|As a Scout and Raider,
I spent more time being buried in leaves and dirt than I did on the sea.
The leg of the ditch lay in the direction from which we had come and as
we made our way back about fifty yards, I was soon standing on level ground.
I eased myself to a prone position when I heard a bolt being drawn and a click as it stopped in the cocked position. As if there were a shout in my ear and with pure instinct, I lowered my head and pressed my temple into the dirt. In front of my head was a small bush about two feet high. I heard and felt the following simultaneously.
The close burst of a machine gun and the snapping of the branches an inch above my head followed by the rain of leaves and twigs on my face and neck. The bush disintegrated. I knew that was the Lewis. We retreated to our rendezvous, all hope of surprising anyone were now gone. I heard a dull boom in the distance and found out that a land mine was tripped by a bullock.
No one mentioned any land mine. I could see why the Chinese were so anxious to stop me. The language barrier was a decided drawback. The gunnery sergeant was remarking to the corporal that he would never fire a Lewis machine gun at night again, as it lit a five foot area around him. I informed him that he had missed me by an inch and left him with his mouth open.
Why had that machine gun been pointed in the opposite direction, I'll never know. We retreated to our mountain hideout. The enemy was searching the entire valley for us.
Late one August afternoon, I was sitting on a hilltop with my field glasses overlooking the valley below. The radio man came panting up the hill and after catching his breath jubilantly said that the war was over. I was still observing the enemy moving below so this made little sense.
"It's true", he said. "One bomb wiped out an entire city." I did not think that a "blockbuster" could ever wipe out an entire city and said so. He replied that it's a new type of bomb called an atom bomb. I was skeptical. I had heard that the Japanese lived in paper houses and perhaps the city had caught fire. I just did not believe him. Next day we were on the march again along those tiny mountain trails down to the valley floor.
Armed only lightly, I had stopped asking "Where are we going?" Most of us were so trained, we simply would pitch in and did what was necessary. Besides, knowing too much was never considered a good idea in case of capture. As a member of a well trained team, I knew only four or five last names out of the dozen at Camp #3 and Camp #5.
Shortly, we arrived at a small white wayside temple for travelers. Captain Hanley set up the radio and was in touch with Chungking as he had been all night long. The radio traffic was very heavy and we had to wait, until we heard our signal, to begin transmission. I took off my 45 automatic and hung a pair of field glasses around my neck and started that constant sweeping of the area.
I wandered a few hundred yards in every direction. Encountering some heavy brush, I pushed my way through. The last three feet I turned my back to the brush, pushing with my back and in a turning motion, broke free of the brush, facing the direction I intended to go. As I broke through, I looked to find myself facing a column of Jap soldiers, four abreast marching from my right, past me to my left.
The road was not ten feet away and the enemy not fifteen. With two inches of soft sand on the road, their soft slippers did not make a sound. My right leg started to shake and my hand slipped to the holster that was not there.
My mouth filled with sand. The enemy with their rifles slung were giving me curious glances but kept right on marching past me. I folded my arms and stared at them. Short little men, mostly unshaven. They walked like little robots, torsos bobbing forward and backward, their eyes focusing on me, then looking ahead.
Their curious glances could not hide the cruelty on their faces. These were the impressions that my eyes were transmitting to my brain in those first few seconds. What a stupid position to place myself in. Again, the soft dust and the road hid the sounds.
When I turned to my right he was almost upon me. It was the little Jap officer on his horse. I can't count the times I watched him from the hills. This was the column we had tried to entice into the cemetery. This was also the column that ruined the missionary's house and garden, not to mention the beating and murder of the priest.
The Jap officer looked like a toy on that animal. I could not help but notice the sword at his side. My brain shouted to yank him from his saddle and snap his neck if he reached or started to draw his sword. I remember pictures of Japanese executing prisoners. I was not going to die that way!
Although this memory did not enter my head at the time, I was sure it was the basis for my instant decision. I noticed the teeth on the officer first. They seemed to be driven into his mouth in almost a horizontal position. They were yellow and dirty and like his men, he was unshaven. He must have had ten or fifteen paces to observe me before I saw him, giving him time to notice that I was not armed, had no insignia and only field glasses around my neck.
I guess he could not resist showing me his linguistic ability and asked, "Are you a journalist?" I simply nodded my head. His next question was "British or American?" I answered, "American." With that he nodded, turned his horse and continued the march. I was soaking wet with sweat. I don't think my feet touched the earth as I flew back to the monastery.
I burst through the door and yelled "get your guns, the place is crawling with Japs." Someone answered, "Yeah, we know, they just passed by." Everyone seemed to be cool and relaxed. They had adjusted to the situation while I blundered into it.
Captain Hanley was missing. I was told that a Chinese farmer had appeared lamenting that the Japanese had taken all his food and bullock. Captain Hanley was so furious he took after the column and its officer.
The Japanese officer tried to assert his authority when berated by Captain Hanley and made the mistake of reaching for his sword. Hanley lifted him out of the saddle and shook him like a wet doll. The farmer returned with his bullock and money for the food the Japanese had confiscated.
The Japanese officer and his men continued their long march back to the coast, for passage back to Japan. We hadn't killed each other. The war was really over. The thought started to sink in. But I continued to look over my shoulder for many years, sleeping without my automatic under my pillow would be tantamount to going to bed with my shoes on. I just couldn't do it.
"Move out." Again, but still not for the last time. Our orders were to march to the nearest possible road that could support truck traffic. We were to meet a small truck convoy to carry us back to our base camp north of Sian. Our destination was about one week's march directly over the mountains to a small dirt road over which a truck could be taken.
My painful ankles now took longer and longer to support me. The bones of the feet are like a jigsaw puzzle, interlocking and fit precisely. My rundown heels and paper thin soles caused the bottom of my feet to assume the shape of the earth upon which they rested. This uneven surface forced the bones out of their tight fitting position, stretching and straining the ligaments that bound the bones together.
The resulting swelling made this condition worse. Fluid having weight and occupying space was further displacing the joints and spreading the ligaments. It was the sixth or seventh day of our march to join the trucks, when with each step, the pain became worse and simply did not leave after the usual exercise.
By 1:00pm I sat on a rock to let the entire column pass me, not unusual as I often brought up the rear. I could no longer put any weight on my feet and had decided to walk on my knees after the column was out of sight.
In theory it made sense to me. I had not crawled a dozen yards when I knew it was not going to work. Every grain of sand or the tiniest pebble felt like a thumb tack in my knee. Now what? Am I going to have to be carried? I started to despair. For the first time my twenty-one year old body failed me. I felt completely frustrated, for I felt no pain as long as I did not stand or walk.
I tried again and again, crawling on all fours and had gone only about twenty yards when I heard shouting, exuberant shouting. I crawled over to look over a small rise and not fifty yards away were the trucks. I found the strength to get up, stagger to the nearest tailgate and climbed aboard. It was over!
I don't remember my ankles bothering me again. If this had happened a week sooner, I think it might have been fatal for me. The trip back to Camp #3 was uneventful. We arrived to find the monastery deserted, the guerrillas gone, dispersed throughout China to brew mischief for the Japanese as we had been doing. before they would be able to unite, the Communist would defeat them, as all American aid would be cut off. I would be ashamed of America.
I was surprised to learn that Ernie Chyz went further east then I went. Dressed as a Chinese boatman, he had poled a sampan down the Yangtze River to the very heart of occupied Shanghai. They lived as coolies on the waterfront and on the rooftops and performed to their credit.
Our coast watchers too had given our submarines a field day with the ships they had spotted. The closer the war approached to Japan, the closer their ships had to operate to the coast. One submarine after another expended its torpedoes and raced back for more.
We even manufactured and laid mines with the help of local pirates. The Navy aircraft carriers and the Army Air Force were getting their weather reports regularly and could plan their missions accordingly.
SACO had fourteen camps throughout China and more than fourteen columns operating behind enemy lines. To these could be added dozens of coast watchers and the SACO personnel working with the pirates. (*These pirates rescued downed airmen and brought priceless information on Japanese ship movements in the South China Sea. In the year and a half that Camp #3 was in existence, it had trained over 4,000 guerrillas that accounted for over 5,000 Japanese casualties.) *Statistics from "A Different Kind of War" by Admiral Milton Miles
Columns 5 and 6 alone accounted for 200 enemy soldiers. The combined total of all SACO forces accounted for over 20,485 enemy killed, and dozens of American airmen rescued in their desperation to escape from enemy territory.
Just a few days at Camp #3 and word came to go to Sian Airport to catch a flight to Chungking. Since we were not coming back, we took everything we owned with us, including the items we left behind when we went to join Column #5. The old hand crank phonograph that almost decapitated anyone attempting to wind it was left behind along with our three record collection, Tommy Dorsey's "Marie", Perry Como's "Our Waltz", and "Rum and Coca Cola" by the Andrew Sisters.
At the last minute, a runner with an envelope came breathlessly asking for Ruski or Ski. Since I was the only "Ski" available, I pronounced my name slowly to him and he nodded his head, "Ski." When he was satisfied, he delivered a medal that General Wen had awarded me. I never knew for what I was being decorated.
At Sian, we wolfed down an American meal, our first in three months. I never knew that powdered milk could taste so good, not to mention the butter flavored margarine. I had lost a pound each day on the long march and much more after we arrived. A C-47 taxied right up to the mess hall and the pilot waved us aboard. The wing tip was inches from the building. An aerial hotshot no less, with a cigar between his teeth, waving us to come aboard.
At Chungking, we were met by trucks driven to legendary Happy Valley. This was the hub of our entire operation. It was a valley lush and green, with clouds working their way between the sharp steeple peaks of the church, occasionally blanketing the entire small valley high in the mountains.
The Chinese government turned it over to us for our use. It had originally contained a Buddhist temple. It was a lovely retreat for the members of that gentle faith. Little by little small buildings were added including a mess hall and showers. The buildings were spread far apart and could only be damaged by direct hits.
It also contained our orphanage with over 200 children by now. The brains of SACO were housed here with communications throughout the entire Chinese network. From Happy Valley, we were in touch with the entire fleet in the South Pacific; Midway Island, Hawaii, Calcutta, Australia and San Francisco occasionally.
From here, the messages to Admiral King, General Marshall, and the President of the United States (our patron) were sent. Everyone dressed in khakis and I did not know if I was speaking to a Marine Colonel or a Navy Commander, nor could you tell which service they represented.
The entire camp of about thirty turned out to greet us, our hands being shook, good wishes and hearty welcomes being expressed amid smiles and back slapping. It was one big family with us, the missing members returning.
They suffered with us during our trials, shared our joys in those distant valleys so far away there by candlelight around the radio. They also shared our griefs and our triumphs, as if they had been with us. These our shipmates, would do everything they could to help us and agonize when they could not.
This was also the central information gathering and dispersing center. Thousands of messages from spies and observers were radioed here, analyzed and forwarded where they could do the most good. While Happy Valley did not direct all of our moved, it did serve as an invaluable source of information and was ever ready to arrange for any Chinese help we might need.
"Anyone who wants, can turn in his weapon to Chan here." None of us made the move and one khaki clad shipmate collected a big bet from another. "They won't be giving them up for at least a week." "It's like asking them to walk around naked." It was true. I carried one 45 on my right hip and another one in my belt at the small of my back.
That evening, after a banquet style Chinese meal, I was offered some lemonade. I was thirsty from all the salt and drank two pints from a canteen cup. In less than fifteen minutes I was drunk and in fifteen more, fast asleep. The lemonade was laced with 200 proof, pure alcohol. My first solid sleep in three months.
I wonder if it was planned. they had known about my ankles even when I thought I had kept it a secret from the rest of the column. On a wall to wall map, I was shown a red pin representing my column with about 50 pinpricks. Headquarters knew where I was everyday.
We left by an old Army DC3 for Calcutta. Without oxygen again, our pilot had to skim over the snow covered Himalayas. Occasionally, we would see a secluded monastery, a lone solitary structure on a mountain top. Before long, there appeared the lush jungles of Assam and finally, the haze leaden skies of Calcutta. Even at our altitude, we could feel the oppressive humidity, the pilot constantly adjusting the fuel mixture. We landed at Dum Dum Airport, the legendary origin of the deadly Dum Dum cartridge.
Back in steaming Calcutta again, that boiling cauldron of humanity, with all the wandering cows, half starved rickshaw pullers, kids whispering that they had a ruby for sale, the smell of burning cow dung, and the gaudy billboards advertising American movies. A bottle of Carews Gin at the Grand Hotel was really a treat, tomorrow we would curse the diarrhea.
We would soon be gone and many of these people would be dead from the riots that exploded a year later as the once mighty British Empire continued to crumble. Small riots were already starting.
Back at Camp Know we waited. Crews from all over China began to fly in and assemble for the final trip back to the United States. A shout would go up as more and more Scouts and Raiders would appear. We had been scattered in small units all over China. Like family, we were gathering together again to go home, just as we gathered to come to the Orient from Europe.
As our numbers began to swell, we began to become anxious for the ones still missing. One day a roar went up. We were all here! We all made it! We all survived. We were all alive and we celebrated that night. it took a little more than two weeks to gather us from all parts of China.
One morning we received our last "Move Out." in trucks again, this time to the docks of Calcutta to board the U.S.S. General Hodges. This ship had many more Army men aboard than our first trip and one could tell they were noncombatant by their weight and loud mouths.
The combat G.I. or Marine was always soft spoken and rested when he could, as if savoring the inactivity. But then, there were no fighting units in India at that time. Our guys bunked forward and occupied that portion of the Hodges keeping to ourselves.
One evening, after diner, Ernie and I were standing on the bow at the rail. the sea was calm and the bow was like a sharp knife slicing through the water. Something was wrong that I just could not put my finger on. It slowly dawned on me that there were lights other than the moon and that I was smoking topside at night. This was to be the first time we did not have to observe blackout conditions.
Even the running lights on our masts were lit. I could see the entire length of the ship instead of stumbling through the dark. I mentioned to Ernie, "You know, shortly we are going to be unemployed. What will a couple of trained killers do in civilian life?" "I'm going into construction," Ernie replied, "with my brother and father. How about you?" he asked. "I don't know." I replied. "I don't even have a high school education, maybe I'll just kill some time in school until I decide."
Matthew (Komorowski) Kaye
Honorably Discharged 12/7/45