DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Chapter 14, Mother’s Day, Post War Predictions

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”  –Douglas MacArthur–

English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur...
English: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe, probably at Manila, Philippine Islands, 2 August 1945. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 23, 1944

I guess I got too many letters from you last week as I didn’t get any this week.

The weather has certainly been getting a lot warmer here the last few days.  I dread this season too, as it so uncomfortable.

My little two hills of corn are still growing.  It’s up to a foot high now or a little better.  I’m wondering if it’s going to have a thin stalk like it appears to be.  If it doesn’t start to spread out pretty soon it’s going to be like popcorn only taller.  If I remember correctly it is only two weeks old.

The sprouts of banana trees (young banana trees come right up out of the ground like an asparagus shoot) grows amazingly fast.  At certain stages they grow as much as two or three inches in twenty for hours.  You have to cut weeds and grass every work here in order to keep them own.  In a week’s time they get to be  foot high.  Anything you cut off doesn’t die (at the roots, I mean) but just starts to grow right back up again.

I see that they intend to start drafting the youngsters up to 26 years off the farm now.  That should catch several of the boys around home like Leach, Sarginson, Woods and so on.

Well, I’m hoping that this thing will be finished by the end of next year.  If everything goes like it looks at the present time it could be.  Of course too many factors can enter in to change the course of the war.  The sooner it ends, the better off we’ll all be, because the cost is enormous and we’re going to have to pay for it.

The future at best looks none too rosy.  the post war world is going to be one grand mix up unless the right people can hold of things and straighten them out.  That’s one big job to do.

I hardly know what’s in stock for the farmer.  He has boosted production for the war but as soon as peace comes there’ll be no need for such a large amount of farm products as these war-torn countries will start raising their own food as quickly as possible.  The only thing that’ll save the farm prices will be government control of production.  That’ll mean a cut in production.

Editor’s note:  Dad’s mention of farm overproduction leading to post-war governmental involvement was on target.  The Department of Agriculture still buys surplus commodities.  Farmers are sometimes paid not to plant certain crops to stabilize prices.

That’ll help some farmers and others that have had to already cut down due to shortage of labor, will have to cut down still further.  To me it looks like about all a person can expect to make off the farm will be a living and that’s all.

He sure won’t be able to buy more land and figure on the land paying for itself.  Unless something is done about it, there is going to ba a shift of the moneyed city man to the farm and common farmer with small capital will have to move into the city to find employment or work for the “gentleman” farmer.  The farmer that owns his own land and has it debt free may be able to slide by all right.  He’ll still have to compete with “big time farming.”

I’m just wondering if I’m going to get the chance to get situated before the break comes.  It’ll take a couple of years after the war probably for food production to catch up to normal, but after that it means either low prices or less production.

I think the farm will be the most secure place to be, providing he has the right set up.  I don’t think anybody is gong to make very much money.  The fellow that can make his money now and invests it properly is the one that’s going to be on top.

Taxes are going to be enormous.  That’s what is going to hit the service man so hard when he comes back into civilian life and tries to go into business.  Very few are going to have the money to pay cash for everything.  The majority will have to depend on finding jobs.  That’s a big job for somebody to figure out.

Well, I suppose you both are pretty busy now with spring work.  Hope you are well.

Wish I could see your chicks.  I won’t know the place around there when I see it again with the garden changes around and converted to a chicken yard.

Write as often as you can.

April 24, 1944

I received your V-mail today and was glad to hear you got the box.  I was a little worried about it as I wasn’t able to get it insured and I’d heard that some of that stuff had been lost.

I hope it arrived intact and that you were able to get it divided up OK.

I guess the weather by now has warmed up enough now so that your chicks are out of danger of getting chilled.  What I would like to know is why are you raising so many chickens if they don’t pay?  I’d thing you could find plenty else to do.  As far as those powdered eggs are concerned, I’d just as soon they keep them.

Editor’s note:  I’ve had the displeasure of being served powdered eggs and completely agree.  There aren’t enough onions or ketchup to disguise the dreadful flavor.

I wrote you a regular letter yesterday and am just writing this in response to your V-mail.

April 26, 1944

Mother’s Day Greetings

So many things I’d like to say
To gladden and brighten your day
All your dear heart can hold
As the days and the years unfold
And many joys along life’s way
To you, Dear mom,
On Mother’s Day.

April 30, 1944

This has been my day off again and I started the morning off by washing out my dirty socks and handkerchiefs.  Then I cleaned out some jungle behind the tent.  Then I shaved and tidied up the tent a bit.

This afternoon I wrote a letter and reread some of my old ones.  This afternoon we got paid once again.  Pay doesn’t mean much anymore except that it means a few more rupees to the collection.  PX day is the most important now as that is when the beer flows freely, but not for long as it is soon drunk up.

I received your letter, Dad of the second of March.  It seems that the mail gets sort of mixed up as I’ve gotten considerable later than that.

I was glad to hear about the livestock and how things are going around the place. If the weather permits, you’ll be thinking of planting corn as tomorrow is the first of May.

Clyde on leave in Chesterfield (2)Dad on leave at the home place

I probably won’t know the home place the next time I see it as there have been so many changes made.

Yes, I imagine that it is hard to get repairs for any kind of equipment anymore.  I’ve read a few articles on how Washington has messed things up by making it almost impossible for a farmer to get machinery.

Well, I don’t know much to say.  The weather is about the same, only more so.

May 9, 1944

I received your letters of April 16th.  I didn’t write a letter yesterday as I figured I would be getting one from you and then I would answer.

You seem to be having a late spring again this year.

I’ll bet it’s sure pretty around there with the fruit trees in bloom.  Are the cherry trees still there?  I remember one year when we had all kinds of cherries I’ll bet you still have some cans of them in the cellar.

The strawberries haven’t hit recently have they?  I could sure go for some strawberry shortcake or cobbler.  Occasionally we get some strawberry jam to put on our bread.  Most time it is marmalade or apple butter.  I don’t car for the marmalade at all anymore.

I was sort of commenting on the prospects in Alaska after the war.  I don’t suppose that it’s very likely that I’ll wind up there as I’m getting a little too old to do something like that.  I do think that it will offer good opportunity for a young man starting out.

I hope to settle down on the farm if I don’t have to stay in the army too much longer.  That is something a person should start at before he gets too old to come out.  It takes quite a while at that for a person to realize anything.  I do think a farm is a good place to raise kids.  I hope that I can farm on Uncle George’s place for a few years. l I wish it were possible that I could buy the place, but that’s out of the question now.

How’s Uncle Pete coming with his place?  I guess he’s having a time of it since he has his sick spells.  Do you still have in mind taking over the place sometime?  That would be nice if we could combine the two places.  I’ve often thought how nice it wold be to combine the two places and then if a person could get hold of the old Wooley place cheap enough when the place sells (some day it will) it would make a nice sized place to make room for a herd of cattle and still have plenty of cultivable land.  This is only a dream but it sounds good.  I always wanted to farm a place that had plenty of pasture land suitably located and adaptable to grazing with enough cultivable land.

I always thought it would be nice to have a herd of cattle growing up on a place without having to depend too much on buying stock cattle at the yards.  If a person could build himself a herd to raise his own calves and then follow them through until they were finished for market.  Of course it would take several years, lots of capital and patience to build up something like that.  Maybe someday I can do that or maybe it’s just an idle daydream.  It all depends on how everything worked out in the next few years.

I’m going to have to sort of keep my nose to the grindstone trying to get set up.  I’ll have to buy quite a bit of machinery at the start.  I want to get by on as little as possible at the start but then again it takes good equipment to do a good job of farming.  Nowadays it takes more and more expensive equipment to compete than it did when you started out.  Dorothy and I have (or should have by then) enough put away in a special account to set up our home.  She’s saving the allotment from me and also what she can from her job.  We should be able to furnish our home very nicely.  Naturally she wants it fixed pretty nice and I want her to have it that way as she is helping save for that purpose.  I’m satisfied on that angle.

The most “scratching” is going to come on the business end.  If we have a few good years at the start we’ll come out OK.

I’m glad to hear that you are getting your debts whittled down.  I would say that now is the time to do so.  Then when I get back, you two can sort of settle back and take things easier without too many worries.  I’ll need lots of advice on running the farm as it’s been so long seems like since I’ve been off.  I feel confidant that Dorothy and I can make a go of it.  She seems perfectly willing to give it a try.  I think she’ll be all right if someone doesn’t discourage her.  I’ve noticed that if a person says the wrong thing, that she gets discouraged, so I know I’ll have to be careful bawling her out.  I’ll have to use discretion and not do that.

Dad, I’m glad to hear that the cattle on the home place did so well.  You should realize a little clear money on them.

It the weather clears soon enough you may stand a good chance of having a good corn crop this year as you haven’t had one lately.

My two little hills of corn are coming along fine.  It has quit growing any taller at the present and the stalk is getting heavier.  So maybe it’ll grow to normal size after all.  It sure grew in a hurry at the start.  I suppose that was due to the warmer climate.  I never did plant anymore as there really isn’t a suitable place without grubbing out stumps, etc.  I’m anxious to see how this turns out.  Maybe if we can stay in this location long enough I’ll have some roasting ears Illinois style?

We’ve been getting a vitamin tablet a day here lately and I seem to feel better and have a better appetite.

Well, if this rotation policy works out maybe I’ll be seeing you about the first part of next year.  I sure hope the situation both in Europe and over here keeps on the up grade and maybe the future will be much brighter by then.

I’ll have to close for this time.  Hope you are well.  Keep writing.

May 14, 1944

Here it is Mother’s Day again and it’s the second one I’ve spent in India.  I hope I can spend the next one at home.  It was a much prettier day last year that it is this.  I sent some money to Dorothy to buy some flowers for our mothers.

I washed out some socks and handkerchiefs this morning, but they won’t dry any today.  I went out and pulled some grass away from my two hills of corn while ago.  It’s up to pocket high (not quite waist-high yet).

I cut out some more weeds as they deep growing up.  The grass is taking over now where the weeds are kept down and there is nothing else to interfere. It is a crab grass just like you find at home during the wet season.  If grows fast at all the joints.  I should have a good milk goat.  There’s plenty of grazing for one and I cold have fresh milk.  I suppose the main trouble would be trying to find one that was free of disease.  I sure would like to have some good cold milk to drink and some fresh butter.

I suppose your chicks are getting at the size now where they are pretty lively and eat a lot.  Do you have any goslings or ducklings?  Young fowl should do good over here as there are lots of insects for them to catch.  There are lots of wild animals, too, to catch the fowl.  Something finally killed our duck mascot.  He was an old fellow anyway and lived his time I guess.  He didn’t seem to get around much.

monitor lizardMonitor lizard, native to India

I saw the largest lizard over here a while back that I ever saw or expect to see.  It was actually, without exaggeration, four feet long and its body at the largest part was big around as my leg below the knee.  When he first saw us (some of my tent mates) he didn’t waste time in getting away.  He sounded like a horse running through the brush.  Before he knew we were around, he stayed still in our spot for several minutes so we got a good look at him.  I wouldn’t have believed that they grew that large if I hadn’t seen it myself.  It reminded of those prehistoric monsters that you read about.

Editor’s note:  Was it a coincidence–the presence of a large lizard and one missing duck?

So Bob Duckels made captain.  I didn’t even know he had gone to O. C. S.  I guess his folks are right proud of him now.  Whatever happened to Clarence?  Is he still around Chesterfield?

Sometimes I wonder just how much longer this war is going to last.  Sometimes I get so discouraged that it all seems hopeless.  I sometimes wonder if I’ll be satisfied anywhere after I get out of the army.  I certainly am not satisfied in the army.  I never was and don’t suppose that I ever will be. All I can do is hope that is sometimes domes to an end.  I’ve done that so much that I get tired of it.  I suppose a person can endure it though.  I guess it is the monotony that makes it so hard.  I only wish I could spend a week or so on the farm during spring or early summer.  I guess I’m a little homesick.

Well I guess I’ll close for this time.

May 24, 1944

After about a week and a half of doing without mail I finally got a flock of it.  Right now I’m about ten letters behind on my writing.

There is no need for you to worry about me over here.  I’m in no more danger than if I were in the States.  There are as many people killed accidentally back there every year as there are killed in the war.  The situation is well in had over here now so there’s no need for worry.

Chances are fairly good that I may be getting home sometime the fore part of nest year.  Of course that isn’t definite yet.

While school was going on, Dorothy didn’t have much spare time.  She kept telling me how busy she was and she would say that she was taking time out to write me a letter before going to bed and it would be near midnight then.  School activities and her course at Blackburn [College] with the household duties kept her pretty well occupied.

No, so far I haven’t heard from Chas. Sanders.  I heard from Harvey Clark once and Lee Clark [two brothers-in-law] a couple of times.  Aunt Mary still writes.  She sent me an Easter card.  I got it a couple of days ago.

How do you like the Dawson’s for neighbors?

It looks like Arthur Hall got his new wife in time to take care of him.  That is some pair.  I can’t hardly feature it.

I’m not worrying too much.  When a person gets a family of his own he has to do a little worrying to figure how to make ends meet.  A person has to have a few worries or he isn’t happy.  A person that has no responsibilities is the one most likely to get into devilment.

I received the radish seeds OK.  I’ll have to clear off a place to plant them.  They should grow all right once I get them in the ground.  The corn is up waist-high but has sort of a yellow cast.  I guess there’s too much moisture for it over here.

It seems funny to think of Cora Francis and Charles Preston Clements [cousins] going to high school.  It seems only yesterday when they were just little tykes.

Uncle Pres sure has had quite a time getting settled.  It looks like I’m going to be just like him as I’m getting such a late start in life.

flood cleanup 1944Cleanup after Mississippi River flooding Spring ’44, Cape Girardeau, MO

It looks like the farmers are going to be way behind in getting their crops in again this year because of the wet weather.  It’s funny how it’s wet every year like that.  I suppose though, it is better to have too much rain than not enough, as you always have something when it’s wet, but when it’s too dry everything dries up.  I read where the old Mississippi went on a rampage.  I guess Floyd was flooded out in the bottom again.  It’s lucky he didn’t have corn in.

Editor’s note:  Because of Mighty Mississippi spring rampages, the Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944 was passed.  A number of dams and levees were constructed on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  The legislation was named for Brigadier General Lewis A. Pick of the Army Corps of Engineers.  He was also in command of Ledo road construction under Gen. Stilwell.  As Stilwell and his troops drove the Japanese out, road construction followed closely behind.  The new road was referred to, as “Pick’s Pike.”

Well, I’m getting these letters answered gradually.  I’m now answering one of yours which was written May 3rd.

I’ll bet it is pretty around there now.  this time of the year when nature took on a new always was pleasant.  Over here the vegetation is too much the same the year around.  Things do grow more now than they do during the cooler season, but they are always green.  You speak of cherry trees blooming.  Maybe there’ll be cherries this year.

Speaking of garden I could sure go for a big bowl of lettuce the way you used to fix it.  We had some asparagus for chow the other day and I sure gobbled it up.  I didn’t know that I did like it so well.  I thin the main reason was that it was something green.  I find that onions make a good appetizer, bu the only drawback is that they sometimes disagree with me afterwards.  So far we’ve never had any green onions.  They are too hard to handle for the army.  There wouldn’t be much greenness left in them by the time they reached us.

Editor’s note:  Dad’s favorite [and mine too] was wilted fresh garden leaf lettuce with hot sweet and sour hot vinagrette dressing poured over it.  Of course it wasn’t low-calorie–made with bacon grease.

I suppose George and Delbert Duckels are still plugging along together.

So Uncle George is going to sell the place.  That is sort of disappointing to me although I sort of halfway expected that to happen some day.  I was hoping that I could farm it for a couple of years first.  It’s good land and a person could make money there.  Whoever gets it will have a nice place.  Of course it’ll take some fixing up, but not too much.

If I had the money, I sure would have bought the place.  I suppose there are places better though.  It’s probably mostly sentimental because it was the first place that I really started to take an interest in farming.  I suppose that if Bill Rigsbey should get the place, he would put Floyd there.

The Frank Dams place would be all right to start with I guess, although the improvements aren’t so much.  There’s no silo on the place and only one small barn.  The land isn’t too good.  How many acres are there?  What kind of rent would they want?  It would be hard to know what to do about it, as it’s so indefinite when I’ll be able to start farming.  They’ll probably want someone in the house as soon as possible.

If you want me to farm the home place, I’ll have to have a place close enough where I can handle them both.  I’ll have to more or less leave it up to you to keep on the lookout for an opening.

Of course if there is no other alternative, I’ll have to find a job somewhere for a while until you give up the place at home and move off and I have enough capital to help myself and get by on that much land.  I would rather start right out farming at first.

If I should get back to the States by the time things are pretty settled in Europe, I might stand a chance of getting out of the army to farm.

Well,I’d better bring this letter to a close.  I’ve sort of went on a writing binge.  I had four of your letters to answer and I had the time and everything was quiet so that I could concentrate.  Usually when I try to write there just doesn’t seem to ba anything to write about.

For goodness sakes don’t work too hard.  Like is too short to overdo it.

5-28-44:  My corn is shoulder-high now and beginning to tassel.  The stalk is very small.  I don’t believe that it’s going to amount to anything.  The rumor is out that we are going to get compulsory furloughs.  We’ve been told to conserve our money.

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Palms & Old Bricks

palm & old bricksStorm-battered
Mismatched bricks
Didn’t matter much
No one cared
About the past
Whether emotions
Flared, when
Suddenly, friends
Became enemies
If violence ensued?
Had lives been lost?

A neighborhood
Landmark, from
The past, perhaps
A buggy shop?
Grocery store?
Place to get
Ice cream
Refreshing drinks?

Maybe, a
Palm-shaded
Speakeasy?
Secret password
Whispered at
Wooden side door?
Or, just another
Blue highway
Stop, en route
To the beach?

Customers flocked
To flashier environs
Closer to suburbia
Last reincarnation
Failed, property
Changed hands
For the final time

Demand softened
Like worn out
Old bricks
Another vacant
Eyesore, in the
Waterfront district
Waited for demolition

 

DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Ch. 13, Midwestern Corn, Upper Assam

March 14, 1944

Clyde in India (2)Dad standing near banana tree

I received your letter of the 20th day of Feb. day before yesterday.  I went to the show last night and got wet before I got back.  It started out to be a good show, but the rain put a stop to it.  It was a picture about the underground movement in the occupied countries of Europe.  We left the hero in a mighty tough spot.  I’d like to know how it turned out.

I read about the spell of winter that you had back there in Feb.  In some parts of the country they had as much as 14 inches of snow.

Your cold storage locker should make it nice now that you can have fresh meat during the summer.  Just how much space do you have?  Is one hog all that you have room for?  About how much does it cost a year?

I had been wondering if Gene Parker had sold his motorcycle or what?  It made nice cheap transportation for him while he had it.

Yes, I suppose it’ll be tough on some of these women that have children when their husbands go into the service but no more so than others.  I know of fellows that have been in for a least a year that have three kids or more and they didn’t volunteer either.  Maybe some of these people will finally wake up to the fact that there is a war going on.

You should take the car to a garage and have the ignition system checked over good.  I have an idea that the points are pretty well-worn by now and the plugs are possibly dirty.  If you don’t do this it may quit running altogether.  If the ignition system is in good shape, it should start in cold weather the same as any other time.  If you leave it sit around and not use it, it’ll be like it was the last time I was home.  You’ll have to overhaul it before it’ll start at all.  A car is something that deteriorates faster when you let it sit in the garage for a month at a time without so much as even starting the engine.

Well, I guess I’ll close for now.  Hope you are well.  I imagine that you will be pretty busy with spring work by the time you get this.

March 19, 1944

I received your letter of the fourteenth of Feb. a couple of days ago.  It seems that some of my mail has been mixed up.  Yesterday I got a letter mailed March 7th.  this is good time in comparison to the way they generally come.  Several of the fellows have been getting their mail in a week’s time.  It seems they have speeded up the mail service.

I got a letter from Aunt Mary this last week.  She was saying that she had heard from Viola H.  and she had just heard that I was married.  I would have thought some of the folks would have told her.  Aunt Mary said that she needed to have a tooth pulled.  The teacher that boards there tried to get an appointment at the dentist’s and he told her come back in a year.  I guess they are swamped with work.

You seem to have from one extreme to the other in weather.  I read in the paper where a cold wave and storm had passed over the States.   By now thought the weather should be moderating quite a bit.

You spoke of needing moisture in the ground and water in the cisterns.  It sure is extreme to what you had for a couple of years when it was so wet.

Dorothy said that she was planning on putting in a garden this summer and doing some sewing.  As long as school is going on, she doesn’t have much time for anything.  She is taking a course in the evening out at college too, to keep up her teaching credit.

I have today off–it being Sunday.  I worked last Sunday.  I did a little washing–some socks and handkerchiefs.  I used the brush that you sent me on them.  Today isn’t a very good drying day thought and I don’t think they’ll get dry.  When the sun shines they dry fast.

There isn’t much news, so I guess I’ll close for this time.  Hope you got my cablegram.  I sent it in plenty of time for you to get it.  Hope you are well.

March 26, 1944

Here it is Sunday again, but this time it was my time to work.  I received your letter of the 12th of March day before yesterday.  Her of late some of my mail has been making much better time.

You spoke of having cold weather the first of the month but by now I imagine it is more like spring.  Here the only difference in the seasons is that it gets warmer and the rainfall increases.  Dorothy could probably tell you considerably about things like that as she has pretty well figured out.

So Kenneth Woods has been called.  By the time you get the, he should be in.  I wouldn’t doubt but what apartments are rather hard to rent now.  I wonder why Louise doesn’t live with her folds or are the old folks still living on the farm?

Yes, there are jungle flowers over here.  Orchids grow wild here and in large numbers.

Yes, we eat very well considering everything..  We get pies and cakes occasionally.  I don’t care so much for their cake, as it is generally coarse, but I like their pies.  I’ve had lots of cherry pie.  Occasionally we get apple pie made from canned (of course) apples.  A night or two ago we had raisin pie.  I’ve gotten where I’ll hardly touch Vienna sausages (a glorified name for wieners).  I’m getting tired of Spam, too but I will eat it in small amounts.  We get fresh vegetables, such as cabbage, small tomatoes, etc.  Of course most of our food is canned.  I manage to get enough to eat to hold my own.  I’m not complaining about the food because I figure that we are getting fed pretty well.  After all we aren’t home.

Editor’s note:  Cherry pie was always Dad’s favorite.  Made from fresh picked orchard cherries–especially good.  The label on Armour’s Vienna Sausages, “America’s Favorite,” sharply contrasted with Dad’s opinion of the canned meat product.  vienna sausages

Was Charles C. [Dad’s cousin] home on furlough?  You mentioned him going back to Hawaii.  From what I’ve heard about the fellows that were stationed there, they seem to like it pretty well.  One of my buddies has a brother there.

Dorothy has been talking about spending her time this summer sewing and raising a garden and canning some stuff in preparation for our home.  I thought of the idea tha if she would spend some time there with you folks this summer it might help prepare for being a farmer’s wife.  She could help and at the same time get some experience along that line.  You could give her some pointers on this and that.  I don’t know much about  canning and housekeeping, etc.   I guess she knows quite a bit about cooking and keeping house.  I thought they maybe if you and I both suggested it, she might stay awhile this summer with you.  I think that it would be good experience for her.  Don’t you?  She could find out what it’s like to be on the farm.  I would like for her to see the house down at Uncle George’s some time so that she can get an idea of the layout.  She had suggested it to me.  Maybe you could arrange that sometime?

Editor’s note:  Ironically, Uncle George’s place changed hands.  The buyer, someone named “Green.” This was our first family home, known as the “Green Farm.”

It is possible that I could get to come home this year yet for a furlough, but I’m not counting too much on it.  Once I do get back to the States again, I hope that I don’t have to go overseas the second time.  That would mean another eight months to two years or even longer.

I guess that you are rather busy now-a-days with the usual springtime jobs.  I sure would like to see how it looks back there in the spring once again.  This is the third spring now that I’ve been away from home.  I can just see the grass starting to grow and the trees budding out putting forth new leaves.

Well, I’ll have to close for this time.  Hope you all are well.

March 30, 1944

I received your letter of March 6th with the clippings.  Dorothy Simily seems to have married quite a guy.  I feel somewhat the same way he does about Alaska and if there isn’t any opportunity around home after the war, I’ve thought about going there myself.  I’ve thought of that for quite some time since it first came into the public eye.  It would be a wonderful place to do some pioneering and wouldn’t seem so bad after being where I’ve been in the last year.

Editor’s note:  I wondered if my mother ever heard about Dad’s Alaskan homesteading idea?  Or was this just a “pipe dream?”

I’ve had my wisdom teeth pulled since the first of the year.  I’m glad they are out now so they won’t cause me any more trouble.  My teeth are like they always were–no good.  I have a few that have never been filled.  If I lose many more, I’m going to have to have some fill-ins so that I can chew steaks, if I get a chance to get any.

Yes, I wear glasses practically all the time.  If I don’t my eyes become irritated and sometimes the lids swell.  I have packed my civilian glasses away in a box and I wear my GI ones all the time.  Before I came overseas they didn’t want to give me glasses because they said my eyes weren’t bad enough.  After I gave them an argument though, they finally gave them to me.  We were supposed to get an extra pair before we came over.

I was talking to a fellow last night that was telling me about his two brothers back home farming and it made me kind of homesick.  I’ll surely be glad when I can start out the spring of the year farming again.

I suppose that you are very busy now with baby chicks if you got them on the 27th.  I sure wish that I could see them.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen any.

It seems that some of the fellows are over eager to get in the service when they sell their businesses before they know they are going for sure.  By the time they’re in as long as I, they won’t be so enthusiastic.

Things seem to be pretty well in favor of the Allies at present and I hope it keeps on being so.  This war cannot end too soon to suit me.

Well, I guess I’ll close for now.  Write as often as you can.

4-2-44:  Sunday off. Planted 2 hills of corn (4 grains in each)

Editor’s note:  Springtime and planting season were the hardest for Dad.  Would midwestern seed corn thrive in  Upper Assam?  There was a long growing season and plenty of moisture.

corn seedlingCorn seedlings

April 2, 1944

I’m wondering how the weather is back there by now.  You should be feeling spring about now.  The grass should be starting to grow and the foliage should  be coming on the trees and bushes.  The days are getting pretty long now.

I finally planted some of the seed corn that you sent me last summer.  It looked all right yet.  If it sprouts all right, the weather is warm enough that it should grow right up.  I spaded a little space up among some stumps and roots.  I know there’ll be plenty of moisture and heat to encourage growth.  Everything else grows fast enough.  The main difference that I notice in the change of season now is the more rapid growth of vegetation and increase in amount of rainfall.

I got an Easter card from Dorothy yesterday.  I don’t know for sure just when it is, but someone said it is supposed to be next Sunday.  It’s pretty hard to keep track of dates like that over here without a calendar.  I made a calendar sometime ago but never got the important dates down in red.  I can keep the day of the month and the month and year straight as I use them every day.  Otherwise, I probably would be all crossed up.

I’ve been looking through some of the pictures that I have and ran across a family picture of the Horn family excepting Viola and her husband.  If you want it, you can have it.  Uncle John is standing in the center with his big bay window.

I saw a show last night.  It was a show that I had seen a long while back.  Most of the time there are shows that I haven’t seen.

Well, I’m sort of lost when I have Sunday off.  It’s a good to get away from my work for a day, but the environment is still the same.

Editor’s note:  Dad didn’t talk about work.  Keeping equipment and vehicles running kept him and coworkers busy.  In the picture below, Dad is in the front row [standing] third from the left.  Dad’s company was the 115th Ordnance Co., Medium Maintenance.  There will be more about the companies’ history later.   

Dad & co-workers in India

We had canned chicken for dinner today with peas, mashed potatoes and gravy and fruit cocktail for dessert.  Some said that we are to have fresh beef for supper.  That hits the spot about as good as anything.

I’ll close for this time.  I hope you are enjoying good health.

4-9-44:  Corn popped thru ground yesterday morning earlier.  By noon had grown quarter of inch.  Tonite it is up 2 in. and first leaves are uncurling.  Plenty of rainfall about now.  Willing to bet that stalk reaches an enormous height.

April 9, 1944

well, another Sunday almost gone and it was Easter too, by the way.  I would have gone to church today, but was on KP, so I couldn’t.  The war must go on and the boys must eat.

The mail has been slowing down this past week for some reason.  Consequently, I didn’t hear from you this week.  I had three letters from Dorothy and a card from Mr & Mrs. Jones.  They said that Wesley was not in Colorado.

I told you in my letter about planting a couple of hills of corn last Sunday.  Of the eight grains I planted, (4 in a hill) six came up (3 in a hill) yesterday morning.  I first noticed them coming through the ground.  By noon (I’ll swear) they had grown a quarter of an inch.  Today the first leaves are beginning to uncurl.  I’ll bet that it grows like wildfire over here.  It’ll probably grow about ten feet high and not have any ears on it.  Conditions here are favorable for growth as there is an abundance of rainfall and ordinarily the water doesn’t stand.  The ground is so loose that it soon soaks down and evaporates.

I’d like to stay in this location long enough to see how tall it really gets.  If it works out satisfactorily, I’ll try more.  Maybe I’ll be sending home for vegetable seeds next.  There’s no reason why a person couldn’t have a garden if he stayed long enough to get the use of it.

The soil here is of a yellowish color, but is rich in vegetable matter as it was jungle up until the time  parts of it was cleared for army camps.  I find weeds and grass similar to those we have back home.  Some may vary a little in looks but there is a resemblance.  The bamboo is new to me of course.  The trees are all strangers.  Banana trees grow abundantly and wild.  The bananas are shorter than those you buy back home, but have a rich flavor.  I think I’ve told you that orchids grow wild.

We have some pheasants close to camp.  We can hear the rooster crowing in the mornings.  I think there a bunch of hens setting close by.  They are probably feeding out of our garbage pit.  Some of the fellows the roster was fighting off a bunch of crows this morning.  The crows around here are plentiful.

We have a volleyball tournament scheduled for this week among teams picked from our own company.  Each man participating is putting up one can of his beer ration for this month and the winners take all, while the losers will have to be satisfied with what they have left of their ration.  Weather permitting, it is to start tomorrow right after chow.  It gives us diversion as well as exercise.

I guess you are putting in garden to beat the band by now.  I wonder who plows the gardens around the town there now?  Ansel Dowland used to do quite a bit of it when I was home.

Well, I guess I’ll close for this time.

April 16, 1944

Today is one of those days that a person doesn’t venture out very far.  A person is content to stay inside.

I received your letter of the 20th and your V-letter of the 27th this week.  The letter came first.  My latest from Dorothy was postmarked the 30th.  I hope by now that the weather back there has changed from winter to spring.

The corn I planted two weeks ago has gotten a good start.  It is up now to the size where if a person had a field of it, he could cultivate it nicely without covering too much of it.  I had intended to plant some more today if the weather had permitted as it is my day off, but will have to wait.

Does Tedy D. [Duckels] have anyone working for him now or does the other Duckels boys help him?  I guess Tedy had to really buckle down to it now since he has more land to take care of and no one to help much.  I guess Beulah keeps him stepping.  Ha!  I suppose the draft gives him some incentive, too.  Maybe he’s too old for that though on second thought.

I guess Peewee Keele (What a name) has quite a time.  How’s Bob K. and his family getting along?

I can’t understand quite this business of calling men off the farms while they are worrying about the manpower shortage on the farms causing a food shortage.  Why don’t they sharpen up in Washington?  They’re going to have the country so badly messed up that we’ll be better off to stay in India after the war’s over.  At least we wouldn’t have to worry about the tax collector catching up with us.

Editor’s note:  Dad was obviously frustrated with “catch-21” governmental policies.

The news in some sectors sounds pretty good.  This war certainly has turned out to be a long drawn out affair.  I don’t believe I was ever so tired of hearing so much about one thing.

I can’t understand why Robert K.’s eyes should limit his service.  He must have some pull somewhere.  Physical deficiencies like that seldom have any bearing.

I’m glad you received my birthday greetings in time.  It is hard to tell sometime just how long it’ll take for them to reach their destination.  I hope it didn’t give you a shock before you opened it to find out what it was.  I sent Dorothy some greeting too, as her birthday is this month.

We have a volleyball tournament going among teams in the company.  My team played last night and we won our fifth straight game.  We lost our first, but all the teams have been defeated once or more.  All we have to do now is to stay undefeated and  we’ll win the beer.

I went to a show last night, but was disgusted because you couldn’t hear but very little of what the actors said.  It’s like seeing a silent picture without any explanation of what’s going on.  The picture was good.  Do you go to the show anymore?

We should get our supplies tonight as they are here and there’s no show or anything.

We had creamed chicken for dinner today which was a change.  My appetite has been failing here lately.  I guess hold of some vitamin pills and see if I can’t get sharpened up a little.  I guess what I need is some good old fresh vegetables, fruit, milk, etc. like what comes off the farm.

Well, I guess I’ll say so long for this time.

Dark Waters

NO riverfrontSuspended white
Twin bridge
Lights, reflected
In dark waters
That flowed past
The Crescent City

Air was cool
But, not cold
Moody Mississippi
Like the city
Placated, as
Waves gently
Kissed the levee

Horse drawn
Buggies plied the
Cobblestone streets
Sounds of late
Night revellers
Blurred in
The night

Excursion cruise
Launched to
The accompaniment
Of, brash
Tugboat warning
Freight train
Rumbled, unnoticed
On tracks, that
Paralleled the river

Blue lights
Flashed in the
Distance, on shore
Because, the
Big Easy
Was never
Calm, at night

DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Ch. 12, The Mission, Some Heavy Hitters

WHEELER’S ROADS TO TOKYO

Editor’s note:  Transcribed from “The Saturday Evening Post,”  Dec. 25, 1943, Vol. 216, No. 26, pp 16, 17, 19 and 20, written by Edgar Snow

Up in the pervasive wet of Assam, where a thousand streams empty the melted snows of the Himalayas into the erratic serpentine of the Brahmaputra and the jungle hills of Burma crowd upon white-flowered gardens of green tea, American Negro boys are completing a spectacular motor road which will ultimately link India and China for the first time in history.

Building the Ledo RoadLedo road construction

The Army engineers who are directing the work call it the Ledo road, but the markers just say “Tokyo Road.”  And some of our men with but hazy ideas of geography literally believe that beyond the mud and undergrowth lies Japan.  And so it does–a little more than 2,000 miles beyond

We have already been working on this one project for about a year and it was conceived as part of a plan to recover Burma.  Think it over and you’ll see what kind of war we’re fighting out there.  When it becomes necessary to pause and build nearly 200 miles of road through malarious swamp and jungle, leading to eventual contact with an enemy himself 2,000 miles from home–well it’s hardly like Russia, where along a vast front, the Nazis are seldom out of sight.

It gives you a rough idea of the trouble we’re taking to aid China and build a base from which to attack Japan.  For supplying China is our sole mission in India–or so I’ve been told–as part of our main mission of “improving the combat efficiency of the Chinese army.”

It gives you an idea too, of the sick headaches our chief engineer out there, Major General Raymond Albert Wheeler, better known as Speck, ought to suffer from, but doesn’t.  Because he and his Army Service Force are making that road and other roads over which we hope to ride to Japan through China.  As a young engineer, Wheeler served with Goethals, immortalized as the builder of the Panama Canal.  Now he has a good chance of being remembered in the Hall of Fame himself, as the man who equipped–or tried to equip–an army at the end of the longest bridge of supply known to military history.  This bridge was 25,000 miles from point to farthest point, before the recent reopening of the Mediterranean improved matters.  By the most commonly used route, goods had to travel thirty-six days before they reached what is still the only gate to China we hold–the air gate into Yunnan.English: Lieutenant General Raymond Albert Whe...

I said advisedly, “tried to equip,” for we’re far yet from answering the minimum needs of the Chinese army.  But that isn’t Speck Wheeler’s fault, that we aren’t nearer the goal today.  On the contrary, It, despite the dusty answers they’ve been getting to calls for help in restoring China’s life lines, they should succeed sometime this winter in driving the Nips out of upper Burma, they ought to rank high among the workers of modern miracles.  (Maj. Gen. R. A. “Speck ” Wheeler’s picture, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Whatever happens, a lot of credit should go to Speck Wheeler, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered, self-effacing man from Peoria, who is today apparently liked by everybody who ever worked for him.  Which for a general handling one of the toughest and most thankless assignments of the war, is saying a lot.  But, it’s a fact.  Everybody likes to see his tall, somewhat bent figure, his greying head, come into the scene–and despite his popularity he’s good.

“Wheeler hasn’t got an awful lot of hate in him,” one man told me, “So he saves it all for the Japs.”  “That’s why you never hear him say anything unkind about anybody.”  No mollycoddle or Pollyanna, he simply believes that seeing the good in people is the best in long-view policy for working with them.

“I believe in promotions, not demotions,” he told me in his flat, nasal Illinois drawl.  “Maybe it’s a weakness with me, but, golly, I never saw anyone get anything out of a man by cussing him, so I don’t try it.”  No Prussian or hell-and-leather general, this!

Goethals was the fellow he watched when, shortly after graduating from West Point in 1911, he was commissioned to run concrete mixers and locomotives in Panama.  “I liked the way he handled people,” said Wheeler, “and he had a big influence on me.”  “He was a great executive because he made every man feel that what he was doing was important.”  “In this way he became the driving force that linked them all together.”  Thirty years later, Wheeler was to return to become chief engineer in charge of the Panama Canal.  There he guarded the throat of our nation until the General Staff called him back, and, just before the outbreak of war, sent him to Asia.

Wheeler’s theater of operations became the biggest one on the map, China, Burma, and India is the official of our East Asia command under Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell.  But the theater supply route takes in Persia and Russia as well.

General Joseph W. Stilwell, USA, C i C in Burm...
General Joseph W. Stilwell, USA, C i C in Burma and China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To reach his objectives, General Wheeler leaves no possibilities unturned.  One thing explored was another route from Kashmir to Kashgar, in Chinese Turkestan, via the Hindu Kush.  The idea had to be scrapped when it was found that our planes would have to fly at approximately 25,000 feet to make the jump in safety, permitting a pay load of only a few pounds.

But recently a supply line was opened across the roof of Tibet–probably the first time that country has served in that capacity.  Only caravans negotiate the trail at present, and cargo is supposed to be limited to medical supplies.  But someday a motor highway will follow and bring Tibet finally into the orbit of power politics–otherwise known as modern civilization.

Another route established by Wheeler last spring is of more practical value.  Starting at Karachi, India, it passes through Iran and Russian Turkestan to enter Sinkiang, and is alone 8,000 miles long.  Wheeler laid the early groundwork for this roundabout, but useful way into China when, before Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Iran by the President to negotiate for a southern supply route to Russia.  As part of the job, American engineers improved and completed and now maintain, the Iranian side of the Karachi-Teheran road.

Some of the heaviest cargo pullers inside Wheeler’s area are the fleet of Douglas’s, Curtiss Commandos and converted Liberators which operate across the infamous hump–the mountainous divide that separates India and China.  To get goods across the hump we needed a lot of airdromes and fields that didn’t exist, and they had to be built right under the enemies nose.   And built they were, with primitive labor working almost entirely without machinery.

Ledo & Burma Roads. Assam, Burma, China in 194...
Ledo & Burma Roads. Assam, Burma, China in 1944-45. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first went to Assam in May, 1942, when we were still hauling people out of the jungle in the flight from Burma.  We had only a squat-tag airfield up there then and in heavy rains it became a lake.  Pan American and C. N. A. C.–China National Aviation Corporation–pilots had preceded the Army, but not that far behind came Col.–now Brigadier General–Caleb V. Haynes, who established our northernmost air base in India.

It had been touch and go whether we could hold that airfield, which then represented our remaining link with China.  It lay a few minutes’ flight from Japanese fields in Northern Burma, and the weather saved us from being bombed off the map.  We had only two fighters up there then and we had little protection on the ground.  A few battalions of Japs might have had upper Assam for a bargain price.  But they didn’t bother, chiefly for one reason.  They were convinced we could never establish an important base of any kind here in time to affect the outcome of the war.

A lot of our own people thought the same thing–even some of those working hardest to prove other wise.  They thought the whole effort was at best a political gesture–an appeasement to keep the Chinese quiet until we could turn our main fleet into the blue pasture of the Pacific.  But the fact is that in a year and a half, Americans have established here in the wilds one of the world’s greatest air-transport lines.  Today, our big planes are as familiar as the birds to aboriginal tribesmen who, three years ago, had never seen a combustion engine of any kind.  And someday soon the Japs may regret their mistake.

But in 1942, when I drove out with Caleb Haynes to see the site of the large new field in the midst of tea gardens, I was ready to agree with the skeptics after I saw the materials with which we were working against time.  That new field and its satellites, which were to supply the army of China and our own Air Force there for the next two years, were being put together rock on rock by Indian hand labor–nearly all women and children.

An unforgettable sight:  long lines of barefoot women wearing their heavy silver and gold anklets and bracelets–and some with rings of gold in their noses–stretching as far as you could see, coming from rock piles in the distance.  Their gay saris seemed weird costumes for the work, with their dragging skirts and mantles draped around their heads, but graceful and colorful against their dark Indian skin.  There were young women with babes clinging to their breasts; others, advanced in pregnancy, plodded along with expressionless faces.  And there were older women with white hair, their lips moving incessantly, while naked infants wheeled along beside them.

On and on they came, and each woman, reaching the appointed spot, repeated the same act.  A brief pause in the stately walk, a nod of the head, and off rolled the single stone balanced on the top of her head.  In my mind’s eye I saw 400,000,000 Chinese patiently watching as those stones fell, one by one, to pave the way for help we had promised them.  It was slow going, for these people had no interest in the outcome of the war.  They wouldn’t work in the rain–and it rains about half the time in Assam–nor on religious holidays, which may or may not coincide with the rain.  What’s more, they won’t work up in the these regions when the devil’s don’t approve.  In witness whereof, consider a letter in the hands of one of General Wheeler’s engineers, Maj. R. H. Klossner, which was written to Captain Andre by an Indian foreman of a labor gang, assigned to dig a hole in the ground.

Dear Captain:  In connection with the tube well at DC III, I write to inform you that I myself with 25 of my men and one Fakir (well versed in the terms etc. to deal with the unnatural powers) worked until 2 A. M. but could not do anything else as the evil spirit dwelling in that particular area does not wish to have his place interfered with.   If you want us to bore a well immediately beyond we hope to give you satisfaction and on showing us your suitable place, we will be able to locate if we are beyond this evil area.  Your most obedient servant, J. N. Duff

Nevertheless, despite rain, devils, lack of machines, and primitive labor jobs get done.  Nearly all the military buildings, we use in India grow up the same way as the airfields–rising literally from thousands of nodding heads.

Back in the mud of Assam again recently, I found other big changes.  Where there had been but a few dozen Douglas transports, now not only the big field was completed but so were the others, reassuringly filled with planes properly dispersed on hard standings.  And after a dangerous experience with Jap bombers, we had finally got the fighters we need.  Between our fields and the enemy today range American–trained Chinese defense troops.  Fear of invasion has gone.  We are thinking and talking in terms of attack.

And up near the big field, I was not surprised to see Speck Wheeler, A ubiquitous man, he spends as little time as possible in headquarters at New Delhi.  Of a dozen offices, the one he prefers is a desk in his sturdy Douglas plane.  There he does a lot of business between hops from one project to another, feeding on C and D rations, washed down with a swig from a canteen.  On one such hop with him I saw how he got his reputation for patience, and why, as his deputy, Colonel Coughlin, put it to me, “his men feel they’d rather die than let him down.”

We were taxiing out to the runway when a service truck came down the opposite side.  Our young pilot, Capt. Ollie Lanstead, veered to avoid it and one of our wheels touched the soft shoulder beside the cement strip.  In a second we were fast in the mud.  With us we had a British brigadier and ahead of us was a schedule including visits to three airfields that day.  A profane top-kick blow-off seemed in order.

Wheeler got out and carefully inspected the position of the plane, assuring himself it was undamaged.  Ollie and his co-pilot Martin Lowell, looked on glumly and expectantly.

“Lanstead,” Wheeler finally commented, with a smile and a voice of sweet reason, “Next time we won’t get out of a truck’s way, will we?  We’ll just make it get out of our way.”  Turning to me, he said, “You know, Lanstead is one of the best pilots I ever saw.”  After that, how could Ollie fail to deliver?

Destiny seems to have peculiarly fitted this even-tempered Peorian for work with men of the Orient.  Dyspeptic British colonials, Indians, Chinese, Burmese and others, all have their own ways of doing things.  But the tactful Wheeler manages to work with them all and keep their respect and friendship.

“The human approach is the one that wins out,”  he says.  “I don’t think of people as parts of a military machine, but as individuals, each working a little bit different from the other.  I’m no more indispensable than any man on my staff.  What’s important is to get the job done, with the means at hand today, not tomorrow.  I’m a Presbyterian, you know, and a perennial optimist.  I believe in the good old Presbyterian saying, ‘Everything works out for the best.’ ”

You wouldn’t think that in fighting a war the factor of time would permit that attitude, but Wheeler that out there tolerance is a short cut to performance.  A man who believed otherwise–who tried to Americanize everybody overnight–couldn’t have survived long in a climate proverbially hard on the apoplectic.

Take, for example, the difficulties Wheeler faced in getting locations for airfields.  In Assam he found that invariably the most suitable sites were already planted in tea.  Owners were horrified when we wanted them for building a means of defense.  They stuck to their rights of private property–in India still very formidable–and in some cases never budged.  In the end, many of our barracks stood on swampy land, often flooded and full of malaria, while choicer spots were reserved for tea.  But we got the freight flying.

Wheeler’s authority ends, of course, where flying begins–except that during Stilwell’s absence from Asia he was first in theater command.  Yet, he feels responsible when criticisms are made of our deliveries to China.  He says mildly that these critics ought to come and take a look for themselves.  When they do, they go back pretty humbled.

flying the hump C-47C-47 Flying the Hump

Even in the dry season, bad weather holds up flights over the hump for days at a time.  But the odds are slightly better than even, the lads tie on their oxygen masks and shove off, over the highest air-transport line the Army has.

Down at a new airport I saw again the commander of our transport fleet, the hard-working and beloved Colonel Joplin, who has been up on the hump since the beginning, sweating in pilots lost in storm and sleet.  As far as I’m concerned, nothing os too good to say about the boys–and a lot of them are just like that, coming onto this job with only a few hour’s flying time behind them–who make the thing work.  As a month-to-month proposition, it is one of the worst spots a man can be sunk in.  Most of them eventually get dengue, malaria, or dysentery, if no worse; and the odds pile up against them with the trips they make over the hump, where we lose as many planes as in combat there with the Japs.

All fields used by us in India–as in China–are temporarily our property.  We pay the British in goods, and they build for us under Lend-Lease arrangements.  This fact wasn’t widely understood at first, but, as are the British become convinced we weren’t muscling in for deeps, cooperation improved.  Now many buildings have been turned over to us for the duration and planters have mobilized their labor to make new landing strips.  But the average Indian still doesn’t believe we intend to get out later on.  The British have been telling them that for half a century, they say, and they’re still running the place.  they figure the Americans have now been taken in as junior partners.

Actually, Wheeler told me, his orders specifically forbid him to acquire any permanent holding in India.  While this puts us in the clear, politically, it means negotiation over every project we undertake, and negotiation means delay.  Even the Ledo Road reverts to the paramount power after the war.  Britain will thus retain complete control of land communications between China and India, once they are established, as also will be the case with Burma, of course.

Which is okay by most Americans up in Assam; they want nothing out of the place, except to get out, and if the shortest route home leads behind bulldozers smashing through the hills of Burma, they’re all for getting on past the elephants.  But a lot of skeptics, including some of our Allies, didn’t think much of the whole idea, probably unique in our military history, of attacking an enemy by building a road to him.  How did we get started on the business and what is its logic?  In May 1942, when General Stilwell and his staff went out of Burma, subsequently followed by the Chinese 5th Army, he said, “We got licked, but we are going back again.”  How? Obviously, we couldn’t invade via the narrow trails over which he had retreated.  And up to that time the British had never attempted to break open the western frontier of Burma and establish landways of supply from India.

A Policy That Comes Home to Roost:  That omission was no accident, but was a policy dictated by political as well as economic interests.  Among the latter, the big British-controlled  steamship companies predominated; they opposed land communications because they feared roads and railways would ruin their profitable monopoly of Indo-Burmese water transport.  It proved disastrous.  Once Rangoon was lost, the Allied military position became hopeless.  Without a seaport, the defending forces had no bases, no line of supply but the jungle.  We were lucky to withdraw as many men as we did.  The undeveloped frontier has since then admirably accommodated the Japanese, enabling them to hold Burma with a skeleton force while concentrating on offensives and defensives in the Pacific.

Even before we “got runout,” as Uncle Joe [Stilwell] put it, Americans were searching for an auxiliary route to support the Burma road, which some optimists tought we might hold even if Lower Burma fell.  General Wheeler on one survey walked more than fifty miles into the jungle, until he was stopped by waist-deep mud and a column of Japs.  He came back, advocating pretty much the route that was eventually followed.

But even after the debacle of Burma there was opposition to the northern road.  Americans were more anxious to speed up a return to Burma than the British seemed to be.  Our Allies had their own problems over in Europe and were determined not to go after the colonies till they could do so with impressive power.  They were reconciled to a longer wait than we were, too, because we had an assignment they didn’t.  It was the President, not Churchill, who had promised the Generalissimo [Chiang Kai-Shek] to supply his army, and supply it before the downfall of Hitler we must.

English: Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai S...
English: Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai Shek and Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General, China Expeditionary Forces, on the day following Japanese bombing attack (Doolittle Raid). Maymyo, Burma., 04/19/1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an act of good faith, then, and as a means of applying pressure in certain quarters, as much as anything else, we undertook the Ledo project late last year, shortly after the arrival in India of our engineering service troops.  Maybe the road would prove of practical military value, too, leading us eventually to Myitikyina, far up in Burma.  From there, connections exist with the old Burma road.  If we retook even that much territory we could then reopen a land line of supply to China.  In one respect, at least, the project worked.  The British themselves began pushing a highway out of Imphal, farther south, which may eventually carry a column of troops into Mandalay.  A friendly building competition is now on between the two groups.From the air I saw the Ledo road stand our against the Naga Hills like a white tape on a tennis green.  Jap reconnaissance planes, flying over, see the same thing.  And the Nip is building, too roads intended to outflank ours.  Increasing suspense hangs over the work.

Through much of the Ledo Road story is still under ban, it can be said now that our engineers are already well inside Burma.  On a recent rip over the worst of the jeep-deep mud I managed to get into former no man’s land myself.  Anti-aircraft guns pointed up from well-camouflaged positions, manned by our men.  Ahead of us and around us were Chinese troops, part of two divisions armed and trained in India, and here under the command of young, tough and able Brig. Gen Haydon L. Boatner, of Stilwell’s staff.  Already these troops had met and defeated Japanese skirmishing parties, Boatner was rightfully proud of them.

English: Ledo Burma Road junction road sign at...
English: Ledo Burma Road junction road sign at Mong Yu with US military convoys of trucks passing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our Negro troops had brought with them from home, the dump trucks, steam shovels, bulldozers and tractors needed for the job, but not their rubber boots.  The oversight wasn’t theirs, as they were about to leave San Francisco, somebody happily thought of relieving them of excess baggage.  “You won’t need these boots,” said he; “you’re going to India, where it’s hot and dry.”  They had been vainly trying to get boots in Assam, one of two or three of the wettest spots in the world, and had been working with wet feet ever since they arrived.Despite that, and the malaria, and the wilderness, where natives are and not out for anybody’s vote,and despite the food, which was steady corned beef and rice for three months, the morale of these colored boys was praised by every officer I met.  Wheeler himself said they were as good as any engineering troops he ever had on a job, and Wheeler has had plenty.

The strength of Black Americans is becoming legendary among the natives who work as laborers under them.  One story that spread through Assam tell how an American Negro watched four underfed Indian coolies trying to move a huge log from one side of the road to the other.  Presently he interrupted their struggle, spat on his hands, pushed them aside, lifted the log on his shoulders and tossed it over their heads.  Then he grinned and said, “Rest yourselves, brothers, You’ve just done four days work.”

With stunts, wisecracks, and kidding, our dusky sergeants get more work out of the slow-moving Assamese, it is said, than any white master ever did.

American engineers are road building over in China too, I learned, after General Wheeler invited me on a trip across the hump to visit some projects there.  the China side of the Burma Road itself was being widened for two-lane traffic.  Work has gone far on the roadbed of the Burma-Yunnan railway too.  No other place in China, so far, has benefitted from the war as much as Yunnan, which a decade ago was the most backward province in the country, but is now becoming our main military base.

Many new airfields and landing strips have been partly or wholly completed, with many barracks and quarters for our men, in the year of my absence.  Several fields I visited were in towns through which, twelve years ago, I traveled by caravan, then the only means available down into Burma.  It’s a routine one day’s flight from Kumming to Calcutta now–a trip that took me two months to cover by caravan and steamer.

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker carried me around with him to visit American bomber and fighter crews in Western Yunnan.  On one trip we left Kumming for a certain point which it had taken me just ten days to reach on my early trek through Yunnan.  This time I went there and back in the smaller part of the afternoon.

Of what supplies we do get into China, we manage to confine the greater part of munitions, weapons and gasoline, utilizing local markets to feed our troops.  They live on Chinese food, except for a few rationed items like coffee, butter and baking powder.  Don’t feel too sorry about it.  Some of them spread the best mess you can find overseas and they know it.

New Streets of the World:   Though the stuff coming in is not yet in the volume some optimists imagine, the construction of airfields and roads under reverse Lend-Lease arrangements is already an achievement of permanent importance.  They’re all built with Chinese labor, in accordance with our specifications, and under American engineering supervision.  but here, even more than in India, it is man’s hand unaided by the machine that is opening new streets of the world.  Chinese work a lot faster than Indians do, incidentally.  One great handmade field I saw was completed in six weeks after 40,000 farmers–mostly women who had never seen an airplane–were mobilized for the task.

In many southern provinces now our engineers are building advance headquarters and locating future supply bases.  New fields are being laid out, and new means of communication.  New sources of supply are being organized inside China, too.  Someday down the highways and skyways America will unroll a noisy parade of trucks and airplanes, tanks and cars, say the Chinese.  For the first time in history white men are coming into Eastern Asia not to conquer men but to liberate them.

More lasting, perhaps, than the defeat of Japan will be the economic, social, and political effects of new communications opened by the necessity of supplying forces for war in these hitherto-inaccessible regions.  It amounts to adding a good-sized nation to world intercourse.

By the time Japan is pushed out of Eastern Asia, highways and railways will exist connecting Siberia to China, India and the Persian Gulf.  Using the new Alaska-Canadian highway, a man ought to be able to drive from anywhere in this country right through to Delhi, India, with the short ferry ride at the Bering Strait forming the only water gap.

India and China inevitably will be thrown closer by these dramatic developments.  Tribal peoples lying in between them will quickly be brought into the fold of modern society.  Indians will turn their eyes more toward the east and toward the Pacific, rather than toward Europe.  It is significant that at a recent conference of Indian educators far-reaching changes were discussed which would introduce into the curricula of Indian schools the compulsory study of Chinese history, geography and culture, and put Chinese-language study on a par with English.

Wheeler sees enough post-war tasks–engineering and construction work–growing out of all the possibilities opened by the war to keep us busy out there for a long time to come.  Immense power resources all over lower Asia need to be harnessed to the service of man; drainage projects and irrigation works could be built, new land cleared, new roads, and railways constructed, and, after them, modern cities and factories.

So the war isn’t all waste.  But there must be somehow a cheaper way than this of opening up new doors to release the historical energies of man.

Merrills Marauders Chinese troops on the Ledo ...
Merrills Marauders Chinese troops on the Ledo Road NARA111-SC-193542cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)