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Flying Tiger memories

By Melvin Woodward (© 2012 Pamela Woodward Happe)

[Melvin Woodward was one of the large U.S. Navy contingent who joined the American Volunteer Group in the spring and summer of 1941, traveling to Asia on a Dutch liner. When the AVG was disbanded in July 1942, he went to work for CNAC, the Chinese national airline that flew cargo and personnel over the Hump of the Himalayas to India. On the first of these trips, he would meet his future wife Audrey. He wrote this memoir toward the end of his life. It is published here by the kindness of his daughter, Pamela Happe, and it is copyright by her. -- Daniel Ford]

It was in Norfolk Virginia, towards the end of my fifth year in the Navy in June 1941, that I found my feet upon my lunch-time desk when Wayne [Ricks] came in. "Woody" he said, "There is some bastard over in Hangar 4 who promises good people a chance to get out of the Navy, see the world, fight the Japs and get paid for it. Think we should have a word with him?"

My Asian destiny come alive!

By this time I had already attended the wedding of Butch and Mary, and their departure for Pensacola where Butch was to take pilot training. Janie and I must already have discovered that her desire for a tranquil life and my destiny for "Destiny" were pleasantly, nostalgically, incompatible. Even romantically incompatible.

Melvin Woodward AVG phto Now here I am, age 23, about to be a "Soldier of Fortune" and feeling every bit of romance and bravadura that a young man may. Across the corridor from my office was a notably beautiful young lady who was pleasant to be with. Elegant, languid in the Southern fashion, nearly as tall as I. She was not a professional steno-typist. Her shorthand had gaps in it and the typewriter sometimes did funny spelling things. But she was sweet and genuine and very innocent. And 18 years old.

A few weeks earlier we had tentatively made a date. But between its fixing and its time she told me her aunt had forbidden her to go out with a man in uniform. At that time (pre-American war entry) I had never worn a uniform in taking out a girl I respected. Upon this occasion I was hurt and I hit back with cancellation.

But now I must be off to San Francisco to join my destiny. I am to meet Wayne in Baltimore in two days time. There is a ferry-steamer overnight to Baltimore. Will she join me?- I'm not even in the Navy! There, for all my boldness, for all my 23 years, for my professionalism as a "soldier of fortune," I learnt that I was still a boy. She said no.

In his confidence that I would fail with her, Wayne delayed his departure, and we finally drove through the flagging night and the next day to his family home in Indiana. Wayne proposed to stop there of a couple of days and I was disposed to visit my family in California. It was decided I should fly on and he would follow in two days' time, by air.

By this time flying was old hat. But luxury flying in this mode was up to my expections of "destiny". I quickly recover from being a rejected "boy," when my 15-hour junket from Chicago to San Francisco includes bar-service and a "Pullman" berth by air. I was so exurberant that I must have presented myself as an absolute ass to my family and friends. When Wayne arrived, I'm sure he brought some degree of tranquillity - earthiness.

The Bellvue Hotel in San Francisco must never before have had 150 to 200 persons age 20 to 30 (a few exceptions). I shall never forget our entry to the place-through the bar, according to my custom. At the far end the bar drifted into the lounge, separated only by an almost non-apparent, and very short, barrier of plate glass. Jo, my Ever-Love, I think you were seated at the bar-side of this almost-barrier, I hasten to say I'm glad we found you.

Wayne and I wandered through the bar. Perhaps we had a drink, though Wayne takes little. Then towards the lounge. Wayne has divinations. We saw this beautiful lady, seated alone at a table and Wayne said, "Good evening. " I'm sure that we each developed the recognitaion that the three of us were friends in no more than 15 minutes.

It was Jo Stewart (nee Buckner, later Shurette) whom we met, and we shortly later learned was Chief Nurse to our endeavor. In so many ways.

After being with this charming lady for 15 minutes, leaving her with her Coke and passport already acquired, we went to "join-up" the China National Airforce. It was well organised. In no more that two hours we had been sworn into the CNAC (China National Air Corporation), commissioned as "Captains" so that in the event of capture we could claim belligerent status under the Convention of Geneva. We had been issued civilian passports for clearance from San Francisco and entry to Burma - (though we thought we were going to China, the South Coast of which the Japanese had not yet permeated). We were advanced money. We assigned the major part of our future salaries to be saved in U.S. Banks. We were told to keep the whole operation absolutely secret, and to meet Bloemfontein at the Embarcadero three days hence.

They were good days in San Francisco. Half idle, half in equiping ourselves with the right side-arms, cartridges, cans of tooth-powder, razor-blades; and each purchase was rewarded with the sense of "going out to the wars".

The ship was beautiful. A standard colonial Dutch liner which normally plied the Amsterdam- Jakarta route. She was officered by Dutchmen and crewed by Indonesians. Both the seamen and the passenger staff wore traditional Indonesian, colourful clothing. The service was impeccable. I can imagine, now, how reduced the passenger staff must have found themselves when they prepared our evening kit for dinner - I doubt there was a dinner jacket in the lot! At least, not one ever appeared. (We saw Bloemfontein again in Amsterdam in 1964)

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

It was July, and after the desultory fogs of [San Francisco] Bay we escaped through the [Golden] Gate into sunshine.

In a couple of days the weather turned mild and it was a pleasure to begin mixing with our nearly 200 member "club" on the sunny decks.

Both our ladies - Jo Stewart and "Red" Emma-Jane Foster - had cabins isolated on the relatively small boat-deck. Though I was a shy, even timid fellow, American, age 23, without a university degree, I was nevertheless attracted by the ladies. Before reaching Honolulu I had joined the every-afternoon tea on the boat deck.

From Honolulu to Darwin (area) we were escorted by two heavy cruisers, one was USS Salt Lake City the other a sister ship - Northhampton. It was a singular honor that our single Dutch ship carrying only less than 200 of us was so escorted. Those two warships must have carried nearly 3000 men, and Japan was not yet in the war, though Holland was against the Germans.

The five weeks voyage from San Francisco to Rangoon was interupted only briefly at Honolulu, North Australia and Singapore. We had perfect weather all the way and quite a lot of nostalgia from those of us who already knew the nights of the Southern Cross of Singapore. Though I had known the Southern Skies from our search on the Lexington for Amelia Earhart in 1937, my touch with the people of the Orient had been confined to California and Hawaii.

Singapore - Singapore sang for me. The scents in the back alleys, the raucous noises, the playful kids - they all took my breath away. For me Singapore was Romance. "New World," "Great World," "Tiger Balm" - bits of Chinese ritual opera, hoof and hand fighting in the ring, taxi-dances where a lovely Chinese girl would say, "One night no, one month maybe." The tropical gardens, the stench of gutters, the chatter of Cantonese, the gongs and bells! I was never wrong about the appeal of the Orient!

Coming into the estuary towards Rangoon the early morning sunlight was gradually obscured by a low grey sky. Fingers of land lying at a distance off each side were low and colorless. Some motor craft and others of junk or Red Sea rig could be seen. But it was a couple of hours further towards Rangoon that the river traffic thickened and the tugboats appeared.

As the tugboats pressed us towards the docks, the excitement gripped us. The musty, spicy odors drifted out and fragments of sound. Ah! I'm home to the Orient. The womb of my imagination!

Some good conspiracy with the Burmese Customs and Immigration Authorities permitted our clearance onto a train before all the world was looking. (Nevertheless, a Japanese ricon plane was over our Toungoo airfield three days later.)

The great basin ranging from the sea on the south to Mandalay and Myitkyina in the north must be one of the most beautiful broad valleys in the world. The flat sedimentary earth was carpeted by emerald paddy. An occasional hillock broke the surface, as did here and there a copse of hardwood and palm and inevitably the rising spire of the temple. The village itself lies completely hidden, nestled beneath the trees.

At that time the harvest was only just beginning. With little work to do, the water buffalo ranged the sides of the canals. The people were attractive - if not gay, they were pleasantly placid. The children, as everywhere in the world of the well-fed, were boisterous and fun-loving.

All - women, men and children, were beautifully clad in colourful fabric handsomely draped over the hips. The ladies wore lovely blouses and gathered their pongees at the side. The men on the land were generally bare above their pongees which were gathered and directly tied in front of the genital region.

When bathing themselves, the ladies hoist the pongee and tie it above their breasts, then lather themselves within the modesty of their cloaks. In this way, I suppose both the body and cover are washed. I have noticed that in the tropical areas of the Pacific and in all the area of the tropical Orient, man keeps himself immaculately clean.

My own best memory of the few stations where we stopped emanate from the nose:- glorious, colourful scents - finally the East! The fragrance of flowers and the pungency of the spices. Sounds, particularly music, have a great capacity to inspire the recollection of memories. At the end, however, the nose probably recalls better than the other senses. Ugly or marvellous, sweet or pungent - they all yield memories.

(I recall now-thinking, recalling the odors-of a time months after Toungoo, in Kunming. An early hour of the morning. In a jeep towards the airfield. Driver Wayne Ricks, impatient, nudges one of the two honey-buckets pending by cord from the extremities of a four-foot bamboo which was supported over the shoulders of the honey gatherer. The honey gatherer was the focal-piece, the epi-center. So the other bucket floated in an arc towards the back seat of the Jeep where I sat. Probably three gallons of human excreta -- a quarter of the man's early morning work -- were deposited in my lap. My nose recalls it clearly now - 40 years later. Let it be known that it was for that reason that I am known as "Shitty" Woodward.)

At any rate our train journey expired. Gone the reverie. Gone the placid fields, the golden people, the hidden villages, the pagodas floating above the trees.

Reveille!

Actually, we masqueraded as civilians. Our passports listed us to be farmers, hardware merchants, pharmacists, etcetera. In San Francisco we were so secret that every merchant who sold us whisky, or pistols, or hunting jackets or two cans of dental powder would wink and say, " When you come back, please call in and tell me if the streetcars really run East and West in China."

[That bit about the streetcars is a sly joke, based on an American misunderstanding about Asian anatomy. It was still current when I was in high school. -- Dan Ford]

Incident at Muc Wa

So we arrived in secrecy at a railway siding near Toungoo. There we encountered the Group Adjutant who seriously tried to be a sergeant-major type. After two or three trials at getting us to line up, stand straight, count-off, his face collapsed. He never tried again, and he became an able adjutant. I think, deep down, all of us tried to help him, after he found that neither he nor we were automatons

Dicipline within the Group was wholly dependant upon the desire of each indidual to stay with it. Inevitably a few dropped out.

I am compelled to regard the "mixing" of the Group to be similar to the "mixing" of the people who joined wagon trains at St Joseph Missouri for the Oregon trail. There, as in our group, were illiterates, poets, farmers, wheelwrights - all manner of people. People with dreamy idealism; those going to make a fortune; others to "develop the West." So, too, in our endeavour were there all those. At the end I find that the least common denominator was Adventure. Whether for God, banditry, country, or politics (on the apparent side), the romance, the adventure of the project underlay every person - man and woman.

We were, I suppose, a peculiar lot. In total I believe, about 250 were recruited. Ninety-seven percent of us came directly from the services:- U.S.Army Air force. U.S. Navy and U.S.M.C.

We had two ladies recruited from the States: Jo Stewart as Chief Nurse and "Red" Foster, later Petach. These two provided as much "glue" to the organisation as did the general sense of adventure. Emotionally they gave us all a sense of "Mother, Wife, Sister, Friend."

We had another woman in the group. She was denominated to be "Group Historian". However, though she wrote a book, I consider her most notable achievement was her marriage to Harvey Greenlaw. Greenlaw, an old China Hand, was Group Executive Officer.

In the year we were all together Harvey is recalled by all for one notable achievement:

One evening before hostilities with Japan, G.I. Paul [Preston Paull?] was in the Toungoo railway station refreshment room when Greenlaw and wife came into this only watering hole in town. Harvey had wife on one side and a square bottle of green Creme de Menthe on the other. G.I. Paul made a lewd remark to Olga. Greenlaw broke square bottle of Creme de Menthe on Paul's head.

Greenlaw, after sluicing Paul with table water, awakened him and demanded and collected 15 rupees for the loss of liquid (green). I suppose men are remembered mainly for their balls and their humour.

But since we have G.I. Paul in mind, I present another picture: A few months later, at Kunming, a new pilot, one Ajax [Albert] Baumler, fresh from the Spanish wars and a delay at Midway Island due to Japanese interference, arrived at the Peking restaurant. As a new boy, but already a blooded combat pilot, and somewhat drunk, he thought it to be a good thing to shoot the lights out. He missed.

G.I. Paul, not knowing the formidable reputation of the man, said, "Sonny Boy, put that shootin arm [shooting iron] away!" After which Paul ostensibly left the place. Shortly after, Baumer left, to discover G.I. Paul just outside. Paul took Baumler's pistol and pushed it and two teeth down the throat of "poe ole Ajax." To parlay this series, in Life magazine, early 1945, is a photo of Ajax Baumler, sans dents, the first to have downed five Germans from the Republic [P-47] Thunderbolt.

Then there was that time, at Loiwing, on the Burma-China border. We had a new pilot, Van [Shapard], recently transferred from instruction at the China flying school (he said it was too dangerous for him). On his first combat mission (against the Japanese coming towards us) the right wheel of his machine would not retract. He kept climbing and asking for advice. Then came a rather disjointed and interrupted series of cries, comments and songs, all in Van's Tennessee voice: "Hey you guys, they's a Jap on my tail. Whatamy gonno do naow? Hey! He's still theah! Somebody don't do somethin'. When the roll is called up yonder (in song) --- I shore am gonna be there, somebody don't do nothin!"

Van got turned around after "somebody" cleared his tail. He shot down one Jap ... wheel still down. Half an hour later he taxied up, slipped out of harness, tiredly climbed out of cockpit, dropped his tail onto the wing-root, slithered down until his feet were on earth, pushed up his goggles and dropped his straw-hat over his back Looking very serious, he said, " Hot damn! That's the toughest five hundred bucks Ah eveh made".

It might have been the next day the Old Man (Colonel Chennault) himself was with us when we learned that Pete [John] Petach had stranded himself in a riverbed 300 miles to the south. The Colonel asked if I'd like to do whatever good judgment dictated about Pete and his plane. There could be no backup expected - not from General Stillwell or anyone. The lines of ground fighting were not definitive and communications were lousy.

"Blacky" [Harold] Blackwell and I set out in the evening in an International Harvester truck By shortly after the following noon we were in Mandalay which was completely flattened by bombs and fire, stinking of burnt and rotten flesh but not taken. About there we struck the straggling, continous line of the China Fifth Route Army in full rout to the north. Walkers, wounded, vehicles, all made progress so tedious that the next 150 miles took us 18 hours.

Somewhere about 6 or 7 in the morning we found Pete with General Stillwell near Pyawbwe. We all had breakfast together while listening to the General, whose Chinese Fifth Route Army were fleeing, berate the British for letting down the side. At his breakfast table were Pete and Blackie and I, the General, and two or three others one of whom I will always remember for his use of English - virtually everything he said was in Limerick!

The General said we could do as we pleased about the plane, but he had no way to help - no reliable troops, no communications. Pete knew the route and guided us to the aircraft. It lay exposed on the white sand of the riverbed. The nearest cover, a clump of trees, perhaps 600 yards distant. The occasional overhead aircraft gave us the shivers.

Tales of the Flying Tigers

Pete wanted to fuel [the P-40] and try to fly out. I knew the value of the plane (the value to us - not just in dollars) as well as Pete did. And I knew the value of our pilots. With wheels up to hubs in soft sand, there was no way for that machine to fly out.

We all three worked for four hours to salvage radio gear, guns, propeller, ailerons, elevator, rudder, and wheels. The sun blazes white upon the sand, aircraft (all Japanese) buzzed overhead, our truck had to be alongside to load the gear and to tilt the plane so that so that we could pull the wheels. At mid-afternoon we had taken the most critical parts. We were frightened not only by the planes aloft, but the ground fire of small arms seemed to be on three sides. And we were tired after two nights without sleep.

But now we would do it! Nothing left but to burn the plane and take off to safety and rest.

Pete went down for lack of fuel. The plane, now tail down, had dry sump plugs. We tried to fire that miserable derelict for 40 minutes, perhaps not thinking very well because of our fear and fatigue. Finally we soaked a hemp line in the truck tank, inserted it into a virtually empty wing-tank, set the line afire, stood back when she blew and smoked and smoked. We scampered out.

Back twenty miles to the north where General Stillwell gave us a place to sleep. In the morning he told us he was leaving that very day - to take a walk to India. We offered him a lift, he declined.

Then it was back to the north up the road which now carried a much larger part of marching infantry. Tedious progress. Though I knew Blackie did not drive I was disappointed that Pete (pilot) had never managed a road vehicle. He was willing to try, but after every couple of minutes of his driving Blackie and I each volunteered to join the marching Chinese.

Notable in that tiring drive to the north was the visit to a burnt-out Mandalay where the great walls of the fort still stood. But we were really too tired to appreciate the historical significance of the tragedy we witnessed. Most memorable, though, was the purchase of fresh strawberries just to the west of Maymyo. There, in utter peace, was a roadside peddler with baskets and baskets of the most beautiful fruit. The afternoon was sunny and warm and drowsy. The shade from the tall trees gave us a respite from the hot cab of the truck which had been trudging for four hours in bottom gear up through 22 switchback turns which lifted the road from Mandalay to Maymyo.

Vehicles, but not trudgers, of the China Fifth Route Army kept the road busy, but not jammed, because we were by this time in advance of most.

The berries were sweet beyond imagination - and refreshing. By dark we were into Maymyo - that hideaway of tranquility where even the Government escaped in the monsoons. But now it was the tranquility which had escaped. The normal community consisted of some Burmese - Burmans, Shans, Karens - but mainly Europeans and Indians. Now they could see all of us fleeing - Chinese, British, British Indian Army too - all flying.

The town (it always gave the appearance of being a village) was in chaos. All the Europeans and Indians wanted out. Many begged for petrol to get their cars towards Myitkyina - or China. There was near panic in the eyes of those with wives or children.

Quite a lot of Continental Europeans were there. Operators of trading companies, hotels, restaurants, mines, timber. Whether, at the end, thay may have been better off in Japanese prison camps - many perished there, too - than in the walk most took towards India is not up for good judgment. It was, in fact, another week before the Japanese troops went through.

I have never learned to my satisfaction why Stillwell took his walk, with only a handful of followers, out through the difficult country to India, instead of going up into China with the Fifth Route Army which he (nominally, at least) commanded. Romance, Pride? After the Burma retreat, he still looked after the training grounds near my [future] wife Audrey's home - at Ramghar, Bihar - only 20 miles from Hazaribagh, India.

We were still tired and we stopped the night in Maymyo at a hotel I knew from an earlier trip. The next morning was like June in Surrey - like a summer morning in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It was soft, without a zephyr, cool and golden. We spent a couple of hours gathering a few things we thought may be necessary. Strangely, we did not have a single application to join us. Perhaps everyone thought that either the British or the Japanese would have destroyed the Goteik bridge by that time.

We were rested and well fed. And at peace. We worried not about bridges, nor roads, because the day and the countryside were exquisite. Pete and Blackie were the best of company. The traffic was thin, the road good, and the scenery through the semi-mountains was magnificent. We moved north into Shan country. The appearence of the people was quite different from that of the Karens and the Burmans.

The Shan clothing I remember was of lighter, whiter color, but the skirts were black. Friendliness had been lost from all of us by this time - self preserving suspicion was the best we could muster, be we Shan or any other variety.

By this time I was beginning to think that the Orient - the Orientals - were something more than romance. Oriental masses of Chinese were fleeing oriental masses of Japanese. Civil strife between Burmans, Karens, Shans, Indians - Chinese and Japanese shop-keepers and merchants and other parts of the civil populace were evident. Suspicion - I suppose as in all peoples afflicted by war - was rampant.

Between Maymyo and the Gotiek Gorge is a small valley. I've only know it by three trips through - in March 1942 and up and down this time in April 1942. Each time I vowed it was the most peaceful, lovely land that one could know. The hardwood trees - probably none were deciduous - were bounding the meadows, interspersed with conifers. From our single tarmacadam road led lanes of grey-red soil, all embraced by large graceful trees. The terrain was mountainous around the valley, but of old soft round mountains that meant no harm to anyone.

Poland's Daughter

The occasional bungalow lay within sight of our road. At least three or four were inhabited (or had been lived in) by English people, if our judgment of the flowers and the layout of the gardens was correct. Quite likely these were the homes of people who had retired there after a lifetime of service to Burma and /or their companies in Burma. Thoses gardens were filled with love. I'm sure they were tended by masters and servants who loved each other and who loved the country and who loved the way of life they had chosen.

There, in the midst of war and suspicion, was the evidence of love.

I know that these couple of days of running north were as pleasing to Blackie and Pete as they were to me. Blackie was a keen observer, and he had a basic love for people - there was no cruel or cynical part within him. His observations were straightforward, not mitigated in any way by writers of former generations. Blackie never presented himself to be more than he was - an honest workman, simple and straightforward. He was so direct that he never resorted to four-letter Anglo-Saxon words, even after 20 years service in the Army. He observed well, but spoke rarely - when he thought we might have missed a sight of significance.

Pete Petach was different. Aged perhaps 24, Pete was innocent, idealistic, extroverted, and interested in whatever went on. It could only have been those four qualities (plus the other one all of us must have had: Adventure) that caused his discovery that he was a military fighter pilot. He was university educated, majoring, I believe, in theology. I am told he was the son of a Greek Orthodox priest. At any rate, Pete had a good, rounded classical education.

So here were the three of us - a classical scholar, a semi-educated fellow, and one who did not read for pleasure. And the three of us could not have been better matched for a tour. Blackie would observe a thing, look at us to determine if we had seen it. If we did not react to its meaning, Blackie would explain it. Since I was driving, and also because I was country-reared, I probably learned less - and needed less - than Pete, whose sheltered big-city Philadelphia upbringing led him to be joyously surprised by things that go on in the country.

There I was, intellectually in the middle. Blackie in his youth had been economically deprived of learning to drive. Pete had been so sheltered that he (or his father) found he did not need to learn.

Blackie speaks little, but almost every comment of his elicits questions and proposals of reasons from Pete, whose intelligence and curiosity spark both Blackie and me. And, strangely, throughout the trip not one of us enquired of the background of another. Nor did we offer. It was enough to be there in Burma, in a war, in lovely country. To be surrounded by strange and beautiful people. We were content.

(Later it was observed that innocence and idealism were not likely to operate in favour of a fighter pilot. I regret that his idealism led Pete Petach to volunteer for two additional weeks after the formal date of the disbanding of the group. He was killed in that period.)

Early the next week, our last in Loiwing, three fellows went with their trucks off to Lashio - the railhead from Rangoon - to salvage what might be saved from the Japs. Human nature probably arranged the takings. One sensible chap brought back an overload of bottled goods:- Dry Sack, whisky, Martini, gin, port. Another brought us a mixed bag of booze and groceries and importantly loads of Nestles Condensed Sweetened Milk. The third truck arrived back a day late. Drivers got sleepy, he said. What did he bring? Sixty-three Beauty Rest matresses from the airport hostel!

In the course of April and early May 1942, some of the ground observers (with radio) in East Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam had been swept away by the Japanese. Our system was in disrepair. As a result we lost some machines on the ground and other more disastrously in the course of takeoff

One aircraft at Loiwing had all the navigational instruments shot out, and there were no replacements for them. Lashio had fallen, and we were not much nearer to the Burma-China border where the road rises into China than we estimated the Japanese to be. Cliff Groh (without blessing) flew the aircraft off towards Kunming (400 miles). Six weeks later he led a village group into [illegible] with the engine suspended on bamboo over the shoulders of 20-odd villagers. Others carried machine guns, radios, wheels, parts of the empennage. At least he salvaged that much.

Just across the river from our field (Loiwing) was the CAMCO Aircraft Factory. This first day in May, after taking tools and parts (about 300 lbs) and a drum of gasoline (350 lbs), and setting the factory in flames, Jack Overly and I laid out our course in the Ford Jeep for Kunming.

We arrived at the normal border, Wanting, crossing the Burma Road before the Japanese did..

But the supply elements of the fleeing China 5th Route Army were there in force. The road was packed with trucks. Through that first evening and night Jack and I took turns in clearing traffic jams. We marvelled, too, at the simplicity of their clearance. Here we were, two Caucasians in the midst of tens of thousands of Chinese who wanted to stop and rest.

The only authority we had to put them back to work was that of our white skins and fierce personalities.

One particularly long holdup was encountered about midnight. It was my turn to clear, while Jack guarded our Jeep. After trudging along the file of trucks fot three-quarters of a mile I found a bridge. Half over the bridge was a truck. The truck was in possession of an officer and about 20 infantry troops. He and his troops and others were trying to get the machine back onto the bridge.

The size of the jam (about 150 vehicles) testified their failure. And here was the first and only "white face" we encountered that night. At the scene of the incident on the bridge, was one of Mr. Hertz's lieutenants (Hertz of car rental fame was traffic consultant for the Burma Road at that time). Taller than any of the Chinese around, and very well dressed and very well-intentioned, he was trying to help the Chinese captain get the truck back upon the bridge. He did not carry a gun.

The Only War We've Got

We always carried guns, either Thompsons or sidearms; hopefully not to be used in killing people, but sometimes to be used to precipitate decisions. Perhaps by this time I was more worried and more tired than he and the Chinese troops were. I was (correctly, too) convinced the Japanese were shortly behind us. So, after an argument in which no one was hurt, the captain directed the troops to put the machine over the side.

Even then the road ahead was not clear. Tired drivers, apparently looking back, found hundreds of vehicles between themselves and possible threat. They slept. Their trucks took up the breath of the road.

It was perhaps ten minutes before I found the key log to this jam. The driver was sprawled asleep across the seat. Even though, out of his sleep, he was surprised to find a "foreign devil" yelling at him, he was not enough frightened to get into gear. My torch and revolver convinced him. I really don't know what my conclusion would have been if he had remained recalcitrant.

The 700 miles of broken, unpaved, often single-track road from Loiwing to Kunming took less than four days, point-to-point, including the six hour sleep-stop with the Baptist missionaries north of Paoshan.

Three times, in the first two days, we had to shift spring-leaves from front axle to rear. It was tedious to discover one or two leaves broken, then to hobble along for a mile or two to find a broad enough, safe enough spot to spend the hour or two it took to steal leaves from the lightly loaded bow to replace the broken ones under the heavy stern. We also had to resort to the use of broken oned, staggering the breaks and stacking them between solid ones.

In spite of our problems, we kept going more hours, more miled than the major lot of the Chinese. In our final two days the road was fairly clear and we made good time in spite of our gingerly pace - we could ill-afford another broken spring. Fortunately the petrol load was getting constantly lighter.

[Years later, my father, the author of these "memories" recounted another story that happened during this trip. In the telling at one point his voice broke and his eyes misted, the emotion such that, for some minutes he sat is silence. I will tell it as I remember.

[Dad and Jack Overly saw, in the distance a small hut and a woman and two small children. They were obviously extremely undernourished, frightened, alone. Suddenly in a tree Dad heard a bird singing, it was a big bird - the men looked at each other, and in silent agreement Dad pulled the pistol and shot the bird and took it gently to the woman.... The woman grieved the bird, was totally devastated - the one beautiful thing left to remind them of a war free time, gone. -- PWH]

After some days in May, perhaps towards its end, in Kunming enjoying the Dry Sack which had been liberated from Lashio, drinking it in the late afternoon with the "tea-club" hosted by Jo and Red (the nurses), I was informed that I was to move on to Chungking then Kweilin.

That city lies in a valley of a spectacular view - a sort of lunar landscape in green and gray. In June the paddy, which covered most of the flat land was still green. Sticking out of this valley floor like nails through a board were rock spires ranging sometimes two or three hundred feet high. Not in dimension, but in steepness, the Grand Tetons would be nursery slopes.

Things were quite at Kweilin. I took a day off - the second in the orient. Because I had read quite a lot about rock-climbing I decided to try. Alone, dressed in shorts and boots, without other equipment. I may have reached 40 or 50 feet before I was frightened enough to backtrack. Then, because I was frightened, the return journey was three times as long.

Shortly later, still in June, when some of us were at Hengyang, one of our aircraft went into the river about 200 yards off shore in 20 feet of water. The pilot was safe. We forgot about the airplane until a few days later some villagers nearby inquired if we would find it valuable to recover. Indeed!

Within a week there were enough sticks of bamboo tied to the plane to float it. Divers took each piece down, weighted by rock on short tether. These they tied to anything available on the machine, before cutting free the weights. The aircraft weighs 7000 lbs. Something more than 3000 liters of bamboo flotation had to be fixed to it within about 12 to 15 feet, if it were to be floated off the bottom. It was.

Then it was floated downstream to a shoal bank of shale where it was hauled out by a few hundred people on tug ropes.

In the course of June 1942 the U.S. Army Air Corps had been active in trying to recruit us members of the American Volunteer Group (by this time publicised as the Flying Tigers). One particularly odious American general had what he thought was a clinching argument. He concluded each harangue: "And you'd better damn well join up or the Army will make it tough for you to get out of China!"

At that time there were no known roads for vehicles out of China. CNAC and military aircraft provided the only way out, unless one was prepared to risk the walk through the passes (18.000 ft.) of Tibet. I think his succcessful recruitment amounted to less than 10%. Trucks and jeeps disappeared. Drums of fuel and food and drink astonishingly turned missing. There were maps and rumors afoot that one could drive nearly to Lake Tali and from there a determined group could find animals and guides through Tibet to Darjeeling.

At the end, I believe nobody resorted to the overland adventure. Somebody got word to his Congressman and shortly all were offered transport out (without their wives!).

On July 3 I was back in Kunming, discharge in hand. Wayne Ricks had just returned from Calcutta. He had a CNAC "priority" back to Calcutta. It was written in Chinese, and one of our friends was good with the brush. It is quite easy to make "2" in place of "1".

At the Great Eastern Hotel [in Calcutta], 4 July 1942 or shortly after, I met Audrey.

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