W.B. "Woody" Woodruff

WWII "mulepackers''
W.B. Woodruff, salutes during the National Anthem for the WWII "mulepackers'' dedication of a memorial stone September 15, 2012 at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville. Staff photo by Cindy Burnham


[Editor’s Note:  April of 2012 was a special one for receiving fine letters in the mail.  At the end of March, I had contacted Mr. Woodruff by mail, requesting some information about my father’s artillery unit, the Mars Task Force, and information about membership in the Mars Task Force Association.  What I received was so much more than I could have hoped for.  Mr. Woodruff wrote me a new letter every few days, and included with the many items he sent me were many of his own recollections of his time in Burma.  In the months following these letters, we exchanged many emails, because I had a lot of questions to ask!  What follows here are Mr. Woodruff’s letters, and some hyperlinks to the many documents he included in his mailings.]

                                                                                        5 April 2012

Friend George:

           Got your terrific letter on the 2nd but it has been a hectic week – out of town doctor visits, plus great-grandchildren in for spring break…

            But I did manage to get an e-mail off to you (Hope you got it); plus an e-mail to Connie Ness reporting on your inquiry and asking her to put you on roster, send you newsletters, etc.  We appreciate your interest in membership, reunions, etc.; and assure you a total welcome awaits you, no dues, no applications to fill out, just join the bunch!

            I am especially interested in your interest in things historical.  I found my old file on A/612th – about 3 inches thick of correspondence mostly, including one or two letters from your dad back about 1990.  I did not yet find the manuscript of your dad, nor associated correspondence.  However, a year ago I mailed three large boxes of my records to the USASOC History Office at Ft. Bragg (having attained the advance age of 86-plus years, I was desperate for a way to preserve all that stuff in case it might be found to have any value).

            One historian there, Dr. Troy J. Sacquety, PhD, made contact with us a couple of years ago, and has attended a couple of our reunions, interviewed several members, etc. He had previously been involved with another CBI unit, the OSS outfit; so was interested in further research with Mars TF.  He paved the way for all the upcoming ceremonials at Bragg this September, in which we will be recognized  formally for contributions to the Burma War.  Sacquety wrote an article for publication in the Sp. Ops. Journal back in 2009 about early aspect of Mars TF history.  I will get a copy of this to you.  He has another article or two upcoming; we will get you on his list for future issues of that journal.   

Just to stay briefly in line chronologically, let me note in WW2 we had three posts where field artillery basic training was done:  Ft. Sill, OK; Ft. Bragg, NC; and Camp Roberts, CA.  If there was any system for determining who would receive FA training, or where, nobody ever uncovered it.  Anyway, in December 1943, it was decided to form the 413th FA Group consisting of the 610, 611, 612 & 613 FA Bns (Pk).   I think this was the result of Churchill’s maneuvering Roosevelt’s support for the Brits in SE Asia – which support General Marshall fought tooth & nail, as we were already overextended, getting ready for the Normandy invasion.  And in fact, as the casualty rate in Europe, early-on, developed, the 610th never got completely organized; the 611th was only partially filled (and assigned as School Troops to the Cav School at Ft. Riley, KS); while the 612th & 613th were fully organized and equipped, beginning at a post in Oklahoma near the army’s main horse & mule acquisition unit.  By happenstance the first troops to arrive were from Bragg, where they had just completed basic in motorized artillery (and most had never seen a mule before).  Soon as they got their quota of mules – and finished chasing them all over the pasture, and were shown how to put the bit in their mouth! – they moved on to Camp Carson, CO, to complete organization & training.  That camp in OK was Camp Gruber (just came back to me).  Then along came more troops, just completing basic at Sill & Roberts.  One result of this, which I always resented, was that the men from Bragg had seniority of a sort over the rest of us, from that time on – even though at Sill we had taken basic with mules, and were thoroughly trained muleskinners and mulepackers, whereas some of those guys from Bragg never did really learn that art.

I think the 4 battalions originally planned for the 413th Gp were the result of the original plan for Burma, likely to round out a full division which would have required 3 or 4 battalions of artillery.  This turned out to be wholly impossible; we were lucky to get a brigade of two regiments.  Many do not understand this, but the Merrill’s Marauders were a mere regiment.  When Stilwell assigned Merrill to command it Merrill was already a general (too much rank for a mere regiment), so unit designation was changed from the 5307th Regt to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) (or 5307th CUP!).  Also, it was useful to prevent (if possible) the enemy from knowing their several divisions were faced only by a single regiment.  Anyway, the Marauders were essentially wiped out by August of 1944 about the mid-point of the North Burma Campaign – their casualty rate had reached well past 100%, with Stilwell rushing men out o f the hospital so they could be wounded a 2nd time and be sent back to the hospital.

So, after a modicum of training at Carson – two or three months—we were ordered off to Burma.  A critical thing here, often not comprehended by many, was that half of the 612th (Hq & Btry) were shipped off to New Orleans, where we picked up three shiploads of mules (320 per ship), departed in mid-July, and arrived at Calcutta in September.  All of 613th,  & the other half of 612th (A & C Batteries) left Carson as we did in mid-June, but at Denver turned west instead of east, got to California, and then off across the Pacific to Bombay, via regular transport.  They meandered across India and Bombay, and I guess were partially flown, on to Myitkyina, Burma, maybe by the time I got to Calcutta on that slow Liberty ship, having crossed the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red Sea, etc.  We had to haul our mules by train up to Ledo, India, on Burma border; there get them re-shod, etc., then march overland to Myitkyina.  I arrived there on the night of 2 Nov 44 – and by 15 Nov, we were off on the second half of the Burma Campaign.  Also, I was now assigned to an Artillery Liaison Section, attached to Hq 2nd Bn 475th Infantry Regiment.

What all this meant was, I had about three months encamped with the entire 612th at Carsons, and about two weeks with them at Myitkyina; all the rest of the time from my first arrival at 612th about March of 1944, until the end o f the Burma Campaign in February 1945 I was off on some separate mission, with little or no acquaintance with men of other batteries, nor most men of my own Hq Btry.  Our liaison mission was to live, march and eat with 2nd Bn of the 475th Inf., and assist them with planning and delivery of their supporting artillery fires.  During most of the campaign I never saw any of the 612th except for the 5 men and 1 mule of my section.

One other thing I was wholly unaware of at the time;  After we marched form Myitkyina down to Bhamo the 475th Inf Regt was split up.  Its 1st Bn, with Battery A of the 612th attached, moved off on a separate mission lasting about a month, til around Christmas of 1944.  See, at the same time our brigade was attacking southward down the west side of Burma, the Brits were attacking south down the east side.  About a hundred miles of heavy jungle, some near impassable, lay between the two.  The separate mission was to check out this central territory, to make sure no enemy units had been left behind, for whatever mischievous purpose.  Balance of the 475th, with 612th attached (minus A Battery) moved on southward to a battle at Tonkwa, which also ended about Christmas.  Soon after, 1st Bn 475th got back from a horrendous march – at places, a man in front of column had to whack off bamboo growing in a solid wall, making a path wide enough that a mule with loaded pack could get through.

Then we again re-united and moved off on final phase towards the Burma Road.  By this time, our other regiment, the 124th Cav (a Texas NG unit, which spent the early part of the war patrolling the Mexican Border; when they could safely be relieved form guarding against Axis trouble-making there, they became available to enhance our Burma effort) had caught up to us and followed us the rest of the way to the Burma Road…

I think this completes Chapter 1 of my report to you, except for one thing – my small world” story from this period.  Porter King took basic also at Sill.  Our bunch, like all others, on arrival at permanent assignment, was scattered all over the place – he wound up in A Battery, I in Hq., others in B and C Batteries.  I never saw him again for about 50 years.  In 1950 I was recalled from reserve and got to Korea early December 1950.  He had already been there, 1st Cav Div, wounded in October 1950, and was carried out on a tank.  In 1961 I was again re-called this time from Texas NG, and eventually wound up in 1st Armd Div at Ft. Hood, for service during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There I was in HQ Co, 1/81 Armor.  Just across the alley was our sister unit, 2/81 Armor, then commanded by none other than George S. Patton III.  His Sgt Major was Porter King – but I never ran into him nor even thought about him.   But eventually, in the 1990’s he showed up at out WW2 reunion, we got re-acquainted, and restored fully the gap in our comradeship.  He came down here for a visit from his home town, Lexington, KY, once; we drove from here to Ft. Sill, toured that camp, found our old WW2 barracks, PX, Orderly Room, etc, still standing.  He flew back home, and within two weeks I learned he had died of a heart attack.  I feel sure he and your dad knew each other.

So long for now

                                                                       Woody

PS. – Almost forgot – at last reunion last September in St. Louis we had only 10 vets present – but 25 or 30 wives, widows, children, etc.  No one from A/612th.  For some reason we always had fewer members from A Btry, though some terrifically good ones.

Porter King at Camp Landis

[Editor's Note:  Yes, Mr. Woodruff.  Porter King was a friend of my father's and here is a photograph of him from Dad's photo album.  This picture was taken at Camp Landis.]


                                                                                                12 April 2012

 George:

            Been thinking about Chapter 2 I could send you, on WW2 memories.  I was in basic training at Ft. Sill from late September ’43 to early Feb. ’44.  This was in Battery “E”, 26th Battalion, 6th Training Reg’t.  We were organized (alphabetically) in 4 Sections, about 35 men per Section.  I was in 4th Sec., where all men had names beginning with R-S…Y.  I got to know most of these, all with bunks in same barracks and always under tight control of Sgt. Triblehorn  (will think of it later; did not think I would ever forget it!) As to most men in the other three sections, I have little or no memory.  Probably got to know them a little during basic, but never saw most of them again until we began reunions in 1989, and then it was only some of them.  When we finished basic we mostly went to Camp Carson to 612 and 613 FA Bns (Pack), but they scattered us terribly.  I think most men from my old Section went to 613th; do not know how I wound up in HQ Btry 612th.  Only recall two men of the old battery who served with me in Hq/612 and both were out of 1st Sec at Sill, named Boone and Credle.

            But this brings me to Chapter 2.  One man from Sill, and the old 1st Sec., was named Orfeo Bonardi, from Long Island.  We called him “Pop” Bonardi; he looked maybe 35 or older, while nearly all of the rest of us were 18, just old enough to come under control of the draft board.  Be he hung in there, and after basic was one of those assigned to A/612 – with your Dad.  Don’t know which section either of them were in?  But in Burma the howitzer in Bonardi’s section had an explosion and Bonardi was seriously hurt.  Best I recall, the shell did not fire when the lanyard was pulled ; but as the crew tried to unload the shell, suddenly it fired (according to my hearsay).  Bonardi left for the hospital and never returned; but we located him just before our first reunion in 1989, and I had a brief exchange of letters with him.  He always signed off his letters with “Sempre avanti, Orfeo”.  Finally, I asked him, “Why?”.  His answer:  His sister often visited him in the hospital, back in Long Island, where he had to stay a long time.  Each time sister departed she would halt at the door, turn to look back at him, and say “Remember: Sempre Avanti!”  At first reunion, Dayton, Ohio, I reported this story to the group.  Someone said that would make a good slogan for us as it did for the Bonardi family.  The slogan was thereupon unanimously adopted;  you still see in on the bulletins.

            Two other men who took basic in same batter with me, then later ended up in A/612 with your Dad, were Joe Graf (Kansas) & Bruce Martin (No. Carolina).  I did not see either from the end of basic in 1944 till first reunion in 1989.  Your family likely knew them, maybe even served in the same section with one or more?

            Continuing with the “small world” stories, at Camp Carson, spring of 1944, a new man assigned to our battery (H/612) was named Bernard Fiscella.  I got to know him and we were friends, on til arrival in Burma.  At Myitkyina I got a sudden reassignment, out of the Commo Platoon (where I had been trying to learn to hook up and use wire and radio communications, never touched on for me in basic) and into the 2nd Liaison Section.  Months later when our Liaison Section got back into the 612 Hq Btry – about Feb. ’45), I remember Fiscella was not around; eventually I got a report he had been transferred out of Hq Btry.  Years later, after reunions and our Assn organized, once again by batteries, and each battery men trying put together Btry Histories etc. I found on A/612 listing the name of Fiscella, as having been Killed in Action in Burma.  I still have no specific information as to cause or any details.  Most likely he was a victim of enemy artillery fire.   Those little 75 mm. howitzers, biggest guns we had, had a range of about 5 miles.  Japs had up to 150 mm. howitzers, range maybe 15 miles, per my best recollection.  They seemed to like sitting off, just outside of range, and livening things up for us.  Also, in that part of Burma, hilltops were everywhere; neither side could control them all, all the time.  Hence enemy observers often could adjust fire to do the most good.  We lost several howitzers, and their crew members to such fire.

            Noel Hughes, late of Cynthiana, KY , is another man who served in A/612 and was on that long hard march across to the British front, in Nov-Dec of 1944.  I got to know him only in reunions, after the war, but thought highly of him.  He wrote a short piece on the history of that separate mission, and gave me a copy.   Hopefully, I can find it some day, maybe get you a copy.  Do any of your Dad’s records mention any of the above names?

            One other name, Sgt. Grady Parr, served as Stable Sergeant of A/612, most of the time from Camp Carson to the end of the Burma Campaign.  He still lives in Memphis, Texas, up in the “Panhandle” area near Amarillo.  I developed good friendship with him because his family had originally lived here but back in the Depression ere had moved west, and took up ranching in Memphis.  There are still many of the Parr clan living around here; one of them was a close buddy of mine in high school here.  Your Dad, if he ever got assigned extra duty in the stables, would have gotten to know Parr – just as you got to know Mess Sgt, if assigned to KP!  Of course I never met Parr til the reunions.

            This might be a good tome to cover this aspect of pack artillery.  A fire battery (A, B, & C Btrys) had 4 howitzers (in motorized units, 105 mm. guns or larger, there were 6 guns per battery, which I was shocked to learn in a later war). It took 6 mules to carry the gun.  To allow for ammo etc, the book called for a total of maybe 10 mules, and maybe 12 men per section.  Within the actual gun crew were Chief of Section (Sgt), Gunner (Cpl), and 5 cannoneers (designated as #1 thru #5; each with a specific duty & location).  The section also had two men assigned as BAR crew, for local protection.  More later, let me hear from you when convenient.

                                                                                                Woody

Joe Graf at Camp Landis B

[Editor's Note:  My father knew all of these men, and he had photographs of all of them except for "Pop" Bonardi.  In the picture above is Joe Graf, one of my father's closest friends through his entire time in the army.  This was taken at Camp Landis.  Shortly after this picture was taken, Joe contracted an acute case of typhus which required evacuation and a lengthy hospital stay, where he nearly died.  He did recover enough to be present for the final confrontation on the Ridge, and was with my father through the time in China afterwards.]

S/Sgt Parr-Recording

[My father spent enough time on "Stable Police" detail to know Sgt. Grady Parr quite well.  Here is is a picture of him from my Dad's album.  It is not clear where this was taken.

Pfc Bernard Fiscella

[Here is a photograph my Dad had of Bernard Fiscella, just a few days before Fiscella was killed in the gun explosion.  Unknown the the gun crew, a round had to gotten lodged in the gun barrel, and when they tried to fire another round, the gun exploded, killing Fiscella and severely injuring the rest of the crew.]


                                                                                                20 April 2012

 George,

           Spent time today digging thru old files and found a reassure trove for you (for others maybe only a pile of junk, but you are easy to please).   Enclosing copies of two items; the others will have to wait for me to make copies in town.  This letter may have to wait till Monday, so I can get it weighed at Post Office.

Item 1:  Some poetry composed by me at age 18, mid-1944, aboard ship called the “Henry Dearborn”, on which about 60 of us were hauling 320 mules to Burma.  We left New Orleans mid-July, finally got to Calcutta late September.  When we began holding reunions, I was secretary & bulletin editor and took it on myself to design this stationary.   Then re-typed my poetry on the proper stationery for exhibit.  First poem, about the wreck, referred to our collision with a British ship in the Gulf of Suez, first night after leaving Suez Canal.  Happened about 4 AM next morning.  We rammed the other ship, somehow; it sank in 30 minutes, we only had a wrinkled bow.  Fished out the British sailors, rescuing all but the ship’s cat, and put back into port Tewfik, a suburb of the City of Suez.  Then it was 18 days there for repairs to the ship.  Only good thing, our officers arranged trucks one day to haul us into Cairo, about 60 miles, where we saw the sights.   This incident brought forth the extra poem, “Wreck of the Dearborn” – bit it also some way brought an end to my poetry.  I never took it up again, and never finished my poetic description of the trip.

 THE WRECK OF THE DEARBORN

 

            St Peter was talking to himself

            One morn as he did wait

            In the sentry house of heaven

            Above he Pearly Gate

 

            “Get everything in order”,

            He to himself did say.

            “In case my fears turn out correct.

            I’ll have a trying day.”

 

            “For yesterday the ‘Dearborn’ sank

            to the bottom of the sea,

            An ‘tis rumored that she had on board

            A mountain battery.”

 

 

THE VOYAGE OF THE DEARBORN

            

            Part I. 

 

            It was a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July,

            In the year of 1944 – ours not to question why.

 

            But on that day, that sunny day, the “Dearborn” put to sea.

            There’ll never be another boat like the “S.S. Henry D.”

 

            She didn’t seem so different from any other ship,

            Just another dirty freighter, ‘bout to start another trip.

 

            But when we got aboard her, my goodness! What a change,

            There’ll never in a thousand years be another ship so strange.

 

            For the crew she had a mixture of scholars, thieves and fools,

            And the cargo that she carried was three hundred twenty mules.

 

            Part II.

 

            Away she went from New Orleans as fast as she could go,

            Down the Mississippi River, ‘cross the Gulf of Mexico.

 

            T’was there we saw the fish that fly, and porpoises galore,

            But wed’a swapped it all  just then to see the land once more.

 

            Found Florida’s Keys, past Hatteras Cape, we sped on night and day.

            That part, however, of the trip, was not exactly gay.

 

            For the old Atlantic Ocean was never known to fail,

            And most of us commuted, ‘tween our sickbed and the rail.

 

            At last we came to Norfolk and there at anchor lay,

            While our convoy formed around us on a sunny Sabbath day.

 

            Part III

           

            Then we were again at sea, and sixteen days

            Weny by, e’er old Gibraltar loomed up in distant haze.

 

            Of course with caring for the animals we’d quite enough to do

            To keep us busy all the day, and part of the night, too.

           

            We fed them oats and linseed meal, we fed them bran and hay;

            We swept and washed and scrubbed and groomed, and watered ‘em twice a

                        day.

 

            Naturally we’d still to pull guard duty and K.P.,

            And good old army inspections were held each Saturday.

 

            But the choicest job of all, I’d say, if I may make so bold,

            Was standing at the hatch to pull manure up from the hold.

 

            Part IV

           

            We entered the straits of Gibraltar, passed the Pillars of Hercules,

            And gazed on, for two thousand miles, other places famed as these.

 

            Fabulous names, like Oran and Algiers, became reality,

            There where the peaks of the Atlas Range tower o’er land and sea.

 

            We saw the town of Bizerte, the subject of story and song,

            And the tough little island of Malta, her cliffs still rugged and strong.

 

            Save for a fleeting glimpse of Derna, the next time we saw land,

            Was at Port Said in Egypt, beside the desert sand.

 

Item 2:  Article by another historian for the magazine “Veritas”. She [Cherilyn Walley] heard about us, made contact, joined us at reunion in Arizona maybe 5 years ago, interviewed some men, collected some pictures, and this is the result.  Afterward she moved on, and I guess Sacquety was hired in her place, and he continued the contact with us.  This was lucky for us!  Led to events next September.  Still hoping to see you there—

More later,

Woody


                                                                                               22 April 12

To:  Geo. Haupin

Subj:  Burma – map, roads, etc.

             1.  One of the best books on our Burma Campaign is “Marsmen in Burma”, written by John Randolph (member of the 124th Cavalry Regiment, also in civilian life I thank a reporter from Houston, TX) soon after the war.  A later issue was published by the University of Missouri Press.  But I feel sure it is now out of print.  You might find a copy thru you local library, that you could borrow.  Enclosed is a copy of map of northern Burma, from this book.  In my reproduction I have added additional marking to aid you in understanding what was happening.

            2.  Between 1937 (Jap invasion of China, shutting down all the coastal cities of China0 and 1941 (Pearl Harbor) the Chinese constructed the Burma Road, from Kunming, China, to Lashio, Burma.  A road and railroad existed then, from Rangoon (Burmese capital, on Indian ocean, and largest port & city in Burma) northward to Mandalay (largest city in Central Burma).  At Mandalay was a “Y” or fork in road/rail lines, one extending northward to Myitkyina; other NE to Lashio.  Purpose of Burma Road was to secure aid and supplies for China, since all their seaports were occupied by Japan.

            3.  Following Pearl Harbor, Japan attacked, among other places, SE Asia including Burma, occupying practically all of Burma.  Japs then attacked from Lashio up the Burma Road into China.  This shut down the last supply route for the Chinese.  Chinese government (especially Madame Chiang Kai-shek, able diplomat and I seem to recall had been educated maybe in the U.S.A., at least knew English) courted Roosevelt, who saw China as a useful ally in our war against Japan.  Churchill also courted Roosevelt, needing help in Burma, where Japs were preparing to attack India next.  Roosevelt did not want to be seen as in any way whatsoever helping the Brits to restore their Empire in Asia, but he did think it useful to aid China, at least enough to keep them in the war and tie down some of Japan’s forces.  So, Roosevelt directed some minimal aid to other “allies” in SE Asia, with main purpose of getting enough help to China to keep it in the war.

            4.  Our strategy developed to create a main supply base vicinity of Ledo, India, the end of rail traffic from Calcutta into northern India (and Himalaya foothills).  From there supplies could be flown over the “Hump” to China; also, another road (the Ledo Road) could be constructed, running across Burma, and intersecting the Burma Road, about 80 miles north of Lashio, at Chinese town of Wanting.  Of historical interest to me is that this route was near to and paralleled a similar route made famous by Marco Polo some 500 years earlier!  But, back to WW2!  The new route to China, consisting of part of the old Burma Rd plus the new Ledo Rd, would eventually come to be called, if only briefly, the “Stilwell Road.”

            5.  To accomplish this, the overall plan called for:  (a) The Chinese army must attack (with much US aid & support) downward from vicinity of Kunming to Wanting area.  (b) Another force mainly of Chinese units would be airlifted from China to Ledo area, there re-equipped and re-trained by Americans, and constitute the main force attacking down and clearing the Ledo Road, all the way to Wanting, there joining up with the other Chinese.  These two forces came to be referred to as the “X-Force” and the “Y-Force”.  There was also a “Z-Force”; best I recall this name referred to a pitifully small American force, maybe about a regiment – all we could spare, and more than Gen. Marshall could approve.  To raise this force it was directed to raise one battalion from continental U.S., one from the Caribbean area (no longer under imminent threat from Germany), and one form S. Pacific; all from individual volunteers for a “…dangerous and hazardous mission”, otherwise undisclosed.  A Colonel Hunter was CO of this conglomeration, when it got to India, as I recall about late 1943 – about same time I was commencing basic training in pack artillery at Ft. Sill.

            6.  In addition, the British Indian forces (later designated its 14th Army) was to launch an attack, supporting our efforts but also restoring Burma to British control.  Britain had its 36th Division near Myitkyina, to attack south downwest side of the Irrawaddy River toward Mandalay; while other forces form different points would also invade southern half of Burma, eventually clearing Rangoon and thus all of Burma.  Note that the Irrawaddy, sort of like our Mississippi, ran down center of country; and in north half of Burma was sort of a barrier to any easy crossings, especially during the monsoon season about April to September.  In this season as much as 200 inches of rain could fall, in some places.

            7.  When the U.S. volunteer regiment arrived it was called the 5307th Regiment.  Stilwell did not know Col. Hunter (who to best of my knowledge turned out to be a great soldier and leader); he decided to designate as new commander young officer on his staff named Merrill, who was a Brigadier General at the time.  This left Hunter as Asst. Commander; also required the unit to be re-designated the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), as it was inappropriate to have a general commanding a mere regiment. 

            8.  Chinese forces always had a hard time making headway against the Japanese, even with US advisors, tanks, and other support.  The standard tactic adopted for the US Force (initially the Merrill’s Marauders), and which became standard for its successors thereafter was to send them off into jungle, to circle around and get behind the Japs, set up roadblocks, or etc., and thereby help force enemy retreat and withdrawal.  Then, do the same thing over – and over.  The MM was wiped out this way, by the time it got to vicinity of Myitkyina.  Stilwell was able to secure another force of regimental size, which eventually was designated the 475th Infantry Regiment (Richard Bates’ unit).  Still later there arrived the 5332nd Brigade (Mars Task Force); and mission was finally completed, “Stillwell Road” opened, truck convoys moving steadily to China.  Hastily, Roosevelt then got all the Americans and Chinese combat trips in Burma re-located to China; Brits left on their own to restore Empire!

            CONCLUSION: With this overview of theater & campaign, plus the enclosed map, maybe all the other details you are accumulating will make more sense?

                                                            Best,

                                                            Woody

 

 

                                                                                                24 April 2012

To:  Geo. Haupin

Subj:  vol. IV

             Well, this 4th epistle is to forward, with some comments, another document of historical significance – or at least I think so.   This one is called “Remembrances: An Artilleryman With the Marauders.”

            1.  The remembrances are those of Ed Seagraves, whose service with us was in the 613th, I think Battery B.  I first met him at a reunion, and listened to his recollections with interest.  Told him he should write them up; he said he was too old and tired.  Told him I would take notes and write it, then send to hom for OK.  I did and he did.  I then sent it to a magazine, called “Ex-CBI Roundup”, and they published it.  Our army newspaper in that theater during WW2 was called the “CBI Roundup”; the later magazine was of, by and for vets of that theater.

            2.  Item about Red Acker, bottom of p. 1 always impressed me.  I thought Acker should have received a high decoration, and maybe a commission.  He died long since, in Alabama.   On hearing this in some publication I wrote his son, about how much I admired his father, although I never met him.  Son never responded.

            3.  The then battery commander is named as Captain West.  I am guessing this was the same Capt. Erdman West who later served as CO  of A/612 in Burma—your Dad’s Battery Commander.  Recall, A & C of 612 crossed the Pacific (on the Butner, by the way, same ship mentioned by Richard Bates, though he went across Atlantic on it), and got to India way ahead of my bunch on the mule transport.  But when I finally got there, our old Battalion Commander was gone, and also the Battery Commander of A Battery.  My memory of the hearsay explanation was that our Battalion Commander always had the troops in formation every 15 minutes, with lots of saluting & ceremony.  But in India this was during monsoon, and troops were generally standing in water at least ankle deep rain pouring down.  And no good reason to hold ceremony at that time.  The then lead officers of A Battery turned in a formal complaint in behalf of their troops.  Result was, Bn CO was replaced, never seen again.  But, the A Battery officers were also replaced – but we did see the again, at reunions much later—and I thought highly of them.  But one odd fact resulting was that 613th had same commander (Colonel Donovan, as I I recall?) from first organization at Camp Gruber, December ’43, to China, summer of 1945.  The 612th, though, had a total of 6 Bn Commanders.  My observation is, this was a great benefit to 613th, both during the war, and in later reunions.

            4.  The Col. Hunter mentioned in this paper was the same Hunter, CO of the Marauders in the beginning.  When Merrill took command, Hunter stayed on as his asst.  This was great because Merrill developed heart problems and had to go to the hospital more than once.

            5.  The time covered in this paper was basically summer of 1944, in the months leading up to capture of Myitkyina.  This is about same period Richard Bates covers in the first part of his Burma experience.  This is of interest because there is a lot of history of the MM (Marauders), and a lot of history of MarsTF; but little clarification as to how, precisely, the one got replaced by the other.  E.G., one might have thought the basically new regiment Bates served in would have been called the 5307th, having arrived essentially as replacements or re-inforcements to the 5307th.  Explanation, per my guess, is that 5307th was an all-volunteer outfit.  The new units were not a special or volunteer unit, but a standard army unit – though put together hurriedly, and on an emergency basis  Our government had sent a regiment over there to do the job of a division (at least); it had ben virtually destroyed, in the process, but its mission still had not been accomplished.  The War Department was thus forced to find additional troops to send – which in he beginning they had asserted were just not available.  Anyway, the new outfit got designated the 475th Infantry; plus it was reinforced with the 124th Cavalry, plus 612 and 613.

            I have a couple more papers to reproduce and forward, so expect two more letters from – so that I may add my  (insightful?) comments and explanations.

 Best,

 Woody

 

                                                                                               26 April 2012

Vol. V

George:

             With this letter is enclosed copy (finally got it made) of the memoirs of Noel Hughes, who served in A/612 with your Dad.  Main interest of this piece I think is its coverage of that “separate mission of 1/475, with A/612 attached.

            It is hard to believe it, but during all this period I knew absolutely nothing about the “separate mission”, which was perhaps the most colorful, and maybe most dangerous, part of the Mars TF Operation, until after the whole brigade got in one piece and crossed the Shweli River (about 3 Jan 45).  I was a 19-year old PFC, not supposed to know much.  Also during the march form Myitkyina I was in a small Artillery Liaison Section, about 5 men and 1 mule as previously stated, attached to Hq 2/475.  I did not even see my unit, Hq 612, during this time; I knew no one in the 2/475 to talk to – nor would I have known what questions to ask!  I just went one day at a time, doing mostly just what I was told, no real notion what was taking place,  nor why.

            I marked in red ink a few passages that I thought you might find of special interest, mainly placed and dates.  I think you had this figured out pretty straight all the time.

            One thing to bear in mind:  The Brigade had about 7000 or 8000 troops, maybe 1000 mules (these just my estimates).  I think it took three days or so, for the entire Brigade to pass one point on the trail.  Anyway it took two days for the 475th and its attachments to cross the Shweli River – on a bamboo bridge built by Chinese engineer troops, used by the for foot travel.  With mules, heavily laden, it was something else.  A mule’s foot would slip down through the bamboo branches tinto the river – that created a mess!  We had to continually carry out and throw more dirt on the bridge, sometimes a piece of canvas or cloth to hold the dirt, then pile up the dirt so mules had enough to stand on

            After us came the 124th Cavalry, which marched down a steep mountainside, to that same crossing—in heavy rain.  They called it the Shweli Slide!  The maps do not make a clear picture.  When 475th set up at Burma Road, it was in the standard “two up, one back” arrangement  The one back was 1st Bn. On hill near village of Nawhkam.  Just east of that ran a winding valley I knew as the Hosi River valley.  Along this valley were arranged landing fields for light aircraft, drop zones for supplies air-delivered – and a cemetery.

            Just east of the valley were two hills.  The northern hill was small and I recall no village on it.  It was occupied by 3rd Bn, 475.

            The southern hill was a long ridgeline called Loi Kang Ridge, on which was located the village of Loi Kang, plus two other small villages. It was assigned to 2nd Bn, but was heavily defended; we did not secure it till the final day.  2nd Bn attacked its north end; then proceeded southward down the ridge – but very slowly.  Enemy had fortifications dug in from one end to the other, of the narrow ridge line, just wide enough at top for one train winding downward.  On position to attack south end of the Loi Kang Ridge; 2nd Bn renewing at same time its attack from north end, moving southward.  From any of the three hills you could see men atop the other two.  From top of all three hills you could see the Burma Road in the distance.  Basically, it was open country from the two forward positions (2nd and 3rd Bns) to the Road.  Our artillery shelled the road, and our infantry sent out frequent patrols to ambush anything enemy had around or along the road.  A fact receiving little attention is that the Japs had located and improved a number of smaller trails that ran North-South, along and parallel to and eastward of the Burma Road.  Much of the evacuation of the Japs from their positions to northward took place along these other trails, to escape our artillery. Bear in mind, the word “trail” well describes 99% of all roads in Burma.

            One more idle comment: You will see Jap artillery described sometimes as “whiz-bang”, and as “whistling willie”.  Americans have genius for such.  The whistling willie was a 150 mm. howitzer, that could sit off out of range of our little 75 mms (about 9,000 yards) and work us over.   You could hear them coming from a distance, whistling—and providing quite a warning to get into foxholes.  The whiz-bang, on the other hand, gave little warning; it was about a 77 mm gun, high velocity; you heard both the “whiz” and the “bang”, but there was some argument as to which you heard first!  They were near simultaneous.   Little warning.

            I may send you one other paper, if you feel need for it, called “Men of Mars”.  It is a summary of the campaign, mainly from the artillery viewpoint, written by some of our officers after we got to Kunming, China.  I think they felt it sort of a duty they owed, maybe because the summaries from Brigade HQ tended to emphasize infantry angles, ignoring the artillery to an extent.  It is about 6 or 8 pages with attachments added thru the years.  Also, if you have questions about anything I sent/reported, I will be glad to have them.

            Still hoping you will find it possible to attend the September reunion at Ft. Bragg?  Let me know when you decide;  I will bring along some extras for you.  I greatly appreciate your interest, in helping to preserve this bit of U.S. history, on thru the next generation.

Best,

Woody

 

                                                                                                           28 April 2012

 George:

             In my last letter dated April 26, final paragraph, I mentioned maybe one more paper called “Men of Mars.”  Here it is, just got it copied, hope it is legible enough.    

            This winds up a fairly detailed summary of the Burma campaign I saw (also sometimes called the 2nd Burma Campaign; for some it might be the 3ed).  The Marauders Campaign got to the outskirts of Myitkyina; then came a sort of transitional campaign, including last survivors of the MM plus new reinforcements who would eventually be designated the 475th Infantry; and final the Mars Task Force, moving on to the Burma Road.  The transitional campaign was the one basically to conquer and consolidate hold of Myitkyina and immediate surrounding area.  This was about the halfway point between Ledo and Lashio, and it was where the Japs I guess put up their strongest defense, and held us up the longest time.

            Attached to “Men of Mars” are a couple pages out of a Field Manual somewhere, providing a bit more coverage on pack artillery transport and organization.

            If further questions, let me know.

 

Best,

Woody            


© George P. Haupin 2012