Imphal, The Hump and Beyond
U.S.A.A.F Combat Cargo Groups of the Second World War
3rd Combat Cargo Group, 10th Combat Cargo Squadron
Combined Military Hospital Ranikhet, India
Sgt. Aloysius 'Al' M. O'Neill Jr.
| Although the only times I am ever certain of the
date of V-J Day are when the date is printed in the paper, I do know where I was,
because I wasnt getting around much at the time. I was in the "Combined
Military Hospital", Ranikhet, in the northernmost part of India, between Nepal and
Afghanistan. This was a British hospital, and happened to be about 1500 miles from
Ranikhet is in the foothills of the
Himalayas, at an altitude of about 6000 feet, not far from Tibet. My unit, the Tenth
Combat Cargo Squadron, Tenth Air Force, was based at Myitkyina, in the northern part of
Burma, near the border with Yunnan Province, China. Our job had recently been to
deliver supplies to the forward areas in Burma and to drop them to those working behind
the Japanese lines. However, around June 1,1945, our mission was changed to flying
supplies mostly gasoline, from Myitkyina to the vicinity of Kunming, China, in preparation
for a big offensive in China. (The offensive was made unnecessary by the atomic bomb.)
These flights were over part of "The Hump" (famous then, forgotten now).
I flew as a Radio Operator.
The reason I was in Ranikhet was that on July 15, the C-46 in which I was flying lost both engines and we took to our parachutes. I was four days getting back to something resembling civilization (with the help of our real friends, the Kachins), and was offered the chance to go to rest camp (Ranikhet). The reason I was in the hospital was that on my first night at Ranikhet, I developed chills and fever. The eventual diagnosis was typhoid fever, almost certainly the result of water I drank while walking back from the jump. As near as I can figure it, I was at Ranikhet from about the third week in July until the end of September or the beginning of October. For the last part of that time I was considered well enough to leave the hospital, and go into town, etc. Strangely enough, outpatients, including me, were issued civilian-looking clothes, consisting of gray slacks, white sport shirts, and navy blue blazers. It was nice to be so dressed when I, along with some of my fellow outpatients, were invited to tea and a round of croquet at the local Anglican Vicars residence. The war was improving a lot!That made my hospital stay memorable was the cast of characters. Either on the staff or as patients in any ward, there were people from all over England; several Londoners of various social levels, including" an "almost" Cockney, "not born within the sound of Bow Bells, but moved there when I was three months old". (Incidentally, Adolph Hitler was engaged in a personal vendetta against this man, a pub keeper; during the first days of the "blitz" a bomb landed near his house, and one of the first "V-bombs" landed near his pub.) I was brash enough in those days to get into an argument with some of the Londoners about the location of "Big Ben" although I had never been to London. Not surprisingly, I was wrong! Also among the orderlies there was a Welshman, naturally called "Taffy" by the other Britons. Among the patients were East Africans; they were white, of course; in those days the British Empire was even more racist than the U.S. One of my fellow patients was recovering from flamethrower burns received while demonstrating one of those terri11e devices before high-ranking officers. Fortunately he was not seriously injured, and was recovering nicely. There was a Norwegian pilot, flying for the RAF, who had become a patient by landing a Spitfire upside down on some maharajas estate, and was wearing a body cast as a result. As the only "Fly Boys" in the place, we became good friends.
A Royal Marine was a patient. How he happened to b stationed on the plains of India, I dont remember; I do remember that he had some sort of infection, and was the first person I knew to treated with the new wonder drug, penicillin. For three days he lay with his leg strapped to a board while the drug was dripped through a needle into his big toe. His big ambition at that time was to curl up into a "little ball" and go to sleep.
There were Indian soldiers working in the hospital and one of the doctors was an Indian; another was Canadian. The nurses (called Sisters) were English.One fellow patient had been a British merchant seaman, had been torpedoed, and had refused to sail again. Promptly drafted, he eventually found himself in Burma in a desperate battle, his unit surrounded by Japanese for days, and ultimately had had a breakdown. No one told, me of his condition; early the morning after he moved in to the ward with me he woke me by calling over to me that there was a "snake " under my bed. Since I had just arrived from an area in which cobras and kraits were not uncommon, I took him at his word and yelled for in orderly. After a thorough search revealed nothing, his condition was made known to me; from then on, his descriptions of little men sitting on the foot of my bed, etc. did not bother me. When I first became a patient I noticed several orderlies in British uniforms whose accents seemed out of place. It developed that they had the saddest stories of all. These were former members of Mussolinis army in North Africa. They had been captured by the British at Bardis in January, 1941, over four and a half years before. Italy had surrendered and deposed Mussolini in mid 1943. The country was seized immediately by German troops already in place. Some time after that, the British Army, in India at least, offered some of their Italian prisoners from the African campaign (after screening) the opportunity for limited freedom in return for work. These men could get passes to Raniichet, etc. and as I recall, were paid according to their military grades. Their big problem was that that they had had no word from home in years, during which time the war had traveled almost completely up the Italian peninsula, destroying everything in its path. They did not know if family members were alive or not.
It was interesting, when I became an outpatient, to go to Mass at the very small Catholic church in Ranikhet. The priest was an elderly Italian missionary (the British apparently had left him free, even though they had been at war with Italy a short time before) one of the altar boys was an Indian, the other an Italian ex-prisoner of war, and all (including the multi-national congregation) celebrating the Mass in the language (Latin) in which they had done so at home.Incidentally, I got into a friendly argument with one of the Italians about the pronunciation of classical Latin with one of the Italians. He spoke of the orator "Chichero" and I told him the proper pronunciation was "Kikero". He called the Roman general, later Emperor, "Julius Chesar"; I pointed out that the correct pronunciation vas "Julius Kaisar". Years later my high school Latin teacher got a good laugh out of this story. He told me we were both right; that I was using first century pronunciation and that Sergeant Bucci was talking about the third century.
The Italians taught me a card game called "Seven-and-a- Half", which closely resembled Black jack. I did not have beginners luck. I was able to retain only enough to buy rations for the two-day train trip back to Calcutta from whence I could catch a plane to Myitkyina.
Rounding out the cast of characters at the hospital was a troupe of Phesus monkeys who made a circuit through the area, and who announced their arrival by landing on the tin roof and bounding across, to the frustrated barking of dogs belonging to the staff.
Life in the hospital vas extra comfortable for me. Every couple of days, the American Red Cross sent to the hospital from the rest camp two dozen cup-cakes, two dozen candy bars, and a carton of cigarettes. These were to be distributed to the Americans at the camp, which, most of the time, was me! I didnt smoke, and even I couldnt handle that quantity of sweets; my generosity with my spoils did not hurt my popularity at all.Once or twice there would be another American patient. All that I recall were the result of horse-back injuries. One of the recreations available to those at the rest camp was to rent a retired cavalry horse from its Indian owner for one rupee (.30) per hour. Most of the vacationing, riders were not very skilled; the results were inevitable. One day while I was still bed-ridden, the Welsh orderly came into the ward and announced, "The Americans just dropped an Atom Bomb on Iwo Jima", I wondered why we had done that, when we had completed the conquest of the island some months before. A short time later, Trumanss voice on the radio cleared up that point
One of the great attractions of Ranikhet was that from there could be seen, Nanda Devi, one of the worlds highest mountains. During most of my stay in the hospital the visibility was poor but before I left for one great day, the air cleared, and there was the mountain. Although seventy-five miles away, it seemed very close. What came through the thin mist was only the sun reflected from the snowy outlines of the mountain, those areas not covered by snow were not visible. The appearance was of an enormous crystal mountain.
I stayed in the hospital for the announcement of the Japanese surrender, for the official signing of the surrender documents on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, and during the election which unseated Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of Great Britain (at which point I indicated to my British friends that their country was out of its collective mind).
When the announcement was made that Lend-Lease was ending, I, as a representative of the United States Government, took some heat, but I assured everyone that this was just a technicality; that by law Lend-Lease was only to last for the duration of the war, and that something would take its place. (Ive always felt that someone from Britain or Italy or Norway eventually reported my promise to Secretary of State George Marshall, forcing him to create the "Marshall Plan".)
The whole time I was overseas, Muriel and I tried to write each other every day. Because she did not know I was in the hospital until Doctor Casey, from the American rest camp, wrote to her, the flow was interrupted, until finally, on one great day I received about thirty letters from her, along with a number of letters from my mother and others.
With the wars end I became apprehensive about being away from my squadron and having it go home without me. As a soldier attached to no unit, I could become the last man left in the China-Burma-India Theater. It turned out that I need not have worried; instead of going home, after I rejoined the squadron we went to Shanghai to fly Chinese Nationalist soldiers to Peking (now Beijing) to receive the weapons of the defeated Japanese. We were lucky; we lost only one man during this operation and not to flying, but to meningitis.
While in Shanghai, I got the great news that Al O'Neill III had arrived. A telegram to that effect had followed me from Myitkyina to Shanghai by way of New Delhi, India (Theater Headquarters) taking ten days for the journey.
In mid-December we sailed for home from Shanghai, leaving our planes still flying, manned by "low-point" crews, and arrived in Seattle on December 29, 1945, to find the "WELCOME VICTORS" sign turned off. What did we care? We were home!
Aloysius "Al" M. O'Neill Jr.
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I am looking for former members of the 3rd Combat Cargo Group, 1st, Combat Cargo Group, 2nd Combat Cargo Group and the 4th Combat Cargo Group. In fact I would like to hear from anyone who flew over the Hump during WW II, or flew any Combat Cargo Missions at any time (Berlin Air-Lift, Korea, etc.)
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