A WWII Pilotís Selected Experiences on the Ground
What was your first memory of the war? I arrived in Calcutta on a Saturday afternoon, and I went to the pilotsí living quarters on Dum Dum Air Drome. Itís interesting that you remember that that was a Saturday night. That was over 60 years ago. Well, it was kind of impressed on me. The following morning I woke up and could hear boom, boom, boom. I got up and went outside and right over my head there were 125 Jap bombers with their bomb bays open. They were hitting the harbor. They were after one particular ship. They must have had advanced warning that the ship was carrying blockbuster bombs, 2000 pound bombs. They missed it? No, they actually put 200 holes in the ship. But the bombs were stored clear down in the hold, below the water level. None of them exploded. They were lucky. Youíre darn right. If those had gone off, Calcutta would have been out of business for quite a while.
Tell me about the photo you have with the tiger on the jeep. Well, tigers are a rare thing, even over there. So they donít kill them ordinarily, unless they have to. But when one gets too friendly and starts coming into the native villages and is not afraid of humans anymore, they consider him dangerous. The local warden issues a license to hunt him. This tiger had started killing animals so they knew the next thing would be humans. The average American doesnít realize how powerful the Bengal tigers can be. The villages are surrounded by a log wall 8-10 feet high. The tigers would come into a village at night, jump over the wall, kill a cow, and jump back over the wall with the cow. They are powerful animals! They were known to kill a water buffalo by hitting itís head with their paws, crushing their skulls. Sounds unbelievable. They are big animals. Anyway, a pilot, Fuzzy Ball (Captain Sherwin T. Ball) was his name, got the permit to kill the tiger. They knew where the tiger was roaming, as tigers cover about the same area every night. So Fuzz and one of the native trackers went out during the day and built a platform up in the tree. They tied a young goat below the tree, hoping to attract the tiger. They knew the goat would be blatting all the time and the tiger would come to it. Dark came and they got in the tree and they were up there for several hours when finally they heard a noise. They shined light down and there was the tiger. So Fuzzy shot him with a 12 gauge shotgun with lead slugs. The slug went through his chest on one side, right in his heart. Where the slug went it, you could stick your thumb. But where it came out, you could put your whole fist. It tore that big a hole in him. Well, the tiger took off into the jungle. At night, you donít go chasing after a wounded tiger without lights, so the boys stayed up in the tree until morning. They came back over to the house and rounded up a bunch of guys. We all grabbed a weapon of some sort. We had tommy guns, rifles, pistols; we were well armed. This native tracker went with us and we tracked down the tiger. The tiger had finally died, but he had run several hundred yards into the jungle, even with a hole in his heart. He had gone into a bamboo thicket and died there. That tiger was big enough that it took four of us to carry him. We couldnít drive the jeep in since the jungle was so thick. When we got him out, we laid the tiger on the hood of the jeep and he was touching the ground on both sides of the jeep. Then the fun started. Evidently the tiger whiskers must be a religious symbol and good luck. He werenít paying attention and when we were driving along, the natives were coming out and cutting off the tigerís whiskers. Fuzz didnít want that to happen because he intended to have the tiger mounted. Of course, he wanted the whiskers on the tiger. We had a fight, because they were going to get the whiskers if they could. We got him back and Fuzzy took the tiger to a taxidermist in Calcutta. But he was killed a week later, and we never heard what happened to the tiger. I imagine the taxidermist sold the tiger for payment, when no one claimed it.
What can you say about General Stillwell? Well, as far as I was concerned, he was a real hawk, a real strong man. He was a tough old boy. He scared the pants off me one day. I was in Kunming and I had gone into the mess tent to get a sandwich. I stepped out and looked up the isle a ways. Here was an old man walking up toward me. Not a stitch of insignia on him. He had his old campaign hat on and was carrying a rifle, but no rank at all. Well, we had been having a lot of problems recently. We had lost 8 airbases to Japs. Things just werenít going well at all, and we had heard that they were running short of recruits at home. I saw him and the first thing that came to my mind was, ďMy God, are we in such bad shape that they are sending old men with a rifle over here to fight?Ē Well, it happened that I had picked up one of the GIs in the jungle, one of Merrillís Marauders, and I was hauling him back. I mentioned something to him. He started laughing and said, ďDidnít you know who that was? I said no, I didnít recognize him. Well, that was old Vinegar Joe (General Stillwell).Ē Then I realized that was how he was. He was a four star general, but never wore any insignia.
Tell us about Merrillís Marauders. Well I hauled a bunch of them out of the jungle. They went through hell. Not many survived, I know. They were a volunteer unit. When they signed up, they had been told they would be over there for 30 days on a special assignment to drive the Japs out of one area. They were all ground fighters. Well, as it turned out, they werenít there 30 days. Some of them were there 30 months, living in the jungle. Almost all of them had malaria, dingy fever, dysentery, Ö. Dysentery you had all the time, that was normal. You had that all the time. Those guys really had a tough time down there in the jungle. It was so bad down in the jungles that, if anything moved you couldnít see it, so they just shot it. They didnít wait to see what it was Ė an animal, an enemy, or an American. They just shot it. It was that treacherous. Some of those guys just went berserk. They had a lot of trouble with them they came back to civilization. They would get into the taxi cab in Calcutta and if the driver shorted them a little on change, they would just shoot them. They were just kill-crazy. They had had to kill everything just to stay alive. I felt so sorry for those guys. I had to fly a bunch of them out of the jungle. In fact, the set of the binoculars that I have, one of those guys gave it to me.
You also told me a story about an American soldier who purposely drove over an Indian. It happened in Dum Dum airport in Calcutta. I was just leaving the airport. There was a military 6x6 truck. Well, he drove over a native. This native was in the ditch, still kicking. The truck driver looked back and saw he was alive. He just backed the truck over him to make sure he was dead. Then he just drove off. I didnít understand it at the time, but later I understood why. This had been happening frequently that natives were injured by reckless, careless GIs. There were many accidents. They were in a big 6x6 truck and could bust their way through. These were Americans? Ya, American GIs. So, a military regulation was put in place that required the soldiers, if they injured a native, to pay the hospital bill or the funeral bill, whichever was required. Well, of course, the funeral bill just cost $6, since they just took them to the burning pile. But a hospital bill might cost them several hundred dollars. So this guy was going to make sure it didnít cost him more than $6. Believe me, this may sound terrible, but, honest to God, it I had been armed at the time, I would have shot him. I really would. Because he deliberately killed that man in the ditch. It just happened that I didnít have my weapons with me. Did you turn him in? Ya, but what could you do? I donít think anything ever came of it. That is pretty sickening.
There was another time when some Chinese soldiers threw a fellow soldier into a well. That was in Myitkyina. I had flown into there with a load of supplies. I went into the mess tent to get a sandwich. When I came out and there was a whole bunch of Chinese soldiers standing around a well. That was the drinking water for the village. It was built up with 2-3 feet of rock. They had picked up a fellow soldier and thrown him into the well. He was screaming and hollering, yelling his head off. They were standing up there, dropping rocks down on him, laughing at him. One of them just pulled a pin in a grenade and threw it down the well. They just dropped it in. They had no regard for life. Twenty five cents would buy anyoneís life over there. It is just a different way of thinking. Yes, their philosophy is totally different.
Tell me about the battle at Teng Chung. Ya, that was one of the biggest battles in the region. The Chinese had a base at Teng Chung and the Japanese took it over. The battle went on for days. The two armies fought and there was an air battle also. Before they were through, there were over 15,000 dead. About half Japanese and half Chinese? Roughly. I think they figured about 8,000 Chinese and 7,000 Japanese. It was over in the hot jungle and after a few days, you could smell it before you ever got there. They had commissioned some of us to fly supplies in there to what was left of the Chinese army. We did. Suddenly bubonic plague broke out. There were dogs dragging the bodies around and rats crawling everywhere. They hired the local Chinese to stack them up. They made two huge stacks longer than this room and twice as high. They stacked 15,000 bodies just like cordwood. With the hot weather you could tell it. When the plague broke out, we thought it was due to the rats. But after the war, we found out that the Japanese actually went in and distributed the bubonic plague. Biological warfare? Yes, and that was the only place in the war where I saw gas being used. Many of the Japanese had gas masks. So the bodies were burned? Well, they tried to. They poured gallons and gallons of diesel fuel on them, but they wouldnít burn. So they just stayed there. Eventually, the dogs and rats and wild animals dragged them off. And the ants would eat flesh. If there was a body lying there a couple days, it would be cleaned to the bones. Not a stitch of meat on it.