Ex-CBI Roundup
January 1999 Issue

By James L. Howard

The 393d Engineer Special Service Regiment took basic training at Camp Claiborne, LA. It was a heavy construction unit and was established to help restore towns which might have been heavily damaged during the war. The army had learned something from the Sea Bees. They would offer a rating to men with special skills. Many of them would not have had to enter the service because of their age. There were men with many basic construction skills. They had dealt with explosives - heavy equipment of all types - carpenters, electricians, plumbers, water purification, mechanics, one was a licensed mortician. If they survived the basic training, they would receive their N.C. rating. Each company had 12 master sergeants and 16 technical sergeants. They were only 34 basic privates.

When the basic training was completed, the battalions were separated and began special training. The first three companies received training in assembling barges. A couple of huge steel barges arrived at Camp Claiborne.

In October of 1942, 145 men had been sent to electric welding school. Ninety-six men took training in crane operations. It was becoming more evident that this unit was being trained for some special project. For some reason, the supposition was that we would be going to India.

The 1st Battalion departed from Camp Claiborne, LA, January 13, 1944. The First Battalion, 393 re Engineer Special Service Regiment boarded USAT Athos 11 for shipment overseas. This unit was on the troop ship which had multiple breakdowns and it took 100 days to go from the U.S. to Bombay. The troop ship docked at Bombay, India, April 28, 1944. They arrived at Bombay a few days after the explosion which destroyed ships and materiel.

The train trip to Calcutta was an experience. They arrived in Calcutta, India, on May 6, 1944.

Company C was left at Calcutta. Companies A and B took the train to Khulna, India. They arrived there May 7, 1944. It was 108 miles north and east of Calcutta and had taken 15 hours to make the trip. This is near a small town. The camp had been constructed but had never been used. The mess halls were well constructed. The troops had tents. There were unassembled steel barges. Assembling was started. This was an area where no American troops had ever been. It was an experience for the Americans. It was more of an experience for natives. Those who spoke English enjoyed the experience of being able to practice their English. We enjoyed the experience of being able to mix with the society and learn more about their life-style and religion.

Some of the fellows were invited to a wedding. The wedding stopped. Finally, a native who had been explaining what was going on, realized that it was time for the food to be served. They had not expected such a crowd and there was not enough food. Our interpreter suggested that we go down the little road, while he explained more and answered our questions. We did and later came back to witness the finality.

The natives came through the camp at will. Some of the natives were hired to provide a better relation and help us with any problems we might have. Some of them learned that we threw away a lot of food. The natives began assembling at the rear of the mess hall and ate all that we were throwing away. Our cans were cooking utensils for them. The crowd grew. Word apparently reached the command. We received orders that our waste was to be buried. We stopped natives from just wandering through the camp. By mis time, we had learned to recognize people who were starving.

One native continued to trespass. He looked like he was pregnant. The medic said that he was starving and was beyond any help. He could not even drink water. He would be dead in a day or two.

One day, the Officer of the Day confronted him. "You have been told not to come into camp." The O.D. pulled out his pistol. He leveled it at him. The native dropped to his knees and put his hands up to his face much as a Christian would pray.

One of the native employees saw this and rushed up to help. "What is the matter, Sahib?" "I told this man I would blow his brains out if he didn't leave." "Would you please, Sahib!" he begged. "He will have died at the hands of an unbeliever. He would go directly -in your language - to heaven." The O.D. realized he had met more than his match.

Eight of the large steel barges were completed when the 393d Special Service Battalion (now known as the 1007th Special Service Battalion) received orders to head for Ledo, India. A platoon from Company C in Calcutta came into camp. They continued to assemble large steel barges.

The 1007th proceeded by truck, rail and river boat to Ledo. They arrived in Ledo, India, on June 23, 1944.

There they became involved in the Ledo Road - rail head warehouses. They even constructed an ice plant to help G.I.s who needed ice to handle their malaria.

With the fall of Myitkyina, Burma, the 1007th moved in on December 6, 1944, and began constructing the third largest bridge the Army has ever built. Part of it was pontoons, using the large steel barges from Khulna.

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