June 1993 Issue By Charles H. Richmond, Regimental Chaplain
The 478th Q.M. Reg. (Trk) departed from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, by rail on 2 January 1942. The unit had been activated for less than three months. I reported on 1 January 1942, after spending one month in the Chaplain's Orientation course at Harvard University. This being the total of my military experience, as I was commissioned directly from civilian life based on my education and experience as a minister. One train traveled by way of Dallas-Fort Worth and the other through Oklahoma City arriving at Camp Anza, Arlington, California, near Riverside on January 6. We wore winter uniforms and the temperature was warm. Some men with a rash were sent to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. They were diagnosed as scarlet fever and the regiment was quarantined, not permitted to leave camp, and isolated from activities as the movie theater, main post exchange, etc. The diagnosis was later changed to heat rash, but the quarantine was not lifted until we departed. We sailed from Los Angeles port of embarkation about 0800 hours on 20 January aboard the U.S.S. Montecellonia with no military escort. It was very hot, life below deck was very uncomfortable. The men were not permitted on deck but for a short time each day. Water for showers etc. was in short supply. Two meals a day were served and men stood up to eat. The equator was crossed at 1638 hours on January 26 accompanied by the usual ceremonies. On February 3, the international dateline was crossed, and everyone lost one day. We arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, on February 6 and departed on February 8. We went far enough south to pass through a snow storm in their summer. A Dutch destroyer spent a day accompanying the ship into port at Fremantle, Australia, on February 17. Our troops were permitted ashore only for a march around the harbor and a brief swim. On February 20, we left Fremantle with two cruiser escorts. The equator was crossed again on February 28 with the continuing heat and discomfort. On March 3, the ship started into port of Bombay, but at low tide the ship bottom hit the mud and therefore could not dock until the next day. We boarded the usual decrepit train on March 5. At one stop, breakfast was brought to our car. Then we started a hike only to find under the car a body, cut in two by a previous train, that had been there for hours. Some breakfasts came up faster than they had gone down. We looked into a water well and saw a dead animal but still the natives drank from it. The train arrived at Mahudi the evening of March 8 and we spent the night on the train. The next day, a ten mile march after we unloaded the train, in the extreme heat, brought us to a place called Camp Charles. There was only enough water for one-half canteen cup per man, and for food, a can of "C" rations, unheated! We slept on the bare ground and monkeys would jump from man to man like we were logs. One man woke up holding a monkey by the leg. It didn't take long to turn him loose. The next day, more supplies were made available. A nearby river was used for bathing, but when the unburned parts of a cremated body were found it took the pleasure out of it. We ate out in the open from mess gear. If we didn't watch, the buzzards would fly down and take the food right off the plates. That rather ruined the meal. After a little time to get our land legs back, the journey by wide rail, narrow rail, and ferry boat ended at the Ledo, Margherita area. We received mail for the first time since leaving the U.S.A. There was no electricity, we observed black out conditions, the flashlight batteries were weak. A "C" ration coffee can filled with gun cleaning oil, and a gun cleaning pad rolled up and stuck through a hole in the can provided sufficient light to read those letters from home. Mere existence in the climate and conditions could have been a full time job but a war must be won, a road built, Chinese supplied, etc. Col. Mullet, the regimental commander, had the additional assignment as G 3 of the command under General Pick. The regiment became the shock troops for any problem or difficult Job that needed to be done. One company ran the motor pool at Chabua, others at various other air bases. Companies and platoons were occupied with the air dropping of supplies to forward units. They loaded the planes and then pushed the supplies out the open door. The air crews would rotate home after the specified number of flights, but our men with as much air time would remain for the duration. Troops were supporting the bases at Dinjan, Tinsukia, Jorhat, and others too numerous to mention. I believe it was Tezpur where our executive officer accompanied me to visit troops. Cots were moved in for us from a supposedly unused new basha. Before morning, we were attacked by hordes of bed bugs, courtesy of the natives who unknown to us had used the cots. One battalion, for a while, was convoying trucks up from Calcutta. Others were preparing and loading vehicles, gasoline and other equipment to be flown over the Hump to China from several different bases. The task of teaching Chinese soldiers to drive was another mission. Many Chinese had hardly even seen a motor vehicle before being flown over from China. Vehicles were put up on blocks to begin training of how to turn on the key, start the motor, shift and then drive. The training center was, I believe, at Rangpur.
Life With the 478th Quartermaster Regiment, Truck
In August of 1943, the unit name was changed from regiment to group and each individual company was changed from a letter of the alphabet to a four digit number. This did not change the work that was being done. Units from battalion to platoon size served up and down the road from Ledo to the battle front. Hellsgate, Warazup, Shimbwiyang, Myitkyina, Bhamo, Lashio, and beyond. Many additional names could be mentioned, but there isn't sufficient time, nor space. At Hansari, India, a cultivated bamboo grove in rows about 20 feet apart, covering over at about 20 feet in height was used as a storage area for trucks. Perfect camouflage from the air. At times, the trucks were issued to Indian or Chinese drivers who would run and hide when a truck with a winch came out, because it had an extra lever to confuse them. Many times they drove for miles in low or second gear. Hardly a night went by that the guards did not come face to face with at least one or more tigers. The guards always went in pairs. All up and down the road it was common to see tigers at night. At Shimbwiyang, a tiger entered a tent and mangled a soldier's shoulder. His body recovered, but his nerves required that he be sent back to the States. Health was always a problem. Shots for typhus, cholera, typhoid and smallpox were given at least every six months. Arms would become sore at the time of the shots, and often two weeks later they would again become so sore you could hardly move them. When I stepped off a plane in Calcutta, I had to either show proof of a recent smallpox vaccination or take another one. Our first death was from cerebral malaria. It was first thought to be spinal meningitis, but later properly diagnosed. Atabrine was required as a daily medication by all troops, to prevent cerebral malaria, and the symptoms of regular malaria so you could keep going. One side effect was it turned the skin yellow. It took months to fade out so we returned home looking more yellow than the Chinese. The exposed flesh had to be kept well covered to prevent mosquito bites, shirt sleeves could not be rolled up, and trousers had to be tucked in boots. Before dark, a mosquito repellent "Skat" would be applied to all exposed flesh. Side effects, in addition to the smell, were that it would eat the crystal off your watch and take the paint off your flashlight. The medics did a fine job of treatment and prevention. As chaplain, I attempted to visit every unit every week if possible and at least every two weeks for chapel services and activities. This necessitated driving to the end of the road each week and then flying farther forward and to the rear. This meant deep mud and water during the monsoon and six inches deep in dust in the dry season. I was given a special pass by General Pick that permitted me to travel even when the road was officially closed to traffic. If it was physically possible to go through, the M.P.s and engineers would permit and help me to go through. Tom Kratchervil, who lives in Oakhurst, New Jersey, was my faithful driver, musician, typist and friend. We carried a portable organ in the jeep, he played it, and in spite of the high moisture kept it operating. At Warazup, for instance, he would set up in the mess hall and begin to play popular music. Men came from everywhere. The men chose the songs for chapel service. Tom, a Baptist, played the organ, a Roman Catholic led the singing, and often a Jewish soldier would choose the song, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." He was a strong Orthodox Jew and wouldn't eat anything unless it was Kosher. I asked him why the song? His answer was "I just like the tune."
CHAPEL SERVICES in Day Room at Ledo, India.
Photo by Charles Richmond.
Naturally, when the first convoy traveled the road to China, our commanding officer and many of our men were along. The unit continued in the many tasks they had worked on and picked up many more until the war was over and they returned home. On 21 March 1945, written communication was received from the Replacement Depot that no chaplain replacements were available in the theater. Then, on Sunday, 8 April, orders came in on my replacement, and I departed for the U.S.A. on the 25th.
SERVICES AT HANSARI, INDIA. Services are held in bamboo grove, part of the motor pool.
Photo by Charles Richmond.