of Thomas Edwin Branch
Compiled by Edwin's son Harry Branch
March 1, 2012 -- an e-mail from Harry Branch: "Thanks to your CBI site, I was contacted by Jim Mathias from Goshen, Indiana. He read dad`s account on CBI stories and realized his dad came home on the same ship, the USS General JR Brooke leaving Calcutta in October 45. He had pictures and has shared with me. It is like being with dad on the way home. Dad passed in 2010. We are hoping to find a shipmate who is still around and get some real stories of the trip home. If you could plug that request it would be appreciated."
On November 19, 1919, the Senate of the United States rejected Woodrow Wilson`s proposed League of Nations. The failure of the United States to support this organization virtually ensured that the Great War of 1914-1918 would have to be repeated in 20 years or less.
Four days prior to the rejection of the League, in Paragould, Arkansas, William A. and Buelah E. Branch had welcomed their fourth child and second son into the post-war world. Thomas Edwin Branch, born 11-15-19, had already had his ticket punched for World War II. This was a round trip ticket that will take him to the shores of five continents en-route to or returning from his final destination in the most remote section of southern China.
Ed Branch sat down 82 years later and was asked an endless series of questions by his son, Harry. The question and answer session was video taped. The purpose was to document the travels and experiences that created the WWII journey of Sgt. Thomas E. Branch, 37103642, United States Army. This is a journey that was begun January 24, 1942 in Little Rock, Arkansas and ended with an honorable discharge from the service on November 9, 1945 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. The stops in between are the focus of this narrative.
This is intended to be a companion document to a 2 - hour video and will meet the final approval of Sgt. Branch before its final draft. Sgt. Branch, now 86, still lives in Paragould, Arkansas just a few blocks from his birthplace. However, he has been half-way around the globe and back again in service of his country. The written word is only a shadow of the spoken word that is secured in a lock-box at Regions Bank in Harrison, Arkansas.
Edwin Branch was in high school for his senior year in 1939 when the Germans attacked Poland on September 1. It was a logical assumption that he would never finish high school. Well, the war held off for the United States till 1941 and he finished school and went to work for the Bertig Company. The Bertig`s owned a chain of cotton gins with the home office in Paragould. Ed Branch had obtained the job of bookkeeper at the gin at Gobler, Missouri. At the gin, he worked up to 20 hours a day when the cotton was "in". At $17.50 a week, living in the back of the office, he was doing fairly well. Uncle Sam would soon come knocking!
On December 7, 1941 Ed had been to nearby Kennett, Missouri and was en-route home when he had a flat. Stretched out under the car with the radio still playing, he heard the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. When asked his thoughts upon hearing this news, "Good-bye, Ed, I knew I was gone." A draft notice was delivered in late December to his parents` home at 635 W. Garland St. in Paragould, Arkansas. In just a matter of days he passed the initial tests at Jonesboro and was now a GI in the making.
Ed stated that since FDR had said that the Coast Guard would never leave the United States that he even considered joining that branch of the service. He was later glad that he did not as the Coast Guard was the first thing he saw when he landed in India several years later.
But first things first, with draft notice in hand and having passed the test at Jonesboro, it was off to Little Rock on January 24, 1942. The trip was delayed just a bit while the bus was pushed-started because the battery was dead. The bus left from the "Old Post Office" on Court St. in Paragould. The journey to the United States` most distant theater of the war had begun. The journey would eventually end at the Paragould train depot that was situated about 3 blocks from the post office. The depot, however, was not to be reached before many miles and many experiences had come and gone, "there was just too much, I can`t remember it all."
At Little Rock, the Paragould inductees were sent to Camp Robinson. When asked if this was an adventure or a dreaded trip, here was the reply: "Dreaded-and well founded." The new recruit arrived with a letter of endorsement from his father which stated that he had "sterling good character." Ed never used the letter. At Camp Robinson, he was issued GI clothes and was told to wrap all his belongings in a brown paper sack, tie it up and mail it home. A friend from home finger printed him and told him not to volunteer for anything. He spent a great deal of time at Camp Robinson working in the post office re-addressing mail. Now it was time to ship out for the first time.
The draftees and volunteers left Little Rock and headed in all directions on troop trains. The new inductee had ridden on a lot of freight trains but this was the first time that he had ridden inside a train as a legitimate passenger. In the middle of the winter, Ed Branch arrived at Camp Grant, Illinois. He states that he never saw the ground during the 10 weeks that it took to complete basic training. Snow, ice, and frozen ground were the orders of the day.
Ed `s basic training was in the medical field, he was being trained to be a medic. He never became a medic but did use some of these skills at an Army induction center later in the war. Ed states that mostly they just marched and learned to apply splints at Camp Grant. Toward the end of the training, the troops went out on bivouac. It was around zero degrees and they slept on the ground with one bale of hay to split among a platoon. This may have been good training for Germany but that was not going to be his destination. Instead, he would spend over two years in China in or near Kunming, "The City of Eternal Spring." At Kunming, there would be mosquitoes and monsoons but ice was found "only one time, a thin sheet in the fire barrel."
At about the time that Ed left Illinois, the Japanese had taken Burma and French-Indochina (Viet Nam) and had cut off southern China from men and supplies except by air over the Himalayas from India. This was a more important event to shape his future. Burma and French-Indochina would now be home to airfields to harass the unwanted American Y-Force stationed in China.
Back on the train again and the next stop is Fort Knox, Kentucky. At Fort Knox, vegetables were the main item on the new GI`s plate in more ways than one. He drew a lot of KP and started as a dishwasher and then went to the vegetable room. He peeled potatoes in an electric peeler that looked like a washing machine. They were feeding 3000 soldiers, so there were a lot of plates to wash and potatoes to peel. He finally made it to the diet room where they prepared special meals for hospital patients. So far the war is still a distant threat. The next stop is Akron, Ohio. This is a much better assignment than Fort Knox and was a bright star in the war travels for Ed Branch.
The move to Akron started inauspiciously enough with Ed and 4 other GI`s arriving at 4:00 AM to a deserted town and then reporting to work to an empty building. They had no money, no place to stay, and now no place to work. Their orders were to report to the induction center on High Street. The 5 sought help at a recruiting office and were told that the entire office rotated between Akron and Clarksburg, West Virginia for two-week stints of service. The office and staff were currently in Clarksburg.
The recruiter fixed them up to live on credit at the Portage Hotel and they ate on credit at the corner café and waited for the office to return. Ed sent home for some money and paid up ASAP. The soldiers paid a dollar a night to sleep five to a room at the hotel. The picture soon became brighter. The job at Akron paid $450 to $550 a month. Out of this the GI`s had to provide for all their living expenses. "I would have joined up for 30 years if the Army would guarantee me that they would kick me out if I ever had to leave Akron." The stay at Akron was only temporary and Ed knew that this was just a stop before heading overseas at some time in the future.
"I saw just about everything that you can imagine at that induction center." It seems that a lot of the draftees were not very interested in serving while others cried if they were rejected. He stated that lots of the examinees had tattoos. One in particular brought back memories. The man had a tattoo of a caboose on his front torso. The caboose was attached to all kind of cars that lead around to his rear end. There was the engine on his butt with the caption, "Toot, Toot." The train was "going into the tunnel" the inductee explained.
It seems that one of the funnier stories happened on January 1, 1943. The center only processed African-americans one day a month and it happened to be New Year`s Day this time. Most of the draftees arrived hung-over or drunk. One of the regular staff was hung-over, also. The draftees had been vomiting and using the facilities fast and furious all morning. One of the workers vomited his false teeth into a commode. He reached in and plucked them out and placed them back in his mouth. When he realized what he had done he threw the teeth away and asked the doctors if he was going to die. This really added spice to the stories about Akron on the video.
For a while, Ed split time with the center at Akron and Clarksburg, W. Virginia. When at Clarksburg he stayed at the home of Tom Friend at 207 S. Second Street. Tom was a deputy sheriff. He and the other GI`s stayed upstairs for a dollar a night. They rode a bus to and from the two centers. The center at Clarksburg was located in the Carmichael Auditorium.
Most of the experiences at Akron were pleasant as war experiences go. Ed reports being approached at a bus stop by an irate mother who demanded to know why he was in Akron and her son had been sent somewhere else. She told him that if her son were in Akron then he could be home every night. Ed told her that he was not home every night. She became so agitated that he thought that she was going to hit him with her umbrella. Other experiences were better, if soldiers would go out in groups of two to eat, someone would almost always pick up the check for the soldiers. And there was always the fun of watching drunken inductees being hauled off to jail to wait for the next induction opportunity. Ed stated that he gave several a wide berth after having them make a call that routed the police over to pick them up for a brief visit to jail.
This job lasted about 18 months and then the GI`s were told that they were being replaced by limited service men and that they would train them and then be re-assigned. The real war was about to pay a visit. The next stop is Camp Butner, North Carolina.
Camp Butner is located about 25 miles from Raleigh. Ed described it as "out in the wilds what are you talkin about." At Camp Butner they trained and waited for orders. The rifle range was a targeted memory here. It was seven miles from the camp. This means fourteen miles round trip. On one trip back the GI`s had just sat down to dinner. The returning GI`s maybe got to eat two or three bites and they were rounded up and headed back to shoot again, "the general did not like their scores." This made 28 miles marching for the day with very little food. From that date forward, Ed carried a box of Hershey bars in his pack to ease these hardships. This evidences a life-long penchant for being prepared.
Ed also shared two stories that pretty well tell where his military philosophy was headed. "One day they got the bright idea that they were going to skin logs and line the ditches to make them look good. I was going about my business and chopping at it like this - from the side. This lieutenant walked up and told me that I was doing it all wrong. He got the ax and put it between his legs and started skinning. I told him that there was no way that I could do that without chopping off a foot. Well, he left and I went back to doing it my way and dad gum if he didn`t slip up on me again. He told me this was not the way to do it and how did I expect to be an axman if I didn`t do it right." I told him, "I didn`t come up here a qualified axman and I don`t expect to leave as one. If he said guard house once, I bet he said it 15 times." The first time it came a big rain the logs washed down the ditches into a big pile.
Another time he was on work detail and a captain walked by and the lead man saluted, which is all that is required. The captain asked him why he failed to salute. "The lead man saluted and that is all that is required." The captain asked if it would kill him to salute. "No, sir." Then he started and stopped the salute 2 or 3 times which caused the captain`s salute to stutter-step, also. The captain had a reaction about the same as the lieutenant. They may also remember these stories today. Ed states that there were two things that he could do very well and those were salute and do push-ups.
Pennsylvania was the next stop, Camp Shenango to be exact. Ed arrived on a troop train in the middle of the night. It had been cold on the train and they had run out of food the last day, partly because the train sidetracked many times to allow traffic to clear. So now, cold and hungry soldiers are sent to a barracks and told not to start a fire because they would not be there long. Then they were sent to another barracks and told not to start a fire and still no food-but promises of food. Finally, they were given cards that indicated how many shots they needed as they prepared to cross the great water. Ed states that the shot on the card was the only one that he DID NOT need and the medics were popping him in both arms and his knees almost left him for a moment.
The road from Paragould is headed east. The traveling soldier still does not know how far east it will really be before he "settles in" for the duration. The duration was the word that concerned him the most. He was told that he was in for the "duration plus six months". He knew what six months was but not the duration.
Ed left Camp Shenango with 15 others and they were all carrying typewriters. They assumed they were going to some unknown HQ. They arrived in Ft. Hamilton, New York where the typewriters were promptly taken away. The soldiers were getting ready to board a ship and head out into the Atlantic Ocean. They had no idea of their final destination. Their baggage was stamped EGB and so the word spread that this meant En-route Great Britain-not so. All day they waited to board the ship under "cover of darkness" to avoid prying eyes. When they boarded that night the army had to block off eight lanes of traffic in order to load the ship with 10,000 men and supplies.
Things were starting to come together and it was further than ever from home and still headed east. The troop ship was the recently retrofitted British luxury liner the HMS Mauretania.
The Mauretania was far from a luxury liner at this time and the passage across the ocean would not be pleasant and could well be dangerous. On May 1, 1943, Ed took out $9000 more GI Life Insurance to help the folks back home if he did not make the round trip. This made a total of 10,000 dollars in insurance.
After waiting and waiting, however, the 10,000 soldiers finally departed for lands unknown on May 9, 1943. About 15 minutes out of port, the announcement came across the loudspeaker that the ship was bound for India. "Oh, boy! I was ready for anything but that!" The ship turned south and the first stop was Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela to pick up supplies and fuel. The next stop was Rio De Janiero, Brazil. It was from Rio that the trans-Atlantic trip really began.
Five days out of port, and the ship was making good time. Then it was announced that the ship had been zig-zagging to avoid a German U-Boat and that the ship was only 20 miles from Rio. Ed worked in an office and mostly just typed reports and work orders for maintenance and complained and listened to complaints about the food. The food was rotten and did at times have live maggots. The typing was tough too as you could only type at times and must hold the typewriter at other times as the ship pitched. An American doctor ordered some food tossed over the side and then relented when he was told that this was all that they had to feed the men. British ships have a long legacy of feeding the troops poorly.
Ed later wrote his high school typing teacher and told her how tough it was to type on the ship and she shared this story with many classes.
Ed relates a story about some pie on the Mauretania which needs to be shared. It seems that the officers did have access to better food. "We found this little opening into the officer`s recreation room-just big enough to squeeze in. They usually had pie and stuff so me and this other boy would help ourselves. They found our hole and chinked it up and said that the thieving better stop." Food will be a repeated theme in this narrative.
The first opportunity to get off of the ship was at Cape Town, South Africa. The troops were given two days of shore leave. Ed and a friend were given a tour of the town by a reporter who was looking for news. The reporter gave them some fruit that was promptly taken away when they boarded the ship. Everyone wanted on the ship because the jail was still full of soldiers who missed a boat on an earlier stop. The prisoners hollered at the men to help them out of jail, "We just ignored them." One man actually was clinging to a rope and was hoisted up to the deck in order not to be left AWOL.
It was somewhere during the crossing that Ed saw the first evidence of war. The Mauretania was docked for the night, he does not know where, and the harbor was full of bombed out ships from earlier Japanese attacks. "I was a little scared till they let out these balloons that were on long wire cables. There was no way for a plane to get at us."
Now it was into the Indian Ocean and it was very smooth and glassy. There was no motion except for the wake of the ship. The ocean also served to wash the mens` belongings. The clothes were tied in a bag and gently lowered to the water and dragged behind the ship for several moments. Once an officer approached and demanded a spot at the rail to do his laundry. He did not know the routine and just flung his bag into the sea. When the line became extended it ripped the bag from the line. This is why the bags were lowered SLOWLY.
The next stop was Diego Suarez off the northern tip of Madagascar. Diego Suarez is reputed to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. It was at Diego Suarez where a small boat pulled along side the Mauretania and a local was offering bananas for a dollar apiece. "All the boys were hanging over the side and they would send down a dollar on a rope and he would send up a banana. This one guy sends down a $5 bill and expects some change. All he got was a $5 banana."
The next stop was Colombo, Ceylon where the troops transferred to smaller ships that could make port at Bombay, India. The 45-day trip was now nearing an end-at least the seaborne effort, as the men still did not know their final destination since they were going "casual" or unassigned. A full accounting of Ed`s travel is attached in the archival section at the end of the narrative. It is in the form of a letter that he mailed home from Paoshan, China on August 18, 1945. This was after the Japanese surrender and censorship had been eased.
From Bombay, it was on to New Delhi where they experienced a week-long sand storm. Ed soon found himself in a small town only 20 miles from the Taj Mahal. He and several others hitchhiked to Agra and visited this Wonder of the Ancient World. Ed stated, "We rode in carts pulled by donkeys, anything that walked faster than we did. I don`t know why but I really wanted to see that thing." They had to take their shoes off and put on sandals before they could go inside. It so happens that the dome was being repaired at that time. Ed picked up a chip of the white marble and carried it in a barracks bag about 12,000 miles and it resides to this day at his home. A picture of Ed holding this stone highlights this narrative.
When India and Pakistan were threatening to exchange blows in 2002, the Taj Mahal was being targeted. The joke was that he may yet own the largest piece of the Taj Mahal. It is about three inches long and shaped like Kentucky. The chip came from the large and primary dome of the Taj Mahal and was picked up in July, 1943. A close-up picture of this relic can be found in the attachments. Somewhere in India, Ed also found the time to have his photo taken in full Indian regalia complete with a turban.
The road was headed to China although there had been no formal statement as such. There were still roads to be traveled, however. Once, Ed was on an open train moving through the Indian jungles at a rate of about 5 to 10 miles per hour. "The trees were just full of monkeys. Someone came up with an inner tube and we all cut a piece and made slingshots. We would shoot at those monkeys from the train. They would holler and head to the top when we hit one. We loaded up with rocks when the train stopped for water. Boy, that was fun, we just could not find enough rocks."
There was a man selling a monkey at one of the train stops. He struck a deal with a soldier and the GI boarded the train. Once the train started moving the man whistled and yelled, "Come here, Joe" and the monkey tore into the GI and out the window he would go. Ed said that every time a new group would arrive in China someone would yell, "Did any of you guys buy a monkey?" ,most often a victim raised his hand.
Finally, the word came down that Ed`s final destination was China. He got this information at Chabua, India. Chabua was basically a hole in the mountains. Towering all around the town the Himalayas rose to a height of 10, 000 feet. Planes taking off basically had to take off and fly loops around the immediate area in order get the height needed to clear the first obstacles. Passenger Transportation Record 39317 was issued at Chabua, India on July 22, 1943 with the one - way passage by air culminating at Kunming, China. This was signed and approved by a Major Kerr.
The flight over and through the Himalayas was a real WWII experience. This was known as "Flying the Hump." Another Arkansan, former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt was a "Hump" pilot and often landed at Kunming. The author of this narrative has talked with the Congressman several times about his China experience, also.
Flying the "Hump" was dangerous to the extreme. The trip from Chabua to Kunming was over Japanese controlled territory. The trip was 500 miles by air and took about four hours. Ed states that their pilot at one time told them that the plane was directly over a Jap airfield. The mountains alone presented danger, as they are the highest in the world. Also, the plane basically had to fly through the valleys and gorges to help ward off enemy fighters. To make matters worse, the gorges are subject to rapidly forming winds of up to 200 MPH. By August 1944, 550 planes had gone down between Chabua and Kunming. This area came to be called the Aluminum Trail. One of every 75 Hump flights ended in catastrophe for the pilots and crew. Flying the Hump was as dangerous as a bombing raid deep into Germany. It was hazardous to say the least-and it was the only way in and out of China after the fall of Burma and French Indo-China. Still today, the mountains periodically give up the remains of unfortunate CBI soldiers and airmen that failed to make the trip.
At one point, so many planes were going down that all Hump flights were made at night. Even in the day, however, the clouds were often so dense that a pilot lost all visual contact with the ground and may only see the Kunming airfield for the last 45 seconds of the flight. Ed states that his flight was on a crystal clear day. Ed says that he could see dirt out of both windows of the plane and it was quite scary. He said the plane was very cold and most of the thirty passengers went to sleep due to lack of oxygen. Branch nerves kept him awake for the whole trip.
Ed`s route to China was over what is called the High Hump. It was a more hazardous route but Jap fighters were less likely to patrol this route over the "top of the world." Ed`s plane was being flown by a senior pilot in the theater and so he felt ok with this information. Many of the "Hump" pilots and their crews were quite inexperienced. He was headed for Chunking but never got further than Kunming as he was hijacked for immediate service at that point. Ed stated that he was nervous before the flight but more so now that he knows more of the full array of danger in his path.
Having experienced a rocky landing in India, he was hoping for better in China. As the plane descended in China all appeared well. At the last moment, the plane rose up and circled the field. Upon landing, Ed was one of the first to get off the plane. A sergeant looked at him and said, "You guys just nearly landed with your wheels up."
A captain told him that Kunming was his last stop when Ed told him that he could type. He would be in Kunming for 11 months and then on to Yunani and Paoshan for similar service. All three sites had airstrips that attracted the Japanese. "I was prepared in my mind for a foreign country and I was ok in India-but I was not prepared for this. I was ready to go back to India." The first thing that Ed saw after exiting the plane were Chinese coolies working on the landing strip.
Ed describes Kunming as cobblestone streets and mud huts with straw for a roof. "It just looked awful. There were rows of little shops but they did not have much to sell. I did buy this pair of silver chopsticks there, though." These sticks currently hang on the wall at Ed`s home in Paragould and are one of many unique artifacts that he brought home from the War. These artifacts will be discussed shortly in this narrative.
He lived at Kunming University in Hostel #1. When asked if it had running water he replied,"Yeah, you run and get it." He did say that they had gravity showers fed by barrels of water and some barrels were heated by charcoal to give a touch of warm water. Ed states that the weather was good except for the monsoon season. It was temperate most of the time. "We only saw ice one time in our fire barrel, just a thin layer. There were no rats or snakes but we had millions of mosquitoes. You could not even go out at night and we slept wrapped in netting and if one ever got in, there was no sleeping after that." He describes the monsoon season that started in the fall, "It would be as clear as a bell, I would start out to the mess hall, which was quite a bit away, and I might get rained on five times before I got there. These were just little downpours about the size of a kitchen table and they were everywhere. The Chinese trapped the water up on the mountain and then released it when they needed it to irrigate the crops."
An artifact worthy of note was Ed`s charcoal drawing by a Hollywood artist named Don Barclay. It is a very good likeness of him and was done at an Air Force hospital in Kunming, China. He was recovering from a tonsilectomy when a USO troupe came to town. The likeness is autographed by Joe E. Brown, the famous big mouthed comic of the 30`s and 40`s. Don Barclay, the artist, has work that can be seen today in the Bob Hope archives. Two of his drawings of Hope are included in that collection. Ed states that it took him about two minutes to complete that drawing. A photo of this work is also included in this narrative.
Another artifact is a miniature Nationalist Chinese flag on a Chit. The Chit carried messages in various languages that could be used to seek help if down behind enemy lines. The soldiers were told to look for Chinese wearing eyeglasses, this meant that they could read. The Chit is framed and preserved and hanging in the hallway in Paragould still today. Other than the piece from the Taj Mahal, the most impressive souvenir is a miniature blockbuster bomb about one inch tall. It is really a Chop. A Chop has one`s name and initials on it and must be on all documents in China if they are to be legal. This Chop has Ed`s initials in English and his name in Chinese. It was made from aluminum from the propeller of a downed Japanese Zero from a September 20, 1943 raid on the airdrome at Kunming. The Chop was made by "my one and only best buddy, Harry Rubash, from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. He was 6 feet 6 ½ inches tall and weighed 250 pounds and was skinny as a rail. He wore a size 15 shoe-just a gentle giant." The front cover of this book is stamped with the mark of Ed`s chop.
When Ed made the transfer from Kunming to Yunani he had to have a passport. It has his picture on it and is all in Chinese. About 2 weeks after he got to Yunani the army wanted it back. Well, he wanted it, too. He told them that it was lost. It got so serious that they were threatening him with court martial. He said that he had gone too far to give it up at that point. This passport is also framed and in his possession at this time. Apparently, he was able to find it by late 1945 as a recent photo of this passport is included in this book.
Ed states that the army never told the men why they were in China. He said that it was not hard to figure out, though. The main purpose was to keep China in the war. This would tie up about 820,000 Japanese troops and much needed equipment of all sorts. Keeping China in the war denied the Japanese efforts in the Pacific as these men and materials were tied up in China.
Supposedly, the Y-Force in China was there to aid and train 30 divisions of Chinese soldiers who would carry the fight to the Japanese. Most of these divisions never materialized and only when the war was over were the Chinese nearing any form that may have led to a major offensive. Thus, this theater of the war is known as the China Defensive. To make matters worse, Chiang kai-Shek was in to it with the communists and throw in few Chinese warlords and a very unstable situation is the result. As one historian put it, "Nothing was simple in China!" Another author called China "confusion beyond imagination."
Ed`s first assignment in Kunming, as a PFC, was that of acting company clerk, acting 1st Sergeant, PX man, and mailman. China was short of Americans but more were on the way. As more men arrived, Ed`s job was narrowed to postmaster. The APO at Kunming finally became the largest APO in the entire U.S. Army as 60,000 men were on their way to this theater. Ed was in charge of this APO.
A note to the reader: The American forces in China were basically surrounded. That is why the only supplies reaching China came via the airlift over the Hump. Ed stated while he was waiting for a flight out of Chabua, India that he could hear gunfire in the mountains every night. This was the British and Americans fighting off Japanese advances. The Japs came near to seizing Chabua at one time. Ed states that they were well aware that their supply line could be cut at anytime for a while. A British victory in the Imphal Valley ended this threat.
He took this job in the APO very seriously, "Mail is what you lived for in China. I did my best to make sure that they got their mail as soon as possible. I never read my mail till I got off from work. I told the men that worked for me that they could read their mail but answering it had to wait. I disobeyed one of General Frank Dorn`s rules one time to get the mail out. He told us that we were HQ Co. and that we would not work at night. Well, I would slip up there after supper and put a blanket over the window and work out the mail. Those boys needed that mail. I think Dorn knew what I was doing but he never said anything to me and I saw him about everyday. I delivered his mail and was the person that handed him the telegram that promoted him to general. I handed it to him and said, "Congratulations, General Dorn" and he kind of frowned and then smiled when he saw the envelope. It was from Stillwell`s HQ. Frank Dorn was a good soldier and was really in charge. I saw him giving generals a hard time when he was still a colonel. I only saw Stillwell one time when he came into our HQ one day."
Each man in China would wear the distinctive shoulder patch that was a shield of red, white, and blue adorned with the Star of India and Chinese sun. Ed`s remaining patch is safely secured in a lock box at this time. It too is photographed for this book and is found in the appendix.
China was the most remote of all United States` operations in the war. Only a fraction of the supplies needed in China ever arrived. China was low priority - the "Forgotten Theater." Ed states that the only consumable items that he saw from the United States for the first six months was Pet Milk and lemon drops. It did not make much difference, Ed says that he threw up every day after dinner for the first 60 days that he was in China. He said that all that they had in the way of food was rice, cauliflower, and some "awful tasting" rice gravy. The bread was made from rice and was so chewy that it was hard to eat and it had to be scraped off your teeth. He said that you could eat it if you burned it. He said that C-Rations were so scarce that when he got one that he locked himself in his room to eat it, fearing that someone would try to take it. This may be, in part, why General Stillwell is noted for this quotation, "Don`t let the bastards wear you down."
At one point Washington sent a fact-finding group to China to find out why the Hump supply was so low. One of FDR`s personal pilots flew some Congressman and other dignitaries into Kunming. Ed recalls the pilot getting into a fight while drinking with the regular Hump pilots. It seems that they were swapping stories of danger in the air when FDR`s pilot made this statement, "I have more time in the air circling the airport in Washington to pick up these assholes than you bastards have in the air." The fight was on. Ed states that FDR`s pilot "looked just awful" the next day.
Ed accepted a tranfer after 11 months to Yunani, about 150 miles away, to perform the same duties as in Kunming. "It couldn`t be any worse" was his thought on this decision. At one point, the truck trip from Kunming to Yunani took him 11 miles by road to get to the top of a mountain. This was rugged country. He states that they were bombed at Yunani fairly regularly. Ed kept a dollar bill and recorded all memorable dates on it. This bill has survived and indicates that Ed was bombed on September 20, 1943, December 18, 1943, December 20, 1943, and the most memorable, a night bombing on 11-28-44. The night bombing will be re-visited later in this narrative.
To be sure there was danger in the air at all times. Ed describes a scene that he witnessed in a communications hut. Two pilots walked in with a heavy beards, dirty, dried blood on their faces. Ed said that it was easy to see that "they meant business." They asked for "the son of a bitch that told us to get off the radio because he was giving the weather and we are going to kill him." They had called for help and been cut-off. They ran out of gas and had to walk in and it took about two weeks. They did not kill anyone.
It was at Yunani that Ed found himself in 22nd Field Hospital in need of hemorrhoid surgery. The 22nd Field Hospital was actually 20 miles from Yunani and served a lot of Chinese. Ed was operated on by Captain William Catalona from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. A week after the surgery he was still having spasms that were worse than the original ailment. The hospital was some distance from Yunani so he hitched a ride in a jeep to go back and see Dr. Catalona. "This boy driving the Jeep had a quart of ethyl alcohol and we mixed in some lemon balls for taste. We drank that on the way down. The captain was in surgery when I got there and I had to wait. We found some plum wine while we were waiting. I was pretty well organized when I met him as he was walking back to his tent. He invited me in to eat with him and took a look at me. He said that I needed to go home but that the army would not allow it. He said I would have these spasms till I got home. He was correct."
Captain Catalona said, "Don`t I know you from somewhere? Where are you from?" When I told him Arkansas he said that he guessed that he was wrong. At that point, he told me that he was from Ohio. I said, "Did you ever work at the induction center in Akron?" That was it. "He had been one of the civilian doctors at the center. They drafted him and he became a captain over night. He came in wearing a uniform one morning and asked me how he looked. I told him fine except that his medical ensignia was on the wrong collar. I just reached up and changed it for him. He still remembered that. He told me that if the army gave me too much trouble and wanted me to do things that I could not physically do to let him know. He would get me transferred to the medical corps since that was my training in the first place. He was the best doctor and the nicest man that I met in the army. Every time he would come in to Yunani he would stop by the post office and check on me. He did this for several months. I really appreciated it, too."
In a related note of interest, in the summer of 2002 a web search was performed using only the name Catalona. The search yielded results immediately. Dr. William J. Catalona was found and upon inquiry via e-mail it was determined that the original Dr. Catalona returned from China and lived a long and productive life and practiced medicine till he was past 80 years of age. Dr. William J. Catalona was his son.
It was also at Yunani that Ed nearly shot the cook. The army was building a new mess hall so they would not have to eat with the air force. Well, someone kept stealing the plumbing as fast as it was put in place. So, they had to take turns walking guard. About 5 a.m. one day a man came out of the back door. Ed raised his gun and took aim. The other soldier grabbed his arm and said, " Don`t shoot him, he`s our cook." Ed now says that if he had known how bad the food was going be 'I should have gone ahead and shot him."
He was about to have to decide if he wanted the relative safety of this forsaken place in China or go home for a brief stay and then face the unknown again. The army took care of his dilemma. They changed the point system and he was stuck in China with General Stillwell and later General Wedemeyer for the duration.
Ed had seen the war in the bombed out harbor on the way across the ocean. He would hear it for the first time in Kunming and "it scared me to death." The Japs targeted the airfields in and around Kunming. "You could hear the bombers and see their vapor trails but they were too high to see the planes. Our boys would go up after them and there were bullets flying everywhere. I hit my foxhole and put my helmet even with the top so I could crawl out if my hole collapsed. Later, I went down and looked at the airfield. It looked like they laid those bombs down the middle of the runway by hand. I knew where I was at that I was ok-those boys were good." Ed said that they were bombed about 5 times at Kunming. At Yunani they would often get the alert, which was a ball run up a pole, this meant the bombers were 30 minutes away another ball meant that they were 15 minutes out and closing fast. Often, though the bombers would shear off and go to other targets. It got so boring at times that we wished that they would bomb us to create some excitement."
One bomb run was more memorable than the others at Yunani. It was a night run and Ed had received the 30 - minute warning and was assembled with the others on a road with a narrow foot-bridge that spanned a small ditch. The bombs started dropping almost at once, there was no second warning. "I knew what was happening when I heard those bombs starting to hit. They were after us this time and not the airfield, that is why they came at night. It was just one plane. He was dropping clusters of anti-personnel bombs. They were 500 to a cluster and there were 7 clusters dropped, that means 3500 little bombs about the size of a 6 ounce Coke bottle. It was a good thing that most of them did not explode-only about 35 went off. When I realized what was happening everybody else headed for the foxholes. I knew that I wanted below ground level as soon as possible. I took a running jump off of that bridge, I bet I jumped 15 feet to stay out of the water-but I was below ground level and where I wanted to be. I skinned my hand up on my rifle but the Japs missed us by about a half a mile. I knew what to do. I wanted out of that place alive. I think that the reason the plane slipped up on us was because we thought he was "Bedcheck" Charlie. Charlie came over every night at 11. They tried to shoot him down one night. He was just looking for lights or troop movement."
Ed had a very interesting experience one night with General Dorn and an intelligence gathering outfit. This group of 4 or 5 would go out and be gone for a week or so gathering information every so often. General Dorn would call them in the night before and give them their orders and have a drink with them to wish them well. One day Ed was summoned to one of these meetings. He thought that he was going out in the field but did not know why and was not really enthused about the prospect of this adventure. He went to the meeting and then they all had a drink and the others left and he stayed. He never knew why General Dorn invited him to the meeting.
There were other spies in China, also. Here are two stories that Ed relates regarding their work for the Allies. First, there was a Chinese-American captain in Y-Force. He spoke Chinese fluently. He left Kunming and walked all the way to Myitkyna, North Burma and took a job working at a Japanese airfield and then walked back. This was over a thousand miles round-trip. Myitkyna was where the bombers took off for the Kunming area at times. Sometimes they flew from bases near Hanoi. Another time, one of the field observers requested some phone line to tap into the Jap lines-no problem there. Then he wanted electric wire so that he could use Jap electricity in his hut. The army said no to that request.
The war was starting to wind down in the late summer of 1945. The troops in China were well aware that Germany had surrendered in May of that year. Rumors kept spreading that the war was over but the fighting continued. A huge B-29 bomber even made an emergency landing once at Paoshan. Therefore, Ed has no real recall of when the war finally ended. He was at Paoshan when the word finally became reality. There were only 75 Americans at Paoshan when the war ended. Paoshan was located in a ravine surrounded by mountains.
About 10,000 Chinese troops with guns were staring down at the nervous Americans. This was the result of the on-going Chinese civil strife. The loot that could be gained from the exiting Americans looked very good to multiple factions. The word was sent that the Americans wanted to leave with just what they could carry. "I was starting to think that I had made it this far and that I was not going to make it out." Ed finally left Paoshan by air and arrived in Yunani. It was by truck, after 2 breakdowns, that they finally made the trip over the Burma Road to Kunming. From Kunming, it was over the Hump by air to India and on to Calcutta, the port of debarkation. Ed boarded the USS General J.R Brooke on October 7th, 1945. On October the 8th the ship docked at Colombo, Ceylon and then proceeded to the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea and on to Port Said. Ed even got a close up look at the Rock of Gibralter just before the ship hit a major storm. The traveling soldier was now starting to make his way to Paragould, Arkansas! Ed anticipated arriving in New York during the first week of November.
Ed anticipated a rough trip across the ocean and he did wash a lot of dishes, but the food was good and there was a lot of it. The return trip was only 23 days. Ed states that the mood on the ship was great. They were going home and getting OUT of the army. Ed had spent just shy of 4 years in uniform. The next stop after the open ocean would be New York City. The word got out that the ship would pass right by the Statue of Liberty. No one wanted to go below to eat and risk missing this sight. Ed held a spot on the rail and a buddy went below and came up with several pounds of cheese and bologna and some bread. This is how Ed returned to New York City, sitting by the rail eating bologna and cheese sandwiches-not a bad deal. The ship docked right beside the battleship Missouri. "It looked like a big porcupine with all those guns sticking out."
Ed can`t remember as much about the trip home as the trip over, but they got out of NYC fairly quickly and on November 8th, 1945 he boarded a train bound for St. Louis, Missouri. "I was really dreading that train trip-but it was a dream. I slept in a Pullman Car and was asleep before we pulled out of the station. I did not wake up till we got to St. Louis. I woke up and we were in Jefferson Barracks." Now came the processing out of the army. The soldiers were moved from one station to another in preparation for discharge.
At one station, the question was asked, " Why are we here?" The answer was "to hear a man talk about joining the reserves" to which Ed replied, "I am not out of this army yet, I sure don`t want to join another one." An officer yelled, "Who said that?" "I did." "Get your ass up here and listen to what this man has to say." "Sarge, I make a good listener but I`m not signing anything,"
Ed finally got his discharge papers. "They told us to wait and they would make us a little plastic copy. I told them to keep mine. I wanted outside that fence so I would know that I was out of the army and this nightmare was over."
Once outside the fence Ed was a civilian! War creates many comrades and sometimes they do not even exchange names. Ed`s last comrade in arms was such a case. Ed needed to get to the train station. A soldier that he did not know told him that his parents would be there to pick him up at noon. The way home would go by the train depot and Ed was welcome to come along. But, the two were delayed by listening to the man talk about joining the reserves and the soldier missed his parents. The two decided that they must part ways and the soldier left with a friendly, "See you later, Buddy" and Ed found alternate transportation to the depot.
There is only one more stop-Paragould and home. The train left St. Louis on November 9th in the late afternoon. Ed arrived at the depot at Paragould at 4 AM on November 10, 1945. He was 5 days shy of his 26th birthday.
"I pitched my barracks bag in the corner of the depot and was getting ready to head for the Corner Café for some breakfast. I looked up and there stood my dad. He said, "Well, I see you made it home. Where are you going?" I told him that I was going to the café to get breakfast. He said, "No, let`s go home. Mom will gladly get up and make you some breakfast."
"I asked him how many times he had been up there at 4 in the morning looking for me. I had not called since I was at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. He assured me that this was the first morning. He said that he had a feeling that I would be in that morning. We got in the car and went home and Mom got up and made us all some breakfast."
"I had been overseas for 2 years, 5 months, and 25 days. I don`t know the hours and the minutes so don`t ask. The time over there passed worse than slow. There were some good times and bad times and I tried to be a good soldier although I gave a few officers a rough way to go at times."
Most stories of this type have omissions or corrections to be added along the way. Here are some of the first to surface:
Complaints about the mail in China: Men were first and foremost looking for mail and news from home. Letters arrived fairly quickly as they came all the way by air from the United States. Packages were different as they came by slow boat to China as the old adage states.
As a good postmaster, Sgt. Branch tried to expedite the mail and had only a few complaints. One in point, a soldier came in and asked for the mail. "Not here, yet. I am going to get it a little later and get it out." A short time later the soldier reappeared with a rifle and asked for his mail again. "I am going after it right now." Instead, Ed went to the captain and told him that one of the men had flipped his lid and was demanding mail with a rifle. The soldier was not seen again. Another complaint, an officer with a Polish sounding name asks if he has mail. "No mail for you today, captain." The captain became irate and said, "The least you could do is get up and look." Ed could see his box was empty from his seat. Dutifully, he stood up and looked in the box and felt all around. "No mail for you today, captain. Reflecting on this 58 years later, "You know his mail never did get straightened again. Everything he got seemed to come in out of sequence."
Pets and recreation: Volleyball was the big recreation and Ed states that he played this on most nights till it got too dark to see. WWII soldiers were noted for keeping pets. One that Ed`s group kept was a small dog that they named Ding How, or OK in English. Ding How was kept feed and occupied by the soldiers.Ding How was still at Yunani when Ed was transferred to Paoshan. They needed to keep an eye on him as the Chinese ate dogs. A more unusual character was a monkey that someone possessed. The monkey would salute with his right hand in return for peanuts. When he saluted with his left hand that meant he was full for the time being. "He was a mean monkey and you had to be careful or he would bite you." The monkey`s name was Joe.
Leaving China: One can imagine the anxiety of getting out once the war ended. Finally, Ed was told to write his own orders to go home. He wrote that he was on an emergency war mission and should be given priority on land, sea or air. It did not help much. Ed basically 'borrowed" a weapons carrier to take himself and three others to the airfield at Paoshan and told the lieutenant that if they caught the plane "it would be there some where."
Chinese transportation: The Chinese fueled their cars and trucks with
charcoal. It took about 30 minutes to start one with a charcoal fire and
blower and then you had to run it full blast as there was little power.
This is why Ed`s truck from Yunani to Kunming on the way home kept getting
hit by Chinese drivers.