Spring 1997 Issue
By Carl F. Erickson, D.V.M., Executive Officer Our veterinary company moved from Camp Carson, near Colorado Springs, by train to Camp Anza near Riverside, California, in September 1944, remained there for about a month staging and getting ready to go overseas. About the middle of October we left for the Port of Los Angeles for an unknown destination that later proved to be Calcutta, India.
History of 7th Veterinary Company
We traveled on a 6000-ton freighter, speed 9-10 knots an hour, that had been captured from the Germans in World War I. Three decks of the boat had been modified by making stalls for carrying animals. Our cargo consisted of 454 mules that were later used as pack animals for carrying 75 mm howitzer artillery in the Burma and Stilwell Road campaign. They were to be used in mountainous terrain where there were only trails. In addition to the mules, we had a Navy crew of 15-20 men for antiaircraft protection as we did not sail in a convoy. In addition to the ship's crew, our company (veterinary) of 50-60 men including five veterinary officers - Capt. Lusk, Erickson, White, Barren, and Hawley, plus feed for the animals, and numerous other articles for units in overseas areas. Our ship was still not heavily loaded, so in order to get enough weight to get the propellers in the water we had to fill the water ballast tanks. We had large tanks to purify sea water for use by the men and animals. For bathing we used sea water. For the next month, we traveled through the Pacific, seeing an island, (land) only twice. We traveled south of Hawaii, crossing the equator and passed between New Zealand and the southeast coast of Australia into the Tasman Sea on to Melbourne, Australia. We had traveled approximately 7500 miles in 30 days, and we had gone from the Fall in United States to Spring in Australia. We stayed in Melbourne about a week getting our sealegs and taking on supplies. We left Melbourne sometime in the first ten days of November, 1944 and passed along the south coast of Australia and the north coast of Tasmania, around the southwest coast of Australia (a total distance of 3000 miles), around Perth and into the Indian Ocean. We then went along the chain of the Indonesian Islands, up into the Bay of Bengal and eventually into a port in Calcutta, India. We spent another 30 days of traveling and had gone 7500 miles since leaving Melbourne, Australis. We arrived in Calcutta, India, sometime toward the middle of December, 1944. When enroute and in dangerous submarine waters, we changed course every two minutes, as supposedly it took a submarine that long to plot the course and fire. So, our boat was pitching from side to side most of the time. We arrived in Calcutta with 453 frisky mules, having lost one en-route. We unloaded the mules and equipment and turned them over to the Quartermaster Corps. We stayed in Calcutta about a week, a big, filthy town. I felt as though if I took a bath every day for the rest of my life, I would never be clean. Burma is a mountainous country east of India, and west of China, Laos, and Thailand. We flew from Calcutta, India, in a C-47 cargo plane in mid-December, 1944, to Myitkyina, Burma, which is in Northern Burma near the Indian border. This was a base camp for the fighting going on ahead, where the Chinese were fighting the Japanese, trying to force them back into Thailand. Our company was assigned to the Chinese armies to care for the animals that were being used to carry the artillery. The area was very mountainous with few roads. Myitkyina was also a forward base for fighter planes of the United States, and they used the airfield for refueling and replenishing ammunition and bombs. Our commanding officer, Capt. Lusk, was seriously injured in a jeep accident on December 27, 1944. Capt. Railsback replaced him in late January or February, and we were fortunate to get him. We stayed there for about a month and then moved to Bhamo, which was closer to the war area. We remained there supporting the Chinese armies until the spring of 1945, then advanced to Lashio, Burma, which was the beginning of the old Burma Road. The army engineers (U.S.) had finished building the Ledo-India Road (later Stilwell from northeastern India to Lashio, Burma. In the spring of 1945 our company was divided into three units, with a veterinarian in charge of each. I think Capt. White and his unit went on to Kunming, China. Our headquarters unit remained in Lashio until June, 1945, or so, then moved to the Chinese border near Wanting on the Burma Road. When the war was over in August, 1945, after the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan, our company came back together in one staging area. We moved by Jeeps and trucks over the Burma and Stilwell Roads to Ledo, India, some 600 miles away. Ledo was in Assam province in India as a jungle tailbone of the Himalayan mountains on the northeastern tip of Assam in the foothills of the Naga Hills. It was a jungle with 400 inches of rain during the six months of the monsoon season. The humidity was so great that when you washed your clothes you had to put them on your body in order to get them dry. We stayed in Ledo for a few days. then left by train across the 3000 mile width of India to Karachi, which is now a part of Pakistan. It took us a week, by train, to reach Karachi which was a seaport city on the Arabian Sea. While enroute, we changed trains three times, as whenever you entered a new province in India we went to different size gauge of rails. We went from a wide gauge to a narrow gauge railroad track to a track about the size of our railroads. This was done to prevent one province from invading the other, and the change in rail distance usually occurred near big rivers, and we crossed rivers by ferry. We arrived in Karachi sometime in the latter part of September, 1945. We stayed there for six weeks waiting for a ship to take us back to the States. We left Karachi around the first of December on a General Series ship that carried about 2000 troops. The trip to New York required about two weeks. We went from Karachi in the Arabian Sea, around the coast to Saudi Arabia, Eden, and Yemen, into the Red Sea, the Suez Canal (100 miles long with no locks), through Port Said, into the Mediterranean Sea, past the Port of Gibraltar, out into the Atlantic Ocean, and on to New York City. I was discharged from Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and I could say that I had been around the world! Interesting Side-Lights One of the duties assigned to our company was assisting in developing a method for the mass transportation of animals by air, using the cargo C-47 plane, which was the workhorse of the army in World War II. We helped move hundreds of pack animals (mules and horses) plus their artillery and the Chinese soldiers that were assigned to them. Whenever the Japanese invaded various areas of China, we would fly in pack animals, plus their equipment, artillery and Chinese soldiers to help stem the invasion. We constructed stalls in the C-47 out of large pieces of bamboo which grows very plentiful in Burma. The bamboo we used was very strong, approximately six inches in diameter and light in weight for its size. We made four stalls in each plane, so the plane carried four animals, equipment, and the Chinese soldiers to man them.
Lt. Carl F. Erickson in 1943
Sgts. Fineman and Joe Kelly kneel in front of and beside
Chinese soldiers with Carl Erickson's Veterinary Unit.