|Almost a week slipped by
as our trucks carried us east. We crossed the enemy lines on the first
day and edged ever deeper into Japanese controlled territory. While the
area was under control of the enemy, they could not be everywhere. During
this time, there was only one enemy column near us and they were not on
the march. Like in our own west, the cavalry was in the fort so that we
could move about freely.
A heavy downpour stalled our convoy as the dirt roads turned to molasses. With a drop of 300 feet on our right shoulder, we were forced to wait out the five day storm. The Americans stayed on the sheltered porch of an isolated farm house.
Rations were very low and we were constantly hungry. As we sat huddled, shivering and wet, we could not help but observe the farmer's dog running back and forth in the rain. I began to visualize a fire under a spit. Upon a spit, a golden brown carcass was slowly turning. Everyone was silent and deep in thought. Finally someone said aloud "We had better wait awhile, the farmer needs that dog".
We all burst out laughing. We had been thinking the same thought. We had been very lucky. I don't ever remember seeing a farm house in China again. The rains had stopped and the Japanese were stirring. I'm sure that their spies kept them fully informed as our spies reported on them. It was time to continue.
Many years later, I learned that the same terrible storm that had halted our progress, had also separated Ernie's sampan from the others. Alone, he was in great danger, for the Japanese were hunting him. Nothing but torture and death was in store for him should he be discovered. A kindly old man and his wife had hidden him in plain view of the Japanese that passed less than ten feet from the pile of rags he was under.
A few hours later, I noticed steam escaping from under the hood of our truck. Shortly, we were stopping at a stream for water. The cylinder head had a large crack through which the steam was escaping. The Chinese were pounding toothpick size strips of rubber they had shaved from the tires. Within fifteen minutes, the rubber heated enough to become soft and more rubber shavings were forced into the crack. Two pin holes were constantly letting out steam but we did not overheat.
A truck went over the embankment and smashed itself to bits. The Chinese took it apart, down to the last nut and bolt, dragged it back upon the road and reassembled it again. Bound together with ropes and wires, it was soon running as good as it had before.
We had soon reached the point where the road was no longer practical. Thousands of Japanese were camped a few miles ahead. We now had the enemy in front and behind. We would have to resort to the mountain trails to reach our destination. Our trucks were unloaded and a group of peasants with their "Yo Yo" sticks were waiting for us.
The peasants started to tie their sticks to loops that fit around each box. Two pieces to a stick, one on each end, the stick went on the shoulder. The bearer would walk with a load I could hardly lift off the ground. For the heavier boxes, like our Bangalore torpedoes, they would use two, three or four men to carry these items, in a complicated system of sticks and ropes.
Whomever was ahead of us arranging things, certainly knew what he was doing. Every night we would reach a village and sleep on the tables of the local school house. Each morning, an entire new crew assembled to carry the supplies. Each person did what was necessary without fuss and not many words.
The bearers were very shy and kept their eyes on the ground. At times we could see them stealing a glance at us and discussing us in whispers. At this time their numbers would reach 125 to 150 daily. Our advance man was quietly arranging for fresh bearers to meet us each morning.
About five days into the march, one of the Americans developed pains in his lower abdomen. He lay on the grass with his knees drawn up, and our pharmacist, mate P.J. Morris was attempting a diagnosis. I asked what he thought was wrong with the man and he replied he thought he had acute appendicitis and we would have to get him out of here.
We all had a short consultation and decided our man would die if we did not get him to a hospital. Captain Hanley decided to break radio silence and radio Chungking to see what aid was available. We used a hand generator to establish contact and awaited their reply.
The reply came with instructions to move the man to a level spot and wait. A small Army plane would pick up our sick comrade and deliver him to an Air Force hospital. A set of ground signals was arranged. I asked Morris if he was going along with the sick man. After some thought, he replied that he thought he had better go with him.
With this, he handed me his Red Cross medical bag. I could not have made a greater mistake. Morris decided a little too quickly. The bag with its large Red Cross became my millstone. Every evening at the end of our march, peasants from the countryside would gather outside my quarters and wait to see the "doctor".
Many would travel thirty to fifty miles in an attempt to intercept me on our march. They brought rotten teeth, boils, abdominal pains, mysterious coughs, broken limbs months old, sick children, sick parents and sick grandparents.
Inventory of the first aid kit revealed some compression bandages, iodine, morphine, atabrine, sulfa, aspirin, band-aids, and alcohol. Needless to say, everyone received aspirin or an atabrine tablet to chew. That was another mistake, for it tasted bitter, it had to be good medicine. Every night, the line grew larger until I had to hide the medical bag. I also suspect someone in the advance column heard of my dilemma and called a halt to the practice.
The days passed as we continued our trudge eastward through the mountains. Our column when compacted, was almost a half mile long. Our path was over mountains and canyons on trails 1 to 2 feet wide. I ranged the entire column two or three times a day. I would walk two or three miles ahead, turn and wait until the end of the column passed and stay two or three miles behind.
Every day, we would be accompanied by the new bearers. At one phase of the march, we passed through an area deficient in iodine. Everyone I encountered had a large swelling at their throat. Their thyroids were enlarged from the size of a softball to larger than a football. Our bearers with the enormous swelling beneath their chins stopped frequently, whether from the altitude or their medical problem, and I noticed that they had added about twenty-five percent more carriers. Soon we passed through "goiter belt" and our new bearers appeared to be normal.
My medical supplies also contained a few small cans of powder for use against lice or ticks. So far I managed to keep reasonably clean by soaking in every stream that we crossed, sometimes 2 to 3 times per day. As mentioned above, we slept in our bed rolls on top of tables in the school houses. One night a particular table looked rather greasy. Having nothing to wipe it with, I picked up a bamboo mat from the floor and placed the mat on top of the table over which I placed my bedroll. I think I slept fifteen minutes that night.
In Naples, Italy, I saw vermin covered people being deloused and now I know what near madness can be. Dawn found me sitting on the table scratching. I started to dust from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and dusted all the clothes I packed. Finally, I started on my bedroll. Whatever Uncle Sam put in that particular powder, it certainly worked and I no longer had the problem. My seventeen and a half million bites began to heal. The only part of my body that ever touched the floor again, were my feet, with my shoes on.
In spite of the mountainous terrain, we were making excellent progress. Two or three times every day, I would spot a large clay bowl on a prominent rock and wondered what it was. I found later that the people in the countryside wanted to show their appreciation to the Megwah giants and placed steaming bowls of tea for our thirst. The peasants hid in the bushes and watched.
Every morning, as I started to walk, my right ankle would give me pain. Usually after ten or fifteen minutes the pain would leave. I noticed that the sharp rocks were shredding my G.I. boots very rapidly. The heels were running down as well as the outside of the leather sole. As long as the pain left, I was not worried. Knowing now, what I know, I should have worried.
One evening, four men trod onto our school yard before bedtime. Between each pair of men was a stretcher with someone in it. "Oh no!", I said to myself, "more sick people." I was wrong this time. These were two of our own guerrillas. They were from Column #6 that we were joining. They had been mauling the Japanese column below, that was marching parallel to us.
Both had been picked off after they had made their attack on the enemy. One was shot in the buttocks, the bullet tumbled out his left abdomen. He lay on his side with his knees drawn up. This one was sick and in agony. The other wounded man was shot in the back of the thigh. I closed my eyes and silently pleaded with God to make them go away, but they would not disappear.
I told Ray our interpreter, to tell them that I was not a doctor, that I was just carrying the bag for someone. It seems that they understood all this but continued to beg me to try to do something. I mixed one packet of sulfa with water and had each of them drink the mixture. I painted the wound with iodine and sprinkled it with more sulfa and told then it was all I knew how to do. They thanked me profusely and I felt very ashamed and depressed. They had a 900 mile walk ahead of them to any type of doctor. The peasants would hide them unless someone sold the information to the Japs.
Later that night, Ray had a bout with malaria. We covered him with every blanket we could find and still he shook so hard two of us had to lay on top of him to keep him from injuring himself. By dawn, his fever had broken, and he had calmed down but he was too weak to stand. Our march could not be delayed a single day so we made a stretcher and carried him that day. The following morning he could walk with frequent rests. We had been marching now for a solid month and I wondered when it would all end.
One day an American in G.I. clothing met us on the trail and introduced himself as one of the Navy men with Column #6. I asked him how much farther it was and he replied that headquarters was just ahead. On a hillside a couple of hundred feet ahead was a white building shaded by tall trees almost invisible from every direction.
I stepped off the trail and watched the column with its bearers make their way past. Suddenly I heard the American scream at me, "Jesus Christ, don't move, your in the middle of a mine field." "That SOB!", I said to myself, now he tells me. He made his way to me very slowly and led me out of danger. When I asked him how he knew where to step, he pointed to a handful of dead grass that was sprinkled over each mine. My shirt was soaked with sweat. It was Russian roulette and you would lose eventually. The word passed on the column not to step of the trail for any purpose. No walking off to urinate!
Our bearers unloaded and disappeared. We had a small mountain of supplies that was going to be dispensed soon to the guerrillas and to the uniformed members of the Loyal Patriotic Army. General Liao, who had been four or five miles behind the column, finally arrived on his old gray horse. Throughout the entire march he had stayed at least one hour behind the column, aloof as a commander or playing it safe, I'll never know. (*The Communists would kill him the following year along with the guerrillas we had all trained and become so fond of.)
The precious arms and ammunition were handed to the Chinese guerrillas and were promptly removed from view. Our trek was a total of 900 miles and took exactly thirty days. My body weight was also thirty pounds less.
One last thing remained of this phase of our mission, and that was to demonstrate the use of the weapons, notably the "bazooka", the Bangalore torpedoes. Assembling the torpedoes and explaining their use and limitations was easy. The pupils asked many questions and appeared to know and understand our demonstration.
I don't think Captain Hanley ever saw a bazooka. He asked if anyone had any experience firing one. When he did not get a reply, he started to read the manual. I had instruction in the use of this self-propelled weapon but did not answer as I did not actually fire one. The Captain was finally ready and sweating profusely, remarked to the effect, that he was hoping the thing was not going to blow his head off. *From "A Different Kind of War" by Admiral Milton Miles
He inserted two flashlight batteries, made sure the bulb lit when he squeezed the trigger. With the bazooka loaded now, Captain Hanley, took aim at a large rock about fifty feet away. By now a large crowd of a hundred or more were gathered about him as he fired. The hit was right on target and a roar came from the observers. The Chinese cheered and applauded the Megwah technology. I wondered if they realized that they had invented both, the rocket and the gunpowder that had exploded.
In late July 1945, the first phase of delivering weapons was complete. Now the second phase, that of engaging and harassing the enemy was about to begin. We sent scouts to watch the enemy and interrogate the peasants. Information about the enemy began to pour in daily and soon we knew where every Japanese was for a hundred miles around us.
We descended from the mountains into the valleys. The Japanese had as many spies as we did, perhaps more. We were deliberately placing ourselves in harms way in order to provoke the enemy into attacking us. We ranged throughout the valley ever alert to what the enemy columns were doing. They would hear of our presence soon and hopefully they would come after us.
We in turn would retreat until we could take advantage and get behind them or ambush them. One column of about two hundred Japanese soldiers led by an officer on a horse began to edge closer and shortly began stalking us. it was what we wanted. Our column would move and they would follow. We kept this up for six or seven days. If the column closed on us, on ground favorable to them, we would lengthen the distance. A few times, we would walk through a village. As we left one end, they would be entering through the other.
What we wanted most was for them to come after us in the cemetery at the end of every town. The Chinese buried their dead above ground, covering the remains with a four or five foot mound of dirt. With a few hundred such mounds, we could have them in a half dozen cross fires.
The Jap did not fall for it. He marched his men past the cemeteries as we watched and bivouacked in a grove of trees. It became a waiting game to see who would have the advantage and who would make the mistake. One time we entered a town four times, only to leave as they marched in a half hour behind us.
In one such town, was a Catholic missionary of Italian or French descent. At least he spoke both languages. He was about seventy-five or eighty and had long ago burnt himself out ministering to his flock. Unable to return to Rome, he was just living his remaining days.
The father invited us to share a bottle of wine in the grape arbor of his little mission. He had a fine vegetable garden and lived very simply. Signals were made that the enemy was entering the town and we hurriedly left. We found out later that the Japanese destroyed the entire mission and had beat the priest to death.
The church was used for a stable. We were constantly aware of the atrocities the Japanese were committing throughout the valley. One farmer so badly beaten he did not resemble a human being, told us of the Japanese troops taking melons off his field. The farmer knew enough not to protest but he spoke when they smashed each melon still on the vine and thus received his beating.
This meant starvation for him that winter. We gave him enough money to buy food for his wife and children at least for that winter. We were always ready to bring out a pile of money to show we were willing to pay for everything. This always brought a smile to the face of the people. The Japanese did the opposite. They took whatever they wanted and often beat or killed people.
The Air Force knew who we were and were told if forced to, to parachute or ditch their planes, we would know of it and would contact them for the safe passage out of the enemy area. Peasants would always spot pilots for us.
Our column alone brought out at least eighteen crew members and pilots to safety. The story at all the air bases was of the downed fighter pilot walking with his parachute after crashing. He looked up and sitting on a rock was a blond haired American smoking a cigar who said, "If you keep walking that way fly boy, you're going to be in Shanghai in about six months. Here, sit down and have a cigar.." It was one of our men. The pilot was back flying his "mustang" in two weeks and never failed to buzz the spot where he met the sailor, if he was near. The lower jaw never failed to drop when it was learned we were U.S. Navy.
The Jap column could not be tempted. One night we slipped away for greener pastures. Back in our favorite cemetery, we waited until spies brought us news of new targets. Maps of the area were just not available and we had to rely solely on the Chinese guerrillas that came from the area.
We received word of a Japanese truck convoy about to travel east towards the coast. We made a forced march through the night, the next day and one more night to get into position. My ankle was starting to kill me and the other was beginning to pain me also.
If I could just get off my feet for a few days I knew I would feel better. I had inherited the "bazooka". The gunnery sergeant and his corporal had charge of our only machine gun. The gun was an ancient World War I Lewis with its wooden stock and round drum of fifty rounds.
I remember seeing pictures of these mounted on World War I, two seat fighter planes on the observers cockpit. Upright, the Lewis was almost five feet long with its bipod and stock attached, it weighed a ton. The corporal carried the ammunition, the sergeant carried the weapon. One hundred and fifty rounds was not much to get into a scrape with but if the "gun hugger" was as good with the Lewis as I thought he was, he could do a lot of damage.
He almost damaged me permanently one night. Our position was a six foot ditch running parallel to a dirt road. The sky was almost moonless. With heavy clouds obscuring the little moon we had, I had trouble at times seeing my hand in front of my face.
The sergeant took up a position on my left about two hundred yards away. I covered the right flank with three Chinese guerrillas but I had no interpreter. The plan was for me to let the Jap column go by me and disable the last vehicle as the Sergeant would disable the first. The fifty or so guerrillas between were to begin to mop up what was left between the front and the rear of the column.
The long wait began. The minutes stretched into hours and every hour seemed like a day. Nothing to hear but the sound of crickets and I began to wonder if my group were the only ones there. Off to my right was a faint glow in the sky. I even began to wonder if this was an illusion.
Sometimes the glow would appear closer, sometimes it appeared not to change. Shortly before dawn, the night was at its darkest. I decided to scout the empty area to our right and then approach the road from a ninety degree angle. When my intentions were evident to the Chinese, they piled on me to restrain me from leaving the ditch. I did not fight them but without an interpreter, I could not explain that scouting in the dark was precisely what I was trained for.