The event of today's column is not an “exact” one in military, but is close enough. On April 2, 1942, the U.S. Army officially began the India-Burma Campaign of WW II. As the war expanded, it evolved into the more well known China-Burma-India, or CBI, Campaign.
The event of today's column is not an "exact" one in military, but is close enough. On April 2, 1942, the U.S. Army officially began the India-Burma Campaign of WW II. As the war expanded, it evolved into the more well known China-Burma-India, or CBI, Campaign.
Not a lot of battles were fought and none is easily recognizable today, but the troops who fought in the "Green Hell" of that far off jungle region remember it well.
The most famous American fighting unit in the CBI was in the air rather than in the jungle below. The American air unit in the area, the 14th Air Force, was commanded by Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault, and is much better known today as the "Flying Tigers."
The most famous ground unit was a small force commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill. It had a four-digit number and was called the Mars Task Force. It is not mentioned in the Army's official history book, but is known today as "Merrill's Marauders."
I've never met a Marauder, but there has been one listed for several years on the planning committee for the Mid-Continent Public Library's annual Veterans Salute. He's never been to a committee meeting nor to a Salute. I'd certainly love to meet a veteran of the famed unit.
The only battle listed in the official history is the Battle of Myitkyina, in Burma, which was the key point in the Japanese defenses in northern Burma. Allied forces captured it in August 1944, but by then the effort in Burma had been relegated to a subsidiary role. So much for glory.
Another well known happening in the CBI was the unbelievable engineering feat of building a road through the jungle and across the mountains. It was known as the Ledo-Burma Road, and provided a ground link between Ledo, a city in Assam Province, India, with a trace of the old Burma Road inside China.
Prior to its completion all supplies for units operating in China had to go by air, and became known as "flying the hump." I worked with a lieutenant colonel at Fort Meade, Md., who as a teenager had been a crewmember in a cargo aircraft that flew the hump.
He didn't have much to say about his experiences, but did have the leather jacket Army Air Corps crewmen wore. He promised it to me, but never delivered. He finally said his daughter wanted to wear it at college, and gave it to her boyfriend. So much for preserving history.
Due to several factors there were never many American troops in the CBI. American leaders, such as Gen. Joseph Stilwell and Maj. Gen. Albert Wedemeyer, had to deal with Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, who battled both the Japanese and Chinese communist troops under Mao Tse Tung.
The only person in the Leavenworth area I met who was in the CBI was the late Dave Smith of Lansing, who as a young lieutenant flew fighter aircraft against the Japanese. Some of his tales were quite unbelievable, and I enjoyed listening to him reminisce.
If there are any other CBI vets out there reading this, please give me a call. I especially want to track down the Merrill's Marauder vet across the river. That will get high priority when the eternal snows finally abate.
I sponsored a student from Burma several years ago but he was not a history buff and knew nothing about where WW II actions had taken place. The most recent news from Burma is that just before the war ended the British Royal Air Force buried some aircraft somewhere in Burma, and a couple of teams have been trying to find them.
At last report none had been found. My guess is that after almost 70 years, the inhospitable Burmese jungle has swallowed them up.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.