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
July 15-18, 1945
Sgt. Aloysius 'Al' M. O'Neill Jr.
| On July 11 1945, I had accumulated 44 hours of
operational flying time for the month. This was more than most of the other radio
operators of the 10th Combat Cargo Squadron had flown that month, and caused some envious
comments, since the operational hours flown (and earlier, the "combat" hours
flown) affected the date of ones return to the States. (The required number of hours
changed from time to time according to the number of replacements available, etc.) I had
no explanation for my "streak", and I certainly didnt know that my wartime
flying was within a few hours of being over. My next flight would be on Sunday, July 15th,
Our general mission had been changed,
on about June 1, from supplying troops in the forward areas in Burma to hauling material
(mostly gasoline) from Burma to China in preparation for a great offensive against the
Japanese in China. (As it turned out, the Atom Bomb could make the offensive unnecessary).
With the change in assignment the Squadron had moved from Dinjan, Assam Province, India, to Myitkyina, Burma, and our C-47s had been replaced by C-46s which could carry a larger load. On the Sunday morning on which this story began, I skipped breakfast, then went to a chapel near the airstrip (which was one of the four strips near Myitkyina, called North Myitkyina- control tower call sign Y 0 "Yoke Oboe"). At about 0700 I reported to the Operations Office, and at 0730 we were taking off.
Our destination was Yang Kai, near Kunming, China. I was pleased at this, because I had eaten at that base on weekdays and the food there was the best of any of the fields in the area to which we were flying. I assumed that Sunday lunch would be even better.
Our cargo, as usual, was gasoline. It was contained in 30 steel drums securely tied down along both sides of the cargo compartment. (On many occasions, as we climbed to the altitude necessary to cross the mountains between Burma and China, the reduced pressure on the outside of the drums would cause one or more of them to leak, causing a tiny stream of gasoline to shoot out. We simply untied the defective drum, rolled it to the door, and pushed it out. It is an indication of my ignorance that these leaks never caused me any serious concern).
The crew, as usual, consisted of Pilot, Co-Pilot, Flight Engineer (Crew Chief), and Radio Operator, me. The plane was a C-46, of a fairly late model, whose call number was "Army 164".
Because of the heavy air traffic along our route, all Kunming area-bound planes flew east-southeast for approximately one hour, then headed east-northeast for our destination. Returning planes flew approximately due west. The round trip was thus a triangle, and the chances of meeting another plane head-on was decreased. The height of the mountains required that we fly at an altitude of at least 14,000 feet whenever visibility was low, as it usually was in summer. On this new assignment we flew under Air Transport Command rules, which were resented by our pilots because they had enjoyed the freedom of our forward supply days.
It was probably raining; anyhow we very on instruments shortly after take-off. This was normal for the area and the time of year.
My duties were simple. They consisted of keeping a log of landings and take-off times, handling cargo manifests, and reporting each check-point twice, once to A.A.C.S.(Army Airways Communication System), the network of stations which controlled all traffic on Air Transport Command routes, and once to "BICYCLE", our own Squadrons ground station. In an emergency I, like all other radio operators in my squadron, preferred to put my faith in BICYCLE, since the operators there could be expected to take a more personal interest in their friends welfare. I also encoded and sent messages as directed by the pilot. All of my radio transmissions were by voice, instead of Morse Code. (Four months, four hours a day learning Morse Code at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, down the drain).
We had reached the southeast checkpoint, that is, the southern corner of the triangle formed by our round trip route, and I had reported to both stations, AACS last, when the right engine backfired and quit. I re-tuned the transmitter and receiver to BICYCLE in record time and notified the station of the situation. The pilot had already begun heading back to Myitkyina. After a few minutes he was able to re-start the right engine. At the pilots direction, I notified BICYCLE of that fact, and after a brief wait, we were told to hold our course for return to Myitkyina. Almost immediately the right engine quit again. I told BICYCLE of this new development, then, at the pilots command, went aft to the cabin with the co-pilot and crew chief to throw out the cargo.
Although we were at 14,000 feet, 4,000 feet above the altitude at which oxygen was required under Air Force rules, none of us stopped to pick up the walk-around bottles of oxygen which were available to us, but simply pulled off our masks and left them hanging, connected to the planes oxygen supply. We opened the left side passenger door, which was built into the cargo door, and which swung inward on hinges fastened at the top, instead of outward as the cargo door did. (Incidentally, opening the cargo door during flight while in a panic situation was not unheard of, and I knew of at least one instance in which crew chief was almost yanked out of a C-46 when the unlatched cargo door was pulled violently open by the slipstream.) Working at top speed, we loosened the lashings holding the 30 drums of gasoline in place, rolled them to the door, and pushed them out. On other occasions, while jettisoning a single drum due to leakage in flight, we had stared at it as it picked up speed in its downward journey, dwindling in size until it vanished completely, but on this day, even had we been so inclined, the visibility would not have permitted it.
Our squadron had experienced a few rough single-engine landings; fearing that we might be heading for one, I disconnected the destructor device in the IFF (Identification- Friend or Foe). The IFF was a device which showed a special signal on any Allied RADAR, to indicate that the aircraft being detected was friendly. The destructor, which acted on impact triggered by an inertia switch, destroyed the circuitry inside the device, so that if the aircraft crashed in enemy territory, the enemy could not duplicate the signal for his own aircraft.
Naturally, the exertion of dumping out the drums at that altitude without oxygen took its toll and the three of us were completely exhausted as we slumped back into our seats.
I had just put my mask back on and switched to pure oxygen to revive myself, and had just taken the first few breaths, when the left engine backfired and quit. I grabbed the microphone, squeezed the button, and yelled out the call signs without waiting to see if the air was clear as I normally would have done. I added "BOTH engines out!", and hung up the mike. I had heard the pilot shout "Get those chutes on!", and I needed no urging! I have since wondered at my lack of hesitation about jumping, but I certainly felt none. I was hastened on by the fact that I had glanced at the altimeter and thought I read "1500 feet" and assumed we had lost a lot of altitude during the ditching of the drums.
I ran to the rear of the cabin where the crew chief was unbuckling the harness of one of the four parachutes and getting ready to put it on. (Someone had thoughtfully buckled all of the chutes.) Mainly to slow down and get a grip on myself, I helped him buckle his chute on. Then I unbuckled mine and put it on. When I moved to the door, the crew chief had already opened it, and he and the co-pilot were standing there. As I got there, the pilot, who was still at the controls, rang the bell which was the signal to jump. I interpreted this to mean that he wanted us to go immediately so he could leave the controls and get his chute on. I figured he was getting anxious, so I said "Ready? Lets go!" to the crew chief (noting how pale his face looked under the "atabrine tan" we all had, and realizing that mine looked exactly the same). I then turned and stepped out of the door.
Having read "1500 feet" on the altimeter, I had been expecting the plane to hit the ground at any moment and as soon as I cleared the door I immediately yanked the "D-ring", to which the rip-cord is attached. There was an instant of shock when I realized that the rip-cord (a steel cable) had come out completely (this was normal, but I didnt know that); immediately there was a flash of white and the chute was open. My first feeling was one of relief that I hadnt hit the ground yet; I dont remember the sharp jerk which is supposed to occur when the chute opens.
I watched the plane disappear into the mist, beginning to fall off to the left. I saw two chutes open, but I guess the plane was out of sight in the mist by the time the pilot jumped. I yelled over to the nearest chute but the distance was too great for its occupant to hear me.
About this time I became sick from a combination of excitement, hard work, lack of oxygen, and now, the swinging of the chute. At some point in our training we had been given verbal instructions on how to stop swinging, but when I tried to apply what I remembered, the swinging only got worse. I swung so wildly that my body seemed almost as high as the chute, and the edge nearest the ground curled up. I thought it might collapse, so I gave up my efforts to control the swinging. The chute was the seat-pack type, with a canvas seat filled with a felt pad about two inches thick. (Various survival items were packed in cut-outs in the felt.) After the chute was open, the user was supposed to grab the straps that connected the harness to the shrouds and pull himself up onto the seat. It didnt work for me, and I wound up "sitting" on the harness strap which passed between my legs; I could not get into a comfortable position. All in all, not a pleasant ride.
Somewhere on the trip down, I became aware that I had obviously misread the altimeter. I learned later from the pilot that we had actually been about 11,500 feet, instead of 1500 feet as I had believed from my quick glance at the altimeter. However, he also told me that just before we jumped, the control tower had informed him that our "critical" altitude was 11,000 feet, so my concern, though not founded in fact, was not misplaced. (I might note here that the pilot had a very short range radio set for conversations with control towers, primarily for takeoff and landing directions; while the radio operators set had a nominal range of about 750 miles on voice transmissions, and was used to keep our base or the AACS network informed about where we were and what we were doing. Just before we jumped we had been close enough to our base for the pilot to be in radio contact.)
As it turned out, we were clear of the high mountains when we jumped so our trip down probably covered 10,000 feet or so. It takes a long time to float down that distance in a parachute, but eventually I came out of the overcast, probably when I was still several thousand feet above the ground. The terrain below was hilly, and pretty well covered with trees, bushes, bamboo, etc.
Just south of Myitkyina the great Irrawaddy river makes a wide sweeping bend. I had flown over this area enough so that when I saw the bend, although it was many miles away, I was able to place my position very roughly, and also to orient myself as to direction. South of the spot for which I was heading I could see the thatched roofs of a small village. I was no great judge of distance from the air, but the village appeared to be at least a couple of miles away.
Although traveling by parachute seems slow when youre a long way up, the ground comes up fast during the last few seconds. I landed on a slope which was covered with growing bamboo, and carpeted by about 6 inches or so of humus. It would be impossible to pick a better landing spot; the soft green bamboo slowed my fall, and the humus was a perfect cushion.
As I sat there and looked around, a line from Longfellows poem "Evangeline" popped into my head: "This is the forest primeval". I wondered if I was the first human being to be in that exact spot; certainly I was the first white man.
The chute had hung up in a tree growing next to the bamboo stand, and I pulled it down, then instantly wondered if I had made a mistake; if it wouldnt have made a good marker for a searching aircraft. I concluded that it would be better to find a clearing than to stay in that area of dense thick cover where it would be hard for a search plane to spot me.
I had come down on one side of a ridge; the others in the crew had come down on the other side. I was afraid that I would not be able to find them if I crossed the ridge and I would just waste valuable time and strength looking for them. I was inside the angle of what appeared to be an L-shaped ridge, running south and also west from the angle. Across a valley, I could make out a clearing on the opposite slope, more or less southwest of my position. I decided to make my way to that clearing. I figured I could be spotted there from the air. That route would also take me in the direction of the village, although I had almost no expectation of being able to find it, given the thickness of the undergrowth.
At that point I wasnt thinking of walking out. A short time before, I had seen my first helicopter take off near the North Myitkyina airstrip, and I had heard that an acquaintance of mine in another squadron had been picked up by one after a bail-out. I was expecting the same sort of treatment. After I got back I learned that the helicopters had been moved to China.
-------------------------Note--------------------------------- The above was written about ten years after the events described, when everything was a lot fresher in my mind. What follows is being written in 1996. I still remember most of what happened, but the sequence of events may be a little confused.
Before starting out, I examined my emergency kit, which was packed in the felt pad which formed the seat of the parachute harness. There were fishhooks and line, matches in a waterproof container, a compass, a folding machete, a book, "HOW TO SURVIVE IN DESERT, JUNGLE, AND ARCTIC, (the language described in the book was Eastern Eskimo; nobody believes that, but its the truth) a container of water-purifying tablets, and a very large bar of tropical chocolate. Of course I also had approximately 500 square feet of white silk and an almost unlimited supply of line from the shrouds. What I didnt have was my cartridge belt, with trench knife, canteen, pistol and cartridges, all left behind in my haste to leave Army 164.
I bundled everything in the silk except the compass and the machete, made a back pack of the bundle, and started out for the clearing across the valley. I did not want to go directly down through the valley because I assumed that there was a stream running through the bottom of it. I assumed also that predators would be waiting along the stream for animals which came to drink. I did not feel competent to tackle a tiger or leopard armed only with a machete. As well as I could make out, the valley was closed at its south end, so I decided the best route would be to travel south at the same elevation on the slope, then maintaining the same elevation, to go vest and then north to the clearing. My path took me through fairly thick undergrowth, including some very thorny club-type plants similar to those we called "devils walking sticks" in coastal South Carolina. In various jungle movies I had seen intrepid explorers chopping their way through the brush with machetes, and had always considered it a sort of exaggeration; now I learned it was not, and was very grateful to whomever had decided to include a machete in the survival kit. Progress would have been very difficult without it. I traveled through the brush for perhaps an hour, keeping an eye on the clearing across the valley whenever visibility through the trees permitted. The slope on which I was walking had gradually became nearly level, and suddenly, to my immense relief, I stumbled into a totally different clearing! It seems to me now that it was not very large, perhaps thirty yards or so in diameter, and it was entirely filled with some kind of grass which was about shoulder high, but it was open, and I felt I could be seen from the air.
I trampled down enough of the grass to spread out the chute, and promptly fell asleep on it. I suppose that by now it was about 1100, and it been a busy morning.
(At some point in time, either on the way down or later. I realized that I had failed to re-connect the destructor in the IFF and that it could very well survive the crash. The fact that the nearest live, active Japanese soldier was several hundred miles away reassured me that no real harm had been done, but did not make me feel any better about my not having performed properly. I included my omission in my post-accident report and got a couple of questions about it when I appeared before the accident investigation board. Since I was promoted to Staff Sergeant shortly after this, I assume I was forgiven.
At about 1400 I was awakened by the sound of airplane engines. A C-47 was making kind of wide circles to the left over the nearby jungle, each circle slightly southeast of the one before, obviously a search pattern. As it came close to the clearing I ran around waving, but the pilots did not appear to see me. The clearing was so small and the trees around it so tall that, although I could see the pilots faces through the trees as the plane approached, the trees obscured their view of me. Just as the front of the plane cleared the trees its nose blocked their view. This occurred on several passes, until the circular pattern had progressed past the clearing, to my despair. Then I saw a crew member standing in the left side cargo door, and far more important, he saw me and waved. I felt that I was back in civilization.
The C-47 then made a direct pass over the clearing and dropped a note attached to a streamer. The note asked if all "five" of us were together, and directing me how to signal a reply, which I did. The C-47 then departed. This did not disturb me; I knew I would not be abandoned.
Shortly after the C-47 left, an L-5 (light single engine high-wing monoplane) arrived over the clearing. It came down to about tree-top level and dropped four olive drab cloth packets of the type which fasten to a web belt, all linked together. These landed under some bushes on the edge of the clearing, and, as I recall, contained first aid supplies including sulfa drugs.
Some time after the L-5 left, a B-25 approached the clearing, and after making one pass, came back and dropped from its bomb-bay a bundle with parachute attached. Since the chute and its contents were dropped as the aircraft was leaving the clearing, inertia carried it far beyond. I immediately took a compass bearing on the chute as it was descending and started out to search for it. Because of the terrain and the undergrowth it was impossible to move in an absolutely straight line. When I had gone so far that I became afraid that I might not be able to find "my" clearing again, I turned back to the clearing and started out again. I did this numerous times without success. I never did find the chute or its contents and Ive never been able to figure out why. Ive always felt that a C-47 could have made a closer drop. The B-25 cruises about 50% faster than the C-47.
A positive result of the failed search for the dropped supplies was that I discovered a path which was obviously well-traveled, right on the edge of the clearing. It was only about ten yards from my camp, but the high grass prevented me from seeing it.
I walked north on the path a few hundred yards and came to a very small hut of bamboo and thatch, just about large enough for a man to crawl into and lie down Since I had no idea whether or not it was some kind of shrine, I thought I should leave it alone. (I learned much later that the Kachins place these huts besides trails for the convenience of travelers.)
Just past the hut, the path crossed a very small stream. Since my canteen was still in the aircraft, I made a substitute by cutting a very large diameter bamboo stalk just above two adjacent joints to make a container, filled it with water, and used the purifying tablets, then secured my new canteen to my belt with a length of shroud. I was now assured of drinking water for the immediate future.
My next move was to prepare my camp for the night. With the machete I divided the chute roughly into two halves. One half I used as a ground cloth; the other I stretched over a bamboo frame for a tent. At some point I tried to make a fire using the "Eastern Eskimo" section of the guide book as tinder. Although it wasnt raining at that moment, it was the peak of the rainy monsoon, and everything was soaked; I couldnt get anything but the pages to ignite.
While I was setting up my tent, I saw the biggest snail I have ever seen. I thought briefly of capturing it, because later I might become hungry enough to eat it; and then I decided I had better let it go for just that reason!
After nibbling a little of my chocolate bar, I crawled into my tent and went to sleep. Sometime during the night I was awakened by a strange sensation in my ankles and lower legs. Reaching down to the affected area, I discovered that the skin in those areas was covered by a slippery soft mass. It was too dark to see, but I started pulling the stuff off, and discovered that my legs were being drained by leeches. They had come in the bottom of the pants legs. This was one of my worst moments. After I got rid of all of the leeches, as far as I could tell without light, I pulled my socks up over my pants legs and secured them with strips of silk. That seemed to work pretty well.
Military fatigue pants in those days did not have zippers; some leeches were able to pass through the space between buttons, and they took hold of the first flesh they encountered. That was considerably worse than having them on ones legs.
After disposing of the leeches, I went back to sleep. Monday, July 16, was a bad day; constant misty rain. I searched again for the supply parachute, but with no result. Since I was on the main route to the Kunming area, I heard many planes. Each time I would run back to the clearing from my search, but I knew that there was no chance of a plane coming to the clearing, given the poor visibility. A very disheartening day. The only good thing that happened was that I learned the source of the leeches; when I went back to the little stream to re-fill my bamboo canteen, I saw that every leaf near the stream had leeches on it, and that the leeches were in a variety of sizes, from as big around as a lead pencil to the thickness of a coarse hair. After I found out that the little predators were concentrated near the water, I had only at occasional trouble with them. Incidentally, my survival book advised that leeches not be pulled off; that would leave their jaws in the flesh. The preferred method of removal is to touch them with a cigarette or some gasoline, which will cause them to disengage their jaws and drop off. Survival in the jungle is easier if you have all the facilities of civilization at hand!
Having accomplished nothing on Monday except to reduce my chocolate bar a little further, I went to bed in my tent. At some time during the night I heard a loud crash somewhere nearby, as if a tree had fallen. I thought of elephants, but there was nothing I could do about them, and I sure didnt feel like investigating, so I went back to sleep.
From the very beginning of this incident my greatest concern was that word that I was missing would get to my family. I guess since I was spotted only a few hours after I left the plane, that wasnt likely, but still I was worried about it. I knew Muriel was expecting Al III, and I did not want to frighten her. Although I had been seen from the air, I had not been able to identify myself to the searchers; therefore I planned to make sure the next person to spot me would know who I was. I decided to build a bamboo platform higher than the grass in the clearing and spell my name on it in cloth strips.
Tuesday morning I went to the path, walked a few hundred yards south to a stand of bamboo, and began chopping out the raw material for the platform. When I paused for a moment, the sound of chopping continued. I looked behind me, and there was a young man walking along the path, idly chopping at bamboo with his machete (called a "dah"), as he walked along. He had a crew cut, and was wearing shorts and a G.I. fatigue jacket. Not exactly typical local dress. In my best "explorer meets native" style, I threw down my machete and held up my right hand to show that I was friendly. I had read somewhere that the common name for the predominant local tribe, "Kachin", means "bandit", and is used mainly by people of other tribes, so I asked him, "Jing Paw?" and he nodded. (Jing Paw means "Hill People".) These people were known to be very friendly to us. I then led him to my camp, trying at the same time to explain to him in sign language my situation. To keep his attention I offered him some of the fish hooks, which I did not think I was going to need.
We had just begun "talking" when we heard voices coming from the direction of the path. When we investigated, we found a middle-aged man and two teen-aged girls. They were all wearing traditional Kachin/Jing Pav dress. The man was wearing an open shirt and a calf-length wrap-around skirt, with a dahs in a sheath which was hung from a cord slung over his shoulder. He had long hair tied up in a knot on the side of his head and covered by a sort of turban. The girls were dressed about the same. except that they more sort of pull-over blouses, and did not carry dahs.
We began "talking" in sign language and I indicated I was hungry. The man immediately sent one of the girls down the path in the direction of the village I had seen from the air. I also indicated that I needed to be guided north to Myitkyina. The older man shook his head at that, and indicated an alternate; they would take me west to "moto" "Balenty Melican". I gathered they were talking about a road, maybe the Ledo Road. By signs I was invited to come to their village to sleep and we told that we would start out in the morning.
When the girl returned, she brought me food which resembled purple rice, wrapped in a leaf. She also brought salt, which was extremely kind, because it was very difficult for people in that part of the world to get salt. As near as I could make out, the purple rice was called "mahm", and salt was "tshum". At about this time I promised the older man a lump of salt as large as a men head when he guided me to some "Melicans".
I gave the girl a wrist watch to show my appreciation, after using signs to get permission of the older man. This was a watch which I had bought in Brazil on the way over, and which had stopped running before I got to the CBI. I had been carrying it with me with the thought of trading it for something or other if the opportunity arose. I thought it might have some value to her as a decoration.
I gathered up my belongings and we started out for the village. (Incidentally, helping me caused the cancellation of whatever plans the man and girls might have had for the day, because when we met, they had been traveling away from the village.)
We had gotten only a short distance outside the clearing and into the trees when I heard an airplane engine. I ran back to the clearing and at its edge, I slipped and fell, cutting the palm of my left hand on a stone. (I still have the scar.)
The plane was an L-5, and the pilot came down to treetop level, throttled back and yelled, "Use your radio!". So now I knew that the elusive parachuted package included a radio. The L-5 circled a time or too and dropped me a note, attached to a streamer, which read "Have the natives take you north to the river where we will have a party." This planted a ridiculous image in my mind of me emerging from the jungle at the river to find a table set, with a cake, and guests in party hats; this still comes to mind when I think about that message. I dont know who that pilot was, but obviously he and the other air crews who assisted me have my endless gratitude.
I tried again to convince my new friends to take me north, but persuading without a common language was a problem; any way, I decided that they knew what they were doing. After all, they knew the territory, so without much choice in the matter, I settled for being guided west to the road.
After the L-5 left, we resumed our journey to the village.
When we arrived at the village (undoubtedly the one I had seen as I was descending in the chute,) which consisted of about a half dozen dwellings, I was an instant celebrity, of course. Because the war had gone right through their neighborhood only a few months before, I felt sure that most of the adults had seen "Melicans" before, but perhaps not so close, and not actually to "talk" to. I explained with gestures a number of times how I came to be there; whether it was understood, I dont know. I did learn that their word for airplane was "bungdi" and that I had been flying in a "Melica bungdi" which was good, compared to a "Jamponee bungdi" which was bad.
The young man in the fatigue jacket disappeared when we reached the village, and I never saw him again.
There was one man in the crowd who seemed quite different from the others. Whereas everyone else had straight hair, his was bushy (I thought of a brunette Harpo Marx), and he didnt seem to speak the same language as the others; he seemed to make strange sounds. He remains a mystery to me.
After visiting with the whole village for a while, my host and I retired to his house. I was very impressed by the place, and still am. The entire structure was bamboo, with woven mat walls and a thick thatched roof. There were three rooms, one extending the length of the building on one side, the others each occupying half of the other side. It seems to me now that the big room was about 35 feet by 12 feet. I only glimpsed the other rooms through their doors.
The building floor was of split bamboo; as I recall it the rounded side was down and the top side was carefully smoothed. Bamboo grillwork enclosed the space under the house and chickens were kept there. This had the advantage of allowing the chickens to eat whatever food fell through the openings in the floor.
An opening about three feet square had been cut out of the center of the floor in the big room, and an earth mound had been built up from the ground below to floor level to fill the opening. This was the fire place. There was no chimney; smoke from the fire rose to the roof and leaked out through the thatch. Im sure that the smoke in the house helped keep the insects out. Although it rained a good part of the time I was there, I dont remember seeing any water leaking through the roof.
The big room had a door to the outside at each end. The openings were framed in bamboo what else?). The doors themselves were bamboo frames covered with matting. The doors swung on hinges made of bamboo strips wrapped around one of the vertical members of the door frame and the adjacent door jamb.
The ridge pole of the house extended several feet beyond the wall of the house to form an overhang, and there was a small porch under it. One or two steps led up to the porch.
I understand that the Kachins practice polygamy. I noticed that three women of the same generation as my host seemed to be living in the house. If they were all wives, they must have been in various degrees of favor, for one wore a decorated blouse and had silver jewelry around her neck, another had a decorated blouse and no jewelry, and the third only very plain blouse. There were a number of children of all ages present.
I gave the family half of my parachute; that evening the women were taking it apart, seam by seam, to use the silk. I also displayed, for their amusement, whatever belongings I had with me. The handle of my machete folded over the blade so it could fit more readily in the parachute pack; when I shoved my host how it folded, he took a couple of imaginary chops with it in that position and laughed. It didnt seem to him to have much value when folded.
I had read somewhere that people in other parts of the world could be amused by simple string tricks, so, using one of the shrouds from the pilot chute (the chute which yanks the main chute out of its container), I demonstrated one that I had learned as a boy. They seemed to be amused by it, so I taught them to perform it.
The evening meal was a stew which had some sort of meat in it. I was given a rather small portion (by American standards) which was fine with me, because I was afraid of getting sick before getting back to my base. (Incidentally, I dont remember being terribly hungry, even though I had nothing but a few bites of a chocolate bar between Saturday night and Tuesday morning, and not much after that.) The meal was served in dishes made from very large diameter bamboo sections.
When it was time to go to sleep, an apparently brand new woven mat was placed by the fire for me. The man of the house sat by the fire, placed some white powder in a spoon, and heated it until the powder melted. He then twirled the melted material into a small ball with a piece of wire and deposited it into a pipe containing some sort of leaves. He then proceeded to smoke. It was the first and only time Ive seen anyone smoke opium.
It was understood that we would start out early in the morning. I believe I slept pretty well that night because for the first time in three nights I vas dry and safe.
Wednesday morning it was raining pretty hard and I could tell that my host was having second thoughts about starting out. The evening before, by pointing at various possible locations of the sun, he had been able to state what time different events would occur. I learned that if we started out at about 9 A. M. we should reach "moto", the road, by sundown. Their word for "sun" was "shon"; whether that is the true Kachin word or simply my friends pronunciation of the English word, I dont know.
After some persuasion, and a slackening of the rain to a misty drizzle, I could see that my host was considering starting. He took from the wall a very large hat, made of woven bamboo strips and shaped like an inverted bowl, and began rubbing some waxy material over the outside, obviously to make it more rain proof. A short time later we were on our way in the light rain, my host, one of his sons, and I. Each of them was carrying a dah in its sheath and a basket, open at the top, on his back, supported by shoulder straps.
Before I tell the story of the journey to the "moto" I must state again that, while all these things happened, I am not sure I have them in the proper sequence.
Almost immediately after leaving the village we began going up a very steep ridge. Water from the constant light rain was running down the path making it very slippery. My shoes did not have much in the way of cleats, so for me it was sort of two steps forward one slide back. I cut a staff with which to help propel myself upward, and my companions, who were barefoot and doing fine, took some of my belongings to carry. This was a little embarrassing because they were about two-thirds my size, and one of them vas a good bit older.
Somewhere while climbing the hill, we picked up some leeches, and I learned that the Kachins name for leech is "wot". I also learned that they simply scrape wots off of bare legs with their dahs.
I had filled my bamboo canteen with treated water before leaving the village but had drunk it all during the climb. I was getting pretty thirsty when we crossed a stream high up on the slope. I figured at this altitude there was not much chance of human contamination so I dipped some water from this clear mountain stream and drank it without adding a purifying tablet. We proceeded another few hundred feet, and came to the top of the slope, where, to my surprise, there was a rice paddy with people working in it. My "clear mountain stream" was the overflow from the paddy. This made me very unhappy for I knew what they used for fertilizer. This quick drink of water caught up with me a week or so later, in the form of typhoid fever, but thats another story. Buffalo in the paddy were called "nga", I believe. After we crossed over the ridge, we entered a level area covered with the same tall grass which had covered my campsite. There were trees around but they were not close together. Somewhere along the way we crossed a large stream maybe thirty feet wide, but only about wai"" deep. Occasionally we passed between rice paddies.
We passed through several villages, in each of which someone came up to me and demonstrated by signs that he was having chills and that his head was throbbing. I assumed malaria was the culprit, and since I had plenty of Atabrine, either from my parachute kit or from the packets which had been dropped to me, I passed some out each time. I knew Atabrine couldnt hurt, and might do some good.
About the middle of the day we came to a one-room hut on the edge of a village. I followed my guides into the place and found a tiny old person in what appeared to be a Chinese army uniform, including cap, sleeping on the floor. I have no idea whether it was a man or woman. My older friend poked the person with his foot to awaken him or her, hereupon the little person got up and began to prepare a meal. It seems to me there was some place to sit, for which I was grateful. However, I believe I skipped the meal. I assume we were at the local restaurant.
Somewhere along the way we passed a man who folded his hands and bowed as he passed. My friend said to me the word "Tsahm" which identified the stranger as a Shan. These are tribal people who are quite different from the Kachins. Their main territory is somewhat south of where we were, but they sometimes lived at lower elevations in this area. We had been told we could not trust them as we could Kachins, as they were much more likely to turn us over to the Japanese to protect themselves. They are originally from Thailand, which was then called Siam; hence the name "Tsahm". I had seen them before, working at our airstrips.
At another location we met a single file of perhaps ten men carrying percussion-cap rifles which looked quite new. Years later I read that during World War II, boxes of unused Civil War rifles had been discovered in an arsenal in New York, and that they had been delivered to people who were potential guerilla fighters against the Japanese. Presumably the theory was that percussion-cap rifles were better than no rifles at all. Its possible that these may have been some of those weapons. American OSS people had been very effective in organizing Kachins to fight behind the Japanese lines. Of course, some months earlier the Japanese had been driven out of the area in which I was traveling.
Late in the afternoon we entered a thick forest on a fairly wide path adequate for vehicles. On this road we passed some abandoned trucks. I dont remember seeing any evidence of battle damage nor could I identify the makes of the trucks. I didnt spend any time looking at them. My friends indicated that these were "Jamponee" vehicles, and made signs like airplanes swooping down, and said "Melica bungdi" indicating that our air force had destroyed the trucks. Could be!
We were still in the same forest on the same trail when it began to get dark. It hadnt rained since morning, and I believe the moon was out. In any case, there must have been some light when we reached the vicinity of THE ROAD. There was a bridge at that location, and the first people we encountered were Chinese troops. I approached an officer; he spoke English, but when I explained my situation to him, he didnt appear too interested. Leaving him I walked a little closer to the bridge and found an Indian Army unit camped on the edge of the river. There was no British officer present, but when I told the ranking non-com my story, he sprang into action. I was carried bodily to a place to sit. They had just finished their evening meal of American C-Rations, but the sergeant had the cooks fire up their stove again to prepare dinner for my friends and me. He told me that there was an American ambulance station about a mile down the road, and sent several soldiers running across the bridge to tell the Americans about me. They returned very quickly; at the other end of the bridge they had met an ambulance taking some soldiers to Myitkyina for routine treatment; it would take me and my friends along. (I had to take the Kachins for their promised reward.)
On the ambulance ride to Myitkyina, I got the ambulance staff to write down the name of the bridge where we had been picked up. I wanted to make sure that my saviors were returned to the nearest location to their home.
The ambulance took us to the Operations Office at North Myitkyina air field. Accompanied by my friends, I walked in and told the soldier on duty my name, and added "I think youve been looking for me". From that moment on, everything vas out of my hands. I did find out right away that my crew mates had gotten together after the bail-out, and had gotten back the day before. They had gone to a river, built a raft, had it break up, built another one, and had eventually come to a location where jungle survival training was being taught! What a realistic demonstration!
(A few years ago, at a Hump Pilots Reunion. I saw some instructions issued to our unit which directed us, if lost in the jungle, to follow a stream; it would take you to civilization. I never saw those direction when it mattered. I still think it was smart to avoid the tigers.)
We were taken by jeep to the squadron medics tent and the squadron commander, Major Duch, was advised that his missing radio operator had turned up. When he arrived, he ordered one hundred silver rupees to be awarded to my friends plus one double carton of cigarettes for each of them. One of them murmured "tshum" under his breath, and I told Duch about my promise; he arranged for each of them to get a lump of salt as big as or bigger than his head from our cooks in the morning.
Naturally a large crowd gathered, overflowing the tent. Again, very briefly, I was a celebrity.
When we had first entered the Medics tent, he directed me to sit on his bunk. Since I had never seen my friends sit on anything, even when a seat was available, apparently preferring to stoop, I motioned them to stoop beside the bunk. My proud friends would have none of that! They sat on the bed beside me!
After I answered lots of questions, someone decided it was time to knock off for the night. We found an unoccupied tent near mine, and I saw that my friends were comfortable for the night. My four day furlough was over and I went to bed.
The next morning arrangements were made to start my friends on their journey home. I wanted to take them back to the same location where we had been picked up, and drop them off there, but someone higher up decided they should be taken to the British Civil Government officer and let him handle their return. Two of the squadron officers took my friends and me in a jeep to see the appropriate civil officer.
I described the situation to him. He told me that if this ever happened again, I had only to say one word, "Atsuya" which means "Government" and the "natives" would take me right to the nearest government office. Sounded like an oversimplification to me but he was an officer and I was an enlisted man, so I didnt say so. I had given the paper containing the name of the bridge at which we had been picked up to the older of my friends and he had put it away in his clothing; I now asked him to produce it, so the British officer would know where to take them. Of course I did this in sign language, which caused officer to say "You can cut out the comic opera business now, I can speak their language". I was tempted to say that Id gotten along pretty well with the comic opera business for a couple of days, but again "Rank has its privileges". In only a week or so I was to meet a number of very pleasant, courteous Britons; this officer was not typical.
Thinking of the unlocated parachute drop, presumably somewhere near my old camp, realizing there was probably plenty of medicine in it, and remembering that the instructions I had seen for sulfa drugs warned the taker to drink plenty of water (to avoid kidney damage, I believe), I asked the officer to tell them to do that if they found the medicine and took any of it. I have no idea if he told them that or not. I doubt if they were as important to him as they were to me. I have always wondered if they were properly taken care of after we left them. I regret that I never got a picture of them; I dont think I even knew their names. Certainly no other strangers ever did as much for me.
Aftermath: Over the next few days I learned details of my crew-mates experiences. My 45 caliber automatic pistol, belt and canteen were returned to me; the pilot had grabbed all of our belts before he left the plane. Cool customer! But then, he had read the altimeter correctly!
In accordance with the Army Air Force custom of the time, I presented the technician who had packed my parachute with a carton of cigarettes. His name was in the Parachute Log Book which was inserted in a pocket in the chute harness.
We were all required to submit reports of the accident and its aftermath, then we appeared separately before an accident investigation board. I received several questions about my disconnecting and failing to re-connect the destructor switch in the IFF, which I had mentioned in my report. I must have satisfied my interrogators, for I never heard any more about it, and I was promoted shortly afterward.
The pilot later told me that he had not mentioned ringing the "bail-out bell" in his report because he did not remember ringing it until he rang it as a test on his next flight.
On the theory that there was no harm in trying, I tried to apply for "per diem" pay for the time I was away from any military base. As I recall, the rate was $7.00 per day at the time, and, after all, every little bit would have helped. That effort did not get very far! It was pointed out to me very quickly that a radio, a carbine, and lots of other things were dropped to me; and it was not the Armys fault that I didnt find them. Not even mentioned was the cost of planes, crews, and fuel used looking for me!
I was offered a chance to go to rest camp and refused it, because I did not want to miss any more flying time than I already had. I was offered the opportunity a second time and decided to take it. Smart decision! The night I arrived at the rest camp I came down with fever, which was diagnosed as typhoid. (As I recall, the other crew members came down with various other diseases.) I was hospitalized in the cool Himalaya foothills, instead of in hot, humid Myitkyina, and the varied cast of characters in the hospital made my stay very memorable.
By the time I re-joined the unit in October after an extended hospital stay, the war was over, and Tenth Com-Car was getting ready to move to Shanghai, for a post-war job moving Chinese troops, but thats another story.
To my great relief I learned that I had not been reported missing.
When I got home after being discharged from the Army Air Force in January 1946, I discovered that I had become a member of the Caterpillar Club, an organization of those whose lives have been saved by parachutes. (The name comes from those caterpillars which let themselves down from heights on silk threads.) As far as I know, there is no formal organization with meetings, etc. I did receive a certificate, membership card, and caterpillar-shaped pin.
END OF STORY!
Aloysius M. ONeill, 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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