|We were soon out of the
city driving on a dirt road towards the mountains. Around us was a wide
plain, lush with wheat. Shensi Province, as it was named, was a productive
farming area through which the river Wei flowed from the mountains ahead.
We encountered no further settlements until we reached a walled compound
at the foot of one large solitary mountain. Our residence turned out to
be a Buddhist monastery from which the monks had long gone. Whether the
monks left of their own accord or were forced to leave, I never did find
out. There was a building outside the compound that was formerly a barn
for the Monk’s animals. The barn, which was now called the armory, contained
our ammunition, explosives, bangalore torpedoes, and cases of small arms.
The armory was as full as it could be. Its contents would soon be taking
a long journey. Its size was about that of a two-story house.
Since we arrived in the Orient, our pay scale had changed. In addition to our regular rate of pay, we were paid an additional $9.75 per diem. All bookkeeping was carried on in Calcutta. The costs of meals, etc. were to be deducted for us there automatically. I don't remember paying for anything, yet we had enough money for anything we might want. Being stationed where we were we had no use for money, and I did not receive any pay until after the war. A check was issued to me in Chungking. The official rate of exchange as 200 to 1 but anyone could get 2,500 yen to one dollar from a money trader. In one year, the official rate was jumped to 2,600 to one and on the black market much, much more.
The ancient monastery, situated on a tree covered knoll, was a walled compound with only one gate for an entrance. Two sentries of the Loyal Patriotic Army stood guard at the gate, another two inside the compound and two more guards were circling the sides and rear of the compound. The left side of the compound contained a long one-story stucco building with many partitions with separate entrances. These contained the monks spartan living quarters, now used as our living quarters. Most important, the first room on the left contained our only link with the outside world, our precious radio. Power came from a small generator. In the center of the courtyard, stood what was the main building or the temple. It was a simple square building with a narrow porch held up by massive round timbers. Inside, the room was divided into half, from left to right by a partition behind which Major ‘Dutch’ Kramer (USMC) and Captain James Hanley lived. The monastery was built among an ancient grove of trees surrounded by endless wheat fields. Tung Fah was the name of our cook and he happened to speak passable English. Where he found our food was a mystery. Our plates were always cleaned with only enough food left over to feed the houseboys. They were permitted to eat only what was left over. We were cautioned that if the table were entirely cleaned, the houseboys would go hungry. Tung Fah always made sure there was more than enough food for everybody. I suspect he toured the countryside bartering with the peasants.
We had learned that the Japanese already posted a $25,000 price on my head and the heads of the SACO members, dead or alive, spies again were everywhere. The local Chinese general had some cotton Chinese peasant clothes made for us that fit perfectly. Our clothes were more like loose pajamas and very comfortable. The lack of pockets was the only draw back. Buttons were small balls of thread and a drawstring for a belt. When we mingled with the peasants the only way you could spot an American was to look for the tallest people present. General Tai's (head of Chinese Secret Service) men were always about to protect us.
Our days and evenings were full. Each morning, I would carry our portable hand generator to the top of the hill and string out antenna. Our aerographer would fill a balloon with helium from a small container and release it into the atmosphere. He would then note the type of clouds and the temperature, then plot its direction and speed. He would also get the humidity and other weather data. I would then crank the generator for the radioman and the data would be transmitted to Chungking for relay to the Commander in Chief Pacific (CinCPac). Of the hundreds of reports that radioed to the fleet, one report was significant, in that it contained news of a severe weather front heading their way. The news was significant because behind this weather front, the Japanese Navy was creeping towards the unsuspecting U.S. Fleet in the Leyte Gulf. Our coast watchers on the Chinese coast spotted the enemy fleet. We had therefore notified the fleet that they were about to be surprised by an enemy armada hiding behind a weather front. How the Jap fleet was defeated with the loss of four aircraft carriers in the Battle of Leyte Gulf is history. Forty-five years later, while swapping stories with our local sheriff, I was surprised to be talking with the man that had received and decoded our messages. Sheriff Ed Bates was a cryptographer aboard the fleet flagship. I often wondered who was answering us on the other end and was pleased that our reports were important enough to be passed on to every ship in the area, aircraft carriers and submarines included. During this time of idleness, I would take about 1,000 rounds of ammunition with a weapon and practice. I could roll a tin can with my 45 automatic but I never got a bulls-eye with a 38. Our evenings were spent in the radio shack listening to the broadcasts from all over the world. The BBC was our favorite short wave station with the usual ‘This is London calling’. Tokyo Rose played our favorite music while she tried to ‘needle’ the Air Force. Often we would take long' walks through the countryside. About four miles from base we heard of the existence of an ancient village. As we stood on a knoll, it lay before us one evening. We might have been looking at a scene from 1,000 years ago. The little village was about the size of a medium sized city block, surrounded by a 20 foot mud wall about four feet thick. The farmers in th6 area did not live in farmhouses, but retreated to the safety of the village at the end of each day. The lesson of thousands of years was that ‘there was strength in numbers.’ The huge wooden gates were closed at dusk, the guards climbed into their towers, the strangers on the knoll turned to leave and evening oil lamps were lit. They had never seen a Caucasian.
On one walk through the country, I had been walking on a narrow dirt road when I encountered a mound of dirt in its center. The road stopped and detoured around the mound and continued in the same direction as before. As I studied the mound, it was apparently a burial mound of some sort. The mound had four sides and their lengths were almost equal, about thirty feet on each side. The top of the mound was rounded and about ten feet high. I don't know why I was fascinated, but at the time I wish I could excavate it. Many years later, the National Geographic magazine reported on a remarkable archeological find in what appears to be about the same spot as the mound that peaked my curiosity so long ago. It appears that an Emperor centuries ago, as a monument to himself, created an entire life size army of alabaster and buried it in that huge wheat field. Every face was different as if a copy of someone living. Each figure was buried standing in marching formation. It was uncovered in the late 1970's and at this writing, 1992, the site is still being excavated.
My main reason for being sent to Camp #3 was to help train the Chinese guerrillas for operations behind the Japanese lines. The Loyal Patriotic Army as they liked to call themselves was not part of the regular Nationalist Army. In this ancient and complicated land, we would be dealing with the Nationalist Army of Chiang Kaishek, the Loyal Patriotic Army of General Tai Li (each unit with its own general), the Communist Army, the Japanese Army, and lastly, the bandits, as they were called, renegades that are found everywhere where misery or lawlessness exists. My knowledge of small arms was put to use teaching the use and mechanics of the submachine gun. Our type of military operations required a lot of firepower and quickly, hence the sub-machine gun instead of a rifle. When I felt that each class could strip1 clean and fire the weapon, they would become graduates and could keep the weapon and the small spare parts that went wit it. A new group of twenty-five would take their place. The Thompson 45 caliber and the short 45 caliber ‘grease gun’ while standard with the U.S. forces, was not available to us due to the weight of the ammunition. Every item had to be flown over the Himalayan Mountains. The SACO groups throughout China would be needing millions of rounds and the Army Air Force was busy supplying General Stillwell in Burma and South China. My meals at the Army Air Base told me what the Army preferred flying in by way of supply. Mostly butter and fresh eggs for themselves. The Navy contracted with a company in the United States to produce an inexpensive submachine gun for our use. It was called a Marlin that fired a 9mm cartridge. The ammunition did not have to be flown to us, as ironically, we had an ample supply from the German Army that had shipped many tons of ammunition to Manchuria as late as 1934 to help fight the Communists. The Marlin was a good weapon, simple and accurate. It did not rise like a Thompson, although it lacked its knock down power. It was much lighter.
Problems developed from quite a different source as we lined the troops in preparation for firing their pieces. We had dug a deep trench and used the loose dirt as a backstop for the spent ammunition. The guerrillas were firing, for never more than ten minutes, when a crowd of peasants would gather to one side of the dirt bank. As I blew the whistle to cease firing, the crowd would rush to retrieve the spent bullets from the mounds. They had to be forcibly ejected time after time so that we could resume firing. Finally, they became so bold as to hedge on to the range before we even stopped firing. These interruptions continued throughout all our training sessions. Metal was so scarce, people were willing to risk their lives to keep retrieving the spent ammunition. Brass too was as valuable as gold.
In the beginning, we had a great deal of trouble with the Marlins jamming. One day I was looking at an open box of ammunition from which the guerrillas were reloading their clips. I noticed that one round was shorter than the other. When we dumped the box and spread out the cartridges, we would find a few dozen undersized cartridges were mixed in with the regular ammunition. These were also 9mm but made for a pistol. I asked to see the General’s pistol, a ‘Broomstick Mauser’ and sure enough, they fit. The General and his officers who had been hoarding their seven rounds were delighted. We had no further trouble after we segregated the two different sizes. A submachine gun is only used in close quarters and a jammed weapon would probably be fatal.
Our days stretched into weeks at Camp #3 and one class was graduated after another. The General would have an occasional ten to twelve course dinner for the Americans which we all looked forward to. Custom dictated that he who is toasted must empty his glass with each toast. A trick that we would play on him, would be for each of us to individually toast him, so that by the time it was his turn, he could hardly stand on his feet. The drink was vodka made from potatoes and stank to high heaven, but it had a wallop and burned very quickly when lit. No problem for a young man's liver. The Japs now only bombed Sian occasionally. With the new curfew, the fifth column that Ii bonfires for the Jap bombers was effectively destroyed. The air raids were conducted only at night now and the police simply would shoo anyone they would see outdoors. The bombers would dump their bomb anywhere before they reached the heart of Sian and go home, their duty being rendered. As each class graduated, General Wen would assign the guerrillas their mission. Quietly they disappeared, their destination to us unknown.
Camp #3 had two columns engaging the Japanese. They were called Columns Five and Six. Both had areas of operation in Honan Province almost 1,000 miles east of us. Column #6 had just engaged the Japanese and was retreating, exhausted and almost out of ammunition when it was attacked by the treacherous Chinese Communists. Breaking their truce, they took this opportunity to attack the column and succeeded in killing the executive and commanding officers. (* The rest of the column was almost wiped out. The remnants joined column #5 and thus enriched it with their bravery and courage. A compound we had built and maintained outside Chungking would have to b enlarged. The compound was built to take care of the wives an orphans of the men that were killed in action. The education of their children was now assured and the wives had food and shelter. In China, in those times, the food and shelter was the difference between life and death. Our naval group throughout China contributed over $900,000.00. The project was maintained by General Tai and contained 150 orphans in late 1943.) Room for many more would now have to b arranged. *The facts in this paragraph were taken from ‘A Different Kind 0 War’ by Admiral Milton Miles
I often took long walks in the country during the time after the last class graduated. One solitary but huge mountain rose from the plain. Beyond it, the range of mountains began. One early morning I decided to climb to its top and started walking. By 1:00 p.m. I was no closer to it than when I had started. A lesson on the illusion 0 depth perception. Once in a while, I would see a group of peasant chafing wheat by tossing it into the air and letting the breeze carry away the chaff. I joined them in this work for the exercise and the good will it created. Now when I took that occasional walk to their isolated village, I would be greeted with a wave and a smile. I would often order a bowl of boiled noodles and boiled pork in a little outdoor restaurant of two tables. It seemed to be the town's meeting place. In reality, it was really a lean-to with a clay oven. All the animals and chickens were kept in town and appeared to be part of each family. When walking through their village, one had to walk around pigs, chickens, ducks and the ever-patient water buffalo. I even go used to being sniffed by a black pig, as I sat, probably eating it offspring. Most of the time, a half dozen children would gather t watch the round-faced ‘Megwah.’ I haven't had noodles and pork his that since. Hot and delicious, served in a clay bowl.
There were only eight Americans left in camp. Small groups of us had been constantly leaving on missions and those remaining had no inkling of who was sent where. We knew better than to ask. Ernie had left a month earlier. I wondered how and where he was. A very brave and valuable companion, I missed him, for he had watched my back and I watched his. He was also a counterweight to my impulsiveness helping to stabilize me. I became a ‘loner’ with separate quarters and missions.
Finally, the word came through, ‘Get ready to move out.’ Never a surprise anymore. I had learned to wait for these words since I became a Scout and Raider. I knew better than to ask where we were going but this time Captain Hanley volunteered the information. Column #5 had not been resupplied since 1943, the column needed arms and reinforcements due to deaths, wounds and illnesses. We were to empty our armory of all its ammunition and any equipment of usefulness and deliver these to Column #5. In addition, we were to reinforce the column with an additional twenty-five or so guerrillas we had trained. The column was operating about 1,000 miles east of us, 950 miles behind the Japanese lines. A column of twenty-five guerrillas left a few weeks before us, as an advance party in case my group should run into trouble, they would at least be in the vicinity. Five ancient Chevy trucks, which dated from the early thirties, were loaded and we began our journey in a eastward direction.