Ex-CBI Roundup
October 2005 Issue

By Richard E. Rudeloff

I arrived in China as a staff sergeant in March of 1945 and was assigned to the 10th Weather Squadron as a radiosonde operator (upper atmosphere weather observer). I had just spent five glorious months on the island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and was not too happy about the move to China. But, be that as it may, I was about to embark upon an interesting adventure. The 10th Weather Squadron asked me to volunteer to be sent to Baker Project (or, "Roger-Two-Sugar") to join an OSS team headed by Capt. John Birch. (Yes, the John Birch). Major Lundeen at 10th Weather headquarters in Kunming advised us (Bob McKay and me) that the folks who were flying those airplanes wanted some information about the weather before they took off on a bombing (or other) mission. Baker Project (R-2-S) was the place I was to be sent for this purpose - Bob McKay and I. (Bob was the radiosonde technician who knew how to put these things - radiosonde receivers - together and to keep them working.)

Our destination, R-2-S, Major Lundeen told McKay and me, was located in northwestern Anhwei Province, totally surrounded by Japanese troops. He said we would probably be safe "behind enemy lines," because the U.S. Navy would protect us. Major Lundeen produced a map to show us the location of R-2-S - and I could quickly see that the nearest ocean was several hundred miles away. So, how in the world was the U.S. Navy going to protect us, I thought to myself. Major Lundeen quickly added, "The U.S. Navy has such a tight blockade on the island of Japan that the Japanese cannot get as much as a match stick across the Sea of Japan (or any other body of water), much less equipment for a platoon or a handful of soldiers to come in and get us." Major Lundeen then added, "We believe they will not come after you because you will pose no military or strategic danger to them." ("Wow," I thought to myself. "Major Lundeen is telling us that we are going to be safe because the Japs will consider us not worth killing!" But, as it turned out, Lundeen was correct.)

The cargo plane, on which we were placed, was escorted by a couple of fighter planes from the U.S. base at Ankang. They escorted us to a clearing in the goliang (grain) field near a village where we landed. From there, we put our equipment and gear onto ox carts and inched our way to the village of Shieh Wan, the headquarters of Capt. John Birch and some other OSS operatives.

Bob McKay and I were to remain at Shieh Wan for the remainder of the war - until September of 1945. Highlights of those months spent in the village of Shieh Wan were, first of all, the times that escaped prisoners of war were brought to the village. Invariably, the POWs (U.S. service men) who had escaped, were picked up first by the Chinese Communists and eventually turned over to us at the village. It was our understanding that the Communists held the POWs for several weeks or even months, using them for propaganda purposes. Several of them reported that they were wined and dined by the Communists but felt that they were still prisoners.

Among those who made it to our village were three officers who had escaped from a prison train in which the Japanese were transporting them farther inland, away from the Allied-controlled areas. One of the officers had been a pilot with AVG, the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, under the command of General Chennault. The AVG officer told us that he had been a prisoner of the Japanese since 1942. Two other escaped prisoners had been shot down. They were U.S. Navy flyers who had flown on missions from Wake Island. Another group of three consisted of the survivors of the crew of a bomber that had been shot down. They had flown their mission out of the Philippines.

Some other excitement that occurred during our stay in the village of Shieh Wan happened when we went to a Catholic Mission at Shenshu to get Lt. Toohill and return him to our village. It seems that Lt. Toohil had inadvertently eaten some watermelon that had not been cleaned properly, resulting in him, the lieutenant, coming down with a bad case of amoebic dysentery, the kind that absolutely requires medical attention, like the sulfur drugs that were so successfully used during World War II. Captain Birch had heard that the Catholic Sisters at the Mission at Shensu, located about twelve miles up the Chuan Ho (river), had such drugs. (The Chuan Ho runs directly behind our village and Captain Birch had an outboard motor-boat that he frequently used to travel up and down the river). Lt. Toohill was loaded onto this boat and Bob McKay and Captain Birch took Toohill to the Mission.

About a week later, we received word that Toohill had sufficiently recovered from the dysentery and for us to come and get him. I went with Birch and McKay this time, along with a shu bing (a houseboy). We boarded the outboard motor boat that afternoon and headed upstream. Just as we arrived at the Mission, Capt. Birch, who was piloting the boat, maneuvered too closely to the bank and into shallow water. The propeller of the boat hit a submerged rock and the shear pin broke. Birch quickly announced that this was no problem that he had brought along an extra shear pin for just such an occasion. He reached into his shirt pocket and as he did he stopped and announced that he forgot that he had changed shirts before leaving the village and that the shear pin was in the shirt he had left behind.

Birch seemed somewhat troubled or disturbed when he noted that night was coming upon us and that we were stranded here on the river bank. He told the shu bing to return to the village as fast as he could run, get the shear pin and then run back up the river until he met us; that we were going to work our way down the river. Birch stated that he feared that the Communist troops would hear of our predicament and would do us harm. He and McKay then went by foot to the Mission and got Toohill and brought him back to the boat. Birch stated that we were going to work our way downstream, that Bob and I would take turns pulling the boat with a tow rope as we ran along the top of an embankment on the edge of the river. Bob and I, Birch suggested, would take 20-minute turns doing this. (I don't know how the others felt about these precautions, but surely none of us had any idea that eight days later Capt. Birch would be murdered by the Communists).

Bob and I began our odyssey with me going first. Pulling the boat was not difficult and required no particular amount of strength. However, what made the job difficult was the fact that the side of the river we had selected did not have a tow path - and it was getting dark and we didn't know what we would encounter on the other side - so we kept going. There were trees along the river's edge and to get around the trees, I had to run to the water's edge, pass the tow rope around the tree and pick it up on the other side and then run back up to the top of the embankment - and the fact that I had to keep moving in order to keep the rope or line taunt and the boat under control and not let it get ahead of me and run into the river bank.

The second matter was that of dead bodies in the water. On the trip up the river earlier today. I had seen several bodies of infant females wrapped in straw floating in the water. I understand that it is a common practice for newborn girls to be disposed of in this manner, as there was not enough food to go around and the family could not depend upon a girl doing the work of a male to help support the family. (At least, that's what I've been told.)

There was an occasional tributary stream emptying into the river and these had to be forded, either by wading across (if shallow enough) or by swimming across. I am (or was) a good swimmer but the thought of swimming amongst dead baby girls did not make for a very pleasant swim.

We continued this through the night - a black night, as there was no moon - until about 3:00 a.m. when Capt. Birch thought we had gone far enough to be out of danger from the Chinese Communist. He told us to stop and get some rest. Bob and I collapsed on the ground where we were standing and, I think, we each immediately went to sleep. Later, just before sunrise, Capt. Birch awakened us. He had gone to a nearby village and brought back a dozen hard-boiled eggs for our breakfast. At about the same time the shu bing arrived with the shear pin. Two hours later, we were back in the village of Shieh Wan glad that the escapade was over! However, our exuberance did not last long.

Capt. Birch and some of the OSS operatives and Sgt. Al Meyers, one of our radio men, had left a few days after we got back from the Catholic Mission with Toohill. We understood that this group had been sent out by orders from higher authorities to investigate a reported disturbance or uprising in an area near the Shantung Peninsula. And now - I think it was on about August 25 - we received word that Birch had been killed and that Meyers and the OSS men had been taken prisoners by the Chinese Communist.

On September 19, 1945 we received orders to close down the weather station and to pack up, that we and our equipment were to be transported to Hankow. I remained in Hankow until November 30 training a young Chinese officer how to operate a radiosonde receiver and how to make an upper atmosphere weather observation. I thought the Chinese weatherman who had been sent in to replace me was exceptionally intelligent. He caught on quickly and learned everything about the job and the procedure that had taken the United States Government six months to teach me!

On December 15, after a two-week stay in Shanghai, I was aboard the Gen. Scott bound for the U.S. of A. On December 30, I saw one of the most beautiful sights on the face of the earth; I saw the beautiful green, clean shores of the United States of America! I was home again!

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