SAN ANGELO, Texas (BP) -- World War II was raging in Europe and all over the Orient. In March 1944, my turn came to enter training for military service.
In November that year, we boarded a troop ship in Los Angeles. Thirty-three days later we landed in Bombay, India. A year and a half later we boarded a troop ship in Shanghai, China, to return to the United States.
Most of what happened between those dates I have tried hard to forget. What is written here is worth remembering.
In Bombay we boarded a troop train and traveled to Ledo in the northeast corner of India near the border of Burma (now Myanmar).
From Ledo we traveled by truck convoy to Myitkyina near the center of Burma. On Dec. 25, 1944, we ate Christmas dinner standing at hastily built tables made of bamboo.
The next day we started the longest march of any Army outfit during World War II. Our objective was to recapture the Burma Road from Japan so that badly needed supplies could flow through to China.
On the day we started our march, we were ordered to throw away everything not absolutely necessary for the march. I was about to toss a little New Testament on the pile of discarded things when a Chinese soldier standing nearby said, "Soldier, don't throw that away. You are going to need it."
Surprised, I asked how he learned to speak English and how he knew about the Bible. He said that he had attended a school in China run by missionaries from the United States.
I kept the New Testament. He was right. I would need it.
There are not many of us left to tell the story. We were mostly just boys, only lately out of high school. We knew little about the meaning of life. We were about to start learning in the cruelest manner the meaning of death. We would wrap our dead in their GI blankets and bury them in shallow graves. There was no time for mourning. We would grieve later.
For now: Keep moving. Keep your eyes open. Keep your attention focused. Behind enemy lines there is no time for grief, hunger, homesickness. And you do not get tired.
Our supplies were dropped from planes by parachute. Sometimes the enemy beat us to the place of the airdrop.
When our mission in Burma was finally accomplished we were flown over the "hump" into China. Gen. Chiang Kai-shek had decreed that no foreign troops would fight on China's soil to liberate China from Japan. Our task would be to teach the Chinese troops how to use American weapons.
First we were to rest and recover from the months of fighting in Burma. We were camped near the city of Kunming in southwest China. Japan had lost Burma and now they began pushing harder than ever to take over all of China.
Our rest was cut short, too short. We were moved into central China to help deliver supplies to the Chinese troops. An airport near Chinkiang was enlarged to take care of the heavy traffic.
We were working 24/7 to unload the incoming planes. They carried everything from the nuts and bolts of war to pack mules and mule feed.
Orders came to evacuate. Japan was pushing hard and gaining rapidly. We were ordered to move out immediately.
Retreat, withdraw! From the American soldier's point of view, nothing in our training had prepared us for retreat. Not since we entered Burma had we retreated one foot. Now in China we were being ordered to retreat.
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