquired about there supply of cigarettes. The reply was that they could not help me out as they had a serious shortage themselves. I pulled out Sawyer's list of desires and felt them out on these items finding some would be tradable. Then the bargaining started. After agreements were reached with them getting probably $2 of cigarettes for every $1 of merchandise given up, every one was happy. I was asked when I could deliver the cigarettes and my reply was anytime they could have transportation in Chittagong to pick them up. That is when the fur started to fly. They insisted that we truck them the couple hundred road and ferry miles from Chittagong and I insisted that we would not. There was one or two daily flights between Tezgon and Chittagong by the Air Transport Command and the best that I would do was to exchange the supplies at the Chittagong Air Field. They wanted time to check with higher authority so I proceeded to the payroll office with my accounts. On finishing the drawing of cash for our payroll, I checked back with them and received their agreement to the exchange in Chittagong. Once again my dealings with the Air Force entailed officers out ranking me by at least two grades.
The following month on my trip to Tezgon to pick up the payrolls, I caught the regular Air Transport flight out of Chittagong at 10 AM. By 11 AM, I was on the ground at Tezgon and went by to see my friends in the PX office. All appeared happy to see me. At least they offered me a cigarette. After lunch in the officer's mess, I made my routine appearance at the Army finance office and by 4 PM had my gunny sack full of rupees. My routine flight back to Chittagong left at 5 PM and I was one of the first to board. The plane ended up with a full load of personnel, all Air Force except me. The belated arrival of an Air Force corporal meant someone was going to be left behind. The pilot looked the passengers over and singled me out. I mentioned to him in a low voice what was in my sack. In a loud voice he indicated he did not give a damn but the corporal and all the others on board were urgently needed. I could catch the morning flight at 9 AM. There was nothing I could do but get off and try to get the money back into the finance office. The office was closed for the day and I certainly did not want to publicize the contents of my sack to anyone in this den of pampered overbearing and overranked personnel. I went to the visiting officers quarters and found an empty bunk. My pillow was my gunny sack and my 45 stayed on my hip. Sleep did not come easy or well. It was the only time that I really felt concerned about the safety of our payroll. All turned out all right but the Captain was somewhat worried.
One time and one time only, I decided to take a short cut back to Chittagong from some place up the pipeline. The short cut would take a 'road' over the heart of the delta and would necessitate at least two ferry crossings of distributaries of the Ganges-Brahmaputra River system. It would save possibly 100 miles. S. Sgt. Brandon was with me. On approaching the first ferry, we both recoiled. It looked like a couple of oversized dug out canoes joined together by a bamboo mat. The crossing was perhaps 400 feet wide and a fair current was present. No life jackets were spotted. As we sat trying to make up our minds to go forward or back, a British truck drove up and the driver said may I go ahead. We assured him it was fine with us and he drove that heavy vehicle (we were in a jeep) up on to the bamboo platform. The bamboo sagged as a soft mattress would when a 400 pounder lay down but it held. We watched with interest what turned out to be a successful crossing. On the return of the ferry about 30 minutes later, we drove on and were transported across. The next time we stayed on the main road.
THE BRITISH RAJ
Our contacts with British officers in Chittagong were casual and friendly, usually at their Officers Club. Their perspective of past and current events was shaped by an entirely different background from ours. The result was criticism of each other and disagreements on strategy and what could be accomplished. Many British soldiers had been caught in SE Asia at the start of the European conflict and practically all had been in Malaysia, Singapore, Burma or India on December 7, 1941. The comment attributed to an unknown American officer was to the effect that he had talked to enough British that had walked out of Burma in 1942 that if they had turned and fought they probably would have out numbered the Japanese. The American gung ho, we can do it, let's get with it attitude contrasted with the more cautious, wary, and somewhat discouraged British attitude.
The SE Asia command by necessity was always at the bottom of British priorities. Both manpower and material were affected. Their rolling stock was in deplorable condition but they had learned to get along with what was still available. The burned out light tanks that I saw on the battlefield of Kohima looked as though they belonged in World War I. Their Air Force was practically nonexistent. The rifles were World War I Enfields. The officers and NCOs were British but the troops were Indian and West African. There were six divisions, five Indian and one West African. The only all British unit was General Wingate's Raiders consisting of three brigades. To add to caution was the memory of the unrest in India in 1942 and 1943 fostered by an active 'fifth column'. It is not surprising the British were concerned about the efficiency and loyalty of their forces and were reluctant to move against the Japanese five or six well trained divisions in Burma. According to Tuchman's book on Stilwell, there were 95,500 men in the American armed forces in the CBI theater at the beginning of 1944. Could we have outnumbered the actual British personnel in their forces? I do not know.
Political differences between governments spawned disagreements over strategy. American policy was to force the British out of India and all of SE Asia at the conclusion of the war. The British had never been disillusioned as to the value of the Chinese war effort whereas we were just starting toward that conclusion. Stilwell's invasion of northern Burma in early 1944 with his two American trained Chinese divisions and Merrill's Marauders was countered by the Japanese invasion of India at Imphal. If successful this would cut off Stilwell in northern Burma and the American supply effort in Assam. With American Air combat and supply support the British fought.
It was fortunate that all of the disagreements and enmity did not extend to the field forces. Our visits, at least mine, to the British Officer's Club were always more enjoyable than a visit to an American fly-boys club. We would arrive on a Saturday night about 8 PM in our jeep, lock the steering wheel with a chain welded to the chassis (wartime jeeps did not have ignition locks), straighten our bush jackets and enter. Yes, I bought a bush jacket made of khaki complete with shoulder straps and a khaki belt. It was not an authorized American uniform but acceptable and widely worn. It was more comfortable than a shirt and tie and a lot more dressy. No shirt was needed with it. From 8 PM to 11 PM was get acquainted time. I had little difficulty in understanding the mens' British accent and got along with them quite well. I never learned to understand the women.
At 11 PM dinner would be served to those that could still sit up. From midnight to whenever was brandy time. If no other label was available, Lily White brandy would suffice. In the wee hours of the morning, it would be time to go to your quarters. One morning in the parking lot, we could not start our jeep. Standing nearby was a British Major or Lt. Colonel with a big grin on his face. He finally said I think you need one of these and pulled a rotor from his pocket. He was willing to trade it for a ride to his quarters. His jeep with our rotor had disappeared. Because it was a common practice to disable a vehicle by removing the rotor, we had gone to the lock and chain on the steering wheel. There are several morals to this story not least is to think completely through the consequences of any solution to a problem.
THE SHILLONG PLATEAU
Near Karimganj, the gravel road turned west along the base of the Plateau to Sylhet, a distance of 30 miles. The narrow gauge railroad turned east for about 20 miles and then northeast to ascend the 5500 to 6000 foot Shillong escarpment. The climb took about 40 miles averaging 150 feet per mile. The descent covered another 40 miles in a northerly direction to Lumding where a gravel road became available. Attached is a copy of part of a reconnaissance report by Captain Charles Spahr (later to become Board Chairman of Sohio which sets out the locations of sidings, bridges, tunnels, and stations on this section of the railroad. There were 13 tunnels, 6 covered ways, and 28 bridges attesting to the ruggedness of the Shillong Plateau.
Our transportation of material, equipment, and labor was by the exclusive use of one or two engines with necessary railroad cars. A few of the Company's jeeps were converted for use on the railroad. By sheer luck the distance between the right and left wheels of a jeep was the same as the narrow gauge of the tracks. A collection of single flanged old truck wheels were modified by welding a steel plate to the center and then cutting holes to match the location of the jeeps wheel bolts. Such modification of jeeps was first used by the Corp of Engineers in northern Burma on the Mandalay-Myitkyina railroad in 1944. Their use gave a lot of flexibility to operations that otherwise would not have been possible. There was a knack to driving on the rails, sit on your hands so you will not touch the steering wheel no matter how badly you want to. The steering wheel would shudder back and forth as the tracks did the steering. It was instinctive to want to steady the wheel but even the slightest touch and a derailment would occur. At times like that it was helpful to have a couple of soldiers to help lift the jeep back on the tracks. Otherwise a jack and skill were needed. It was also helpful not to spin the wheels either accelerating or decelerating and to cross all bridges and make all curves slowly. All curves for some reason have sheer drops on one side. A ride is not for a faint heart or a weak stomach. Fortunately civilian traffic of any type was practically nonexistent and we usually had a good idea of the location of our work trains.
My knowledge of hydraulics and fluid flow was much better 40 years ago than it is today. To overcome a 5500 foot fluid head will require almost 2400 pounds per square inch of pressure. In flat country to obtain the desirable rate of flow we built pump stations every 25 to 30 miles using centrifugal pumps. Ascending the plateau there were probably pump stations every 10 miles using reciprocating pumps to obtain more pressure. Obviously check valves and pressure regulators were designed into the system for use in any type of emergency.
The area through which this segment of the pipeline was built did not have an indigenous population so it was necessary to transport the labor for digging the ditch in which to put the line. In places solid rock prevented this so it was left on the surface. Low boy flat cars were needed to move our large bulldozers because regular flat cars would not allow clearance in the tunnels. Box cars on sidings served as temporary camps. The PX was set up in an old passenger car. Monsoon rains caused minor problems but no major earth slides occurred because of heavy vegetation including large trees on the sides of hills. Progress was good both on this segment and on the 170 mile segment north of the Plateau. I found a little spare time for a couple of side excursions.
Once while north of the Plateau, Sgt. Brandon and myself deliberately took the wrong turn at Manipur Junction and drove the 30 miles to Kohima high in the Naga Hills. We saw the results of the battle almost a year before including the burned out light tanks and made acquaintance with some Nagas famous for their head hunting. They were primitive and totally fascinated in looking at themselves in our rear view mirror. The best salesmen the world had ever seen had been to their village. An old foot peddle Singer sewing machine was in use. Either on the same trip or another, Brandon and I returned by the only road across the Shillong Plateau. It went almost due south from Gauhati on the Brahmaputra River to the town of Shillong near which the British had built a rest camp for soldiers on leave. It was a good site since it was 6443 feet above sea level and thereby enjoyed a cool and relatively dry climate. Forty or so miles to the south at the abrupt edge of the Plateau was the town of Cherrapunji noted only for its average of 400 inches of rain per annum with the highest record being over 600 inches. The edge of the scarp drains the clouds.
The road is one way for its entire length and is opened to the north bound traffic in the morning and to south bound traffic in the afternoon or vice versa. If a check point is not reached on time one is destined to spend the night. On top of the Plateau which is quite flat a jeep can be driven almost anywhere. My curiosity about the geology exposed cost Brandon a night trying to sleep in a jeep. The south scarp is a large fault exposing Eocene limestone resting on a granitic basement possibly Pre Cambrian in age. When we passed through Cherrapunju, the rain gave us a good soaking but we had spent a dry night only thirty miles to the north.
By early spring of 1945 the line was completed and tested. Our construction days were over. Now was time to see our operating skills. All we needed was a tanker and it was almost to Chittagong. When it arrived, Captain Johnson and a bunch of us boarded our yacht and we headed for the buoy. The tanker had anchored and tied up by the time we got there. It lay still as if it were in a pond but there were swells. We tied up to the side of the ship and a rope ladder was thrown over the side for us to ascend. Our yacht was moving up and down probably five feet in relationship to the tanker presenting us a challenge to grasp the ladder at the top of a swell and make it up far enough not to tangle with the next swell. All except one made it safely. The one declined to try and remained on board. The mid ocean rescue of the life boat passengers came to mind with a better understanding of why they needed help in boarding the USS Carol Lombard. Although we were not piped aboard we were treated royally with a tour of the ship and a good meal. Our ever alert Mess Sergeant started negotiations for trading rations accomplishing far more than the rest of us. Transfer of supplies took place the next day. From then on he made sure to welcome all tankers. After about 3 hours we withdrew to find one sick, sick but safe man on board our boat.
Our teletype communications were pretty good so Chittagong Headquarters could keep well in touch with all pump stations. I continued to make at least one trip a month up the line with the payroll which had shrunk considerably without the native labor. We still had a few. Our hoard of cash in the Company safe had been whittled down to practically nothing by the expedient of under reporting on the payroll for native labor. For the first time in India I started to find time on my hands. I even went on a hunting trip in the hills east of Chittagong along the Burma border. There were probably four or five in the group and about 30 beaters. We were stationed in the wooden fringe on one side of a small clearing and the beaters started their circuitous route to drive the game to the clearing. The longer we waited with visions of Bengal tigers, panthers, elephants, etc. in our thoughts, the smaller and narrower that clearing became. The beaters could be heard in the distance and we started to hope the only game they would stir up would be the etc. Our hopes were fulfilled and not a shot was fired.
The big game trophy in India belongs to a cook at pipeline pump station #33 operated by the 708th EPD Co. At breakfast time a commotion was heard across the road in a large bashi occupied by Indian troops. In a moment a big bull elephant emerged from falling bamboo and thatch. He had walked lengthwise through the building scattering soldiers in all directions and was entering the pump station compound between the outer four foot barbed wire fence and the inner six foot one. The only rifle in the kitchen belonged to the inner six foot one. The only rifle in the kitchen belonged to the cook who picked it up and calmly fired one shot from his Springfield 03. It was accurately aimed hitting just back of the ear and emerging between the eyes. When the news came over the pipeline grapevine I was about 50 miles away preparing to depart for Chittagong 500 miles to the south. This I had to see and the proof that I did see is a photo of Lt. Sendo of the 708th and myself standing on the body. By looking closely one can see strands of barbed wire but no other evidence of the station. Photos of installations were forbidden.
A great shot only brings big problems. What would you do with the body? It was out of my jurisdiction but I had no better suggestions to make so I departed. There were no D-8 bulldozers in a reasonable distance but Lt. Sendo was able to mobilize three or four 2 and 1/2 ton Army cargo trucks with front mounted winches. The plan was to drag it out of the station and down the road for a mile or so and cremate it with the use of a goodly amount of gasoline. All went well except the hide was just singed. It was an impossible situation so they turned the job over to nature. I understand no one wanted to work at that station for several months because of the odor. The jackals and buzzards might have cleaned it up in a week except they do not like singed meat.
All of the news we received came courtesy of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in London. We made an avid and interested audience. Even events in CBI were first heard from BBC, London. VE day, May 8, 1945, was cause for a celebration so we opened another can of beer. The British offensives in Burma were moving us steadily further back into the service area but we must keep our 50 caliber machine guns.
In May of 1945, Major A.H. Barbin of the 12th District made an inspection trip to the 777th. Out of this inspection came my opportunity to go to Kashmir. My memory fails to reveal whether he asked me to join him or that I suggested he needed an aide-de-camp. One way or another agreement was reached (including Captain Johnson's concurrence) that we would go in June. It would be my first leave of absence since the late summer of 1943, although there were some that would swear I had spent the last two years on leave. According to my memory, no member of the 777th had taken a leave of absence since departing the States. The Army did maintain a rest camp at Darjeeling in Sikkim Province between Nepal and Bhutan in the Himalaya Mountains. It was almost exclusively used by the Air Force presumable because they needed more rest and because they controlled access. Rest facilities were also available in Kashmir but because of remoteness were little used. On the Major's return to Calcutta, he tried to make arrangements for us on a routine Air Force flight but to no avail. In retrospect, I believe the Air Force did us an unintentional favor.
TRIP TO KASHMIR
At the appointed time I joined Barbin in Calcutta and we crossed the Hooghly River by ferry to Howrah (Calcutta on the other bank). At the railroad station we purchased our tickets to Rawalpindi (proof is in my photo album, the ticket itself), boarded the train directly into our private compartment. We carried one change of clothing and one jacket and one raincoat but were loaded down. Each had a knapsack full of 'C' and 'K' rations and a canteen. The compartment had two wooden benches, one the full width and the other 2/3 the width of the railroad car. That extra 1/3 width was closed off and was our private bathroom. That is there were two built up foot prints on the floor with a five (?) inch hole in between and a hand rail waist high on two of the walls. With such fine facilities, it is easy to understand why railroad sidings smelled.
Our 1355 mile journey started with a huff and a puff. It was mostly through the heavily populated Ganges River valley. Stops were made at every village and people piled on and off, riding in, on top and hanging on the sides of the general passenger cars but none bothered our first class car. If you do not believe this was first class, see and read my ticket. No one ever questioned or asked us for a ticket nor did anyone try to share our accommodations. We had complete privacy in a sea of humanity. Each stop was the same. Vendors with plates of food and boiling pots of tea would approach our open windows usually to no avail. We did buy the boiling tea to fill empty canteens and then cool the tea by evaporation of water from a wet towel wrapped around them. We washed our teeth with tea. The facilities did include a small wash basin with a small tank of water fastened to one of the walls. Though we soon became hot, sweaty and dirty the water supply was husbanded. Our medicine pouch contained halazone, atabrine and aspirin tablets (purify water, keep malaria away and cure headaches) with some bandages, gauze and merthiolate.
The first major city on the route was Benares on the Ganges River, the site of the famous Hindu Temple of love renowned for its explicit sculptures. Unfortunately only its spire could be seen in the distance from the railroad station and there was insufficient time to leave the train. At Allahabad the Ganges River was crossed and we proceeded to Lucknow and then Amritsar Junction bypassing Agra and Delhi. We hoped to come back by way of Delhi and Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Between Lucknow and Amritsar we crossed the upper Ganges, a low plateau and entered the drainage system of the Indus River. At Amritsar Junction we obtained a couple of excellent photographs of Sikh women in purdah dress. For the women, it meant they did not need to comb their hair or wash their face or wear anything else. They looked like ghosts covered completely from head to toe without even slits for their eyes. Amritsar is in the Punjab and is the center of the Sikh religion and culture. Rawalpindi is 200 miles northwest and is the end of the line unless one wants to take a spur line fifty miles further to Peshawar and the famous Khaibar (Khyber) Pass, gateway to Afghanistan. We did not as we had spent two nights and most of three days on the train and faced another 200 miles by bus to get to Srinagar, capital of Kashmir.
We looked at the bus with qualm. Others must have been more circumspect for it was the only piece of transportation I ever saw in India that was not full to the gills. We almost had a full selection of seats. The road followed the Jehlum River, a tributary of the Indus, all the way to Srinagar. The first 50 miles were at an elevation of around 500 feet but the next 50 miles ascended 5000 or more feet with snow capped mountains in all directions. The gorge of the Jehlum was spectacular as I imagine all gorges emerging from the Himalayas are. At the end of one set of rapids was the beginning of the next set. At times the gravel road would be near the river level and then a few miles further there might be a 500 foot sheer drop to the water. At Muzaffarabad with the elevation near 5,000 feet, the river and the road came from the east out of a broad valley before making the sharp turn south to cross the Pir Panjal range. From Srinagar to Muzaffarabad (about 100 miles) the elevation to the River scarcely varies as it meanders along its way. To the south the mountains in the Pir Panjal range rise to elevations of 20,000 to 23,000 feet. To the north in the Greater Himalaya Range, they are higher. Mt. Goodwin-Austen (K2) reaches 28,250 feet. Our bus trip was scary, spectacular, and safe.
On reaching Srinagar after a full days journey, Major Barbin and I checked into the Mount View Hotel, an attractive brick two story edifice with about a dozen rooms. Our desires were for a bath, a good meal, and a good nights sleep. We had a suite of two rooms and a bath complete with a baboo but no running water. The baboo carried and heated water for two baths. The tub was a bit of a tight fit as attested by a photo of me in it. We turned our dirty clothes over to the baboo to have them washed, starched and ironed and then proceeded to the dining room. The food was good and we ate whatever it was without trepidation. Then we slept in real beds into the late morning hours.
After breakfast of fresh eggs and pancakes, we explored the town. Srinagar is a place of 150,000 people and numerous small shops catering to the visitors. Gems, wood carvings, fine cloth with fancy needlework and even some wool clothing could be found. We saw the exterior of the Maharajahs Palace on the Jhelum River, climbed Temple Hill for an overall view, and checked on things to do and to see. We even obtained a large scale map of Kashmir showing the 'mettaled' roads, mule trails, foot trails, game preserves, and forest rest houses. We asked several individuals how far it was to Lhasa, Tibet and were always answered in time - two, three, four months depending on the weather. Lots of guides offered us treks into the high mountains but all would take more time than the Army had allotted to us.
When the Mongols entered India, it was by way of Kashmir and they left their mark on Srinagar with the
famous Shalimar gardens located on a peninsula jutting into Dal Lake.
The gardens are crisscrossed by canals and the way to see them is by 'shikari', an Indian gondola.
The buildings and gardens are beautifully dept and are probably outranked in India only by the Taj Mahal for
attractiveness. The few black and white photos in my album (courtesy of Major Barbin) can not do them justice.
It takes a full day in a shikari to see the gardens. There were very few tourists around the day we visited although
it was pleasantly cool but sunny.
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell?
Whom do you lead on Rapture's roadway, far,
Before your touch, until you waved farewell.
Oh, pale dispensers of my Joys and Pains,
Holding the doors of Heaven and of Hell,
How the hot blood rushed wildly through the veins
Beneath your touch, until you waved farewell.
Pale hands, pink tipped, like Lotus buds that float
On those cool waters where we used to dwell,
I would have rather felt you round my throat,
Crushing out life, that waving me farewell!
By Mrs. Malcoln Nicolson alias Laurence Hope
I never saw any pale hands, just a lot of red teeth stained by the chewing of betel nuts, a common practice in India.
A number of mornings we noticed an apparition dressed in purdah walking near the hotel. Being curious, we made inquiry of a number of people including a British officer, all to no avail until he said that is the veil of the vale of Kashmier.
One morning after a hearty breakfast, we stuck a K ration into our pocket and took the early morning bus to Gulmarg about 25 miles west of Srinagar. There we went to the local stables and rented a couple of good looking horses from a couple of good looking natives. We started up the mule path back of town heading for the glaciers in the Pir Pandel Range. Our starting point was at 8,500 to 9,000 feet in forested terraine. On rounding the first switchback we saw the owners of the horses standing in the trail. They checked the saddles and we proceeded on our way not expecting to see them again until late afternoon. But after each switchback, they would be waiting for us. Obviously they were very attentive or they just did not trust us as to our horsemanship or our intentions. Just as obvious, since they did not have wings, was that they knew a trail not shown on the map that must have been straight up. 'You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!'
We finally rode through the tree line into open, grass covered slopes and had a fine view of the snow capped mountains to our south. Our guides (originally we thought we were just renting horses) were waiting for us and informed us the mountain tops were only about 15,000 feet. The meadow in which we stood sloped up to about 14,000 feet. The pictures in the album say more than words. After a lunch of K rations washed down with the clear glacial melt, Major Barbin and I rode up the meadow following along a valley glacier while our guides relaxed in the warm sunlight. The sky was crystal clear but clouds were starting to appear over the mountain tops heralding an afternoon monsoon rain. We reached 13,500 to 14,000 feet before turning back with canteens full of that clear, pure, cool water. Our army raincoats were needed before our late afternoon arrival back at Gulmarg but we got soaked. The late afternoon bus returned us to Srinagar. This side trip was truly the high highlight of our Kashmir experience.
Leave time was running out on us and we did not hanker the bus ride back down the Jehlum River gorge so we revived efforts to hitch a plane ride. We managed to get the Air Force to take us to Delhi but no farther. That saved us more than a days travel in just a few hours. At Delhi, we once again bought tickets on the railroad (mine is in the album and shows a distance of 902 miles to Howrah). Although the train went through Agra within a few miles of the Taj Mahal, we agreed not to face the hassle of getting there in the monsoon rains that had arrived in force.
Back in Chittagong, I was impressed by how well things ran without me, not only the operations of the 777th but the entire war effort. On June 23, our ex-CBI commander General Stilwell took command of the Army on Okinawa and on July 6, General Chennault finally received his walking papers, a terrific blow to an Air Force man. He was replaced by General Stratemeyer. And then on August 6, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. College physics exposed me to Plank's theory of the atom and as a consequence and first reports I could not believe that it was atomic but was a gigantic chemical explosion. On August 8, Russia entered the war against Japan and the following day Nagasaki received a big bomb. By then I started to believe they were possibly atomic bombs. The big day came on August 14 with Japan's surrender, thereby canceling the 37 division assault on the Japanese Islands scheduled for November 1, 1945.
On page 221 of Leslie Anders' book, The Ledo Road, it is reported that the total miles in the CBI pipeline system was about 3,300, far and away the greatest military pipeline system ever built. Before it was closed down in October, 1945 the lines handled over three million barrels (126,000,000 US gallons) of fuel and delivered five hundred thousand barrels to China. I have no idea as to how many more barrels delivered to air fields in Assam reached China by air transport. In regard to the Ledo Road, Anders on page 222 quotes the following figures: All culvert pipe used totaled 105 miles. All gravel and crushed rock would fill a freight train 470 miles long. Dirt moved would make a wall 10 feet high and a yard wide from San Francisco to New York. Compared to the Ledo Road, said Bob Considine, building the Pyramids was child's play, digging the Panama Canal a bucket and shovel job. The present writer may be quoted as saying 'but those things lasted a lot longer'. The road was officially closed on November 1, 1945 and immediately banditry started in Northern Burma. Anders accounts are interesting as is his entire book.
Was it all worth the effort? That is a question that only history and subsequent events can answer. From a political point of view, the answer is probably no. The Chinese Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek did not survive on the mainland. Militarily the answer may be yes as China stayed in the War against Japan tying up 15 to 22 Japanese divisions according to Tuchman's book on Stilwell.
There were at least 13 or 14 Engineer Petroleum Distribution Companies in the CBI other that the 777th. Of the 3,300 miles of total pipeline laid, the 777th laid 925 miles, 28% of the total and it included the longest and most difficult river crossing and an offshore unloading line. It is true that we were not hampered or delayed by combat, shortage of native labor, or long (relatively speaking) supply lines. The Company was honored when Captain Johnson was awarded the highest medal, the Bronze Star, that can be given for other than combat duty. The Captain certainly deserved it for his organizational and leadership abilities but all of us felt a sense of pride in the award. All were happy when he was promoted to Major but unhappy when he was transferred out and sent back to the States. Lieutenant Wharton was assigned to command of the 777th and that was an excellent and well deserved choice. Before Johnson departed, the Indian labor contractors threw a big party for the officers of the 777th in Calcutta. It was held in the yard of a big estate and was complete with large tents and canopies. Entertainment included dancing girls and reportedly some of the Indian movie stars and other notables. It lasted until well past midnight when we decided it was time to leave.
In early October, we were ordered to turn the Chittagong to Tinsukia line over to another company to finish the back flushing and abandonment. They also took over all of our equipment. On October 19, 1945, I received a Certificate of Clearance for our PX operations. It is in my file. Orders called for the assembly of the Company at Kanchrapora, a base 20 miles north of Calcutta and on the Hooghly River. By middle to late November, the Company was assembled and acquaintances renewed. As the days grew shorter and the hours longer, we waited for our ship to come in. Finally orders were given that the men could take with them all they could carry in one trip and we boarded river boats for the 20 mile trip down river to the waiting military transport ship. We embarked on our homeward voyage on December 9, 1945.
I do not remember much about the ship but it was larger than the Liberty Ship, USS Carol Lombard, and it was fully loaded with personnel. I do remember the large, perfectly white, and luxurious blankets that were in the officer's quarters. After coarse, olive drab and thin blankets, they made an impression on me. It would be at least a couple of weeks before we would have need for them. The men were pleased that they each had a bunk instead of sharing with someone else and sleeping in shifts.
Our route was down the Hooghly River, down the Bay of Bengal, around Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Cape Comorin at the southern tip of India, across the Arabian Sea, up the Red Sea, and through the Suez Canal. Along the banks of the Canal we were entertained by camel riders racing each other and the ship. On Christmas day we still were sunbathing on deck. The voyage continued across the Mediterranean Sea, past Gibraltar, and across the North Atlantic to New York where we docked about noon on January 19, 1946 completing a non-stop 32 day trip of 9935 miles (average speed 11.3 knots), considerably shorter than the 16,560 miles for me to reach Calcutta.
There were no bands to greet us but there were a couple of ferry boats that got us out of New York and into New Jersey in a big hurry. A troop train was waiting and we were in Fort Dix before sundown. All ideas of a night on the town vanished when we were told no one would be authorized off the post, not even the Medical Corp Captain whose wife was waiting in a town only 20 miles away. The goal was to have us out of Fort Dix and on our way to the separation center closest to our home towns by noon the next day. By mid-night, the 777th Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company was no longer in existence. Such efficiency I never have seen but we were all gone by the noon goal. Many of us suffered some abominable abdominal problems in the morning from drinking too much fresh milk the night before. It was our first in nearly two years and it takes some adjusting.
I arrived at Jefferson Barracks on the Mississippi River bluffs south of St. Louis on January 13th. While washing in the shower I noticed a number of officers looking me over. One finally said 'where did you get that tan?' Everyone else was back from Europe. The next morning I requested a few weeks leave of absence which was immediately granted. On to Kansas City and home to mother I went.
My orders required me to report to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on February 12, 1946. Instead of obtaining immediate release from active duty, I was informed that I needed a couple more points to be eligible. At the end of the war the Army had decreed a set of earned points to guide in the release of personnel. Details I do not remember but they included points for domestic, overseas, and combat service. It was figured that another month of domestic service would make me eligible so I was placed on terminal leave to March 10. At the same time, I was promoted to Captain effective February 12, 1946. On my return to Fort Leavenworth, I was released from active duty.
I remained in the Reserves as a Captain until April 1, 1953 when at my request I received an honorable discharge there by severing my last link with the military. By that time I was married and had two children.
In the summer of 1957 I was transferred to Calgary, Alberta by APCO Oil Corporation to establish an exploration office. One day I called upon the District Manager for Sohio Petroleum Company. Upon entering the reception room, I sensed a feeling of tightness and tension amid a great deal of hustle and bustle. Without really thinking, I inquired if Charlie Spahr was in the office and thereby fell into a trap of my own making. Spahr had recently become President of Sohio. The response was to the effect that as a matter of fact he was and do you know Mr. Spahr? My response was that yes I knew him during wartime service in India. The receptionist disappeared for a few minutes and then Spahr came into the reception room. He greeted me and explained a meeting was in progress but that a reception was to be held at the Petroleum Club at 5 PM and could I make it. I assured him that I would be there and that is the good news. The bad news is that my wife and three children were cooped up in a motel while we were looking for lodging. Under these circumstances it does not pay to be late for dinner.
In 1962 while working for Allied Chemical's Union Texas Petroleum Corporation, I was introduced to a salvage operator (i.e. a junk dealer) in Houston, Texas who had been requested to make a bid for the salvage of the pipelines in India. When he discovered that I had been involved in some of the construction and that most of our work involved not invasion weight, victaulic coupled pipe but welded standard to heavy weight pipe, he adopted me for the evening. We went to a ball game in the then new Houston Astrodome. I do not know but I doubt if the pipe was ever salvaged.
Since moving to Norman in 1960, I have seen Captain Thomas Jess Johnson a number of times. Although Jess has lived in Tyler, Texas since before the War, his interests have not been restricted to the East Texas area. We have jointly looked at oil deals in North Texas and in eastern Kansas. On one of our joint trips to northern Texas we saw Lt. Leonard Wharton a few years before his premature death. Jess, as an OU graduate, has attended a number of meetings including, a few years ago, the 50th reunion of his graduating class here in Norman. He always called me for at least a brief meeting which he has not done for a couple of years. I must check up on him.
In conclusion, I must say viva Le Air Corp without them our job would have been immeasurably more difficult and in fact not needed. But (and there is always one, no matter how you spell it) if a next time ever comes, may they be a little more appreciative of the support that makes their role possible. The greatest pilot without fuel is as valuable as a 10,000 barrel tank with a missing stave.
I hope you, who have read this far, have enjoyed at least parts of this epistle to my descendants. If not, the pleasure was all mine but the filial duty to read this remains theirs.