The Japs had overrun our airfields in China and Burma so we had to build new ones in India...  they had closed the Burma Road so we had to build a new road to supply China...  some called it the Ledo Road, some the Stilwell Road...  then we had to find a way to move the oil and gasoline from the Calcutta port to the airfields, the convoy refueling stations and to China...  so we built the pipelines.
A score of airfields...

A construction company in the States would like a nice, fat contract to build a score of airfields, a thousand mile road, and thousands of miles of pipeline...  But how would they like that job if they had to work in malaria-infested swamps, in jungles, over mountains, in dust-filled valleys, or during the monsoons when heavy rains turn everything into a sea of mud and it's so hot you can't sleep even though every bone in your body aches...  malaria, dengue, dysentery, heat, mud...  how would they like to work with Japs sniping at them or bombing them...  how would they like to do those jobs without modern equipment...  road graders, rock crushers, cement mixers, bulldozers...  we used picks and shovels.

Indian coolies carried dirt and rock on their heads...  then the heavy equipment started arriving from the States and the work moved ahead much faster, but it was still a mighty tough job... we worked on a 24-hour schedule and we ate rations, rations, rations, until we hated the sound of the word.
Coolies were a big help...

No, the construction companies wouldn't like the job so well...  we didn't like it either but we liked the Japs less...  so we worked...  oh, we swore at the Japs, the Army, and everyone else, but while we swore we sweated over a shovel or a pick.

Sometimes we had to build our own roads before we could build airfields...  cut timber, clear brush and then grade the road...  the few motor cranes and shovels we had were in use 24 hours a day...  heavy equipment was scarce and the deadlines were close...  there was tons of dirt to be moved...  and those Indian coolies were a big help too... it was a little hard to get used to them at first... it was odd seeing women doing men's work...  hard, physical labor...  and they carried everything on their heads...  the loads were tremendous...  three or four coolies would be required to place a load on the head of another one.

The planes started using the fields before we had them finished...  and the reports of the first B-29 raids on the Japs began to come through...  we could see our part of the war better then, so we dug harder then ever...  and our water boys were plenty busy...  no matter how much it rained it was still plenty damned hot...  our GIs pitched in right with the Indians doing coolie work...  they told us that the tropics were no place for a white man to do manual labor, that the temperature of over 150 degrees would be too much for us, but our boys just didn't believe it...  and the fields were built.
B-29s really looked good...

As fast as one strip was done we poured another...  the B-29s had already started coming in but we still poured concrete day and night...  those B-29s really looked good and they gave the Japs plenty of hell...  they didn't stay at our fields long, though...  most of them had moved on even before some of the strips were finished...  but no matter where they went we had to keep them supplied with gas and oil so we built the pipelines from Calcutta to the airfields and later to China.

Those pipelines went through jungles, over creeks and rivers...  sometimes under the water and sometimes over bridges...  and when the monsoons took out the bridges we had to build them back again...  and we built big storage tanks in East Bengal to supply the B-29s...  those tanks looked almost Stateside...  like Texas, or Oklahoma, or California...  we were really proud of our job when we saw a Stateside tank truck carrying gas from the storage tanks to the planes...  we'd built those airfields and we'd built those pipelines and those storage tanks.
Everything moved by convoy...

But we still had to push supplies into China so a road had to be built...  the "Ledo Road" we called it...  and that required heavy equipment and men...  getting the heavy stuff up to the road builders was almost as tough as building the road itself...  they called Calcutta "the birthplace of the convoys"...  equipment, supplies, everything moved by convoy...  and each convoy had to be heavily guarded...  we had to worry about renegades and bandits as well as the Japs...  those convoys were carrying precious cargo and both the Japs and the bandits were out to get all of it they could...  it wasn't so bad moving that stuff during the good weather but the monsoons gave us more trouble... a big rain would come and a section of the road would go...  the convoys couldn't be held up long so we had to work fast.

Our main job was to get the supplies into China and we couldn't risk losing them along the way...  everyone kept yelling "keep those trucks moving"...  sometimes repairing a section would take too long and we couldn't wait...  and we kept those trucks moving...  we had accidents, construction was slowed down by weather and by Japs, but the supplies flowed to China...  and the tide started to turn.

Original text from Public Relations, Base Section, India-Burma Theater.  Photos by U.S. Army Signal Corps.
Originally published in Ex-CBI Roundup.  Adapted for the Internet by Carl Warren Weidenburner.