Driving the paved, blacktop roads and interstate freeways in the U.S. today are great. Connie and I have driven vehicles in every state except Oregon. Our annual back and forth trips to Arizona were wonderful. Over the years we drove many different routes and observed the wonders of the United States. Detours were common, slowing us down, but we understood repairs had to be made to keep the traffic flowing.
I was in the United States Army Air Corps in WWII and did many different jobs. My first job after basic training was as the company clerk. The position was a challenge and I got that job because I could type. Sorry to say it only lasted for five of six weeks as our company was disbanded.
Soon after that I was sent to truck driver's school. Truck driver's school in the Army was a real learning experience to operate 2.5 ton GMCs (General Motors Corporation). We were taught maintenance like keeping water, oil, gas, and tires in the correct order. We were not mechanics as that was another military category. We trained in southern California and drove the back roads in and around Riverside. One night we drove in a convoy going toward Palm Desert. Our convoy drove in "blackout" mode meaning we had only very small headlights which only gave a sliver of light. It took two of us to see the road and the truck in front of us and unfortunately, somebody goofed at a crossroad and we naturally followed the truck in front of us and the convoy became a mess. It wasn't until daylight that we were able to straighten the mess and rejoin the convoy. One day, we drove our trucks on mountain roads and were bombed by light planes dropping sacks of flour on our trucks.
I was assigned to the B-29 bombers XX Bomber Command who were routed to India. The operation was for the B-29 bombers to be stationed in India, fly to China, load bombs and attack Japan. Our first camp was an old English airfield at Charra, India. I was in the transportation company and we drove our 2.5 ton GMC for a multitude of jobs. We transported military personal, native workers, hauled foodstuffs, gasoline, and bombs.
I recall several incidents during that period. One day I had delivered some native workers to the airstrip and on my way back to our living quarters picked up several crew members of the B-29s. Driving back, an Indian soldier stepped out in the middle of the road, pointed his gun at us and yelled, "stop!" I did as the gun was pointed directly at me. He spoke no English but I pulled out a sheet of paper, showed it to him and he waved us on. The B-29 crews were shook up as badly as I was and we all wiped our brow and still wondered why the guard was there. We never did find out.
We were assigned to many places in that part of India and the roads were not much more than a path; not maintained very well. I recall one bridge north of Charra that was a challenge as it was the home of some large-tailed monkeys. That was okay but they threw rocks at the trucks so we really sped over the bridge.
Several days later on another road we encountered several interesting situations. The road wound around and stopped just before a railroad trestle about a quarter of a mile long over a body of water. We stopped and had a conference. We could see the road continue on the other end of the trestle so we drove our trucks over the railroad trestle bump, bump, bump to the trestle's end.
Several miles further along the same road we encountered another hazard. The road disappeared into a river but was observed on the far bank and continued on. After some arguing and discussion, one of the fellows took off his shoes and socks and proceeded to wade into the river and discovered a roadbed under the surface of the river about two to three feet deep. We removed the fan belts on our trucks because leaving them on would splash water on the spark plugs and kill the engine. We made it across, replaced the fan belts, and continued over the road to our destination. We were instructed to "never" disturb a holy cow lying in the middle of the road. That was always a good excuse if you were late.
The roads in India had lots of surprises because on another trip on some backroad we were driving along until we were blocked by a large number of natives. They were yelling and gesturing and we finally understood what they wanted. Prior to our arrival one of the native women had been attacked by a tiger and they wanted us to shoot the tiger. We had to decline as we had no weapons and drove on.
The railroads in India are great but much different than in the U.S. The cars were made up of compartments and you could not go from one train car or compartment to another. You paid after you arrived at your destination, not before, and they had first class, second class and third class. We arrived at Bombay, India on April 1, 1944 and rode across India on a third class train. The trip was our introduction to India and it lasted over a week.
To give you an idea about the speed of the train we would sometimes get out and walk or trot alongside the train as it was moving to get some exercise. The toilet facility was small room with a hole in the floor, a handhold, and two raised footsteps on the floor on each side of the hole and no toilet paper. Luckily we had our own. That was a must all the time I was in India and China — carry your own toilet paper.
Probably my greatest adventure overseas was driving the Ledo-Burma Road from Northeast India to China. The road was 1,079 miles long and it took us 10 days to travel the road. Part of it was the old Burma Road that the Chinese built after the Japanese occupied all of the seaports in the late 1930s. The trip was a wonderful experience and I spent the remainder of the war in China driving on marginal roads. The roads in China were all constructed without machinery. When you have 10,000 people building a road it gets done. In the future, I will describe how thousands of Chinese workers built the airfield where I was stationed at the end of World War II. The one thing I really recall was there were few bridges in China and many times we had to be ferried across. Most roads in China were never very wide. You drove on the left side of the road in India and China. Upon returning home and driving the roads I had to restructure my brain to remember to drive on the right side of the road.