|The Chinese sentry at Stilwell's Maymyo headquarters, just after giving his American commander a big grin, pulls himself extra stiff and wipes the smile off his face. The white men are Stilwell aides, Colonels "Pinkie" Dorn and Frank Roberts.|
|Clare Boothe began her career as a LIFE war correspondent in May 1940 when she saw the first Nazi bombs fall on Brussels. Her LIFE articles on France and England were expanded and published in book form as Europe in the Spring. In 1941, Correspondent Boothe covered a Japanese bombing of Chungking, met Generalissimo and Madame Chiang, inspected the Yellow River Front. Later she returned to the Philippines and wrote the LIFE Close-up of General Douglas MacArthur that appeared the week the Japanese attacked Manila. Last February, Miss Boothe flew to Cairo and on to India and Burma. Since her return to the U.S., Burma has fallen to the Japs and General Stilwell, after taking "a hell of a beating," has retreated to India. Miss Boothe excerpts her diary to report her experiences with U.S. forces in Burma.|
|General Stilwell (right) jokes with his American-born Chinese aide, Lieutenant Richard Ming-Tom Young, of the U.S. Army, under a picture of the Alps, in the mission living room of Maymyo headquarters. Stilwell wears the three stars of lieutenant general.|
Three hours out we passed over the south-running Chin Hills, into the Irrawaddy Valley where, north of Prome, the British are fighting under Sir Harold Alexander. After a time we passed over another chain of parallel mountains which sharply separate the Irrawaddy from the Sittang Valley. There the armies of Generalissimo Chiang, under Lieut. General Joseph Stilwell, are holding north of Toungoo. From the air the topography of this battleground is painfully clear: Burma, mountain-rimmed, lies like an elongated teacup, stretching north to south along the Bay of Bengal. Over this teacup rim, over these narrow muddy passes, no modern troops or mechanized units can come from India. And now no supplies or troops are going up the valleys (whose only sea mouth is Rangoon) because the Japs are coming up. There is no place for supplies or troops to come down from, except China, down the Burma Road, down the road to Mandalay.
Just as dusk began to fall we spotted Lashio's big clay field. We circled over the small city once and then roared in. The minute we landed I realized that something unusual, something important, had just happened. U.S. Colonel Haydon Boatner, in charge of incoming American CNAC passengers, detached himself from one of the military groups and came up to me smiling broadly. "You're the luckiest journalist in the Far East," he said. "Guess who just landed from Chungking on this field ten minutes ago? General Stilwell and -." He paused dramatically, "The Gissimo!" The news was really big: Madame Chiang had also come with Stilwell and the Gissimo and the next morning they were all leaving Lashio for Maymyo, Allied headquarters in Burma, where the high command (said Boatner) would have "a once-for-all powwow" and then go out to the fronts and give their troops a "fight talk."
Lashio headquarters is a two-story wooden building with the office and mess on the second floor. Officers, Chinese and American, were clumping up and down the stairs continually. I insinuated myself into the up-flowing stream and at the top of the lamp lit wooden staircase I found General Stilwell leading a flight of Sino-American officers down. He was wearing an overseas cap on his close-cropped, grizzled hair, smoking his interminable cigaret in its long black holder and chewing gum rapidly. "Hullo, Hullo," he said brusquely. "Burma is no place for a woman." I started to give him an argument but he was already halfway down the stairs. At the bottom he turned. "Tomorrow morning at dawn I'm driving to Maymyo. If you can get up that early you can join me," he said with half a snort, half a laugh, "on the Road to Mandalay."
|Stilwell's staff eat a frugal dinner in their Maymyo headquarters with Clare Boothe (foreground). At end of the table sits Brigadier General Hearn, Stilwell's chief of staff.|
Lashio to Mandalay, Monday, April 6
At 4:30 a.m. those of us who were driving to Maymyo went into the mess for breakfast. On the stained, homespun tablecloth were pots of something black but sufficiently hot so that it passed for coffee, plates of crumbly bread, stiff oleomargarine, thin fruit jam and coarse pork and eggs, fried sunnyside-up. General Stilwell, Colonel Frank "Pinkie" Dorn, his tall, handsome, Chinese-speaking aide, and Lieutenant Young are with chopsticks. "Now this," said Pinkie Dorn, adroitly folding the crinkled white edges of his egg over the tremulous yellow yolk with his chopsticks, "is the acid test for an old China hand!" And with a lightning twist of the wrist he nipped the egg, intact, into his mouth.
General Stilwell's leathery face wrinkled in disgust. "Dorn," he said, "is a born show-off." Dorn was hurt. He felt that just because "Uncle Joe" could smoke a cigaret, chew gum and eat a fried egg with chopsticks all at the same time, it was not quite sporting to belittle his subordinate's lesser talent. The General felt that was not the point. He suggested that Dorn was not completely satisfied with a creditable enough exhibition of manual dexterity, he had a deplorable tendency to believe that his ability to eat a softly fried egg with chopsticks made him an authority on the whole Chinese question.
Then General Stilwell said, "We have five hours on the Road... Let's be going." He had abandoned his
overseas cap for a high-peaked campaign hat which he wore at an almost Marine Corps. slant over his
spectacled eyes. I followed Dorn and the General into the black offices towards the stairs. In the corner
of the office Stilwell stopped and, in the white light of Dorn's flash, knelt by a little trunk on the
floor. He put back the lid. It was full of small leather boxes, like jewel cases. He opened several of
them. Crowned in the light of Dorn's flash on their soft, dark velvet linings, lay bright-ribboned medals,
the gleaming and glowing medals that the United States of America bestows on fighting men for bravery
and valor on the battlefield. He chose a Distinguished Service Cross, snapped the lid, dropped it in his
pocket. "Who gets that?" "A young Chinese Lieutenant who led a battalion in a counterattack at Toungoo.
And damn well deserves it." Then Dorn handed him a couple of Purple Hearts and he said grimly, "Better
take a Silver Star of two in case," and closed the trunk. The contents had not been much depleted. I said
so. General Stilwell said quietly, "The U.S. isn't handing these out like cigaret coupons. These things
still mean something." For a fraction of a second the stab of Pinkie Dorn's flash seemed to strike Uncle
Joe's breast, as he straightened his small, lean body and turned to go. There, bright against the dark
khaki, was a double row of ribbons: The Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion of Honor, the
Victory Medal with three bars.
As we went down the stairs I recalled Napoleon's remark to one of his generals when he created the Legion d'Honneur: "With these bits of ribbon a man can build an empire." Dorn said, "It'd going to take more than bits of ribbon to hold our empires together now."
Dawn had not yet began to streak the Lashio hilltops as we set out down the dusty, bumping, twisting road
to Maymyo in a rattling, very old Ford. I thought of the British and American major generals in Delhi,
driving handsome, gleaming, red-leather-upholstered, seven-passenger Cadillac's, with smart flags flying over
the polished fenders. Yes, India was a long, long way from China's war. The Ford was driven by a brown-skinned,
hook-beaked, somewhat ragged looking civilian. Stilwell said he was a Persian who had somehow found his way
to Burma. The Persian's name was "Saidie." He had written it in black ink on the back of the sun helmet he
was wearing. On the brim Saidie had written these words: "Men pass by with word and deed, What is left is
earth and seed. TRUST NONE BUT GOD." Stilwell said that God's purposes were so often inscrutable he would like
to add the Chinese and the Russians to the one we trusted.
Behind us in a second car came Lieutenant Young, a Chinese liaison officer and the four bodyguards with tommy guns who had been assigned to Stilwell by the Gissimo. A little later the car passed us on a road bend. Two of the guards were leaning way out the windows. "Carsick already," Dorn said disgustedly.
Now on the temple-dotted road to Mandalay, the sun came up in a hot mist behind the tamarisks and bamboos and banyan trees. It turned the ghostly gray, needle-spired pagodas with their cross-legged gods pale pink, rose, then golden. Then they became blazing white and chalky under the unrelenting sunshine. Pinkie Dorn chatted on in his witty, cynical fashion, telling stories of American and Chinese and British contretemps on the Toungoo front. And Stilwell, lighting cigaret from stub, chuckled, grinned, snorted, interjecting his constant "Yep! Yep! occasionally interrupting Dorn to correct him, always in the direction of more exactness, accuracy.
And I listened and talked too, but the question was always in the back of my mind: "Why is an American general leading Chinese armies in Burma?" Here is a question millions of Americans are going to ask - if the Battle of Burma is lost. Why, after four and a half years of leading his own troops in battle, why, possessing as he did
|The ruins of Mandalay, after the severe Japanese bombing of April 4, are inspected by Correspondent Clare Boothe. The pair of plaster elephants and the row of white jugs are all that is left of an old Buddhist temple. Fire has blackened the landscape.|
It is good to see so many of my Clipper companions here. Colonel Frank Roberts whose thick, black-rimmed
glasses give his keen face such a mild and professional look; little chirper Colonel George Townsend, who
talked all the way across Africa about the charms of "Gay Paree" in the last war; giant-framed Brigadier
General Hearn, called "Long Tom," chief of staff; dour and taciturn Colonel Sandusky.
There were 30-odd officers when we sat down in the mess for luncheon, including a sprinkling of Chinese liaison officers. The food is not bad, soup, meat (not identifiable underneath the tomato sauce, probably mutton or goat), potatoes and peas. And strawberry shortcake. Dorn said: "What, boiled strawberries? We had fresh strawberries last week. What the hell goes on here?" Roberts said: "They began to bomb Mandalay on Friday. They finished Saturday. The refugees are streaming up this way now. Doc Williams says they're carrying cholera with them everywhere they go." "That's right," the little sandy-haired doctor said, "you boys have eaten your last fresh food. Comes the Jap, you eat boiled strawberries and like them!"
After lunch Stilwell and a good part of his staff disappeared. It seems the Gissimo and Madame Chiang have arrived and all afternoon what everybody calls "The Big Pow-wow" is going on - the talks that will decide the fate of Burma.
I went up to my room to unpack. My room, in a little wing on the second floor of the mission, is a simple affair. An iron bed covered with netting, a desk, two chairs, a rickety dresser. There are several chromos of Alpine mountains on the walls, one electric light bracket. A bathroom adjourns, which I share with General Hearn. It is a row of wooden-seated metal cans, a dented tin basin, with one spigot out of which a dark-brown lukewarm trickle runs, an iron tub, also with one spigot, out of which no water runs at all.
At 3 o'clock George Rodger, the LIFE photographer, arrived in his jeep. He is a good-looking young Englishman
with a browned face and sunburned, very long English legs. He said he was just back from the Irrawaddy front.
He was discouraged about the pictures he had gotten - or rather the pictures he had not gotten. "This isn't
a cameraman's war," he said. It was almost impossible to get good action pictures in the clear. "It's all
fought in the black and shadowy jungle, chaps prowling around in little groups and all that." It was a sort of
American Indian warfare, he said, except that the Japs, instead of carrying bows and arrows and going barefoot
and wearing loin cloths, carried tommy guns and trench mortars and wore sneakers and gym shirts. He said how
dangerous it was to motor on the road to the front, for even before you reached it the bullets of Burmese snipers
or Japanese infiltration parties might whistle about your ears or a low-flying Jap plane would swoop down and
machine gun the road. And when you did reach the front, he said, nobody quite seemed to know where the front was,
except that at any given time it was someplace forward of forward headquarters. He said he had managed to get
some pretty exciting pictures of towns the Japs had bombed as he came through along the line - Thayetmyo, Magwe,
Meiktila - although, he said, he had always missed getting the best action pictures as shortly after the bombings
began he generally put his camera aside. There were never enough hands, he said, to help pull the wounded out of
the flames and ruins. So he always found himself as a lifesaver or a fire fighter when the best shots were to be
made. And, he said, After you've been doing that for three or four hours, you're too tired, too sick to your
stomach, too disgusted with everything to take pictures anyway. I asked him if he had seen the bombing of Mandalay
and he said no, he'd just come through in his jeep the night before. "But it's still burning," he said. Then I
suggested we drive over to see it.
Traveling in a jeep at 50 miles an hour, the wind races against your face too hard to talk. And if you are not accustomed to it, sitting perched on a hard high metal seat with no doors to lean against seems definitely dangerous. It is apparent that Rodger is a seasoned jeep driver, but to me, as we rushed down from the Maymyo hills, clipping past trucks, rounding bends on two wheels, he seemed the most reckless driver I had ever sat beside. Presently it grew hotter and after about an hour, when we reached the flat road to Mandalay, the perspiration began to drip from my forehead faster than the hot dusty wind could dry it.
Yesterday, what did I know of Mandalay? Yesterday, to me it was just a Kipling song, an Empire sound.
For what do most Americans really know of Mandalay, except this, perhaps: from Moulmein to Mandalay the course
of the Empire took its hot triumphant way, when Kipling was a war correspondent given to writing wondrous
jungle jingles before this century began. I knew, of course, a few scattered facts that had impinged themselves
on my mind through the years: population, 150,000, predominantly Buddhist, famed for its temples and crowded
|The fires of Mandalay are fought without much effect by the Burmese fire department and British Imperial soldiers, while civilians gather up their salvaged household goods.|
In the cool of the evening we came to Maymyo again.
We had been at dinner time minutes when General Stilwell came back from his long day's councils of war with the Gissimo, General Alexander, Madame Chiang, and the Allied staffs. His wrinkled, shrewd face looked tired, but he was smiling as he nipped into his place at the head of the table, before the junior officers could quite get on their feet. Colonel Roberts, Dorn and he exchanged long glances, and "Long Tom" stopped eating for a moment and stared over the tops of his specs. They know Uncle Joe's face better than I do, because they found apparently the answers they wanted there. A second later they went on "passing-the-bread-please."
But I said, "Well General, were the pow-wows a success?" He laughed. "Yep," he said, "Yep, Yep, Yep. The Gissimo handed it to everybody including his own generals straight. So did Alexander. So did I. And Madame Chiang translated it all, straight, too. Without pulling a punch. Yep. Everybody took it right out of the spoon." He laughed again. I could report to my constituents, he said, that the situation is now well in hand. Then his eyes twinkled keenly behind his silver-rimmed glasses, and he began to eat lustily.
"That's nice, General," I said, "but - will it last?" Roberts kicked my ankle under the table. General Hearn stopped eating. Dorn grinned impishly. We all waited a long second. Then General Stilwell said, "Nope. It won't last long. It can't last long." Then he said, every minute more it could be made to last meant that much more time gained for an R.A.F. air force to be assembled somewhere in India, for A.V.G. reinforcements to reach Loiwing and Kunming, for Brereton's bombers to swing in again on Rangoon. Rangoon is the strategic heart of Japanese effort in Burma, he said, and if Rangoon could ever be knocked out before the Japs can entrench there, and before the Japs can build supply lines into Burma through Thailand, Burma might be held. "Time, time, time," he said, that was what he was fighting for. Burma, he said, was the key to the Far East - the gateway to China, and China, with still-enormous reserves of manpower and great potential air bases, was the place from which we could best get at the Japs. Wherefore, he said, he thought Burma was the most vital front of the whole Pacific war, and then he said, laughing, "But every general thinks the front he is on is the most vital."
After dinner, Uncle Joe and Pinkie Dorn and Young disappeared to his office. The rest of us sat in the living room of the mission talking and eating peanuts out of a great wastepaper basket that stands by the fireplace. The only sour note struck tonight was little Colonel Townsend's. We were talking about the "success of the pow-wows," Townsend, who had been definitely brooding, suddenly said, "I don't see what's happened here in Maymyo today to change the situation on the Irrawaddy front." A liaison officer who had just returned from the Irrawaddy Front, said, "If you mean they don't fight - you're g-d-wrong! The Sikhs, the Gurkhas, the British there are putting on a hell of a show. Boy, they're taking it! Guts. They've got that all right."
Somebody sang softly, "We can't give you anything but guts, ba-bee - That's the only thing we've got plenty, ba-bee..." And someone else insanely added, "Then I viscera in Dixie, Away! Away!"
George Townsend said he didn't deny that everybody was being damn brave, what he meant was that they and we hadn't developed any other answer to infiltration except defiltration anywhere. "You've got to face it," he said gloomily, "The Jap is a smart customer."
There are no cigarets, candy, and chewing gum in the mission. They all complain about that. But they do not,
oddly enough, complain because there is nothing to drink at all. Not even beer. How
different from Delhi and
Calcutta, where every officer, American and British, consumes chota-peg after chota-peg in his evening hours!
"We haven't had a drink since we left Chungking a month ago," Roberts said. He thought perhaps some Scotch
could be borrowed from British headquarters if they "really wanted to," but "Uncle Joe is no drinker, and anyway,"
he said, "we get along all right without it, you see."
Colonel Roberts was the officer "on duty" tonight. That meant that, after the others went to bed, he slept near the telephone on the couch in the living room, gun by his side.
I sat up and talked to him awhile. I asked him what had become of Lieutenant Kohler, the youngest member of the mission who had spent so much of his time reading Kipling on the African Clipper, coming out. I remembered how young Kohler had said, "Listen, this guy Kipling was all mixed up on his geography. He said he was standing 'by the old Moulmein Pagoda - looking eastward to the sea.' Then the dawn couldn't have been coming up 'like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay,' because China then had to be on the west, with the bay in between."
Roberts said that Kohler knew more about the future of Asia than any of us know. Kohler, the youngest, was their first casualty. He had been killed when a CNAC plane, taking him to Chungking, had crashed on the field at Kunming.
Then we talked of Kipling's Burma, and the Mandalay he had never seen. And the colonel said that when he had taught poetry and literature at West Point, Kipling had not been such a great favorite of his, but that now whole lines kept coming back to him in the night, hauntingly pregnant with new, unhappy meaning.
Finally the mosquitoes, which are soundless and enormous here, made conversation too great a sacrifice for comfort. I helped the colonel drape himself, like a sheeted ghost, in a great swathe of netting. Then he stretched out on the sofa, and I went up to my room to write by the dim little electric light that shines through my thick netting like a feeble moon through a mist. I was just getting into bed when I heard Colonel Robert's voice, very low, at the stair landing: "The boys have just decoded a signal. The Japs have attacked Ceylon, and bombed some places in India." "What places?" "We can't get the names straight. Our signals are coming in garbled and scrambled again... Goodnight."
|Up the steps of headquarters runs General Stilwell to keep appointments for interview with Clare Boothe at 5:01 p.m. Captain Frederick L. Eldridge smiles in the background.|
Stilwell first went to China in 1920. A military language student in Peking, he studied and then served there
until 1923. After that he was an executive officer of U.S. forces in China stationed at Tientsin from 1926
to 1929. From 1935 to 1939 he was military attaché to the Gissimo's government. But as to why Stilwell went to
China in the first place, he and his officers also disagree. Roberts said, "because he had always had a
profound interest in Oriental languages and Chinese culture and art and military sciences, and that when
World War I was over he had requested a post which would allow him fully to develop his cultural bent."
Stilwell's version is totally different. He said that when he returned home from France in 1919, he found "a wave of pacifism was already in the making... I went right into Chauncey Fenton's office, then head of the War Personnel Department in Washington, and I said, 'Chauncey, from here out the Army is in for a terrible drubbing at the hands of the sob sisters and starry-eyed idealists who think human beings ain't. I can't stay here and watch this country disarm and demobilize to the point of disaster. It'll just make me boiling mad, and I'll do or say something that will get me into trouble. So please give me a job that will remove me as far from this painful scene as possible.'"
Fenton told him of an arrangement whereby the University of California would give language courses to officers who would then proceed to the Far East. "Do you know anything about China and the Chinese?" Fenton asked, "Nope," Stilwell said, I don't, but I'm a candidate for learning." One hour later he had gotten his written orders out of Fenton. After a year at the California language school, he sailed for the Far East. It was perfectly true, he said, once in China he had become deeply interested in Chinese literature and the classics, but this was a result and not the cause of his going to China.
His Chinese friends don't call him Stilwell, he says. Long ago they gave him a Chinese name: Shih Ti-wei, the meaning of which is, prophetically enough, "One who makes important history." He says he has many good friend in America, too, but few of them are in Washington. "I never knew a Senator well enough to call him by his first name," he says.
His officers tend to believe that Stilwell is a very modest and retiring fellow who loathes publicity and has
|Stilwell's name in Chinese characters is drawn by Colonel Frank Dorn who speaks Chinese as well as General Stilwell. Dorn, an artist, drew Stilwell's campaign maps.|
|Before bombing of Maymyo, Captain Fullerton, Colonels Roberts and Dorn laugh at themselves posing with tommy guns in the green and pleasant glade outside General Stilwell's headquarters.|
Maymyo, Wednesday, April 8
I was in my room writing in my journal when the thin frail note of a siren cut across the cool perfumed air. I began to gather up my papers and put the lid on my typewriter when General "Long Tom" Hearn's massive figure appear in the door. "We go out to the slit trenches in the compound," he said almost apologetically. "How much time have we?" "I don't know," he said. "We've had several alarms. We've never really had a raid. But don't fiddle," he added, as I sat down to load my camera. Then he lumbered leisurely off down the stairs.
The mission servants were already huddled in their trenches when, in twos and threes, the American officers began to gather in the little woods where the slit trenches are. They were all there except General Stilwell and Lieutenant Young who had gone off again to see the Gissimo. They had tommy guns, pistols, cameras and helmets. After ten minutes or so passed, they began to play and pose with the guns, snapping pictures of one another. Then they took off the heavy helmets and lit cigarets, and sprawled on the woody ground, laughing and joking. And everybody kept saying to everybody else: "We've had several alarms but we've never really had a raid." "What are the odds we'll have one today?" I asked Colonel Roberts, who had been sitting silently on the edge of his trench.
"Long Tom" Hearn stolidly finishes his pipe waiting for bombers, while Colonel Benjamin G. Ferris works on a map of Burma.
Bombing did not faze either of these veterans.
Now he kept his face turned to the sky. He was straining, straining his ears. Then he said: "You'll have to forgive me, I'm nervous. I don't like being bombed or shelled. Had quite a lot of it in Hankow and Nanking. And on the Panay."
He nodded toward a group of laughing officers that were taking pictures of one another, pointing tommy guns at the sky, in fierce attitudes. "Look at them now," he said, "then see how they behave when its over. It will be quite interesting for you." I nodded toward Long Tom who was sitting against a tree, thoughtfully sucking his pipe. The colonel said: "He'll let his pipe go out. Otherwise he won't change." And then, quite suddenly, he rose and said, "Down in, they're coming."
Then we heard it, the unmistakable thrum, thrum, thrum of many engines. For a moment everybody froze
Thrum, thrum of approaching Jap bombers sends Americans into trenches and shelters.
Notice parked trucks that Colonel Roberts said should have been dispersed under cover before bombing.
The thrum, thrum, thrum was growing very loud. There were plenty of them. Frank Roberts began to swear suddenly, "We're damned fools. We never learn except by experience, and until it's too late." "What's the matter?" "Look at those trucks and jeeps parked thick all around the headquarters, and Dr. Seagrave's ambulance! We should have dispersed them. Well, tomorrow we will. And tomorrow we won't feel like bloody fools about bringing our kits and typewriters and briefcases. If there is a tomorrow."
He pointed to a blue patch of sky between the trees. Like little white birds against the brilliant blue sky, flying in perfect formation, high up, were the Jap bombers. "There! There! 8, 12, 16, 20, 28 of them. They're right overhead now. Here it comes!"
There was a long, long whine like the whistle of an onrushing train in an interminable tunnel. I closed my eyes and dug my chin into my breast, hunching my shoulders about my ears, as shuddering blast after blast tore the earth and air and woods all about us. An then the thrum, thrum, thrum faded and there was an awful silence.
My insides had not stopped quivering, but my hands had, when we came out of the trench on the all-clear.
The colonel was right. The officers who had had their first baptism by bomb were quite different men now.
They were smiling, yes. They kidded a bit, yes. But they were not really gay anymore and, as you looked from
one face to another, you saw that they knew at last that they lived in a world where men were mortal.
Until you've heard death stream in shell or bomb through the insensible air, impersonally seeking you out
personally, you never quite believe that you are mortal. As we walked back through the woods to the untouched
headquarters, one of the officers said with a sudden wondering humility, "Think of the English people
taking that hour after hour - night after night - for a whole year.
I saw the young major who had given me his helmet, and as I handed it back to him he said suddenly, "Listen: I'll feel better if I tell you this; you know what I thought when I heard that first bomb scream? Well-," he blushed, "I thought... why the hell did I give her my helmet?" I said, "It took courage for you to admit that." And he said, "Well, sure. But look, the point is they may come back." He held out his helmet, "So please keep it." He took a deep breath and then he smiled.
|Bomb shelter caves in under Jap bombing, burying two Burmese and a white woman. Here Dr. Williams helps out a shaken Burmese while Captain Eldridge takes pictures.|
The servants have all gone. Only the cook and the white mission caretaker have stayed. The officers went in
to the kitchen themselves and got the food, and the lieutenants and captains served the majors and the colonels.
Roberts said, "This, gentlemen, will be our last formal luncheon in headquarters. Tomorrow we'll take
picnic lunches to the woods."
I was right in the middle of lunch when General Alexander's aide, a smart, smiling, tall young man, arrived to take me to "Flag House." I was very embarrassed. I said, which was true, that the telephones had gone out of order and, besides, I had assumed that bombings canceled invitations - particularly when headquarters are the target. The A.D.C. said pleasantly, "Oh, not at all. Unless the target is definitely achieved."
General Alexander's house is farther out of town than the U.S. mission. It is set on top of a grassy knoll in a lovely garden full of larkspur and roses. Either because of its remoteness or the fact, as it later developed, that General Alexander had refused even to go into his slit trench, the servants had not left. A handsomely-turbaned Indian "bearer" met me at the door. General Sir Harold Alexander and a brigadier were on the terrace. General Alexander was a small, handsome, vigorous and charming man. He wore the pale robin's egg blue flannel bush jacket that many Indian officers wear. It brought out the steely color of his clear English eyes. The brigadier was tall, correct and stalwart, though he had a small moustache which he constantly but cautiously stroked, as though it were a feline pet which might suddenly strike back at him. They were drinking pink gins (gin with lime and maraschino). "Everything all right your way?" the General asked in his lovely British voice. "Oh, yes." We do not again refer to the bombing of Maymyo.
The table was set with real silver and a well-arranged bowl of flowers. The food was much better than at the mission, and so was the conversation. We talked of many things before we came to talk of the Battle of Burma - the evacuation of Dunkirk, in which Alexander had played a gallant part; the Battle of Britain and the blitz in London, which he had lived through daily; the Libyan front, about which he felt most confident; and the Russian front about which he was wholly sanguine. It almost seemed rudely irrelevant to mention Burma. But finally it came up inescapably in the course of conversation. General Alexander did not beat about the bush for a single second.
"We will hold Burma as long as we can," he said quietly. "I am utterly determined we will not retreat one step faster than necessary. Guts and determination are what are going to win this war. We can and we will fight as hard a delaying action in Burma, as your MacArthur fought in the Philippines. What MacArthur did, we can do, though our circumstances are a great deal more difficult."
Then he sketched quickly, vividly, convincingly some of those circumstances: troops, hardly more than 7,000, who had been in the line three and a half months unrelieved, with no air protection at all - the A.V.G., under Chinese operational command, were naturally protecting the Chinese front; the almost total lack of supplies, since it was impossible to send them from India, and what there were on hand had to be shared with the Chinese in the Sittang Valley. (He said 100 American transport planes would entirely change his supply problem.) The British forces were mechanized and therefore had to travel down the one and only main highway that traverses the Irrawaddy, where they were constantly subjected to Jap strafing from the air, and being waylaid and ambushed by Jap units on foot that percolated and infiltrated along the jungle roads, laying obstructions which trapped tanks, trucks, all vehicles chained by their own treads and wheels to the open highway. The 100 tanks we brought to Burma have been almost useless here. "I'm getting my units into native transportation as rapidly as possible," he said, "bullock carts, gharries, on foot, elephants, if we can get them - that's the way we'll have to fight the Jap in the jungle. That was the lesson we learned in Malaysia. And we're arming the Chin mountaineers, too, for guerrilla warfare. They've always hated the Burmese - they'll go after the Burmese wherever he's fighting with the Japs. The Japs are nearing the oil fields now, but we're fully prepared to destroy the fields, blow up the installations, scorch the earth behind us."
I asked him: "But if the Japs reach Mandalay and Lashio, where they'll control all the airports left in north Burma - Shewbo, Bhamo, Myitkyina, Loiwang - then what?" General Alexander said, "Then British forces will retire into the Chindwin Valley, re-form along the Indian frontier and wage a guerrilla war in the mountains."
"That really means that Burma would be gone. Aid to China would become immeasurably difficult. A great air effort would have to be made out of India, a naval effort in the Bay of Bengal to dislodge the Japs. Well, how are we then going to lick the Japs in this part of the world?"
He said, "You always forget, people who are not militarists always forget, that Japs have their troubles, too. Their lines are very overextended. Right? We are falling back on a fairly strong arsenal, India. Right? The Japs have suffered a great loss in planes. Their capacity to replace cannot match ours. Right? The monsoon season is coming on. It will be difficult for them to operate."
I said, "But they do keep coming on in spite of overextended lines. And if the monsoon makes it hard for them to get at us, it will make it hard for us to get at them - if, by the time the season begins, they are
|Photographer Rodger was behind his jeep's windshield when the last bullet of the battle of Shwegyin hit and shattered the glass. In thick of fighting, he never saw a Jap.|
Thursday, April 9
This morning when the alert sounded, everything was organized quite differently. Cars and trucks were promptly lined up in the mission driveway. The officers piled in with their briefcases and papers, typewriters and essential duffels. The servants who have remained after yesterday were put in a separate truck under a Chinese sergeant. Our caravan drove into the nearby woods where it parked in the dense shrubbery. The all-clear did not come for two hours.
The choice for the rendezvous of our caravan had been well made strategically. But it turned out it was something less than a happy place to be. The night before, the natives had dumped several horses killed in yesterday's bombings, near at hand. They were very ripe already. So several of the officers and I walked up to the top of the hill. It commanded a fine view of Maymyo and the forest around.
Colonel Roberts had a map. It was the same map of the world he had marked and studied so carefully on the Clipper. He spread it out on the woodsy mold under a tamarisk tree and we all stood around and looked at it very solemnly, saying nothing much or saying all the same old things about shipping, and "if the Ruskies hold" and "if India holds" and "if the Japs can't join up with the Germans in the Indian Ocean" and "if Australia holds" and so on.
Someone said, "Well, I damned if I know." Someone said, "Air. Air." The all-clear sounded and I was spared this day the old, old argument of the ground officers, as to whether "air could do it alone." For dinner we had potatoes and cabbage.
After dinner tough Jack Belden, the Time and LIFE correspondent, lean and elegant George Rodger and gay, bouncing, resilient Berrigan, the United Press man, came in a jeep and took me to the Maymyo Country Club. The club was full of young British officers and there was a handful of pretty girls. Belden and Berrigan and Rodger all said they wished they could get out of Burma. It had becomes, they said, impossible to file dispatches. At Mandalay the last cable in Burma had been destroyed. Copy now had to be sent by hand to Lashio, put on a plane for either Chungking or Calcutta, where it had to be censored first by British or Chinese censors. Berrigan said that after jeeping from the from to Maymyo, which sometimes took two or three days, you often had to rest up a day before you were in shape to write a story. He said he'd bet it was often two weeks after he'd
|Correspondent Jack Belden grins at wheel of his own jeep in which he raced up and down Burma. He finally hiked out of Burma with General Stilwell's evacuation party.|
I asked Belden what he thought of the American mission. He said, "God, they're good eggs! And Stilwell's a honey! Wouldn't it be fun to see them leading American doughboys?" He said the most serious thing about the Chinese armies, nobody talked about: China had long imported rice from Indo-China, Siam and Thailand for the troops in Yunnan. And if that rice goes - and the oil - their only available source in Asia, he thought they'd have a bad time of it. He said, "God, they are an ill-equipped bunch, but if you wanted to feel your heart turn over with exultant thrill, you ought to hear them charge into the field, yelling their exultant battle cry - 'Chung Kuo Wan Wan Sui!' - that and the Marseillaise and Scotch bagpipes. What is our equivalent?"
To Lashio, Friday, April 10
Late this morning, with Colonel Roberts and two other officers who were hoping to get to Chungking, I took the road back to Lashio. We were late getting off because there was a two-hour air raid, so the whole trip was made in the blistering heat of high day.
At five o'clock we came to the outskirts of Lashio and went on to Colonel Boatner's little three-room cottage. Boatner knew nothing about plane movements. "It wouldn't surprise me a bit," he said cheerfully, "if the Japs took our Lashio field tomorrow."
"Dude Hennick" (real name: Frank L. Higgs), whose letters home inspired "Terry and the Pirates," poses with automatics beside the Douglas transport he flew into China.
The CNAC pilot had gone into the operations building while the plane was being unloaded. When I found him, he was an American with a handsome, dark face, slick black hair underlined by black eyebrows that made one straight line over his heavily lashed eyes. He was a character famous to millions of Americans - Dude Hennick of "Terry and the Pirates" fame. His real name is Higgs and his letters out of China to an old friend, Milt Caniff, the comic-strip artist, had inspired many of the adventures of the Dragon Lady and Burma.
I said, "Hello Dude, my name's Burma Boothe and I'm a lady in distress which, I gather, is your specialty." And he said, "Well, beautiful, if you're in distress, it's probably your own damn fault for being in China. What am I supposed to do?"
"Take me to Chungking - it's the only way I can get out of here. And then from Chungking bring me back to Calcutta." He said, "Have you got a ticket on this plane?" And I said, "Obviously not or I wouldn't be in distress, would I?"
Presently the engines of the plane began to turn over. Roberts said, "You're off." The passengers were all Chinese civilians and most of them had babies. I lingered on the steps until the last minute. Then Roberts said, "Goodby. You've got your story. And tell them the truth. The American people want to know. They've got the right, haven't they?"
"Oh, yes," Boatner said, "The story? If you know the story, tell me in three words, I'd like to know, too." I got in the plane. "In three words? 'Veni, Vidi, Evacui' - which means, we came, we saw, we got the hell out, Colonel." "I thinks she's got the story," Boatner said cheerfully.
As we taxied off, I pressed my flashlight three times against the windowpane and Colonel Roberts answered with three small sharp flashes from his own.