Twenty-Three Days in the Burma Jungle
  (This is the personal story of Corp. Matthew J. Campanella who, with Lieut. Cecil Williams, had been lost in the jungles of Northwest Burma for 23 days after bailing out of a transport plane. The story was told to Capt. Albert J. Kaplan who forwarded it on to us. The Roundup first printed news of this case last week when it ran Preston Grover's dispatch to the Associated Press. We consider this to be one of the best dramatic stories we have had the privilege to print.-Ed.)

  The pilot, his face an ashen bluish-gray from lack of oxygen and strain, ordered the co-pilot and myself to bail out. He would stay with the ship and passengers. We wanted to stay also, but he said "get out, get going." The co-pilot asked, "Is that a request or an order?" "It's an order," the pilot answered.
  It all happened during a return trip over the "Hump" from China to India - the toughest air route in the world. A course where the Himalaya peaks soar 15,000 to 21,000 feet, and below is dense, impenetrable jungle.
  We struck bad weather, severe icing conditions and fog. We were lost and unable to pick up the homing radio beacon, although we were in constant contact on the liaison set. We were losing altitude. Ice was flying off the props. We could hear it strike the fuselage.


  Hurriedly, we put on our 'chutes. I grabbed my .45 caliber pistol, flashlight, a unit of "K" rations and a canteen. While I was getting into my 'chute, Lt. Williams took the mike and radioed that we were bailing out, by order of Capt. Owens, that the pilot was at 16,000 feet and was going to let down to the south-west. That done and our 'chutes on and set, we scurried to the door at the rear of the ship. We fumbled with the doors and finally managed to get one opened. I asked, "Who's going first?" The Lt. answered, "We'll jump together." We interlocked arms. The Lt. looked back at me and asked, "All set?" "Set," I replied.
  I had no sooner left the ship when something hit me, and knocked me out. It must have been the door. How my 'chute opened, I'll never know.
  At one time on the way down, I vaguely seem to recall that I came out of it for a few seconds, but was sort of rocked back into it again. Lt. Williams later told me what happened.


  We both landed on top of the same tree, a big tree about 75 feet high. Dazed, I unbuckled my 'chute and fell to the ground. My fall must have been broken by the vines and thick under-brush. When I came to, Lt. Williams was calling in the darkness. "Campanella, are you all right?" "Yes, Yes. I am all right. How are you? Where are you? " I replied. "I'm O.K. I'm up here in the tree," the Lt. called.
  It took Lt. Williams hours to climb down the tree with the aid of a flashlight. It was near midnight when he got down. Both our 'chutes were left on top of the tree.
  Lt. Williams had his jungle kit, mine was left with my parachute. We managed to build a fire, with matches from the kit, and spent the night talking about where we might be, the chances of our parachutes being spotted by scouting planes, and the fate of Capt. Owens, the ship, and the passengers.
  In the morning we took stock of what we had. Much had been lost during our jump. Lt. Williams had lost his flying boots and was without shoes. He had also lost his .45. I lost one flying boot, but had shoes. All in all, we had about a dozen matches, quinine pills, a small amount of iodine, fish line and hooks, a compass, two flashlights, a jungle knife, a canteen, three units of "D" rations (concentrated chocolate), the Lt.'s. wristwatch and a .45 pistol with seven rounds.


  I gave the Lt. my flying boot for one foot, and on the other he used a leather glove, which he happened to have.
  We made our way toward a sound of running water and found a narrow mountain stream. The stream coursed south-west and we decided to follow it, hoping it might lead to a village. At the same time the stream provided us with drinking water. We added a drop of iodine to each canteen of water. After a few days, the iodine ran out so we drank water without iodine. Lt. Williams reckoned we were at an altitude of about 12,000 feet.
  The second night we slept in a clearing surrounded by rock next to the stream. We rolled two logs parallel, placed boughs across and filled the spaces with leaves. We also covered ourselves with leaves and huddle together for warmth. The strange jungle sounds, the boughs pressing beneath us and the chills running up and down our backs prevented sleep. Thereafter, we discarded the logs and twigs and slept on leaves only. As we descended with the stream, the nights became less cold.


  We arose at daybreak, had two bites of chocolate for breakfast and continued to follow the stream. Our progress was slow and difficult, as the stream was full of slimy rocks. The unprotected foot of Lt. Williams was painful. We had one bite of chocolate for dinner and supper. That night, we were again without fire. The following three nights we struck a fire, but the matches ran out, and we were without fire thereafter.
  After about the third day, we began to lose count of time. The days and nights seemed to run together in a long nightmare.
  After a few days, we came out on a larger stream, a small mountain river with rocks, boulders and rapids. We decided to follow the river, hoping to get to a valley and people. But our hopes gradually waned as the days passed and there were no signs of civilization.
  Our chocolate lasted about three days. We supplemented the chocolate with a few wild and wormy lemons. The discomfort from hunger was greatest during the first few days.
  At one time, I ate grass growing between the rocks.
  About the fourth day, we came upon schools of small fish. I shot one with my .45, cut the head and tail off, removed the entrails, and shared it with the Lt. We tried to catch fish with the line and hooks, but the fish would not go for our bait, grass hoppers and a praying mantis.


  One morning, about the fifth day, we saw three deer wading peacefully in the river. I made for my .45 hid behind a log and waited as the deer approached nearby. When I thought they were close enough, I picked one and let him have it. Surprisingly enough, they just stopped and stood still. They did not run away. It was probably the first shot they had ever heard. I crept closer and kept shooting. Finally, I hit one. He kicked his hind feet in the air and ran off. As they were running away I emptied my .45 but to no avail. Now we had neither food nor protection.
  As we descended with the river, the wild lemons became more abundant. Bitter and sour as they were, we ate them. In addition to the lemons we found some wild berries. One time we tried eating raw bamboo shoots. Another time we found nuts that looked and tasted like pecans. We ate heartedly of them. But our main food was lemons. We ate so many that our lips became chapped and sore, even bled. Whenever we ate them, tears would come to our eyes, our noses would run and what not.


  One day, about the fifth day out, we came to a place in the river which was bounded by steep, impassable cliffs. We tried to wade to the bank diagonally across from us, but learned it was over our heads, and would have to swim. We took off our clothes and tied them to a log, over which I strung my shoes. We plunged into the cold water and began to swim. The Lt. was pushing the log. About mid-stream, the log rolled over and my shoes went to the bottom. There I was now, barefooted. A few days later, the Lt. lost his one flying boot as we were making our way around a jagged ledge.
  From then on, time did not count. barefooted, walking over jagged rocks and ground covered with burs was torture. We tried walking sticks, but our progress became slower and slower. As the days went by and our strength waned, our feet became increasingly painful, but most horrible was the uncertainty of it all.
  Finally, one morning after what seemed like countless days of walking, we fell to our knees and prayed to God that this day we might see people and civilization of some sort. We had prayed and given thanks before, but not until this day did we kneel to pray. Now there was a prayer with every step. God must have been with us for that afternoon we saw two natives in the distance.


  We yelled to them. They waited until we were fairly close, but then disappeared into the jungle. The same evening at dusk as we were preparing to rest for the night, the Lt. heard a sound as of someone walking nearby. We jumped up and coming toward us were four natives. As we arose, the natives reached for their knives. We immediately sat down and motioned with our hands and mouths that we were hungry and starving. Imagine our feeling when the natives gave to each of us a ball of warm rice wrapped in large green leaves.
  While eating the rice, we amused them with our compass, knife, Indian and Chinese money and the wristwatch in order to gain their confidence.
  The natives appeared quite friendly now. They motioned to us to follow them. It was quite dark and you could have knocked me over with a feather when one of the natives revealed a flashlight. They used it to light the way over the rocks, and it was a good thing too, as the approximate mile to the village proved to be an ordeal. We moaned and groaned as we walked. The feet of the Lt. were worse than mine, and they had to practically carry him most of the way.
  They led us into a bamboo hut, built us a fire and gave us more food, rice and greens, and bananas. We fell to the floor, and for a couple of days all we did was eat and rest. We were so weak we could scarcely go outside during the first three or four days. During this time the natives came in and out, often with food, sometimes just to look at us, trying to talk to us by means of signs. They were very curious. Anyway, our hopes brightened now. At least, we had food and a fire.


  We learned we were in a tiny village composed of two large and two small bamboo huts. There were about 40 natives here. They appeared to be of a mixed Chinese-Indian type, with slanted eyes and high cheek bones, like the Chinese, but somewhat darker. They seemed to speak a Hindustani dialect. We had to depend on the sign language to express our desires.
  On the second day, we sent a runner with a note, but he failed us and returned. On the third day, we sent out two notes with three runners, one of whom, called Salong Lot, appeared quite intelligent. With the leading runner, Salong Lot, Lt. Williams sent his Air Corps wrist band. It was Salong Lot who showed us an old certificate that read: "This is to certify that Salong Lot of Tarang Khu . . ." In the meantime, we ate galore - rice and greens, bananas, a kind of root that tasted like a potato, a kind of melon, and oranges.
  The natives were very hospitable. About the fourth day of our stay in the village, they even built a little hut for us. The natives would come in and have "conversations" with us. We were quite successful in making them understand that we parachuted from an airplane. (They could see airplanes fly high overhead every day.) They were very interested in the whereabouts of our parachutes and plane. They thought, it seemed, we would be able to jump up into an airplane if we had our 'chutes. If we could come down, why wouldn't we go up?


  We named our little house "Camp Will." "Camp" from Campanella and "Will" from Williams.
  In the morning of our eighth day of our stay at the village, we heard the roar of a low-flying transport plane. I called to the Lt. and we both ran out, waving our arms to the airplane. The Lt. yelled, "Look, look, they're turning, they're turning." They had found us. Our message had gone through.
  Two 'chutes, loaded with supplies, were dropped from the plane. They contained shoes and stockings, food rations, blankets, rifles and ammunition, first aid kits, vitamins, cigarettes and matches, flares and flare guns, mosquito head nets, heavy flying boots, field jackets, written notes, etc. One of the bundles had a Christmas card in it.
  The following morning, the transport was back again. This time accompanied by a little two wing-trainer (PT-17). We could not understand the presence of the trainer. We though the trainer, as well as the transport, were just flying around out of curiosity. When the trainer cut his motor and disappeared behind the trees, we thought he had gone behind a mountain. Meanwhile, the natives were quite frightened by the two low-flying airplanes. To calm them, we decided to return to our hut. We sat down and nonchalantly cleaned our rifles, which we used earlier in the day trying to get a deer.


  As we sat in our hut, we heard a commotion outside, and through the door I saw a white man in flying uniform walking through the village. I exclaimed to the Lt. and we both ran out to greet him. The instant we saw him, we knew what had happened. He must have landed in a rice field.
  We shook hands with Major Paul C. Droz, pilot of the trainer, and asked about Capt. Owens and our ship. We were happy to learn that the captain had brought her in safely. Then Major Droz spoke of his trainer:
  "I got her in all right, had to scare a few cows out of the way. Getting her out again is going to be the job. We might have to cut down a few trees. Let's go and give her a look."
  The three of us, with the entire village population trailing behind us in single file, made our way to the rice field. Across the rice field was a small buffalo pasture where the plane had landed. The natives looked at the plane in wonder. They touched it, and seemed to be amazed at this strange creature.
  I remained at the plane to keep the natives away, while the Major and Lt., with some natives, cleared away some brush. They paced the field to see if they would have to cut away any trees, and decided we might be able to make it.


  The Major returned to the plane. "Well," he said, "do you want to give it a whirl? You know you had to walk the last time." "O.K.," I replied, surprised and scarcely believing it all. "Let's go." Being smaller and lighter than the Lt., the Major decided to try me first.
  We taxied to the far side of the field. After checking the "mags," the Major nosed the plane around and began racing the motor with the brakes on. The tail went up, and as the RPM's increased, the plane began to shake and quiver. Then he let her go. We bumped and bounced over the ruts and weeds. We hit a big bump and left the ground. The Major handled her beautifully as she just cleared the trees. The Major returned for Lt. Williams in the afternoon and flew him out.
  That afternoon, the Lt. gave the natives most of what had been dropped us plus some extra rations the Major brought, along with a reward of one hundred silver rupees. The Lt. told me that after I left he returned with the natives to "Camp Will" and had a farewell feast.
  When I returned to the squadron, I was greeted by everyone from the CO down to the privates. I learned then, that it was Capt. Vernon C. Johnson who located us in the first transport; that the village was about 65 flying miles from our field in northern Burma and the name "Tarang Khu" was not charted but the name "Tarang" gave an idea of the location, and that the runner, Salong Lot, had reached a Ghurka camp from where our message was transmitted to our squadron. I also learned that it was December 10th, and that we had been missing for 23 days.
  That evening after the Lt. arrived, the doctor sent us to a nearby hospital to recuperate and prepare for a 30-day leave of absence. On the way to the hospital, the Lt. remarked:
  "I'll never become bored with life."

The C.B.I. Roundup is a weekly newspaper published by and for the men of the United States Army Forces in China, Burma, and India, from news and pictures supplied by staff members, soldier correspondents, Office of War Information and other sources. The Roundup is published Thursday of each week and is printed by The Statesman in New Delhi, India. Editorial matter should be sent directly to Capt. Fred Eldridge, Branch Office Hq., U.S.A.F.C.B.I., New Delhi, and should arrive not later than Monday in order to make that week's issue. Pictures must arrive by Sunday and must be negatives or enlargements. Stories should contain full name and organization of sender.

 Twenty-Three Days in the Burma Jungle

CBI Veteran Matthew J. Campanella shared his story from the original C.B.I. Roundup.

Copyright © 2009 Carl Warren Weidenburner