Ex-CBI Roundup
January 2001 Issue

By Raymond Hamilton

In May 1942, 340 of us overseas volunteers boarded the Matson liner Mariposa for foreign service somewhere. Little did we know the hardship that was to follow during the 58-day voyage. We disembarked at Karachi, India, a starved and filthy bunch along with a number of men from various Army units. The 340 of us were formed up into five 50-caliber independent machine gun batteries of the Coast Artillery Corps of 68 men each and based at New Malir, outside of Karachi, for about two months. The gun batteries were the 701st, 702nd, 703d, 704th and the 705th. CAC AB AW MGB Sep. Namely, Coast Artillery Corps, Airborne, Automatic Weapons, Machine Gun Batteries, Separate. I was in the 705th.

At New Malir, everything became better. Decent food, clothing, some combat gear was provided by the Air Force to whom we were always attached for airfields defense as gun units. Now we went through the third basic training as I experienced it; Camp Wallace, Texas, 604th Coast Artillery Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, and now at New Malir, in the Sind desert. We were housed in single level stone buildings, made up in rooms to house about six men each. It was a foreign legion scenario.

We left New Malir by railway for the up country of Allahabad for a few days and were housed in huge stone buildings with great canvas sweeps, electrically driving to keep the air moving. It was becoming hot as hell's blazes and the monsoon rains were beginning. Incidentally, these buildings were shown in the movie, "The Rains Came" with Tyrone Power, leading actor.

We flew from Allahabad by C-47 transport aircraft to Dinjan airfield in Assam Province where the 705th was to be at home for about 18 months. The airfield was poorly defended by about four to six American P-36 radial engine fighter planes, a few British soldiers whose main weapons were World War I Lewis guns mounted on tripods or pedestals and there were some Indian soldiers. Our twelve 50-caliber machine guns, twelve 30-caliber rifles and 48 original-style Thompson submachine guns made up a fairly defensive force. We slept in the mud and grass, and sat near our guns in the mud during the daylight hours. We had no fortifications for quite awhile until Indian coolies built underground homes and gun rings on reverse lend-lease by American and British plans. We had no food allotment for quite awhile so we were transported by 6x6's to an airforce mess down the road toward Tinsukia. What a luxury, eating in an Army Airforce mess hall!

Finally, we had our underground quarters, about seven feet deep, by 10 feet wide, by 14 feet long. Very large diameter bamboo was the roof supports, about two feet apart, with corrugated steel roofing, plus a layer of sandbags and 6-12 inches of earth on top. The interior walls were lined with woven bamboo, as were the floors. There were five Indian built beds, American-made mattresses, blankets and pillows were provided. Also, there was a table, chair or two and a large battery-powered lamp. There was one opening to the gun ring whereby we entered through framed canvas between gun and housing. The gun ring base was at an elevation, whereby a machine gun could fire below zero degree elevation above the housing roof. The Indians were excellent in making water drainages away from the housing. For camouflage, the gun ring had a dome bamboo cover ring with lacing of green and brown burlap. Grass and weeds were planted on the pathways and above the housing. Building 12 of these complete units was quite an undertaking.

The officer's quarters, as well as sergeant's housings were a good distance away and above ground, so we in the 12 gun crews were more secure.

After about one year, grass thatched bamboo bungalows (bashas) were built to house the gun crews. We now had our own mess building, but again decent food became difficult to obtain. We abstained from eating Indian food as we could because of the way the plants were fertilized. We compared eating water buffalo to eating gum wood. When the opportunity arose, off duty personnel would go to Tinshukia or Dibrugarh towns to feast on Chinese foods.

Unknown to us, the Japanese had consolidated their hold on Myitkyina airfields in Burma. Also 85,000 Japanese were forming up to invade India at Imphal and to move into Kohima, on March 15, 1944. Our position at Din-jan was becoming untenable after a surprise air raid by 27 Mitsubisha "Betty" bombers and 18 zero fighter planes on October 25, 1942. Our twelve 50-caliber machine guns poured a hail of tracer and armor piercing rounds into the low flight (1500-ft.) of nine bombers. Pieces of metal and "green housing" were showering down from the planes. The two flights of nine planes each were far too high for our guns. The 18 fighters then came in very low. They were hard to hit for they swarmed like bees but hit them we did. Light raids followed on the 26th and 28th of October, no low raids ever came again.

We evacuated Dinjan by railway to Tezgon airfield in Bengal Province and were flown there for perhaps four months. This was a huge field with revetments for a large number of B-25 bombers. Tezgon was near Dacca (now Dahka). By courtesy of the American Red Cross, a few of us went on a big game hunt in the Garo hill country up the Somesri river by dugout boats to Paukaul from the railhead town of Jarajanjail. The Garo tribespeople had once been headhunters, now Christian people who were very neat and clean.

We lived in small houses built upon stilts. There were a number of tigers, elephants, Sambur deer and wild hogs here. The deer were known as barking deer because they made a sound like "yip-yip-yip." The people prepared good food for us, including wild boar. Most of the women wore nothing from the waistline up in warm weather. A guide, whom I became good friends with, informed me that I could become one of their people if I accepted their way of life. He, Bailey Marak, stated I would need no money and all would be provided if I only worked with them. There was no language barrier. Surely this was as the movie, "Lost Horizon." We left Paukaul with some reluctance, boarded the dugouts and headed downstream. We were hailed to shore by a missionary from Indiana. By his wireless set we learned that the invasion of Europe had just begun. After a couple hours and refreshments, down the river and overland we hiked to Jarajanjall, then to Tezgon by rail.

Next was our venture to Jorhat airfield where we lived In double-walled British tents. This was a ramshackle place. Here we experienced a strong earthquake. This was an air cargo and fighter base. In July 1944, the Japanese had been defeated at Imphal and Kohima with a loss of 53,000 men killed, wounded and diseased.

After an undetermined time, we traveled again up country by rail and truck past Ledo to near Hells Gate on the Ledo road. We again lived In tents, ate swill in a little building, only fit for a hog pen and breathed dust from the Ledo road. We set up no machine guns and wondered why we were here. Here I was afflicted with recurring malaria (Plasmodium Vinex) and intestinal problems. I was administered quinine atabrine and belladonna. Belladonna is made up partially by a poisonous plant nightshade. This was at a tiny hospital near Ledo. The nurses and doctors were excellent. To me lie was at a low ebb and lost 40 pounds of weight in a short time.

We left this God forsaken area for our final tour of duty in India. This was at a tea plantation, not far from Dinjan and Chabua. Here ended the history of the 705th machine gun battery. This was the 87th Anti-Aircraft Group Command made up of a new bunch of officers and Colonel Seward, a West Pointer and fine person was commander. One 705th lieutenant and a portion of the enlisted men became a part of the 87th. Captain John Egan, of the 705th was sent to the States as a cadre officer. Egan was our CO and one of the best. All others were sent into Burma as a combat unit. I was assigned to S-2 Intelligence. (In Corps or Division it is G-2.) I was in and out of the general hospital in Chabua five times and no account whatsoever.

One evening, while in a convalescing ward at the hospital in Chabua, Sergeant Swift, a medic from 87th group came to inform the several of us that we were going back to the United States. One could never express the elation we felt. In two days, back at Group Command, we bid farewell to fine comrades and officers. We were on the way to Bombay to board the ship, General John Pope. At Bombay, a hundred or so of us marched along the quay and sang out the song "There's a troopship leaving Bombay" in one thundering voice. Already aboard were Australian, New Zealand and Maori (Pacific Islander) soldiers who had boarded the ship in the Middle East. We made port at Melbourne, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand. Some of these troops had been away from their homeland for five years. What a display of human emotion these soldiers made as they disembarked the ship. We again made way through the Cook Strait, between the north and south islands of New Zealand. These islands are most beautiful. We were treated wonderfully and ate well aboard the Pope.

On we went through the Tropic of Capricorn, across the equator and into the Tropic of Cancer, then to San Pedro, California. I had been in foreign service two years, seven months and 19 days. We were billeted at Camp Anza, California for two days, exchanged foreign money, then I went home to Ohio for two weeks. After this, it was R & R at Miami Beach, then reassignment. I had circled the world.

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