OVER THE LEDO-BURMA ROAD
Just what name the historians eventually will give to the Ledo-Burma Road was a question that got a lot of batting around during the trip. The official public relations folder on the Ledo-Burma Road, issued to correspondents beforehand, called it "Pick's Pike." But to thousands of GIs, the road from Ledo into Burma has always been the Ledo Road. What's more, for centuries the Burma Road has earned somewhat of a name for itself. Just when we had reached agreement on the name "Ledo-Burma Road," our convoy pulled into Yunnanyi under a giant sign that read: "Welcome to the First Convoy over the Stilwell Road." Some GIs around the place said Chiang Kai-shek had called it that on the radio. Okay, we said, then we'll call it that. Then what happens but we get a report that Stilwell in Washington doesn't like that name because it doesn't give credit to the Chinese who did most of the fighting to open it. After that, everyone started calling it what they liked - especially the drivers, who called it plenty. Last I heard, at least three people had agreed on "Tokyo Turnpike."
The photographers - and there were 24 of them, GI and civilian, on the convoy, including two jeeps full from the Air Corps. - ran into trouble now and then trying to get pictures. For instance, when we reached Paoshan, there were a Chinese army band, a line-up of Chinese soldiers and hundreds of civilians along the road to greet us - but they were all on the left-hand side of the road, with their backs to the sun and their faces in the shadow. The photographers saw this would never do so they got the band, soldiers, and civilians to move to the right-hand side of the road so the sun would be on their faces. This was not an easy job, but the photographers managed to accomplish it with much gesturing, pushing and yelling, just as the convoy hove in sight. Then, all of a sudden, a Chinese officer strode up, took one gander at the change and issued an order - a loud and quick one too. Immediately, the band, soldiers and civilians all rushed back across the road and stood in their original positions, with backs to the sun. The photographers howled in anguish. One of them grabbed an interpreter and got him to ask the officer why he ordered everyone back and spoiled what would have made a good picture. The interpreter soon returned with a shrug. "Military custom," he explained, "If they were on the right, the band would have to be at the end of the line instead of the front.
The only dog in the convoy, hence the first dog to ever ride the Ledo-Burma Road or to cross the China-Burma border in the last three years in a jeep, was a little brown pup belonging to a Chinese soldier. I asked the GI driver of the jeep in which the dog rode what the pup's name was. "Wanting," he replied. "Is that because Wanting was the first town in China after we reached the border?" I asked, "Hell no," said the GI, "As far as I'm concerned it's because it's always a tree it's wanting."
It happened during a weird Kachin tribal dance the night of the big Seagrave homecoming celebration. It was pitch dark and the Kachins go into a circle around a thumping drum and danced faster and faster and faster, working themselves into the proper degree of delirium. A GI who had imbibed a little too much rice wine at the evening's feast somehow got into the circle and soon was prancing around with the Kachins. Suddenly he darted out and started to walk away, shaking his head. Someone asked him what had happened. "Just when I thought they was really knockin' themselves out with that Lindy Hop," he said, "one of 'em turns to me and sez, 'Hey Joe, ya gotta Camel on ya?"
Adapted for the internet from the March 17, 1945 issue of the China-Burma-India edition of YANK - The Army Weekly
Copyright © 2004 Carl Warren Weidenburner. All rights reserved.
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