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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . c h a p t e r t h i r t y - o n e ........................................................... cigars and mustache wax In March of 1944, we began receiving the B-29s. These were the first we had seen with operational remote control gunnery systems and operational pressurization systems. We had to change all engines, across the board, to the new combat-ready engines. The Ground Echelon of our group had already left to travel to our destination by boat, and the combat crews changed the 240 engines in the 60 B-29s of our group. It was a relief to be finally on our way. And we finally learned where we were going: to the China-Burma-India Theater. We flew from Salina to Goose Bay, Labrador; across the Atlantic to Marrakech, Morocco; over northern Africa to Cairo, Egypt; through the Middle East to Karachi, India; to what was going to be our home base, Kharagpur, India. It was quite a trip. Our base in Kharagpur, about 125 miles west of Calcutta, was pretty primitive. We lived in bashas, which are thatched huts with concrete floors. We arrived at the beginning of the monsoon season, when the temperature would level off at 120 degrees during the day and cool down to about 100 at night. During the monsoon season, it rained every day from 10 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The humidity was so high that mildew formed in our shoes every night while we slept. We also had a base in interior China, in the Chengtu Valley. We slept in tents in China. Our base was called Pengshan. Much of our effort went into flying bombs and gasoline over the Himalaya Mountains, past Mount Everest. It took 12 round trips over the Hump* to get enough fuel and bombs forward to support one combat sortie out of China. From Pengshan, we hit targets in Taiwan, China, Manchuria , and the Japanese home islands. From our base in India, we flew combat missions against targets in Bangkok, Thailand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaya; and Singapore. On the longest combat mission of World War II, * The east end of the Himalayas. PAGE 145 ................. 17575$ CH31 10-14-09 12:24:58 PS we staged out of Trincomalee, Ceylon, and bombed the oil refinery in Palembang , Sumatra. In August, our group commander, Ted Faulkner, was shot down over Singapore. General Curtis LeMay moved me up to command the group; three months later, I was promoted to full colonel. Lee and I wrote religiously. She was hard pressed to find much to write about except Ed’s progress, but news from home was still pretty wonderful . Mail, when it came, was the biggest event in any of our lives. Much of what we were doing couldn’t be written about, and our letters home were all heavily censored, so there wasn’t much for me to tell her. Even under these conditions, Lee and I found things to write about that made us chuckle. The government was generous in making cigarettes available in the P.X. Every man had a ration of a carton a week, at a dollar a carton. But cigars were hard to come by, and at that time, I was a cigar smoker. Lee would, from time to time, send me a box of assorted cigars from home, and she had hilarious stories to tell about her adventures in patrolling all the drug stores in Long Beach, buying cigars, one and two at a time, to send to her husband in India. And for lack of something better to do, I decided to grow a bushy British-type mustache. I found that it was hard to control in the tropics and asked Lee to see if she could find some mustache wax. Mustache wax was about as plentiful as dinosaur eggs. Lee could write a book about her experiences tracking down a tube of mustache wax for me. Whenever I’d find myself telling about how tough things were in India, Lee would usually tell me, ‘‘You think you had it tough! Did you ever go out and shop for mustache wax?’’ PAGE 146 146 : China-Burma-India, 1944–45 ................. 17575$ CH31 10-14-09 12:24:59 PS ...


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