WWII Biography written about 1980-83 by
Thomas G. Trumble
Personal Secretary to C. L. Chennault
Tom Trumble enlisted in the navy in the early 30s and served as Yeoman on the Maryland, Augusta, Wyoming and Yorktown until he resigned in 1941 to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) otherwise known as the Flying Tigers. He was appointed Chennault's personal secretary and served in that capacity until the end of the war. The following material has been extracted from his more complete service biography to include his experiences with the Flying Tigers and Claire Chennault.
There was an awful lot of jungle, encroaching to the very edge of the macadam landing strip, surrounding the RAF airdrome which had been loaned to us at Toungoo, Burma. The monsoon had just ended and the jungle was steaming our under the daily hot sun which had replaced the heavy, low-lying clouds. Sweat-soaked, mosquito ravaged, hating Limeys and Burmans alike with impartial fervor, the American Volunteer Group became what Colonel Chennault had dreamed of commanding. An effective fighting force of men and planes which would end the dominance of Jap planes in the skies over China.
Three hundred of us, sailors, marines and army air force, had received our discharges from the service and in contingents numbering from thirty up to a hundred had traveled from California to Rangoon during the last four months. The armed forces resented having to let us go, but President Roosevelt's order couldn't be countermanded. If a man volunteered and was accepted, he had to be given an honorable discharge and sent on his way.
About a hundred were pilots, the rest were aircraft mechanics, armorers, radio operators, clerical personnel, administrative technicians, hospital corpsmen and army medics, army cooks and a parachute rigger specialist. A hundred P-40's had been allotted from planes destined for England, to be used by the AVG, in spite of the angry protests from the British High Command. Tons of supplies for the AVG were arriving daily by ship transport at Rangoon, to be shipped by rail to Toungoo and from there by truck over the Burma Road to China.
Chennault had received most of what he had requested; pilots, ground crews, planes and supplies for a year's operation. All he had to do now was put it all together and assume command. The Japs had relieved the French from their burden of command over the natives of Indo-China and assumed their responsibilities. That's when Roosevelt thought it might be well to get some American airmen and planes into China and so he had listened to Chennault explain his plan and had given the okay. While we were organizing in Burma, the Japs were equally busy in building airfields in Thailand, within easy striking distance of the RAF airfields in Burma. But the British remained cool. They'd put up a fight for Burma, of course, but after all it wouldn't be a mortal blow to the empire if they did lose Burma. If the Japs were bloody fools enough to try to attack Malaya and Singapore, they'd pay for their bloody insolence.
The heat didn't ease up while we were in Burma. Inside the heavy mosquito nettings enclosing our cots, the sweat streamed off of us, soaking the mattresses. If you got drunk enough before you turned in, you'd sleep. Seldom a breeze and even a breeze couldn't penetrate the heavy lacing of mesh which kept the mosquitoes and myriad's of other insects from making a feast on your body. Eventually you'd doze off and reveille at dawn and drinking hot coffee outside the cook shack were a welcome change from a restless night. It was fairly cool then, by contrast of course and that became the friendly and relaxed time.
About two weeks after my group of thirty-eight had arrived at Kyedaw Airdrome, I suddenly realized that I liked the outfit and decided to stay. Before that I thought it was the most fucked-up mess I'd ever seen and I spent some time trying to figure out how I could ever get back to Manila so I could work in the Cavite Navy Yard. I wanted no part of this outfit. Nobody knew what the hell they were doing and they talked about the Japs going to be such pushovers -- and I'd seen enough in China to know that those goddamned Japs were dangerous. In a screwball outfit like this a guy could get himself killed.
They'd assigned me as clerk to the supply officer, Skip Adair. Maybe fifteen minutes a day typing out supply lists and I'd be through for the day. The headquarters squadron personnel were all ex-army kids, hardly dry behind the ears and yet they were in the key spots. My resentment grew and one morning I told Skip that I either wanted reassignment to some job where my skills as a first class petty officer in the navy were going to be utilized, or I wanted to resign and go to Manila.
Skip was a pretty understanding guy and he told Joe Alsop about me and a couple days later he told me to report to Alsop for a special assignment of typing letters for the Colonel. A couple of hours later I was at a desk on the Colonel's veranda and Joe was giving me rough drafts of letters to Air Chief Marshal Brooke-Popham and Air Vice Marshal Pulford, located down in Singapore. He wanted them typed in smooth form, which he wasn't able to do. But he talked to me for a little while, telling me that the letters were very secret and that I shouldn't talk about them with my friends in the group.
Well, that was more like it. I'd been Captain's Yeoman on the USS YORKTOWN for ten months and I'd been sworn to special secrecy by both the skipper and Commander A.W. Radford when I typed out letters to BuNav, reporting on the British radar system which the YORKTOWN was experimenting with. It was no sweat for me to keep my mouth shut about stuff which didn't concern me. Outside of the fact that there was some mysterious way in which planes and ships could be seen by some kind of radio wave and that meant nothing to me, the letters to BuNav were so filled with figures of distance and crazy alphabetical arrangements that they were nothing but a damned nuisance to be typed because you had to be so careful in accuracy.
But this stuff that Colonel Chennault was writing to Brooke-Popham and Pulford got my attention all the way. From some source in China, the activities of the Japanese ships and troops in Chinese ports were under surveillance and they were becoming heavily concentrated. For whatever reasons of his own, Chennault was sending this information urgently to the top command in Singapore. I knew that Joe Alsop was planning to leave with them immediately after Chennault signed them to deliver them in person,
My first conscious thought was fear. A flashback of the Japanese power and ferocity in the bitter struggle for Shanghai shot through my mind. They'd wipe us out like fleas was my second thought. My third thought was where in hell to go for security from them and I remembered Hooker and me speculating over a map of Burma whether we could make it up to Mandalay in case the Japs wiped us out at Toungoo.
I knew Joe was watching me as I read through his draft. From long navy habit I tried not to show any emotion to what I was reading as I lighted a cigarette, inserted American Volunteer Group letterhead into the typewriter and carefully began typing the letter to Brooke-Popham.
I retyped each of them three or four times, not because of errors on my part but because Joe would take the finished products back to the Colonel inside his thatched bamboo hut and they'd discuss it, change the wording a little bit and then I'd begin again. The late afternoon changed to evening and the porch lights were switched on. Chennault came outside, nodded to me in a kind of greeting and left for the officers mess. Joe had a Burmese boy bring my chow to me on the porch.
Late that night in the canteen I told Hooker in a low voice what was happening and then we drank our beer in silence. We were a long way yet from feeling any loyalty to this outfit, or the Chinese, or anyone except ourselves.
A couple days after that I was called to Chennault's office in headquarters and he told me he was appointing me as his secretary, replacing a youngster named Larry Moore. He asked me a few questions about my service in the navy and seemed satisfied with what I told him. At twenty-nine, with eight years navy behind me, I weighed 150 pounds and through frequent boxing workouts I was in top physical shape. I was good friends with most of the navy guys and the word that I was a good guy to leave alone and not to fool around with had apparently gotten around to those who hadn't known me in the navy.
I only made a fool of myself one time, when I got the blues and drank most of a quart of scotch on the base. Reeling from the hot sun and the whiskey, I challenged Preston Paull who even if I was sober could have demolished me in a fight. He evaded my wild rushes with ease and never threw a punch at me. Finally I came to my senses and slept it off. I thanked him later and apologized. We've always been friends since.
My new status as secretary to the Colonel advanced my social status in the group, but it also had its costs. I quit drinking scotch and soda in the railroad station at Toungoo, sticking to beer which had little effect on me. I stopped the daytime excursions into the Chinese hotel which specialized in so much tender young pussy, if you wanted to pay for it. Instead I wandered inconspicuously from the restaurant with a flashlight, making my way in the darkness to a thatched two-story hut in the outskirts where a Burmese maiden's favors were available if you but climbed the ladder to her room and paid the three rupee charge.
I took two AVG friends with me one night, but when my flashlight revealed the outside ladder and the remote area to which I had led them, they chickened out and found their way back to the railroad station without me. I learned that the rumor was spreading about that I was hopelessly Asiatic and had no qualms about where I went and what I did.
One night I was bicycling alone on the path from Toungoo to the airbase, about seven miles in distance. I sensed rather than saw a group of Burmese men standing along the path and a blow on the neck knocked me off my bike. I disentangled myself to my feet, flashing the light to the guy I thought had hit me, I thought I hit him with a left to the jaw, but learned afterwards it was to his chest. They closed in and I yelled like a Comanche, hitting heads with the flashlight.
I felt a sharp sting in my back and got my left arm around the neck of the guy behind me with the thought of breaking his neck, but he pulled his head down and free and I felt his head turban come off. For whatever reason, they abandoned the attack and fled into the jungle. I thought I was unhurt and I felt victorious and wonderful. Then I noticed that my shirt behind was feeling soggy and sticky and my light showed I was bleeding like a stuck pig. That sting had been a knife, but until then I didn't know it.
The sight of the blood made me feel sick and woozy and when a British lorry with some AVG guys came along, they took me and my bike on to Toungoo where Doc Prevo sewed up the cut and told me I was lucky that the knife had glanced off a rib. He sounded me for inside bleeding, but my luck held. A British C.I.D. asked me to show him where the attack had occurred and I found it when the lights showed the head turban I had knocked off.
They rounded them up, eight in number, but the native with the knife had fled for parts unknown. They all admitted the attack, explaining they had thought I was a limey and not an American. They put the eight among forty-two others and asked me to identify my assailants. I was looking for signs of a chin or jaw blow and tentatively picked out one of them. The C.I.D., Wilson, told me I had landed my first blow to the guy's chest instead of his jaw. I had picked the wrong guy and they turned them all loose.
All of Burma was a powder keg of native unrest. The yellowrobes were the worst of all. Their eyes glittered with hate as we looked at them and we cheerfully returned glare for glare, feeling secure enough with our sidearms. After my fracas, one of our bunch was being sent home to the states for shooting up the Station Restaurant and the Chinese hotel and I bought his gun from him; a beautiful .32 caliber Colt revolver. I had never killed anybody and didn't know if I actually could, but I liked wearing it.
Chennault questioned me closely to see if I had been at fault. No one on God's earth could lie to the Colonel with those dark, penetrating eyes probing through to your very guts. As the weeks passed, his manner towards me showed that he liked me and was beginning to depend on me. Dispatches from China and from the British in Rangoon and Singapore were increasingly alarming about Japanese buildups and concentrations. He'd read them impassively when I put them in his basket, but his orders were urgent to get our trucks loaded with the radio equipment and other supplies on their way to China. Every day, new convoys of three or four trucks, would set out.
The three squadrons were shaping up and squadron commanders and flight leaders had been selected. In the mornings I'd stand with him on the control tower with a pad to write down the notes of things he'd talk to the pilots about at the next briefing session. The Limeys finally gave us permission to have gunnery practice with our P-40's and pilot morale really improved with that. Practicing maneuvers and tactics was one thing, but knowing that your guns would shoot hard and straight was important to them.
The heat, the lousy chow, the dawn to dark routine of the ground crews trying to get the planes in combat shape and the threatening rumors of Jap air buildup only fifty miles away from us on the Thailand border, were making havoc of our morale. Occasionally air alarms would sound and with a vivid memory of Jap bombs destroying Shanghai, I wasted no time in getting as far from the base into the jungle as I could. Jokes were made about my running zeal at such times, but those bastards hadn't been bombed yet. A lot of them still acted like it was all a joke and a waste of time.
The few pilots who had chickened out when they learned they'd be flying against Japs who would shoot back and some of the ground personnel who hadn't been able to measure up, had all been sent back to the states by this time. Those remaining had all signed the papers which made us officially Volunteers for the American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force. Before that we had just been employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company.
But discontent was riding high and I was wondering if Chennault could hold us together without some sort of showdown before we ever got to China. I never mentioned anything to Chennault about what I heard among the ground personnel and I never mentioned to anyone anything which had to do with regard to what Chennault was doing. Throughout the entire time I was Chennault's personal secretary in the AVG, I kept to that role and for that reason my status in the Group was never clearly defined. I was neither fish nor fowl.
The Colonel in some way sensed my efforts to control myself from blind panic when air raids were threatened and loaned me his rifle to carry with me at such times. It was a Winchester and the most beautiful gun I'd ever seen. It made all the difference. Now I could shoot back at the Japs.
Sometime in the morning of December 8th, Radioman Dudzik came charging out of the radio shack holding a paper in his hand, yelling "Colonel, Colonel, the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor". The news stunned us, shocked us and galvanized us. Tears of absolute anger and fury streamed from my eyes and I wasn't the only one. Now the bastards were really our enemy and God help them by the time we got through with them. I'll be contradicted and refuted on this, but I know and I knew then, that it was Pearl Harbor and the fact that the United States was at war with Japan, that inspired the American Volunteer Group to earn the name Flying Tigers. The AVG pilots for nearly four months had been thoroughly trained and indoctrinated by Chennault in tactics and procedures that utilized the P-40 characteristics to full advantage in combat against the Jap Zero. From hard gunnery training on ground targets most of them had become deadly with the .50 and .30 caliber guns they flew. Additionally, their flight experience and military experience in the armed forces had prepared them for such aerial combat as the AVG would encounter from the Japs. They were self-disciplined and confident of themselves.
Why then wouldn't they have performed just as efficiently and bravely in combat against the Japs as American volunteers who were flying in the service of China? No one will ever know, because it's pure speculation. It didn't happen that way. Not as a pilot and one of themselves, but nevertheless, keenly aware of the heart-beat of the AVG during our several months of integration into a combat force, I can only say I don't believe that those pilots and many of the ground crew mechanics and other personnel who had to service the planes under Jap staffing attacks, could ever have made themselves risk their lives in such a manner had they not hated the Japs with a furious hatred for what they were doing to their own country, the United States.
It is one of the many ironies which occurred during World War II in China, that the Japs unwittingly lighted the flames of the American Volunteer Group against them and that torch was passed on to the China Air Task Force and the Fourteenth Air Force youngsters who came after us, because they wanted to carry on the tradition of the Flying Tigers. And they did.
But no one can predict how Americans will react to anything. The Kremlin should bear that in mind.
Particularly among the former navy personnel of the Group, our reaction was explosive. All of us had served on the ships and carriers stationed at Hawaii and all of us had shipmates who had been on those ships when they were bombed. The first expressed thought by some of the navy pilots was to get back to the states as soon as they could so they could rejoin their old squadrons. I thought of the YORKTOWN and how much I wished I could be on the bridge, manning my battle station, while we got even with those bastards. I heard other navymen expressing the same thoughts.
We gathered in groups in the compound of the headquarters squadron and Chennault talked quietly with many of the pilots and then called me to his office and dictated a one-page message to the entire outfit. He said it exactly right. No tough, "I'm in command and you'd better look sharp" stuff. "They've hit us in treachery and they've declared war against us. But that's their mistake. They can't win and they won't win. The American Volunteer Group is combat ready for them. We can avenge what they've done in Pearl Harbor and we will avenge what they've done. I want every man in this group to do everything he can to help accomplish this."
Everyone got a copy of it and by the end of the day everything was moving with a force and direction that nothing could have hindered. No more talk of going back to the states to our old outfits. We'd do it with the AVG.
I turned in that night, happier and more confident than I'd been since I had volunteered. For the first time in my life I completely trusted someone else. I'd seen a miracle happen. Chennault would do exactly what he'd said. We'd lick those sons of bitches and make them pay. From then on until the day I read of his death, Chennault had me and I had Chennault.
Why didn't the Rising Sun bombers attack our base at Toungoo between December 8th and the 18th -- ten days of anguished vulnerability for Chennault? Three successive waves of bombers at two-hour intervals would have wiped us out. We had no air-raid warning in a fifty-mile stretch bordering Thailand. In an attempt to get at least a ten minute warning, he kept four planes aloft during the daylight hours, circling the area between Thailand and Kyedaw base, but flying low, bombers and zeros would have been difficult to spot against the jungle terrain.
It must have been galling for the Emperor's high air command officers during the succeeding months of all out effort to put an end once and for all to the AVG based at Rangoon to realize that they had overlooked a sure thing like that. At the time they probably considered us as a low priority objective and they were stretched pretty thin with having to support the Malayan drive for Singapore. Once Singapore was secured-they could take care of Burma.
Whatever their reasons for not taking us seriously, they didn't kill us in our cradle as they might have and we flew to Kunming, China, after ten frantic days of preparation to get us out of Burma, lock, stock and barrel. With many outlying airfields for dispersal, with a warning net from eastern China which alerted us to planes flying in our direction at least an hour before they could reach Kunming and with shelter caves and revetments for mechanics to repair crippled planes, the AVG was practically invulnerable as compared with our Burma setup.
Through the night hours of the 17th and into dawn of the 18th of December, I sat in a CNAC C-47, sleepily gazing at patches of cloud far below, thinking that they were probably lakes illuminated by the moonlight. This was my first long flight in an aircraft. We flew above what is now called the golden triangle, where Burma, Thailand and China touch each other. My chief emotion was that of relief that Burma was now far behind me. I had the Colonel's rifle as well as the tin box which held my office files. Somewhere in the piles of baggage were my clothes and a few personal belongings. The plane was overloaded and had barely cleared the strip on take-off, but I didn't know that until later.
We shivered in the cold clear air of the Yunnan Plateau as we disembarked, wearing the thin jungle shorts and shirts of Burma. Chinese officials welcomed us. As we drove over the cobbled streets of the ancient city, I watched the crowds of people as they stared at our passing. Some showed only curiosity, but many of them grinned at us and shouted "Ding Hao", holding their thumbs upward. The hot coffee and eggs served later, American style, were plentiful and delicious. For the second time I welcomed China and China welcomed me.
A month passed so quickly I lost track of days and weeks. Harvey Greenlaw, the AVG exec, came into the office. "Trumble, get over to Hostel 1 and pack some clothes. The Colonel is taking you to Chungking with him." I looked in disbelief. What in hell was he taking me to Chungking for? I knew this was the first time he'd gone to Chungking since the AVG had proved itself both in Burma and in China. I knew from correspondence exchanged and radio messages sent and received, that the Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek lived in Chungking and that it was now the Capitol of Free China. I knew from the disbelieving and wondering grins of close friends that in some way I was being disconnected from them and I felt more dismay and apprehension of what might lie ahead in Chungking than I did of awe and appreciation of what the Colonel was doing in having me accompany him.
But like I'd done for eight years in the navy, I hid my thoughts. Some kind of mutual trust in our working relationship had built up between us and in the thirty or forty minute car rides between Hostel 1 and the airfield in the mornings and evenings, he'd relate the incidents of his early boyhood life in the bayou country of Louisiana and sometimes about when he was a squadron commander in the Army Air Force. Sometimes I'd tell him of the things that had happened to me in the navy, but mostly he did the talking. I became uneasily aware that the armor plate I had built up around me was being assailed by a warm kindness and understanding I'd never experienced before.
A kind of devotion to him personally became an part of me and through that channel all of the things he felt towards the Chinese people became mine also, because he had told me of them.
Many times during my navy life I was aware that a lot of the things I did on shore leave or aboard ship that transgressed good order and discipline were lightly dealt with or overlooked because I was so capable with a typewriter and in dealing with administrative paper work. The impulsive hot temper which got me into most of the difficulties was something I couldn't control because there was never even a split instant where I could reflect on the advisability of the action which I took. A situation would arise, a hot flash blurred my thoughts and the thing was done, whatever it was. Mostly it was a blow towards a jaw, but there were times when defiant angry words poured out before I could put a stopper on them.
Such an instance was when Lieutenant JG Seipt in the captain's office on the YORKTOWN accused me of neglecting my work during the week so I couldn't stand inspection on Saturday mornings because I was so far behind. I had laced back at him furiously, calling him a liar. Then he left the office and cold beads of sweat and worry about what would happen to me now, chilled my forehead. But still the anger at the unjust accusation didn't disappear. Commander Ray talked to me, telling me that he knew Lieutenant Seipt had been wrong, but that nevertheless I could not talk to a commissioned officer in the navy in that manner.
I think Commander Ray liked me and was worried about my future in the navy, because one time he told me that he thought there would be a good future for me in civilian life because of my ability with the stenograph machine and that perhaps I should not continue in the navy past my present enlistment.
But that was all behind now. I'd escaped the navy without a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge on my record and I'd never wear a military uniform again. And that was my grim resolve as I gladly turned to and gave Colonel Chennault the best job and the deepest loyalty of which I was capable.
Chennault did not speak Chinese. Partial deafness was perhaps one reason for that, but once when I asked him about it, he explained that using broken and badly pronounced Chinese with the high officials with whom he had to deal, not only would put him at a disadvantage in the matter of face, but that crystal clear understanding when dealing with the life or death matters of aerial combat against the Japanese, was absolutely necessary. He said and it was obviously true, he just didn't have the time to devote to such study.
Major Shu Po-yen of the Chinese Air Force was the Colonel's personal interpreter. A graduate of Michigan State prior to the war and acquiring almost perfect command of the English language in the process, he had returned to China at the beginning of the Japanese-Chinese war. He was assigned duties as interpreter and given the rank of Major.
In 1936 or early 1937, when Chennault was appointed as Air Advisor to the Chinese Air Force, Shu acted as interpreter between the Generalissimo and Chennault when the precise details of an intercept plan by the Chinese planes against the Jap bombers and fighters were being ironed out. Shu, nervous enough as it was in the presence of Chiang Kai-shek, was doubly nervous at the import of the mission with so many Chinese planes at stake and either through misunderstanding himself of the plan, or the desire not to offend the Gissimo in any respect, did not make it absolutely clear between them as to what had to be done.
The intercept mission was a failure and many Chinese planes were shot down. The Generalissimo called a conference with Chennault and said rather bitterly "Well, your plan didn't succeed." Chennault retorted sharply, "Well, if you had followed my plan it would have succeeded." Madame Chiang was interpreting between them. When it became clear that there had been a misunderstanding, Major Shu was sent for and after a sharp colloquy the Generalissimo ordered that he be beheaded immediately. He was led away.
The usual dollop of opium syrup had been given him and he was on the brink of execution, when a countermand order arrived. When Chennault understood from Madame what was happening, he asked Madame if he could have Major Shu assigned to him as his personal interpreter and assured her that he would guarantee that Major Shu would never make such a mistake again. The Generalissimo countermanded his order and Major Shu, groggy and almost unaware of what was happening from the effects of the opium, was freed and assigned permanently to Colonel Chennault.
I didn't learn about this until long after the war, but I knew from the outset that Shu was mortally afraid of the Generalissimo and that he never accompanied Chennault to act as interpreter at any meeting where the Gissimo's presence was involved. After that, Madame Chiang always interpreted between Chiang Kai-shek and Chennault.
Shu, later promoted to Colonel, headed the Translation and Interpreter Service for the American Volunteer Group and the Fourteenth Air Force which eventually replaced it. We became warm friends immediately and through the years which have followed I consider him the best friend I've ever had. He was devoted to Chennault and much of our success through the war could be traced to the clear understandings between the Chinese Air Force and the American Air Force which Colonel Shu was responsible for in his translating and interpreter sections.
Shu, the Colonel and myself, had our desks in the Colonel's one-room office on the airfield at Kunming. After their attempt on December 20th to reach Kunming and bomb us out, losing nine of the ten bombers, the Japs didn't return for more of the same. Chennault's dream of an all-out attack on the AVG at Kunming and three squadrons with which to annihilate the attackers, never materialized. They were busy elsewhere, furiously bombing and strafing Rangoon and Toungoo and the three squadrons which took their turns at Mingaladon Airdrome ran up heavy scores of kills with only a few losses of our own.
Using the tactics of diving upon them from above with deadly gunnery, the P-40's literally tore the Zeros and bombers apart in diving speed which they couldn't match and then climbing swiftly to circle above and attack again. The RAF Brewster-Buffalos also stationed at Mingaladon had neither the tactics nor the fast diving abilities of the P-40 and the zeros with their incredible ability to turn and maneuver in short distance took a heavy toll of courageous Royal Air Force pilots. But nothing sufficed to stop the Imperial ground forces from first capturing Moulmein and then driving on to Rangoon. The British ground forces seemed helpless and it was only a matter of a few weeks before Rangoon would be occupied when Jack Newkirk flew his plane to Kunming to inform Colonel Chennault at first hand of what was occurring. We stood in the sunshine outside our mud building while Jack described the panic, the lootings and the immense piles of needed supplies on the Rangoon docks, unguarded and free for the taking and the immense number of new trucks which could carry those supplies to China if there were someone to drive them.
He looked at me and grinned, knowing my thoughts and suggested to the Colonel, "I can take Tom down with me behind my seat and he could drive one of the new sedans back for your use." My heart hammered with the thought. Life was getting dull in Kunming and I wanted to see what he had been describing. Newkirk had been a pilot on the YORKTOWN when I was captain's yeoman and we were friends. The Colonel hesitated and then said shortly, "No. I need him here." That was that. I wouldn't get to drive the Burma Road.
Chennault was becoming increasingly angry and worried at the attrition of our planes in Burma. Although not many of our pilots had been killed, there had been many crash landings in areas around Rangoon where it was difficult to get the planes out to repair them and we had been allotted only 99 to start with. He knew the British couldn't hold Burma and that China would be under heavy attack thereafter. He wanted to have the AVG intact when that occurred.
High level attempts had been made by the English Mission in Chungking to have the AVG come under the command and control of the RAF in Burma and for that reason Chennault had reluctantly acceded to the Gissimo's agreement to keep one squadron at Rangoon. He didn't trust the British. Air Vice Marshal Stevenson flew up to Kunming one day in late February to consult with Chennault. Still stung by what he considered British treachery, Chennault was far from cordial to him on that visit, although later in the war a warm feeling grew between them.
Lunch was always served at the field by the War Area Service Command personnel, the organization which housed and fed the Americans. Chennault invited Stevenson to have lunch with him in his office. The Marshal said, rather hesitantly, that he'd like to wash his hands and the Colonel pleasantly told one of the clerks to bring in a basin of water and towel. Then Stevenson said, "Well, no, Colonel, what I mean is I'd like to refresh myself" and then Colonel Chennault asked the clerk to take him to the Chinese latrine, the only one available.
Ken Breeden later returned with a grin that almost split his cheeks and told me that after the Marshal had finished squatting over the open trench that he had looked for toilet paper and then was none in the latrine. In desperation he had had to use some of the rupee bank notes he carried in his wallet. Chennault laughed when I told him about it.
Continuous bad news in the form of radio messages poured in from Burma. I became aware that I felt a reluctance to read them when they came. The news bulletins from the Pacific weren't telling the whole truth about what was happening to the navy -- but it was a long time before I knew how badly the navy did at first. Reading the accounts of what battles were occurring in the Pacific, I felt a curious feeling of some kind of guilt for not being on the bridge as captain's talker when they were taking place. They had trained me for eight years for what was happening and here I was on dry land in China.
More and more I felt the isolation which my undefined status in the AVG was forcing upon me. A mood of hatred for the war and a longing to have it end became a deep part of my life. My days at work for Chennault were filled with a sense of participation in the AVG, but my evenings were pretty lonely. Night life in Kunming in the bars and cafes was pretty tame in comparison with what I'd had in Shanghai and I guess I had a kind of repugnance to anymore of it anyhow. If you've had one Chinese whore you've had them all, I guess I summed it up to myself. I felt close to several navy shipmates who sensed my reasons for a kind of self-isolation from ground personnel activities and we shared a sort of half-wishing we were back in the navy.
Chennault continued to take me with him on his infrequent trips to various areas in China, mostly to Chungking where he would consult with the Generalissimo and Madame. I was warmly welcomed by the many colonels and generals to whom Chennault introduced me on these trips. He carefully explained the structure of the Chinese Air Force and how these officials fitted into it. Hostel No. 2 in Chungking had been designated as his headquarters in his role as Chief Advisor to the CAF. In the cold, raw weather of Szechuan Province the hostel was warm and comfortable, with a fireplace and hot baths and showers. Also the food was good and served American style.
But Chungking was depressing. Huge craters in the area of the hostel made by heavy bombing became muddy water pools and for days on end the rain monotonously came slanting down. The heavy winter weather was welcomed by the Chinese. It prevented the bombers from coming. On the rare sunny days the Jap spies sent their messages and pretty soon would come the bombers, ignoring the inadequate antiaircraft fire and picking their targets at leisure. In the same cursed way I'd seen them destroy Chapei and Nantao at Shanghai, no Chinese planes to oppose them.
Chennault had AVG plans for the coming summer at Chungking, but right now he was tied down at Kunming because of the Burma fiasco, which was worsening. It was obvious that the British would abandon Burma and their constant retreats up the Burma Road were jeopardizing the whole of the Sixth Army which Chiang Kai-shek had put under the command of Stilwell to try to hold Burma. In April the allied resistance collapsed and it became a demoralized rout, with the British attempting to reach India through the hills of upper Burma and the Chinese fleeing across the Salween River into China. Stilwell decided to walk out rather than accepting the air rescue which Chennault was trying to effect at Myitkyima. It took him about sixty days of cruel jungle punishment.
With Burma lost, allied morale in southwest Asia reached an unplumbed depth. Chinese morale in particular. They were cut off except by hazardous air transport over the Himalayas. They'd been fighting on hope and meager supplies from Rangoon for so long that this latest blow was almost lethal. I think at that moment, if it hadn't been for the air victories by the American Volunteer Group in the past four months and hope that the United States would come through in their promises of aid and support, that the Generalissimo would have been forced to negotiate a surrender to the Japanese. It was that close.
Morale plunged deeply in the American Volunteer Group also. By the laws of nature and human reaction, it had to. Youngsters for the most part, pilots and support personnel, the squadrons had fought like the tigers they were named for in Burma and had given everything they had to keep the planes flying. AVG bodies and wrecked aircraft had to be left behind. Johnnie Fauth lay on the airfield mortally wounded after a surprise attack on Magwe and told Doc Richards "Take care of the others, Doc. I can't make it," and he couldn't. Frank Schwartz was flown to a hospital in India from Magwe and he died within a month. We had become good friends on the Zaandam on our trip across the Pacific. Johnnie had been in the bunk next to mine in Burma.
Some of the things that were happening were tearing me apart. Sometimes when I was alone I tried to cry to get the pressure out of my chest and mind and I couldn't. Newkirk had been killed a few weeks earlier. He was strafing an armored column near Chiengmai, Thailand. I'd said so-long to him the day before, when he was taking off on the mission. He'd brought me an expensive pipe as a gift and a can of Sir Walter Raleigh. When Bob Neale came off the airfield and into our office to tell the Colonel about it, I went outside into the sunshine where I couldn't be seen and lay on the ground, trying to cry for Jack but nothing came out but dry sobs which shook me like a leaf.
Then the resignations of a few pilots and a few of the ground crew began coming in and they were given dishonorable discharges and flown across the hump to India. At the time I felt the bitterness of poison towards them, but I don't have that feeling now. We had all taken a helluva lot more than we were built for and I don't think they could help it. It was the letdown after Burma's loss that did it and not the actual fighting in Burma in which they performed well.
Just when it seemed like nothing could get worse than it was, the tide began to turn. Chennault, was urgently summoned to Chungking by the Generalissimo to attend a military conference between the U.S. Military Mission and the Chinese Government. When he returned his face was pale, but his black eyes flashed with excitement. Then the cables began arriving. Captain C.L. Chennault returned to active duty and promoted to Major. Major C.L. Chennault promoted from Major to Colonel, effective 9 April 1942. Colonel C.L. Chennault promoted to rank of brigadier general, effective 21 April 1942. Perhaps the most rapid advancement from Captain to Brigadier General in the history of the Army Air Force.
Within a day or two he told me what had happened at Chungking. The AVG would be disbanded on July 4th of 1942 and the AVG members would be given promotions and inducted into the air force as military personnel again. New American planes would be sent to China and some new pilots as well, plus ground personnel. The new air force in China would be called the China Air Task Force and he would be in command. He said he was telling me all this in confidence and I was not to tell anyone what he had told me. Inwardly I was shaken to the core, but other than happy congratulations on his promotion I volunteered nothing of my thoughts.
I kept the silence and it was three or four weeks before rumors began circulating in the group that new American pilots and planes would be coming to China and there was much speculation about what would happen to the AVG. Questions were asked of me frequently about what was happening, but I professed total ignorance. It was sometime in early June that the General released the news that we'd be disbanded on July 4th and the news of the forthcoming induction caused intense personal reaction, particularly among the ex-navy and ex-Marine personnel. I felt trouble coming and I had already made up my own mind about what I would do.
On the day he released the news to the group, the General told me that he had given me the news in advance to test me and had told no one else. He said he was fully satisfied that he could trust me completely. I wasn't really surprised. I'd been through that before on the YORKTOWN. Drunk or sober, I kept such information in a locked compartment of my mind.
New reports reached us in Kunming. The Tenth Air Force was being created at New Delhi and the China Air Force would be under control of the Tenth. Brigadier General Clayton Bissell, in command of the Tenth, flew to Kunming around the 1st of June and at a command performance in the auditorium of Hostel One, all pilots and ground personnel available, he informed us that all the personnel of the AVG would now be members of the United States Army Air Force. We would remain in China and we'd wear uniforms again and military discipline would again take over our lives. His manner was autocratic and he talked down to us as if we were already under his control.
I could feel the wave of anger which was taking all of us. The longer he harangued us, the heavier the hostility against him. Finally he stopped and asked for questions. The ground personnel for the most part remained silent, but among the pilots, particularly former navy and marine corps, their questions came hot and belligerent.
If we have to go back in the military, why can't we go back to our former service? We've been in China fighting for eight months now. Why can't we go back to the U.S. on leave? We signed a contract which says we've left the military under honorable conditions. How come you can break the contract just like that and say we have to go back into the military? If the AVG is finished, why can't we go back home and go back to our services after some leave and rest?
Bissell lost his temper. Your country needs you here. If any of you leave China and return to the states I'll guarantee you that your draft boards will meet you at your ship and put you into the military immediately. You're American citizens. All Americans have to do their duty in time of war.
Some of the exchanges between the pilots and Bissell became hot and downright confrontation. I saw General Chennault's hopes to persuade most of the Group to remain with him in his new command vanishing into thin air. I told him of the AVG reaction to Bissell the next morning and that nearly everyone was planning to leave China just as soon as the AVG was disbanded in just pure defiance of what Bissell had said. He wouldn't believe me, that his AVG had changed so much just overnight. But it had. Bissell's stupidity exploded what remained of our deteriorating AVG morale. After Burma's loss and the frantic air efforts to stop the Japs from crossing the Salween and penetrating China from the south, their push had ended and they had dug in at the banks.
Then a couple of months of inactivity occurred. We had so few flyable planes left that Chennault saved them for Kunming defense. We received a few new P-40's over the hump route by flying AVG pilots to India and even to Africa to ferry them back. About the only offensive mission we made for several weeks was a six-plane bombing-strafing attack upon the Hanoi Airfield. Jim Howard's plane engine caused him to abort and he returned to Kunming. The others shot up the control tower and the grounded planes pretty thoroughly, but the AA fire was intense and Donovan crashed. Bishop was hit by AA fire over another airfield and was captured.
Three of the planes returned in the Kunming twilight. Chennault watched to the south with his binoculars for over an hour before we saw them coming home. The three pilots talked to the General in the darkness and Link Laughlin described Donavan's crash. Driver Wang drove us home to Hostel One. Chennault was utterly silent and I didn't break the stillness. The strain and ache in my throat was almost intolerable. Donovan had been such an eager, likeable youngster.
The Chinese had tried very hard to make us feel welcome and happy in China. They had given us every comfort possible and had made our living environment as much American style as anyone could ask for. They were eager and cheerful and cooperative in every way. But that wasn't enough. Ninety-five percent of our volunteers had never been out of the United States previously. They were absolutely and honestly homesick and the only thing that could help them was to experience life in the U.S. again, for awhile at least.
Most of them felt affection and loyalty for General Chennault, although in varying degrees. His personal magnetism and competent leadership of the AVG had made themselves felt and that inspired trust in him. But the great gulf which he tried to bridge in making the group as a whole feel sympathetic and loyal to the Chinese efforts against the Japanese was a hurdle he couldn't overcome. As a whole, it was to Chennault and to each other that we felt the loyalty; when those were threatened the whole meaning of our being in China seemed to become unimportant. Even before the disbandment of the American Volunteer Group was announced, I felt it was touch and go as to how long they would stick it out. After Bissell's arrogance and thinly veiled threats against those who wouldn't comply with his wishes came out, I knew it was curtains.
General Chennault knew it too. In desperation he hurried preparations for the AVG to move from Kunming to Chungking, about four hundred miles to the north. It would soon be summer and the Japs could be counted on to renew their heavy morale bombings against the capital city. Long prior to Pearl Harbor he had planned for the AVG to use the airbases at Hengyang, Lingling and Kweilin as an outer screen to demolish the heavy air build-up at Hankow which would be daily sending bombers to terrorize and subdue Chungking. He had explained his general plan to me one day in Kunming, using the wall-map in our office.
As with anything else he told me in confidence, it planted itself deeply in my mind as never to be released. Even today as I write about some things I feel a kind of twinge of uneasiness in doing it.
I persuaded him to let me drive up the road from Kunming to Chungking. I wanted to say that I had driven the Burma Road. I guess he remembered refusing to let me drive a truck or a sedan from Rangoon to Kunming a few months earlier, but I knew he wasn't too keen on my idea. At a time when there would be a lot for me to do, I'd be out of the picture for at least five days. Anyway, in company with Red Musgrove driving another truck and Mickey Mihalko driving a jeep, we arrived at Peishihyi Airfield pretty close to schedule. In the hills around Annan we'd had some trouble with bandits boarding the trucks in some of the steep ascent but other than throwing them bodily from the trucks or using rifle stocks to club them, we hadn't had to kill anyone. From Kweiyang to Tsunyi the scenery was so unbelievably beautiful that I felt as though I were a little boy again, lost in the descriptions of the fairylands.
The Peishihyi headquarters setup was different from Kunming: The "Old Man" as we were beginning to speak of him, had a private office now. He and Colonel Bob Scott had been in his office all morning, with guys coming and going after private sessions. Then Chennault came to the door and asked me to come in. There was a low down feeling in my guts. I'd sooner face a court-martial than tell Chennault I wasn't going to remain with him.
Scott opened it up by telling me what a splendid job I'd been doing for the General and that he wanted me to remain in China with him as his aide-de-camp. Chennault left the office and I was alone with Scott. He told me that I would be commissioned as a first lieutenant and promoted to captain the day after the AVG was disbanded. He waited for me to break into smiles and thanks. It was like a roaring in my ears and my throat was so tight I could hardly get the words out, but I said no, I'll never go into the military again, that I'd been navy before but I wouldn't even go back to the navy if they asked for me.
Then Chennault came back into the office and he knew from the look on Scott's face that I had refused the commission. I again spoke to Scott, but it was Chennault. As long as the General wants me to work for him I'll stay in China, but only as a civilian. They were patient and they were kind and they used the persuasion that it was the only reasonable thing I could do. I felt miserable and lost and close to tears, but I shook my head, No. Then they excused me and I went back to my desk in the outer office, my head in a whirl.
Next day the General told me he had decided to let me serve out my contract which expired in October and then he'd see what other arrangements could be made. He didn't reproach me in any way whatsoever and I could hardly-look him in the eyes. Several times during the years that followed he remarked to me that I was the stubbornnest individual he had ever met. There was no reply I could make. I felt deep relief that our relationship remained as warm and friendly as ever.
The navy never offered me a thing. I'd have turned it down regardless, but it hurt pretty bad, but I new I had it coming. Honors were even.
Insistent intelligence of continuing Jap air buildup at Hankow pressed heavily on Chennault during the last month of AVG existence. He sent message after message to the War Department and to Bissell's Tenth Air Force in India almost pleading for fighter planes and pilots to replace the AVG personnel who would leave China en masse after July 4th. Only a few fighter planes and army pilots arrived before July 4th. He asked for volunteers to stay past our official disbandment for fourteen days. Only twenty pilots would agree. Twenty-four ground personnel, including myself, also volunteered to remain. Five of the AVG pilots accepted commissions, five of his staff and twenty-eight ground personnel accepted commissions or enlisted ratings in the army. The remaining hundred and eighty-seven were adamant in their determination to leave China the soonest possible date.
Most days, weekends included, I worked from dawn to dark, taking care of the routine office work, typing and mimeographing the press release which would be issued to all the correspondents on July 3rd. And preparing the Honorable Discharge Certificates for each member of the group, some two hundred and fifty-two. A few months earlier I had asked Chennault about discharge certificates and he told me to draw one up for his inspection. Patterning it after the Navy Honorable Discharge form, I drafted one with the Flying Tiger Insignia and a P-40 fighter plane on the face and he approved it. We sent it to the China Defense Supplies outfit in Washington for production and they did a beautiful job of reproduction on almost parchment-like paper and sent an ample supply to us in Kunming.
Each of them had to be handwritten for name and character of service on the face and additional individual data on the back. The General signed each of them as AVG Commander and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek signed the one with his name on it. It took me almost ten days of tedious effort to write the names clearly and as beautifully as I could, before turning them over for Chennault's signature.
The hot early summer days at Peishihyi were beautiful for clear blue sky and emerald green rice paddies, but deadly inviting for Jap bombers. The smashed ruins around the headquarters office building showed the accurate bombing of the previous summer. Each day before leaving my hut I made sure my most precious possessions were in a bundle that I could hurriedly grab before heading to a shelter cave that had been cut beneath a mountain. But the bombers didn't come. They'd have wrecked our living quarters and the headquarters setup if they had, because there were only a couple of P-40 planes on the field. Chennault had sent the bulk of his few remaining planes to Kweilin and Hengyang, figuring to cream the Hankow concentration if they took off for Chungking.
Realizing the danger, the Japs concentrated on wiping out Hengyang and Kweilin, rather than risking raids on Chungking. They lost a lot of planes doing it, but we also lost two wonderful guys, Johnny Petach and "Red" Shamblin. They had volunteered for the extra two weeks. Petach and an AVG nurse, Emma Foster, had been married in Kunming just a short time before. Chennault faced the task of telling her the night of July 10, 1942.
Small detachments of AAF personnel began arriving over the hump from India, four or five at a time and began setting up a headquarters personnel system. I still handled the General's paper work and correspondence, especially pertaining to Chinese Air Force matters, but I could see the handwriting on the wall. My status with the General was an enigma to Colonel Merian Cooper who arrived as the OM's Chief of Staff, but I knew he didn't like a "civilian" to be in such close touch with a commanding general's top secret affairs.
Chauffeur Wang who had been the general's driver for several years had asked to remain in Kunming with his family until the general returned to Kunming headquarters. More and more often as the summer wore on, Chennault was having me drive him into Chungking for conferences with either Madame or with Stilwell. On one such afternoon I was driving, with the General alongside of me, Cooper, Tex Hill and P.Y. Shu were sitting in the back. We passed through a village and a Chinese man with a basin of wash-water in his hands deliberately threw it at close range into our car, drenching the General's shirt through the open window.
I slammed on the brakes, went around the car and knocked the guy down before anyone in the car knew what was happening. He didn't get up. Colonel Shu got out of the car and explained to the villagers that this man had been insulting to a very important man who was helping the Chinese in the war against the Japanese and that I had acted in punishing him for such behavior. They seemed to understand and we drove off.
For a few seconds nobody in the car said anything. Then Tex remarked, "Tom, you certainly knocked him out" and then Cooper was addressing me with some severity that my behavior was disgraceful and not the kind of behavior that I should use in my duties of driving the general and other officers. I was just about to tell him to mind his own business when the General cut in with, "That was a good job, Tom" and Cooper shut off his mouth in mid-air.
I had been feeling very despondent and uncertain of my future ever since the AVG disbanded on the 4th of July. The Chinese had given us a big send-off with a barbecue feast in Chungking, during which Chennault had presented me to Madame as his personal secretary, but she didn't seem impressed and that was the beginning of the secret dislike I had for her in all the years following. After the affair was over, General Jerry Wang who headed the War Area Service Corps with a jollity and competence which endeared him to everyone who ever had contact with him, had his hands full in trying to dissuade some of the AVGers from setting off into downtown Chungking and searching for "ladies of the night" for their additional pleasure.
I was on my best behavior that evening and did not join the search. Later on I found out that the "sisterhood" was practically inaccessible to westerners because the Kuomintang Party was hell-bent on keeping the debauchery and licentiousness of port cities like Shanghai and Hongkong from taking place in their capitol city. With the assistance of Chinese friends I was able to make my acquaintances, but the secrecy of operation was hell to me after the freedom I'd had in Shanghai. No dancing, no drinking, no fun along with it, made it a rather dull experience.
On the next day after we were no longer the American Volunteer Group, I was in my office and heard the General call out "Tom" a couple of times, but I paid no attention, thinking it was Tom Gentry he was calling. He came to the door and asked "Isn't your name Tom?" I said, "yes, sir, it is." He said come in the office a minute and I came. He had never called me by my first name before. It seemed strange to have the barrier come down, the barrier which had existed in my military life from the day I entered the navy in 1933. From the time I had first understood and accepted the barrier between myself and those who wore the gold braid on their sleeves, it had become a shell of protection to remain behind.
With General Chennault, from the first day I met him, regardless of the fact that I knew he was "Colonel" in name only, I recognized him as a person I would have no difficulty in saying "Sir" to. It seemed the right thing to do. I knew how to say "Sir" under any conditions. An enlisted man, if he has any considerable time in at all, can say about anything he wants to with his way of saying "Sir" to a commissioned officer. It's his ultimate protection. I had a feeling toward Chennault which went far beyond mere liking and respect. But I had never presumed. When he addressed me as "Trumble", I knew he was complying with the barrier that command makes necessary.
I understood immediately that he had decided to change the relationship, that he was letting me know he was grateful and glad that I had declared that I would stay with him and work for him in China as long as he wanted me to. There was a surge of happiness in me then that I had never experienced, but I tried not to display it in my features.
He told me that in the fall, perhaps earlier than that, he'd be moving back to Kunming to command the China Air Task Force and that would be his headquarters. He wanted me to remain in Peishihyi and Chungking to carry out any assignments or duties that he felt necessary. A real hurt hit my mind. Also a doubt. Was this a gentle, kindly way of telling me that he appreciated my offer, but that things had changed now and that I was superfluous? I threw off the doubt. If he said he wanted me to remain in Chungking, then he had a reason for wanting me in Chungking. All these things passed through my mind in instantaneous evaluation.
I continued to drive him to Chungking in the evenings when he had appointments with Madame, General Chou, or General Stilwell. Sometimes he'd bring Joe Dash along, a coal-black daschund of about two, a lively imp who had affection only to the General and myself. His mother was Wenchie who belonged to John Williams, the OM's communication officer in the AVG. John presented him as a just weaned pup when we first arrived at Kunming and perhaps in memory of a dog he'd once had. Chennault named him "Joe" and remarked to me with a mischievous smile "-- and Joe Alsop will never know whether I named him after him."
I always waited in the car while the General had his conferences and one evening he took Joe to meet Madame Chiang. In about twenty minutes he returned with Joe and put him in the car I with affectionate irritation, saying "Madame doesn't think much of Joe. He insisted on climbing in her lap and mussing up her dress." He then returned into the "Palace". By road it was thirty miles of hilly, rocky road from Peishihyi to Chungking and generally took an hour to drive.
Mostly he was silent in the car for about fifteen or twenty minutes after we started our return, dragging deeply on his cigarettes. When he was deep in thought, that was his manner and I never said the first word. Then he'd relax and he'd either talk generally about what he and Madame had been discussing, or if it was top secret he'd never mention anything. Sometimes he'd be reminiscent and tell me about things past, sometimes it would be about how we were doing in eastern China, or the way things were changing with the new personnel arriving more and more frequently. Once I sighted a queer animal larger than Joe Dash crossing the road in my headlights and he told me it was a Szechuenese rat and that babies and small children were constantly killed in the peasant homes by the creatures.
Once in a while he'd mention the afternoon hunting trips we'd had in the Kunming countryside in the first-three months of the year, wishing we were back there. Ancient irrigation lakes constructed centuries ago and fed by ice-cold rivers from the mountains were in abundance and geese and duck were plentiful. From the top of a hill we'd breathe deeply from the climb and watch the flocks arriving or flying away. He had a Remington pump and I had the rifle he'd loaned me. He'd plan out the strategy. Old grave mounds would give me concealment close to the lake if I could get down there without scaring them. Give him twenty minutes and he'd circle the lake and hide in a stand of pines on the other side. When I was sure he'd got there, I'd sight in a target on the water and fire and then stand up. When they saw me they'd fly in the opposite direction toward him. He'd give me a grin and a so-long and wearing a worn leather jacket and khaki trousers he'd stride away, almost as swiftly as an Indian might travel.
It worked most of the time. I'd get my shot off, hit or miss as it might be and when they were airborne they'd fly from me across the lake and then I'd hear the pop, pop of his gun and see them tumble down. He seldom missed. Three or four would be in the bag for sure. One time I missed at fifty yards and when the mallard rose off the water and during the split second before he'd be in motion, I got in a second shot and drilled him through. I forgot completely that I was shooting in the general direction of the General. My heart was in my throat until I heard his gun go off.
Once he crippled the wing of a large goose and it managed to get in the water. Swimming out, the wind was blowing it toward the end of the lake and it would be an hour before it could arrive there. We watched for a few seconds and then I said "Colonel, I'll swim out and get it" and he looked at me seriously and said "Trumble, that water is ice-cold. If you got in trouble out there and couldn't make it, I couldn't help you." I knew his thinking. We were at war and he had the AVG under his command. But I figured I could make it and I stripped everything and headed out with the flailing crawl I mislearned as a kid. The bird was maybe a hundred feet out and I grabbed its neck and turned and headed in and the poor critter was drowned and had a broken neck when I tossed it on the bank.
I dried off with my shirt and the sun warmed me quickly and I had never felt so elated and proud of myself before in my life. When we got back to the hostel that evening the OM told everyone about it. Another time we finished at dusk and a small Chinese boy around nine was admiring the game we had. I saw two mallards flying swiftly above us and yelled "Colonel" and pointed upwards. He fired twice and got them both and one was so large and the height so great that it split open when it hit the ground. The OM pointed to it and said to the little boy "Yadze?"' -- meaning duck. And the little kid with his eyes like saucers said "YadZOO". It must have been the biggest he could imagine. General Chennault was the best shot I've ever seen. He made wing and angle shots that I thought were impossible.
Our hunting trips together enlarged the dimensions of the friendship bond which was developing between us in the early months of the AVG. We didn't salute in the AVG. Through all the years, I never saluted the General even once. It would have embarrassed us both if I had. I was never in uniform under his command. But in the presence of others I never once showed any familiarity of manner or anything but absolute respect. It was my way of showing him how much I thought of him.
The summer months of 1942 passed quickly. The CATF headquarters formed quickly and master sergeants, tech, sergeants, staff sergeants and lower non-coms took the places of the AVG administrative personnel who had been there before. Typewriters clacked, mimeograph machines turned, lieutenants and majors exchanged salutes between themselves and with the non-coms. They all seemed very busy, but I seldom knew what the hell they were doing. I was out of it now. In my office next to the general's, I was busy phasing out the records of the AVG and making spot decisions what should go into my files and what should belong to the new China Air Task Force. About the only things the General now asked me to do was in messages and correspondence with General Chou and Chinese Air Force matters.
Within a couple of days after the 4th of July, most of the AVG carried their luggage and souvenirs into the three DC-3's of CNAC which had been chartered to bring them to India. I said my personal good-byes to many good friends, but when I saw them all loading into the transports I didn't wait for their take-off. I brushed a little moisture from my eyes and headed away from the airfield, fighting a mixture of homesickness for the states and a determination to stick it out with the General until he left China.
Perhaps fifteen or twenty AVG remained at Peishihyi and in the face of the increasing airforce pressure that was building up around us, we drew closer together in our daily contacts and conversations. The WASC still brought coffee and toast to the headquarters building at ten and we shared it together at "our" table, Eloise Whitwer, Doreen Lonborg, Mickey Mihalko, Boogie Baughman and myself. On such a hot morning we watched a young man with his shirt soaked in perspiration climb the stairs and he came over to us and asked where Colonel Cooper's office was. We speculated as to who he was and what he wanted.
He was a missionary when he entered the offices of Cooper and the General, he was a second lieutenant when he came out. He returned to our table and we welcomed him with coffee and toast and discreet questions. John Birch had rescued the crew of one of Doolittle's planes and had led them from his mission in eastern China through a thousand miles of occupied China, bringing them to Chungking. Deciding that he wanted to fight as an American against the Japanese for the duration of the war, he asked for a uniform and a gun. The uniform would come later, but he received a Colt .45 the next day.
The friendship between us was instantaneous and when he approached me and told me he had never fired a gun in his life and needed to know how, I sketched out some paper targets and we walked into the countryside to find a place to practice. I pinned a target onto the face of a crumbling gravestone and showed him how to load and fire. The shots from his first clip were absolute misses. I showed him on a sketch how the sights should appear when they were lined up and his second try would have done credit to a practiced marksman. He fired a third clip and I was well satisfied.
I'm sure it was the same gun which he refused to surrender to the commander of a Communist army unit some three years later which had captured him when he was leading a group of intelligence officers to rescue American POW's in eastern China. The others surrendered but Birch refused to give up his gun and blistered the communists with angry insults and vituperations in the Chinese which he spoke so well. They tied him and dragged him on the road and then executed him. This happened ten days after the Japanese surrender. I was in the states on leave and Chennault had left the CBI Theater and returned to Washington. When we returned to China we could never ascertain which of the communist outfits was responsible and his murder remained unpunished. I think that's the way Johnnie Birch would have wanted it.
But in the late searingly hot summer months before he was assigned to field intelligence duties, together with Art Hopkins, also young like Birch, who had been a Yale-in-China teacher at Yali, we often roamed through the hills which overlooked Peishihyi at night when it was too hot to sleep. I learned from them about a China which I had never known existed. And from thinking that I knew all about China from my navy years I began to comprehend how really enormous and unknown China actually was.
There's a world of difference between the foreigner who says "I liked China", or the rarer individual who says "I liked the Chinese". Looking back to my years in the Asiatic Fleet with an acute memory, I recall only three Chinese people with whom I exchanged understanding conversation. In English, of course. I never spoke Chinese unless I spoke memorized phrases. The AUGUSTA laundryman was a huge and virile guy of about forty, whose robust personality and laughter made everyone who dealt with him, like him. He spoke English with a knowledge and surety that I wondered at afterward, but didn't think too much of at the time. I wanted to learn how to use an abacus board and he brought me one and wouldn't charge me anything. I still have it. He was later executed as a spy by the Japanese.
The ship's jeweler also spoke fluent English and once when I asked him for something in ivory carving which was old and precious, he seemed surprised and said he hadn't thought sailors would want such things. He brought me a small carving of Kuan Yin, several centuries old, which had been looted from a home in Nanking and charged me only forty Chinese dollars for it. She's been with me since then. A few months later he was stepping from a sampan on to the ship's gangway, when the current pulled the sampan away as he was making the step. Holding on to a small suitcase which was heavy with gold and silver items, he disappeared into the river. He never reappeared, although the O.O.D. ordered life preservers ready to throw to him in case he came up.
On liberty one afternoon I wandered through Central Park, taking pictures and a tall man wearing western clothing and an expensive looking overcoat engaged me in conversation. I took his picture. Years later in Chungking Prime Minister T.V. Soong's personal secretary introduced me and the three of us shared afternoon tea. I knew I had seen him somewhere in the past but couldn't come up with the circumstances, so I didn't mention it. Much later, in looking through my Shanghai navy pictures I saw the Central Park picture and I was almost certain it was a snapshot of T.V. Soong which I'd taken six or seven years before. I've never known for certain. It wouldn't be important.
I don't know how the naval-officers spoke of the Chinese, but "slope-heads", "slant-eyes", "Chinks" and "Pigs" were the common terms used by American sailors when referring to the Chinese. "Pig" was used to designate a Chinese prostitute or "shack-job." Within a few weeks of my advent into Asian waters I'd been thoroughly indoctrinated that the Chinese were cowardly, useless, cheating, lying, thieving, pimps, whores and were sloppy and dirty and lived like rats. The apparent hate and contempt for the Chinese disturbed me, but never once did I speak out against it. I knew what a terrific weight of opinion would be against me and I'd be derisively laughed and jeered at as a "Chink lover".
At least on the AUGUSTA, the customary contempt for the Chinese as soldiers disappeared almost entirely as we watched Chiang's forces fight bitterly and stubbornly as the Japs invaded Shanghai. Often their units fought until they were all killed. Actually they had to. A captured Chinese became a tortured and executed Chinese soon after his capture. The executed Chinese bodies which floated by the AUGUSTA on the Whangpoo became an indelible part of me. There's no way I can erase the memories.
I've often wondered about it, but have never been sure. The intense hate which I carried for the Japs at the time I returned to the states in 1939 must have had its counterpart in sympathy and admiration for the Chinese who were trying to oppose them. There were compelling reasons, mostly selfish, why I so enthusiastically volunteered for the AVG, but they weren't patriotic because I never dreamed we'd go to war against Japan. In the words I might have used at that time, I might have wanted to get even with the Japs for the way they had treated the Chinese. I probably had no more consideration than that for the matter.
I have to base everything I say on my own experiences in China and my observations of others, but as an arbitrary estimate, I would say that only one out of every ten foreigners who lives in China for any length of time, such as two years or more, can actually let his own personality blend and become part of the China in which he lives. In so doing, he has to maintain his own individuality and at the same time absorb, understand and respect in total the customs and ways of life of those he has chosen to live amidst.
Why only a few can do that and why most fail, is something that is only conjecture to me. Perhaps it lies in genetics, perhaps in the "foreigner's" upbringing in early life. Whatever it is, the Chinese people recognize it instantly. You either "like" them, or you don't. You either "respect" them, or you don't. Those are the two musts you have to have. They are basic reactions and pretense otherwise is useless. During my three years in Chungking I used to evaluate fellow foreigners by the regard in which they were held and by the difficulties which they encountered in trying to achieve an objective.
It was Chennault who "launched" me into becoming his liaison officer with the Chinese Air Force and perhaps because of the deep affection and gratitude which they felt for him, I was able to effectively do what he wanted me to do. I've never known for certain and I'll never know. At times my tempers were violent and my actions erratic. I was always contrite afterwards and always tried to undo what I had done wrong. I'd like to think that they overlooked those faults because they knew that I truly liked them and wanted them to succeed. But again, maybe they swallowed a swordfish out of respect for the General.
However, during the summer of 1942 1 became committed to Chennault and through that commitment I became committed to the Chinese nation in its struggle for survival. I took it as a matter of course that the United States would defeat Japan. It was a certainty. Those little bastards could never defeat us. The thought I might not be around to see it sometimes bothered me a little, but not a helluva lot. I'd feel uneasy for a minute or two about not going to confession for such a long time, but that was about it.
Around September the General told me he was going to Kunming for a few days and he'd like me to come along. I was glad of the chance. There were some unfinished things down there, business and personal, for me. Burt Hooker had written me, asking if I intended to stay in China with the General, or did I want to come to India with him and we'd line up a job with General Motors or some American outfit that could use us? Hook and I had been close friends during the AVG and intended to see it through together. Neither of us intended to return to the states until the war was finished. The thought of the safety and high pay in India was a comforting alternative if the OM decided he didn't need me any more, but I had never told him of my last resort plans.
Hook and I drank beer deeply and talked seriously in our last evening together. When we'd had enough beer to float us, we switched to endless cups of coffee and cigarettes, but still we talked into the small hours of the morning. His contract would expire the same day as mine, 11 October and there was nothing in China for him to stick around for. He wouldn't go back into the service either. He knew how close I'd become to the General and understood when I told him I figured to stick it out. It became a matter of us keeping in touch by long distance as much as we could and good luck to both of us. Goddammit, I hated to say goodbye to Burt.
Next morning I had breakfast two hours before the General's plane would take off and tried to get transportation to the airfield. It was impossible. Fifteen miles distant, the OM's C-47 would be warming up for take-off. Half an hour late already, I commandeered a Chinese Jeep and forced the driver to take me to the airfield and saw the plane on the runway starting to roll and forced the driver to drive toward the plane. I stood up and Carlton saw me and slowed the engines. The door was opened and I climbed inside, completely out of breath. The plane was loaded with passengers, looking at me curiously. Chennault looked at me coldly and said "I didn't mean to rush you, Tom." I couldn't look at anyone and sat with my cheeks burning like flame on a bucket-seat for nearly an hour. Then someone nudged me and told me the General was talking to me. I went up to where he sat and he asked me what had happened.
That was the second and last, reprimand I ever received from the General. I'd unwittingly laid myself open for the first. It was in the Kunming airfield office. Jack Newkirk was there, Harvey Greenlaw carrying the title executive officer in the AVG, the General and myself over at my desk. They were talking over the pros and cons of an air attack on Kyushu Island, just barely within range of what we had. Chinese pilots flying the old Russian bombers known as the SB-3's would be accompanied by a squadron of the AVG. The discussion came up about who would navigate the attack and Royal Leonard's name was mentioned as just about the best navigator in China. He was the Generalissimo's personal pilot.
One of the pilots in the AVG had been the chief navigation officer in the PBM squadron from which I had volunteered for the AVG. His name was Hennessey. I didn't know that Chennault was well aware of this and at this point like a damn fool, I interjected with "Sir, in my opinion -- " and was about to tell him about Hennessey, when he snapped out "I don't remember asking for your opinion." My world fell in with humiliation and I quickly said "I'm sorry, Sir'' and for the next twenty minutes I stared at my typewriter in a dejection so great it was all I could do to keep my features from betraying what I felt inside. The conference broke up and Chennault left the office with the others. I had reached the conclusion that the only thing I could do was resign and go to India, when Chennault returned and said: "Trumble, I'm sorry I lit into you like that. Harvey makes me so irritated when he argues with me and a wave of deep relief hit me. I said "Sir, I'm sorry I butted in, but I was going to tell you about Hennessey -- " and he said "I already know about Hennessey, but he doesn't know Asia".
Just before the advancing ground armies captured Moulmein, the British Officers told their enlisted personnel "Goodbye, lads, God keep you and take care of you" and took off in their planes for Rangoon or Calcutta. Trying to flee the Japs, some of their "lads" were captured, some died on their route from malnutrition or wounds and a few managed to get to Mingaladon airdrome, only to find that it was being evacuated also. Four managed to get on trucks headed up the Burma Road for Kunming and we took them in, fed them and they became useful as auxiliary help because of our shortage of personnel. We brought them up to Chungking with us when we left Kunming.
For the first couple of weeks there wasn't much social activity in the evenings, but then Pop Schware and his icehouse were discovered in Chungking and the drought was ended. Schware had been an American sailor in the Yangtze gunboat flotilla and upon his retirement he had remained in Chungking. I think he had a Chinese wife and family, but I can't recall the details on that. At any rate he not only manufactured ice. As a sideline he distilled a beverage named "Chungking Double D Gin" and a few other products which he loosely described as cordials. On one visit to his establishment I discovered he had two or three barrels of raw sauerkraut, to which he invited me to freely help myself. I tried some, but it was too rich and strong for me.
Pop's "Chungking Gin" wasn't the most favorable stuff in the world, but it did have a potency which equaled that of any other gin sold in the world. The AVG and later the CATF quickly bought up all the stock he had and set him to producing more. With hope in our hearts that the strength of the gin would "purify" the ice also furnished us which accompanied his gin, the social evenings at Peishihyi improved with dancing, drinking and laughter. No one suffered from cholera as a result. Pop's huge warehouse basement quickly became a maze of distilling caldrons, producing at full capacity. I never asked him what the basis of his mash was from which he produced the alcohol. If you liked something to eat or drink in China it was never wise to ask what the ingredients were.
Two dilapidated old busses were acquired by which we traveled to and from Chungking. Our RAF "orphans" were put to work as drivers. As part of their gratitude for bringing them in "out of the cold" we found that they had established black market connections in Chungking and were selling the gasoline from the bus tanks for pocket money, or some such worthy cause. It was getting near the time when most of the CATF would return to Kunming anyhow, so we just sent them up to Chengtu at the request of the British Ambassador, for some future return to their precious homeland. We made no mention of how they'd been repaying us. I figured the poor bastards had had it tough enough as it was and the General agreed with me.. They didn't carry letters of recommendation from us, however.
A varied assortment of waifs had straggled in to Kunming from the exodus of Burma, Indian merchants, Anglo-Indian girls who had attached themselves to various AVG members who'd offered them transportation to China and various nationals of just about every country in the world who'd been caught in the fall of Rangoon and had no way to get to India. They somehow melted out into the streets of Kunming, out of our sight and knowledge and sooner or later I think most of them managed to pay for a trip over the hump to Calcutta.
To me, the most interesting of the refugees who came to live with us was Gunner-Bruce. I never heard him called anything else. He was a tall, thin guy of maybe thirty-five who had been discharged from the U.S. Army at Tientsin many years before and he had joined the International police force at either Peiping or Tientsin. He had a drooping handlebar mustache which gave him a rather sinister look, along with his eyes which were narrowed and of a yellow color, but along with that he persisted in wearing a Colt .45 revolver that looked as big as a canon, in a holster on his belt. He was never without that gun.
It turned out that he was an absolute artist when it came to overhauling communications equipment and a guy of that specialized knowledge was very welcome to our communications section who were trying to keep our equipment in working order. Our transmitters were large, heavy and difficult to move about. Baughman and Mickey Mihalko had to use special precautions, however, when they wanted a transmitter overhauled by the Gunner. His gun would be taken from him and he'd be locked into the room with two bottles of Chungking DD Gin. Mickey told me when the day was over they'd let him out and the transmitter would be overhauled completely and in perfect working order and that the two bottles would be stone dry. When Gunner sobered up, he'd get his gun back. At that time I knew him by sight but hadn't had any contact with him.
I think it was around the end of October when the General decided to move permanently back to Kunming. The place became deserted. All the Jeeps with the exception of one for Mihalko were driven down the road and Car No. 2, an early model Chevrolet Sedan of 1942 model which the Old Man had been using for his staff car, was left for me to use. Everything else was driven back to Kunming. I drove the General down to the airfield while he was telling me of some last minute stuff to prepare and send down to him and when he got out of the car we shook hands and he grinned at me and said "Don't worry, Tom, you'll be hearing from me soon." And then he was gone and the whole shebang with him.
Only Mickey and I were left at Peishihyi, along with three army communications kids who would help Mickey man his radio station. The compound where I had my room looked so lonely I hated to go into it, but Li, who had been assigned to take care of me by the WASC, had hot tea and toast or cookies waiting for me and by his manner I knew he was trying to cheer me up.
Next morning there was nothing for me to get up for, so I slept and dozed until about nine. Then Li knocked and brought in some breakfast. It seemed somehow wrong for me to be having breakfast brought to my room. From then on I went to the mess hall for breakfast. I stopped in to bat the breeze with Mickey, but Mickey wasn't in a sociable mood. I guess he was feeling the loneliness and emptiness of our abandoned headquarters too. He was fiddling around with his transmitter, trying to contact some of the other stations of the old AVG communications network.
I asked Li to fix me a couple of sandwiches, put on some hiking shoes and headed across the airfield to get on the trail which led into the western hills. Before I picked up the worn stepping stone trail I had to navigate across the rice paddies on the narrow earthen barriers which separated them. The farmers, women, men and children, wearing the wide brimmed conical straw hats which protected them from both sun and rain, were cutting the ripened stalks and piling them to carry to the courtyards for beating and flailing the rice grains. The air smelled fresh and clean. During the summer the paddies had standing water in them and the smell of human manure was a stench you never got used to. Care had to be taken not to slip down into the deep paddies when you crossed them. The kids saw me and many of them grinned and held up their thumbs in the "Ding Hao" sign which meant hello and cordiality. Their parents never stopped their bent-over work and never looked up. I knew they were trying to get the rice into the courtyards before the rains came.
On the stone pathway the climbing became steeper and the agriculture was left behind. I'd been told those trails were old even at the time of Christ and the deep impressions in the flat red stone surfaces were pretty good proof of their age. Always climbing, I circled through the hills, leaving the tropical looking bushes and ferns behind and going upward to where a kind of conifer-like growth took over. Now and then, but rarely, a peasant came downhill on the path, generally carrying a heavy load suspended at two ends of a bamboo rod or slat which he had centered on his shoulder. Sometimes I tried a friendly smile in return for the scrutinizing look they gave me, but very seldom was it returned. By now I was eight or ten miles away from Peishihyi and I might have been the first foreigner they had seen in their lives. At the crest of some of the hills, on the ridges, I saw remnants of stone fortifications that had been constructed at least centuries before. I wished I could see backward through time to know what had happened in the days of their birth.
I knew from a map I had studied in the headquarters that such trails extended westward even to the mountains that precluded the beginnings of the Himalayas. I had heard this called the Marco Polo Trail, but I doubted it. Actually I didn't know what route Marco Polo had taken when he traveled to China. But I did know for certain that I was becoming weary and that already early afternoon had arrived. I hadn't thought to bring a canteen, so I was very thirsty as I ate my sandwiches and headed back toward Peishihyi. The clouds had become heavy and I walked in a kind of mist. I hoped it wouldn't begin raining before I got back to the base, but my shirt was already soaked with sweat so I couldn't have gotten wetter. Through the day the depression which had me down in the morning had disappeared and a kind of contentment and confidence in the future had taken hold.
I was hungry as a wolf and tired to the bone after I walked that last mile across the airfield and arrived just in time for supper. Next morning it hurt to even take slow steps, but in my months thereafter at Peishihyi I walked in the countryside so much that I became practically tireless for hours. Whenever I had the blues or wanted to get frustration out of my system, I'd head for the hills.
Days into weeks and weeks into months. Days when it got so chilly that Li had the stove in my room glowing red. Days when the rain came down so persistently and so heavily that it was useless to try to jump puddles. You just waded through them on your way to the mess hall. And days so brilliantly beautiful with sunshine and the emerald green of the hillsides and the low-lying areas it almost hurt your eyes. On those bright days I explored the hills surrounding Peishihyi, north, east, south and west. The direction didn't matter. Mr. Liu, the WASC Peishihyi Manager wrote out a paper for me in Chinese characters saying that I was an American Officer stationed at the airfield and that if I was lost, to please guide me in the right direction so I could return to my base. I never had to use it, but I never worried as long as I had it along. At first I carried the Colt revolver I'd bought from Wilson, but I found that when I didn't carry it the farmers and the peasants whose little settlements I walked through were more pleasant and friendly toward me as we attempted to communicate with each other, I left it in my room.
They talked in their Szechuenese dialect, so the small amount of Mandarin I had picked up was useless anyway. To get the essentials such as food and drink, I used a pad of paper and a pencil to illustrate what I needed and when it came to paying for them I just held out a handful of coins so they could pick out what was proper. In a teahouse once I wanted something stronger to drink than tea, so I tried to make them know I wanted some mao-tze, which was about the equivalent of whiskey. They couldn't understand so I pantomimed the act of drinking, becoming intoxicated, staggering around and finally passing out. By this time a crowd had gathered and they laughed uproariously and the mao-tze was brought to me at a table. I made it understood that I wanted to share it with them, so a few of them filled small cups also. They understood the word "gombai" which means down the hatch and for about half an hour we had quite a time. We bowed to each other for a distance of about a hundred yards between us and then I continued on up the hill.
At the base I read every book I could get my hands on. The AVG library had been left behind when the CATF moved back to Kunming. Sometimes a C-47 from Kunming landed at the airfield with a few supplies and passengers and we kept up to date with what was happening down there. Quite often the pilot would tell me something like "The OM sends his regards to you and he'll be in touch with you", but that was the extent of it. I was finally relaxing and enjoying the leisurely life, with only the vague feeling now and then that I wished I could be busy again. About once a week I'd walk nine miles to a village between Peishihyi and Chungking and take the bus from there. At Hostel 72 where General Chou was living I'd go to the room which had been permanently assigned me and clean up and from there I'd walk another three or four miles to St. Joseph's Mission Church in downtown Chungking. Father Leo Ferrary was in charge at that time. He and two other fathers of the Order of Franciscan Missionaries had had to flee Ichang where they'd had their mission. There were other orders scattered through China, but the OFM's were the best of the missionaries I ran across over there.
I'd visit with them awhile, drink tea or coffee or some of the "Benedictine" which Father Leo was getting from some French missionaries out-country. That stuff was good. They had some knowledge of the formula by which Benedictine DOM was made in France and their product was pretty close to the original. It had a kick like a mule. AMISCA was the abbreviated name for the American Military Mission in China, headquartered at Chungking. That was the outfit that General Stilwell took over when he was made supreme commander of American forces in China. Even at that early date there was no love lost between Americans of the air force and the Americans who were under the direct control of Stilwell, viewing each other with suspicion. AMISCA personnel also were frequent visitors at St. Joseph's so hostilities had to be laid aside at the mission when we came into contact with one another.
The fathers gave us unstinted hospitality. They had lived for years in inland China at their missions, with very little contact with Americans except once in awhile when they'd take leave in Shanghai. In a way, we brought America back to them and they loved it. They again talked American after years of thinking and talking only in Mandarin or the local dialect of their areas. We talked freely about the things that were happening in China and throughout the world, exchanging scuttlebutt, rumors and facts.
I'd return to Hostel 72 and if General Chow didn't have guests that night we'd eat together in the dining room. His title was Chief of the Chinese Air Force. The structure of the CAF had been set up back in 1937. when the Generalissimo realized he had to have an air force,_ and he appointed his wife, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, to be Chairman of the Commission on Aeronautical Affairs. By then General Chennault had made his abilities known and his loyalties known and the Gissimo appointed him Chief Advisor to the CAF under Madame Chiang. Peter T. Mao had been the Chief of the CAF at one time, but he wasn't dependable as far as Chennault was concerned and tried to screw him up a few times. When Chennault made it known to Madame, P.T. Mao barely escaped with his head intact on his shoulders and was demoted and eventually sent to the states in the role of "Adviser" to China Defense Supplies. But Mao had been an airman, as slippery and unreliable as he had been and understood something about military aviation. General Chow ChiJrou, more commonly known as C.J. Chow, had been a ground army general, but was so highly intelligent and capable and so dependable that he was made Chief of the Chinese Air Force.
With the uncanny ability of the Chinese to know whom to trust and whom not, Madame put her entire trust in Chennault to create and train an effective Chinese Air Force. Together they had mapped out a long range plan to train pilots, construct strategic airfields, obtain American planes and set up the logistic organization to operate effectively. While not exactly being only a figurehead, General Chou's role at first lay in creating an echelon of command and organization in line with Chennault's ideas. And to man the various airfields with logistical and maintenance personnel and to see that they were properly supplied; also that they were properly embraced within the telephone and radio communication air raid warning network which had so baffled the Japanese efforts to make surprise attacks. Chou was not called upon to plan and direct air combat operations.
I think Chou was content with his place in the CAF structure and knew his limits as regards intimate knowledge of aircraft potentials and pilots potential. He had confidence in Chennault and the AVG performance had confirmed the General as fully capable of operating an air force, whether Chinese or American. I think he liked and respected General Chennault. If Chennault sent word to him that he'd like to have this or that done in regards to training pilots or other things, they were willingly and effectively done, with due regard to the formalities and the saving of his face as Chief of the Chinese Air Force. I learned about the necessity of these things gradually in my relationship with General Chou.
At first a surface friendship of sorts developed between me and General Chou. He had learned to speak English almost fluently and on many occasions he would read aloud to me during pleasant summer evenings outside of Hostel 72 from old Readers Digests, to practice his pronunciation and familiarity with new words. It was very, very seldom that I had to correct a pronunciation or explain what the meaning of an unusual word was. I've never run across an intelligence as keen and quick to comprehend as his. At such times there was a warm feeling almost like mutual liking and friendship between us.
It was only gradually through the next three years that our individual positions on both sides hardened and became almost polarized. Perhaps that was my fault, perhaps his, or perhaps because of things neither of us could control.
We'd have dinner together and when darkness fell I'd turn in early, making plans to return to Peishihyi early the next day. Chungking depressed me. I felt the warm relief and welcome of coming home when I got back to Peishihyi.
Mickey and I played showdown poker between us. I knew it had to come. Mickey had been radioman first class in one of the TBD planes on the YORKTOWN when I had been yeoman first class in the captain's office on the same ship. We'd been pretty good friends with common understandings through the AVG lifetime in Kunming. When the AVG disbanded Mickey had been inducted as Chief Petty Officer and then immediately promoted to the rank of ensign in the Navy. But he wanted to remain with Chennault and had requested the navy to remain attached to the CATF, which was granted. So he was radio station master at Peishihyi. I had been instructed to remain at Peishihyi pending further orders from Chennault and I was a civilian. Neither of us had any rank or control over the other. I knew the setup rankled Mickey, but there was nothing I could do about it. What irritated Mickey was the way the Chinese personnel on the base deferred to me. They knew I was Chennault's personal secretary and such a title in connection with a great man meant great face for me. I was perfectly content to let Mickey run things as he wanted at Peishihyi just as long as he let me alone and cooperated with me at such times as we had to. I knew Chennault had other plans for me, but I couldn't let Mickey know about them.
One day he asked me if we could talk things over and get things settled as to our respective statuses on the base. I said sure and we got together that evening in his radio room. He'd prepared for the occasion. He had a bottle of scotch and a pitcher of water on the table, with two glasses. I knew he seldom drank liquor because it fouled up his stomach. He also had a package of stateside cigarettes for my use. He didn't smoke, but he chewed more tobacco in a day than I smoked in a week. My own throat was raw from the Chinese cigarettes I'd been using. He spoke earnestly. I probably wasn't doing it on purpose, but I was a sort of impediment to his full exercise of authority and would I mind staying in the background when he was telling the Chinese personnel what to do? While I was at Peishihyi would I mind kind of sticking around to my own quarters? He wished I would spend more time in Chungking at Hostel 72 rather than just going there when I had something to contact the Chinese about.
It was the most conciliatory talk I'd ever heard from Mickey. I savvied right away what he hadn't been able to put into words. I assured him seriously that I hadn't meant to interfere with his authority in any way, that I'd keep my silence absolutely when he was exercising his authority, that I hadn't the slightest interest in the running of the hostel or the base. But I refused to leave Peishihyi and live in Chungking. It was dirty and noisy there, I couldn't sleep worth a damn and that I hated the constant crowding and smells of the place. I'd stay clear of his radio shack unless I had business there and I'd stay clear of his base operations. But that was it, as far as I was concerned. Thanks for the scotch. It was damn good.
So now goddammit, I felt more isolated than ever. I was wishing to hell I'd gone back to the states., Then, like a godsend, the General sent a message asking me to come down to Kunming for a week and see if I could help straighten out the paperwork confusion in his headquarters. I got down there and couldn't even recognize the place. A new headquarters building, about five or six offices filled with non-coms and typewriters and milling about. Doreen Lonborg had taken over my work as his secretary and was trying to do work which the General wanted her to get out with the master sergeant in general charge and she was frustrated and almost in tears when I showed up. In a couple of days I had it straightened out between them as to future procedures, but if there ever was a master sergeant that would hate my guts through eternity, that was the guy. But after a couple more days when things were coordinating again, I became surplus and I told the General frankly that I'd ruin the guy's effectiveness if I stayed there much longer, so he said okay and got me on a plane back to Peishihyi.
It was now close to Christmas, but the Yuletide spirit was low that year. It was "starvation diet" insofar as even razor blades or shaving soap were concerned. The spoiled bastards of AMISCA had two C-47's which they used about once a month to make trips to India to load up on canned goods and cigarettes and beer and toilet articles, for their maintenance in the manner to which they'd become accustomed, but none of it ever reached any of the air force units. The General sent me up a package containing two cans of beer apiece for Mickey and me and a carton of Chesterfields for us to divide. Along with that he sent a bottle of whiskey for General Chou and a carton of cigarettes which he requested me to deliver with his compliments.
But we had a Christmas at Peishihyi anyway. By that time we had about eight or ten American base personnel, a medic, some car mechanics and communications personnel and several of them along with me were Catholics, so Father Leo and one of the other OFM's came out to spend Christmas with us. We brought Pop Schware out too and he brought enough of his gin and cordials to intoxicate a platoon to show his gratitude. Mickey had chiseled some old movie films from Amisca and a projector and we watched movies for part of Christmas Eve and drank and partied until midnight, when we had to knock off so we could go to Communion the next day. Pop Schware broke down and cried like his heart would break. It was his first Christmas in over forty years. We had mass the next morning and at noon we had a Christmas Dinner that the Chinese had worked for days to prepare and it had everything that a stateside Christmas dinner would have.
In another week it was 1943, but no one celebrated. One night I dreamed a happy dream about the navy and thinking about it the next morning I realized I didn't hate the navy any more. Looking back, it was hard to realize that it was a year and a half since I'd received my discharge in Norfolk.
The peace and quiet of my last few months in the Szechwan countryside had relaxed me so physically and mentally I found myself reading and thinking for hours, hardly aware of time going by. Sometime in the late summer I had learned that the YORKTOWN had been sunk by the Japs. It seemed so unreal and impossible to think about, I had put it out of my mind. I'd had lots of friends aboard her. I could see myself on the bridge standing alongside the captain when we were getting underway from Pearl. Or when we launched planes, or at general quarters, listening carefully to his orders and then relaying them by the JA phone attached to my chest to the various parts of the ship where they applied. Being captain's talker on a capital ship like the YORKTOWN called for concentration and attentiveness and knowledge of what was going on. I wondered who was on the bridge when the bombs were dropping and the torpedoes rupturing her guts. It should have been me. I couldn't tell which emotion was the strongest, relief that I hadn't been there at the time, or guilt that I hadn't been there doing the job I'd been trained for. Both feelings were heavy in my thoughts. I had plenty to keep me busy, so I put it all out of my mind for the time being.
But now, with so much time on my hands and so much idle thought to deal with, memories of YORKTOWN came flooding in and I couldn't stop them. The sharpest and hardest to dispel was trying to imagine the captain's office with its desks and files and typewriters being thousands of feet under the Pacific in a watery silence and abandonment that was eerie to even imagine. Part of me was in there, a year of my life, of the first time I'd entered to report for duty, of the nights I'd worked until ten or twelve o'clock, trying to catch up with what I had to do.
Li knocked on the door and told me it was lunchtime, so I drank a glass of Double D Gin and chased it with an equal amount of water and I was back in Peishihyi again. Mickey had driven his jeep to Stilwell's headquarters that morning and had gotten three movies for showing over the weekend. He asked me what I thought about inviting the CAF commandant and his staff to watch the movies with us as a goodwill gesture and I agreed with him that it might make for good feeling between the Chinese and Americans stationed at the airbase.
He beamed with pleasure when I said that I thought the Old Man (Chennault) would be real pleased to know we had such good relations with the CAP. It wasn't bullshit on my part. The Commandant, a Colonel Chen, liked Mickey's open frankness in all matters that came up between them. He didn't always agree with him, but somehow sooner or later Mickey would get his way. He had a mercurial disposition and when he felt badly he made no secret of it. After a couple of months together I figured out there was a close connection between Mickey's disposition and the state of his guts. He chewed thick plugs of tobacco and would bite off a chunk the size of a normal forkful of steak and he'd sit for hour after hour without ever opening his mouth. He must have swallowed all of it. I recalled when we had driven from Kunming to Chungking together that he'd had diarrhea bad and one day he'd had to stop and run for it 27 times. Each time he marked an X in yellow chalk on the jeep dashboard. He lived on wine and cheese for almost the five days it took us to get to Chungking. He was in misery and was meaner than a rattlesnake the whole trip.
Well anyway we had a recreation room where we showed the movies. The first night there were maybe eight to ten Chinese officers who watched with us and the next time about fifteen showed up and pretty soon there were so many pilots and staff officers that the Americans could hardly find room to sit. Mickey was angry. "Goddammit, Tom" he said, "What am I going to do? I thought Colonel Chen understood I was just asking him and his personal staff. I'm going to have to tell him." I thought for a minute and then I said "Mickey, if you tell him directly it might cause him to lose face and we can't do that. How about we talk to Mr. Liu about it and maybe he can get the word to him without him losing face?" Mickey considered it and agreed. Mr. Liu was the hostel manager for the WASC and as such he had about the status of a colonel anyhow and he'd know how to get the idea across without Colonel Chen and Mickey talking directly about it. So Mr. Liu handled it somehow and the number of Chinese attendees dropped down to around twenty. I think they probably took turns attending so everyone could get a looksee at the movies, but we weren't crowded out of our own shows.
The winter months of 1943 were cold and rainy much of the time. Most of the clothing I'd brought from the states for the AVG was worn down almost to fragments and it wouldn't have kept me warm up there anyhow. In response to my SOS the General had his Quartermaster send me up some army wool trousers and a few khaki shirts. I didn't have a jacket, but Sasser, one of the AVG radiomen who had stayed on in Kweilin to help the OM had decided to return to the states and in his plane stop at Peishihyi. I persuaded him to let me have the AVG flight jacket he had gotten from one of the pilots. Sheepskin lined, I was never aware of cold anymore when I tramped through the hills.
An increasing number of radio messages to me from Chennault which I had to relay to General Chou kept me fairly busy. I had set up an office in my room and had the AVG files with me intact and a good typewriter and plenty of paper. The only thing was that I had to deliver these messages to Chou personally in Chungking, get his answers and come back to Peishihyi where I could type the messages to Chennault and Mickey would send them down to Kunming. They were all coded messages, but Mickey had his decoders taking care of that. I still had the Chevy sedan which the OM had used that summer and I could have used that to get to Chungking. Redman, a corporal, was our auto mechanic and he did his utmost to keep No. 2 in shape and generally it needed work done after a round trip. Rather than depend on it, I learned that a three hour hike through the hills would bring me to a village where I could catch a bus to Chungking. When I returned to Peishihyi the next day I would hire a sedan chair on which I reclined in splendor as the coolies trotted down to the airbase. I used to laugh, thinking of what my old shipmates would have said if they could see me.
The drabness and dreariness of Chungking always got me down as soon as I saw it. The hillside huts were ramshackle affairs built from the useable junk left over from the last bombings and they matched the gray muddiness of the slopes they were built on. Lower down on the main streets and roads there were often puddles of mud and water that stretched over their entire width. No way around them and nothing to do but slog through. It was a couple of miles from where I'd leave the bus to get to Hostel 72 and my shoes and lower trousers were generally a soggy mess when I got there. The servants, or "boys" as the westerners termed them, would dry them for me and make them presentable in a couple of hours. Steaming hot tea warmed me in my room as I waited, but the spattering of rain seemed never to cease. General Chou lived there also and when he came from his headquarters for lunch, I'd show him the messages from Chennault and get his replies and jot them down. Generally it would be too late in the day to return to Peishihyi, so I'd eat a lonely supper and turn in early.
I knew Mickey wished to hell I'd stay in Chungking and I wished to hell Mickey could understand the reasons why I insisted on keeping my quarters at Peishihyi. Outside of the padres at St. Joseph's and the Chinese I met there who had been stateside educated, there was hardly a soul I could make a conversation with. Constantly surrounded by the chatter of Chinese which I couldn't understand, my nerves became edgy after a few days of never hearing English spoken. Only the fresh countryside cleanness and the quiet of my room back at the airbase could snap me out of the increasing dislike I felt towards everything Chinese of late. Adding fuel to that dislike was the news of the constant setbacks that our forces in the Pacific were experiencing. The Japs were having it all their way and outside of Chennault's air strikes on Hankow and river traffic, there seemed to be no war against the Japs as far as China was concerned. It seemed like both sides had dug in and neither wanted to break through the other's lines.
Safehand letters which the General wanted me to deliver personally to Madame Chiang were handed to me by the pilots of aircraft from Kunming and the obstacles to getting through to Madame personally were considerable and very annoying. I'd get in touch by phone with her secretary, Pearl Chen and tell her I had a message from General Chennault that I had to deliver personally. She'd tell me what time to arrive at Madame's "Castle" and I'd be there, but time after time other Chinese dignitaries would approach me and say that Madame was busy and they'd be glad to take the message and give it to her. I'd refuse, saying that the General had told me to give it to her personally and that if I couldn't get it to her personally as he had told me, I'd have to notify him that I couldn't deliver it. So finally Madame would come sweeping down the staircase chain-smoking cigarettes and condescendingly permit me to put the envelope in her hand. I began to despise her guts.
As time went on and I became more familiar with Chinese custom, I began to figure out what was happening to me. The plain truth was that I didn't have enough face or horsepower for the job he wanted me to do. It would be proper Chinese custom for me to deliver the envelope to her representatives who presented themselves to me rather than to insist on Chennault's instructions to "personally deliver" it to her. Whether it has anything to do with the way I reacted to that situation or not, I'm not sure. I do know that my ancestry is almost one hundred percent Irish and the knowledge that Madame didn't consider me as having enough status or rank to be able to present something to her personally, raised an anger in me that hasn't cooled down to this day. I never told the General about the difficulties, although I'm sure he guessed at them, but I never retreated an inch from insisting that I would carry out his orders to me exactly as he had stated them.
I didn't feel crushed by the realization that the Chinese officialdom with which I had to deal felt that my former status of enlisted man in the navy wasn't adequate enough to give me standing with them. But the awe and respect and liking for them which I had gotten from Chennault vanished almost overnight and from then on it was a never-ending battle of returning slight for slight in every way I could imagine short of downright discourtesy which would have lost face for the General. Once I understood the shallowness and silliness of their behavior and their own vulnerability to such nonsense, I began to enjoy the fight. Always secure in my own understanding that I didn't give a darn what they thought of me and that what I was really fighting for was Chennault's face. The strange part of it was that I was learning that there's as much enjoyment in that kind of conflict as there is in a fistic encounter.
General C.J. Chou had a surprise coming to him soon. For the next two years it was open battle between us on the question of face, always disguised and subordinated to matters affecting the war effort.
There was a period of almost three months that I didn't see Chennault. I learned that he was down with bronchitis and having a miserable time of it and also I knew that General Bissell's interference with Chennault's plans for aerial combat in eastern China were playing havoc with the OM's temper and control. Long before the AVG disbandment and Bissell's taking command of the Tenth Air Force, the General had told me with contemptuous amusement of Bissell's one-time idea of bombers dropping weighted metal balls into fighter aircraft propellers if they came close enough. There were no secrets in the American air forces in China about the relationship between the two. Next to the Japs, Bissell was the most hated man in China.
One evening I was having a late dinner in the mess hall at Peishihyi with a sergeant and a couple of corporals and all of a sudden the door banged open and a shout of "Attention!" was heard. I looked around and saw a captain quickly stepping aside as Bissell entered. The air force personnel started to get up but I waived keep your seat" at the sergeant and he stayed down and when Bissell said "At ease", there was no one standing for him. He glanced at me with anger in his eyes and his party sat down for a meal across the mess hall. Soon afterwards Bissell asked me something across the room and I went over to him. He asked me if he and his party could use our transportation to get to Chungking. I told him that we had only a jeep and a broken down sedan and asked him if we could notify Stilwell's headquarters to send some cars out from Chungking to take him in.
Mickey had been apprised of the situation by that time and he came in and Mickey verified what I had told Bissell about our transportation facilities. Bissell assented, but the look on his face made me thank God once again that I had turned down that commission and remained a civilian. Their motorcade finally roared off into the night and I didn't ever hear anything more of the incident.
On one of his visits the General mentioned something about the deteriorating morale of the people in Chungking and that some reports about it had been reaching him. He asked me if I'd write him a letter about every two weeks, if I had the time and relate to him anything I had run across or heard which would bear on that situation. I could send the letters direct to him by Kunming pilots I could trust who were flying the CATF transports. They would deliver them safehand personally to him. I was glad of the chance. Often at St. Joseph's, I had heard interesting rumors about the hierarchy of the government. Who was being promoted, who was in disgrace, a few that had been executed, rumors of peace efforts by the Japanese to Chiang. This warlord or that warlord who was nominally in alliance with the Kuomintang but who wasn't trusted completely. I hadn't been collating them in my mind as meaning anything in particular. From other Chinese friends whom I had learned to trust, I heard things. Quite often I'd run across Americans in Chungking who were in various positions of contact with Chinese officials and we'd "trade" scuttlebutt with each other about the things that were happening in the war generally and in China particularly.
So behind the facade of being the American go-between for General Chennault and the Chinese Air Force in Chungking, I became the willing sponge that soaked up everything which I heard and observed from any contact whatsoever. I quickly learned how to do much more listening than talking and tried to exhibit myself as a guileless and naive ex-navy person who loved to drink and remember the good old days when there wasn't a war on. And how I hated the damned situation I was in and how much I wished I could get back to the good old U.S. of A. I think I was taken at face value, because stuff came to my ears over friendly glasses of Double D gin that I could hardly wait to get back to my hostel and write down notes.
My personal letters to the General were never planned in exactitude of what I intended to say. A certain mood would hit me and I'd begin a letter to him, usually preambled with inconsequential stuff about how I was doing and how Mickey was doing and how General Chou was and then somehow I could let myself loose and a pretty accurate and detailed resume of what was happening in Chungking as seen through my eyes would come forth. I omitted nothing that I thought might have the slightest connection with things I thought he might want to know. Sometimes the letters would be five or six pages long, single spaced. I wouldn't send the letter right away. I'd think over and review everything I'd said. After a day or so when I was certain I'd said it right, I'd seal it with red wax and put my Chinese name stamp on it. At the next opportunity I'd give it to Bert Carlton or Al Nowak, the pilots of the OM's personal C-47 and whichever one it was would give it to him personally.
In one of his reply letters the General wrote me:
"In connection with your second letter, the items mentioned fit in with some other things that I know, but must not be discussed by an American. I am burning both of your letters and request you burn any copies you may have, although I do not believe you have a copy of the second letter. Although the letters are burned, the points brought out will be retained in memory." At one time I believed that something I had written him had been leaked and I mentioned that to him in a letter. His reply was sharp. I had unintentionally over-stepped my role. "Your letters to me in regard to W.A.S.C. and other matters are not, repeat not, read by other persons, although I do frequently extract information from the letters and pass the information to Staff Officers for such action as may be indicated. If anyone tells you that your letters are read by a third person (excepting occasionally by Doreen), you may know that he is simply making a close guess and hoping that you may confirm it." My nerves were getting frazzled in Chungking after too long a period there, because his letter was dated March 3rd of 1944. 1 knew they were close to getting out of control.
The letter from him that made me feel that I was actually helping him by my letters was dated April 18th, 1943. "Remember that the information that you pass on to me often fits into the bits of facts or rumor which I receive from other sources and completes the picture for me, although the portions you hear appear to be extremely fragmentary to you." I was commencing to feel a kind of claustrophobia in the Chungking environment, as though I'd been bottled up for an eternity there. Now I was too busy with Chinese Air Force concerns to spend more than a day or two at Peishihyi in a week. My room in Hostel 72 was small and as summer was approaching the heat in my room at night caused me to be sleepless and my temper short.
Mickey, at Peishihyi, was feeling the strain also. A garrison of Chinese troops was newly stationed within a few hundred yards of Mickey's quarters and when Mickey in a reaction of irritation refused the commandant's request that he and his staff also be invited to attend our weekly movies, the commandant in retaliation had his bugler spend an hour in practicing bugle calls at five o'clock in the morning on a hill-top about a hundred feet from Mickey's room. I already realized that Mickey was operating under extreme pressure and that he often stayed until midnight in the radio room before turning in. So I wasn't surprised when Mickey's nerves blew. One morning in sleepless despair he grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bugler and fired. The bullet either hit the bugle, which Mickey claimed he was aiming at, or came so close to the bugler that he dropped his instrument in panic and ran. We could never find out for certain. The commandant of the garrison went to General Stilwell's headquarters in Chungking and made a complaint to Stilwell personally about the incident. Stilwell immediately ordered Mickey to Chungking to explain the incident. He told me later what happened. Stilwell read the riot act to him and chewed him out from his toes to the top of his head. He was totally scared, figuring that Stilwell was going to either have him hung, or at the very least banished from China. Then, he told me, when the ass-chewing was completed, Stilwell fixed him with those piercing gray eyes of his and asked him in a kindly tone -"Mickey, did you really aim for that bugle, or for the bugler?" And when he answered that he was aiming for the bugle, Stilwell smiled.
Peace between the Americans and the Chinese at Peishihyi was restored and the commandant and his staff also attended the Saturday night movies. The bugler practiced somewhere in the far distance in the mornings.
Perhaps rumors reached the OM down in Kunming, or perhaps it was because Mihalko was really needed to establish a communications station at Chengtu at any rate John Williams, the communications officer of the CATF, sent orders to Mickey instructing him to leave Peishihyi and set up a radio station up there. Never a word was sent by me to the OM concerning the bugleing incident. Not only was Mihalko an ex-shipmate from the YORKTOWN and he and I had forged a common bond between us for our China duty, but he also knew of incidents I had had with the Chinese at Peishihyi that could have gotten me in deep trouble with the OM also. Williams sent a lieutenant in communications up to take over the station at Peishihyi and we got along excellently. My quarters at the air base were kept ready for me when I needed them and sometimes I was able to spend a few days hiking far and wide into the beautiful valleys and mountains of Szechwan. Invariably I returned to Hostel 72 with renewed stamina for the "war" that seemed to be waging between me and General Chou.
I was now past thirty, although most people thought I was around twenty-five. Five-ten tall and weighing around a hundred fifty, by either nature or constant exercise I had a physical strength much more than average. Two years of boxing workouts on the MARYLAND when I was a kid had taught me how to keep in shape even if I wasn't fighting and working out a couple of times a week relaxed me. Whereas my smaller frame and lighter weight of the past had misled ill-advised sailors in the Pacific Fleet into challenging me in fisticuffs, now my heavier weight and shoulders advertised themselves and it was a rare thing for me to have to double my fists. I had taken to heart Commander O'Rear's advice to me on the MARYLAND that I shouldn't go into boxing, that my nature would never let me actually box and protect myself and that I'd probably be punch-drunk with swollen ears and smashed features in five or six years. He knew something I hadn't known, because from then on I flourished in the navy as a skilled typist and developed expertise in paper work and organization.
I needed all the stamina and self-confidence I had to hold my own in the heart of China. There's all the difference in the world between being on a ship and going on liberty in Chinese ports and being on your own in the midst of the strongest-minded and most alien people on the face of the earth. My brains and not my brawn were my only means to hold my own as an individual in Hostel 72 where General Chou resided. Hostel 72 was located in a part of Chungking which had not been heavily populated prior to the war. The ancient city of Chungking was located at the point where the Jaoling and the Yangtze Rivers had their juncture. That's where the heaviest population was and the structures were centuries and perhaps even millennia old. Rats the size of medium sized dogs flourished in that area, creatures which could kill and devour an unattended infant or child.
Further back from the confluence of the rivers, a few miles or so, were the military structures and various government headquarters which had been erected when Chiang Kai-Shek's retreating government had reached Chungking to make their last stand. Two of those entities, General Stilwell's headquarters and Hostel 72, were located within about three or four city blocks of each other. Others were located in close proximity, but I can't remember what they were. Hostel 72 was a wooden structure built according to American style, two main floors and an attic under the A-shaped roofs. I had learned it had been erected by the War Area Service Corps primarily for the use of General Chennault in his capacity as Chief Advisor to the Chinese Air Force, back in 1939 or 1940. The first floor had large living room with a fireplace, hostel office rooms, large kitchen and two dining rooms.
The second floor had a long hallway from the stairs at the front of the building, which extended to the door of General Chennault's private bedroom, which was so large that it had windows on both sides of the room. His bedroom was at least three times the size of the four smaller bedrooms which opened from the hallway. On the right side of the hall, just before one reached the General's room, was a western style bathroom containing flush toilet, a full size bathtub and a standard two-fauceted wash basin. I never thought to ask how those fixtures had reached so far into China, but it must have been by the Burma Road from far off Rangoon over a couple of thousand miles of the most hazardous roadway I've ever seen or driven.
Before the American Volunteer Group was organized, General Chennault had lived in Hostel 72 for much of the time and General Chou as Chief of the Chinese Air Force also lived there in a smaller room off the hallway. His room was just opposite to mine on the other side. The smaller rooms were sparsely furnished, with a four drawer bureau with a mirror, a clothes closet, a couple of straight chairs and a bed. Each room also had a window. On top of the bureau was a doily of some kind and the inevitable water carafe filled with water which had been boiled and a glass. In the states it would have been the usual cheap hotel room; in war-time Chungking it was sheer luxury in comparison with the way most had to live. In the winter months it was sometimes a bit damp, a little chilly, but on the whole comfortable. In the hot, humid weather which blanketed Chungking in the summer, it was sticky sweat on your entire body from the time you lay down on the bed and pulled the mosquito nettings over you, until it cooled off by a few degrees in the early morning hours and you managed to doze off from sheer exhaustion.
In the spring months of 1943, 1 had to spend most of my days and nights in Chungking because of the increasing volume of correspondence and dispatches between Kunming and Chungking. On his last visit, the General had asked me to spend as much of my time in Chungking as I could. I did as he asked, but it wasn't in cheerful acceptance. As the nights grew hotter, not a breath of air would stir in from the open window and the sweat poured off me. One night I thought of the General's room so close by, with its windows on either side of the house and the breeze which circulated through the room. I thought what the hell, so I opened my door quietly and tiptoed into the General's room and lay down on the bed and slept like an angel. At the first crack of dawn I hastily got up and tiptoed into my own room before anyone was up.
The next night I did the same and the night after and one morning I slept in too late and when I opened the door to get back to my own room I saw General Chou coming out of his bedroom to go to the bathroom. He saw me in the same instant and I nonchalantly smiled a good morning at him and went into my proper room. My heart was pounding in dismay. Chou hadn't used the room because of his respect for General Chennault, although he far outranked me and Chennault so seldom came to Chungking to use it. There was no excuse on God's earth for what I had done. I had made Chou lose face, although in his eyes I had lost my own face badly. There was nothing for it but to pretend that it hadn't happened and the next night I stayed in my own room, but when I went back to Peishihyi for a couple of days and then returned, General Chou had made General Chennault's personal bedroom his own. And there wasn't a thing that I could say.
For an uneasy two or three weeks this situation continued and then Chennault visited Chungking and at the hostel when the boy took his bag and led him into the house, he took him to Chou's former bedroom. I remained outside and about twenty minutes later he came out and his face was grim with the stern lines I knew so well. He asked me, "Tom, why has General Chou taken my room?" I was too ashamed to tell him the whole truth, so I said "He's been using it for about three weeks now" and he said, "Well I can't stay here after tonight." He's made me lose face. I'll have to talk to General Huang about getting a new hostel for me." And I could have melted into the dust at my feet. I was that ashamed. We never talked about it again and I kept my silence. He must have found out, but he let me off the hook.
Bit by bit, piece by piece, the picture of General Chennault's relationship with the Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and his role in creating an effective Chinese Air Force, became clearer in my mind. No other westerner except W.H. Donald was held in more esteem and confidence than Chennault at the time he was ordered by the Generalissimo to create and command an American Volunteer Group. I never met Mr. Donald. At the time of the Japanese invasion he had been taking a rest in the Philippines. and had been interned in Manila. The Japanese never realized until the war's end whom they had held as prisoner in Manila. After the war's end he had returned to China, terminally ill with cancer and was in a Shanghai hospital at the time I returned to Shanghai in late 1945. One day in Shanghai I drove the General to the hospital to visit him, but he was so close to death then that Chennault thought it best I didn't come into the room. Through the years of the war the General often told me about him and the friendship between them. His eyes were dimmed and saddened as we drove back into the city.
When he arrived in China in 1937, just two months before Shanghai was invaded, his future as an airman was about as bleak as the arctic tundra. The characteristics of his temperament, which had put the kiss of death on any hope of advancement in the army air corps, were to prove the elements which captured the confidence and trust of the Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in the first few months of his long association with them. He could not be anything but direct. He could not shade his thinking or equivocate on anything. When he knew he was right, nothing on earth could sway his conviction. He scorned stupidity in superiors and was never afraid to say so. Ignorance was something else. His patience in dealing with that, was long.
Intelligence is a gift from the gods; patience, determination, gentleness and understanding, self-confidence and mastery of a human art, are the products of self-effort. Possessing these things, Chennault captured the affection and loyalty of nearly everyone who served under his personal command. When his competence and knowledge of aircraft and pilots and aerial combat were first demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Generalissimo, it became his fiat that Chennault's instructions or "suggestions" be followed to the letter. If not, the penalty would be immediate execution. That was in 1937. In 1941 when I became his secretary and through the next five years, it was my experience that there was, no longer a need for the G-mo to enforce the General. Most members of the Chinese Air Force had full confidence in him and cooperated with him fully and willingly.
In the spring of 1943, I unwittingly disturbed the delicate balance on which the General's relationship with General Chou was based. By yielding to the heat and a desire to sleep cool, I offended General Chou's sense of what was proper and prior to my using Chennault's bedroom I am sure Chou must have often wished he could be sleeping cool in there himself. But chose not to because he would be committing a loss of face to General Chennault. He must have been furious that I had done so. But he had a choice. He could have realized that I was ignorant of the impropriety of my action and asked the hostel management to so inform me. Or he could react by showing me that he was superior in status to me, as Chennault was superior to him and taking the room for his own, as he did. The thing was that I had no desire to offend him or challenge his status. I was never in doubt as to his status and the necessity of me recognizing it in every contact I had with him. With the wisdom of hindsight, I should have immediately told him I was sorry about it. But it didn't work out that way.
I wasn't present when Chennault talked to Jerry Huang, but my ears must have burned at what General Huang thought about me. A couple of weeks later the General told me he had talked to Huang and that Hostel 11, which was just down the road about two hundred yards from Hostel 72, was going to be remodeled and renovated and that he was going to make his Chungking headquarters there. It was formerly the Chungking headquarters of the Russian Staff Officers who commanded Russian fighter and bomber squadrons at Peishihyi, prior to the American Volunteer Group. The building was larger than No. 72, but it was run down. Now the carpentry and masonry commenced full scale and in a month it had been completely renovated and an additional building consisting of dormitory style rooms was erected close by.
I had some consolation in the knowledge that Hostel 72 wouldn't have been adequate for General Chennault's headquarters plans in Chungking anyway, but at the same time I was sorry that Chou had had the last word. I was also aware that the W.A.S.C. had been irritated by General Chou's continued use of 72 for quite sometime before the room incident. Except for the bedroom, he had pretty well taken it over anyway. It was always full of Chinese Colonels and Majors in attendance on Chou and it was seldom that I felt free to sit in the living room or dining room. When I came in from Peishihyi, I was served food up in my room and it was generally a greasy mixture of rice and fried vegetables and scraps of meat and not only my stomach was offended by the food but also my sense of injustice.
A couple of months previously, I had come up to my room, the boy had brought me a cup of tea and I heard sounds of laughing and conviviality down in the dining room. I had seen Chou and some of his staff sitting in that room when I went up the stairs. When the bowl of greasy food arrived, the sight of it hit me like a shot of adrenaline and I told the astonished servant "Take this goddamned crap out of here. I'm going to eat downstairs. I'm going to eat with General Chou." He seemed terrified. "But Mr. Trumble, General Chou has guests." My anger kept building. "I don't care if he has guests or not. I'm going to eat some decent food." And I thundered down the stairs and into the dining room.
There were about five of them there sitting at the round table. Wine was on the table and the small cups and there was a vacant place for me to sit. They looked at me astonished and I bowed to them without saying a word and sat down. There were five or six large dishes of food in the center of the table and I told the water "Bring me some rice and some chopsticks" and he hurried off. General Chou's face was inscrutable, but he held up. Chou held up the bottle of wine and offered me some and I said "No thanks, General" and helped myself to the food. I knew they were talking about me and they knew I couldn't understand their talk and then their conversation died down and we ate in silence. The food was good, chicken, ham, vegetables, well cooked and delicious. I had two bowls of rice with the other food, ate rather hurriedly and they were still at the table when I got up, bowed to them, they bowed back and I left to find the hostel manager. I found him in his office and he was all apologies to me. "We are sorry, Mr. Trumble. General Chou often has guests and we cannot help it."
I was still burning. "That greasy crap you've been giving me isn't fit for pigs", I said. "But Mr. Trumble, we thought you liked it." "Well, I don't. I don't like grease. From now on I'll eat in the dining room." and I walked out.
I passed Chou in the hallway as I headed for the door and back to Peishihyi and whether it was in sarcasm or what, but he bowed to me and said goodbye before I made a move of politeness to him. I don't think he ever knew I had a temper before then. The word must have gone out, because two or three days later when I came to 72 there was a place for me in the dining room and the food was good. Chou and I spoke together politely and almost friendly, Colonel Chen of the W.A.S.C. told me that he hadn't known what kind of treatment I had been getting at 72 and intimated that the W.A.S.C. wasn't happy about the way Chou had taken over the building. The purpose of the War Area Service Corps was for the care and domiciling of the Americans who had come to China in the military.
I went back to Peishihyi and stayed there most of the time, coming to Hostel 72 only when it was absolutely necessary. Like placing a a personal dispatch to Chou from Chennault in Chou's hand, reading it to him aloud if there was any doubt as to what the meaning was and asking him what I should send to the General in reply. I had my office in my room at Peishihyi, with a good typewriter and the AVG files which I was building on with Chinese Air Force material. I was cool and crisp when I talked with him, hiding the angry uncertainty of what he was up to insofar as I was personally concerned. His face was dead pan most of the time, but I sensed a hatred and dislike of me personally in the general background of our relationship. I was confused and uncertain and covered it with the noncommittal blankness or shell that I had learned to present to the commissioned hierarchy of the navy.
A feeling of complete frustration sometimes ripped the living hell out of me in nighttime hours when I was trying to sleep. In my activities for the General in Chungking I often felt like I was walking in murky darkness in unknown territory. Sometimes the half-bitter thought would come to me that the "Old Man" had put me off the ship into a lifeboat all by myself and told me to navigate as best I could. I didn't know where the hell I was, or where the damned wind of events was taking me. I just had some kind of faith that he knew what he was doing when he told me to do it. Lots of times in bitter, angry loneliness I'd force myself to walk into the serene and always interesting valley; and hills of the Peishihyi countryside and force myself to a walking speed which left me breathless and my legs aching when I'd reach the top of a particular small mountain. Then I realized I was taking out my frustration on my own body and trying to hurt myself and make me ache and pain all over to offset the mental turmoil I was experiencing.
Mickey was my closest friend, but I couldn't confide in him. For one thing I didn't want him to know too much about the OM's plans and for another, I knew he was having his own battles with China also. However, in the course of a couple of months events occurred which put me on a course that I didn't deviate from the rest of my time in Chungking.
For social life at the airbase we still had the OFM padres out to Peishihyi on many weekends and they'd bring a few Chinese friends with them who had lived in the United States. We'd party and dance sometimes and get a little bit high and always Mickey's stateside movies would be the climax of the evening festivities. By this time we had the use of a large building with a sort of auditorium ground floor. We'd have about a hundred fifty or so Chinese pilots and their wives in attendance plus the various base officers and generally we'd number about twenty or thirty ourselves with our guests.
We came into the movie room one evening just before Mickey turned on the projector. I had had too much to drink and worst of all, I was in one of the moods where at a given instant if something set me off I could dance, fuck, run a foot race, or battle with my fists in a flash that might set me off. I was in high good humor as I walked down the aisle, but when I grinned in welcome to the Chinese pilots I caught a look of black hatred from one of them as he stared at me and like a fool I took it up. I walked over to him and told him to get his fucking ass out of there or I'd knock his goddamned teeth in. About this time one of the padres, a Father McGrath, came to me and caught my arm and pleaded with me not to start anything, that if I made trouble he'd never come to Peishihyi again and a whole lot of other crap. He was as drunk as I was, but didn't realize it any more than I did. But I left with him and took my seat and we watched the movies.
However in a couple of days Mr. Liu, the WASC hostel manager, told me that my action at the movies had created a bad situation of face among the Chinese military contingent at the airbase. The guy I had sounded off at was one of the squadron leaders of the CAF and he was demanding satisfaction from me or there would be trouble. Liu was very worried. He was in a very ticklish situation. So was I. I was mad at myself for my stupidity in making an issue of it at the movies, but at the same time I knew when unwarranted hatred and dislike was manifested and and my shoulders had ached to smash his face in. Liu urged me to make some gesture of reconciliation or he feared there would be real trouble. I thought it over for about a week and finally I told Liu I'd talk with him and "admit" I'd been in the wrong. It outraged me to the marrow that I had to do this, but I also knew I'd be embarrassing Chennault if I was the cause of splitting of the surface friendship and cooperation between the Americans and Chinese stationed at Chungking.
Almost to a man, the Americans disliked the pilots of the CAF stationed at the airfield. They lived with their wives and families and the few missions they flew were abortive and just show. Our pilots in eastern China were getting shot down by Jap fighters in their raids against Hankow and Changsha and other targets. These Chinese bums were far from the front, were lousy pilots to begin with and constantly cracking up their planes in landing and never made any contact with Japanese planes. They'd take off in the late mornings and be back in their living quarters with their wives by mid-afternoon. They'd been trained to some degree at Yunnanyi in flying, but they were lousy pilots and we knew they were cowardly and letting the American pilots do the actual fighting against the Japs.
This was my feeling towards the whole lot of them when Liu urged me to try to heal the breach I'd caused by talking with the squadron leader and shaking hands with him. Finally I agreed and Liu and I drove down to the airfield and I told the bastard that it was my fault that the misunderstanding had occurred and offered to shake hands with him and forget it. Liu translated and he put his hand out and we shook, but our eyes never wavered from each other and his had the same shining blackness of pure hatred. I knew he was reading mine also and they were telling him -- you son of a bitch, I'd kill you in a second if there was any way I could do it and get away with it. But face was satisfied and Liu was relieved. But I burned with anger at what I had had to do in what I considered line of duty.
Car No. 2, the Chevy sedan, was becoming a sheer misery to drive. The front shocks had lost all their hydraulic fluid and a trip to Chungking and back without some kind of breakdown was a miracle. I sent to Kunming for shock fluid and tried to put it into the shocks myself. There was no way to do it except by jacking the wheel up, getting a tiny amount of fluid into an opening, letting it down so it could get into the cylinder and then doing the same thing all over again. The area where I was doing it was close by the road that led to the Chinese pilots area. We had a small tool shed there and a few jacks and tire irons and the like. It was early afternoon. The early June sun burned down at me like fire and I was covered with grease and dirt from being under the car. Maybe for the 20th time I repeated the procedure with the jack and still I couldn't get enough into the shock absorber to make any difference. The sweat poured from my face and hair and my shirt and trousers were sodden.
All of a sudden I heard some laughter and looked up and saw a group of about fifteen Chinese pilots standing there watching me and laughing and joking among themselves. I knew that Chinese custom made the kind of work I was doing coolie labor and that a person in authority in China would never demean himself like that. So I knew what the laughter was all about and there was no friendliness or understanding in their faces. I got to my feet and told them to get the fucking hell out of there, to go on down where they belonged and mind their own damned business. They didn't move, so I advanced toward them and they fell back, all except two. I hit the closest one to me with a left and he got on his feet and brushed himself off and started cussing me in Chinese. I started for them again and this time he and the other guy ran to join the group which was retreating to their compound. They went up the road and out of sight around the bend. I felt some satisfaction out of running them out of there and returned to my work.
I was in the little toolshed when I happened to look through the small window and saw a group of about thirty of them coming back and the guy I had knocked down was in the lead with a pistol in his hand. It was like a bomb had gone off in my head. The toolshed door opened inward but I forgot that and tried to go out and the door wouldn't open outward so I smashed it down with the full force of my body and went outside with a crescent wrench in my hand. The sight of that gun had made me absolutely berserk with anger. They stopped when they saw me coming and I walked rapidly toward them and they began retreating except for the guy with the gun. He wavered it in my general direction a few times but never steadied it into an aim and kept waving it around as if to call my attention to the fact that he had a gun. I was beyond all control. The greatest anger I think I've ever experienced in my life. If he didn't shoot me, I was going to make that cocksucker eat that gun. I never stopped advancing toward him and he lost his confidence and still waving the gun he backed up and when he saw I wasn't going to stop, he turned around and ran and I threw the wrench at his head, narrowly missing him.
Well Jesus Christ, if everything didn't erupt that evening. I took a shower and cleaned up and was eating supper when Mr. Liu came in and told me that Colonel Hsui, the Chinese base commander, had sent a delegation of his staff to have a conference with me. They were waiting for me in the large room of his office. My heart sank. Would these sons of bitches never stop their goddamned showoff crap? At the same time there was a sinking feeling in my guts. We'd had quite an encounter and I had certainly made the bastards lose face that afternoon. Liu's face showed worry and nervousness and he urged me "This is awfully serious, Tom. Be careful. This is very, very serious." I had never seen Liu upset like this before. Generally he was able to take everything in stride and keep good-humored. I asked him if he'd do the interpreting for me and he said of course. I changed into my best khaki shirt and put on a black necktie in honor of the occasion.
We walked into the big room and there were about ten or twelve of them on one side, sitting down. All of them wore full uniform with Sam Browne belts and boots, like a bunch of Prussian marionettes. They didn't acknowledge my entrance, just sat there. I took a chair opposite to them about fifteen or twenty feet away and Liu sat next to me. Colonel Hsui wasn't there. He had sent his next in command, Colonel Li, to represent him. Boy, were they ever formal, like a court-martial board. Li stood up and spoke and Mr. Liu translated for me. That afternoon I had been guilty of unprovoked rudeness and discourtesy to the Chinese Air Force that surpassed all belief and anything he had ever seen occur between Americans and Chinese. I had cursed and sworn and had acted violently towards the pilots of the Chinese Air Force. I had used physical violence against them. I had struck with my fist a member of the Chinese Air Force. I had tried to injure him by striking him and also trying to hit him with a thrown object -- the son of a bitch talked for nearly five minutes. Then he stopped.
Liu translated it for me. Then Li continued. My behavior was certainly not that of an American friend of China. Rather, it was like I was an enemy of China. How could I do such a thing? How could I have acted in such manner? Didn't I respect the Chinese people? Wasn't I a guest in China?
Liu translated for me with an exactitude that showed how worried he was that a full meeting of the minds and knowledge of everything was necessary. I sat there smoking cigarettes and listening carefully, trying to keep my face expressionless.
Then Li went on with his ultimatum. As grieved and shocked and upset as the Chinese command was at my behavior, nevertheless they would give me a chance to make the matter right by my apologizing to the Chinese Pilot I had knocked down for my actions toward him. And by a general apology to the Chinese Air Force Commandant of the airbase for the discourtesy that I had shown to his pilots as a group. Otherwise, if I refused to make such an apology, I would be reported to General Stilwell in full detail by the commandant and could expect to be sent home from China in disgrace. It was then that I put the picture together in my mind that had bothered me. They didn't threaten to report me to General Chennault. They were threatening to report the matter to Stilwell. Only Chou would have the necessary rank to report anything to Stilwell. Then I realized the whole damned thing was a frame carefully thought out by Chou. He already knew my temper and could forecast what I'd do if the CAF pilots provoked me.
I realized the trap I'd fallen for and realized as never before that Chou was determined to get me out of the picture in Chungking so that there would no longer be a command link between himself and General Chennault in Kunming. My head was a whirling gyroscope of dismayed realization that his plan would probably work.
Liu turned to me and asked me quietly, "What shall I tell them, Tom?". I honest to Christ didn't know what to tell them. I pretended that nothing was bothering me and I tried to light a cigarette and inhale deeply to prove it, but I knew they held the aces. I stood up and began very slowly and carefully. About every two or three sentences I'd stop and Liu would translate. Yes, there had been a very bad incident that afternoon. The Americans and Chinese were allies against Japan and there should be no such incidents as had occurred. However it was no fault of mine that it had occurred. I had been working on my car. In the United States it was not considered a loss of face or dignity for anyone, no matter what his position, to do such work. Evidently in China it was considered as a lowly thing and that was why the Chinese pilots had stopped to make fun of me and joke among themselves at the sight of an American working in grease and dirt and sweat. That was why I had become angry at them and ordered them away to their own area, that the area where I was working was the American compound at Peishihyi.
Liu spoke earnestly and carefully, trying to say everything exactly as I had said it. I continued. Yes, I became very angry when the pilots had returned and again threatened me and I had chased them away. But that was a natural thing to do, because even though the Americans were guests in China, they didn't have to be the subject of amusement and bad manners on the part of the Chinese. Liu finished speaking and said to me in an undertone "That was good, Tom, but I think they'll still go ahead and report you to Stilwell."
Li and his group conferred together for a few minutes and then he stood up again. It was true, he said that in his investigation of the incident that the pilots had been out of their area and that perhaps they had behaved improperly toward me. But that still did not justify the force I had used in knocking down and insulting a Chinese pilot, an officer of the Chinese Air Force. He would be reprimanded for his bad manners, but they would still report me to Stilwell if I didn't make the apologies.
Liu turned to me with resignation. He knew that I would never apologize and would stubbornly refuse to do so and he knew that Stilwell would order Chennault to send me back to the states from China. Liu saw my eyes light up as a tremendous thought had occurred to me, but I asked him to wait a minute while I thought it through. The pistol that pup had carried had never been of a moments concern to me throughout the encounter. Seeing it had only brought my anger to a full boil that he had the audacity and nerve to threaten me in such a manner. The thought of his shooting me and perhaps killing me had never even occurred to me. I was too angry to think of such a thing. But while it may not have been of concern to me, there was the actual fact that he had carried a pistol and had threatened me with it. I kept them waiting across the room while I thought out how to say it. Liu was nervous. "You'll have to give them an answer, Tom".
I whispered to him "I think I've got it. Say this to them as slow as I'm giving it to you. I've got to think as I go along." He looked at me, half-grinning. My heart was pounding with anger and contempt at them and eagerness to gut them. I started out slow. Yes, in spite of my explanation to them about the incident, they were still determined to make trouble for me and report me to General Stilwell. That was too bad and very unfortunate for me. -- I watched them straighten up in their chairs and sort of grin among themselves in satisfaction. -- I kept on with that same slow emphasis of resignation to their demands. Liu's emphasis on what I was saying was beautiful. I could almost follow it word for word. As they knew, however, I had been a member of the American Volunteer Group that had been fighting for China before the American military had come to China. I had been an officer in the AVG that was the same as the Chinese Air Force. Yes, they could make their report to General Stilwell and cause me great trouble. I could not stop them from doing what they wanted to do. But -- and I stopped for a moment -- but if they reported me to General Stilwell I would have no option but to report to the Generalissimo that a Chinese pilot had threatened an American officer of the American Volunteer Group with a loaded pistol while I was unarmed -- and I stopped for a moment -- and then I said, I am very sure that the Generalissimo will have that pilot executed as punishment for such an action.
And it hit them like a ton of bricks. They put their heads together and whispered to each other and then others whispered to them and back and forth and finally Li stood up and his face was flushed-and angry. We have your answer, Mr. Trumble and we will report it to Colonel Hsui and we will be in contact with you further. And they made short bows of politeness, which I returned and got the hell out of there.
Liu and I sat there, drinking tea. "What do you think, Mr. Liu? Will they go ahead?" He said quickly "I don't think so. If the Generalissimo investigated this, more than one would be executed." He sighed deeply and I knew I had upset him. My temper was more than he could cope with. My thoughts however were racing ahead with the implications of General Chou's malice toward me which was now crystal clear. I hadn't been certain to the nth degree before, but now I was. I had no temper now, but I pictured him to myself and enveloped him with a cold hatred that I never knew existed in me.
All uncertainties as to my future course left me.
I hated their fucking guts collectively and individually and I'd never let Chennault know that and I'd never express it to them in anything but their own kind of behavior. As far as I was concerned, if Chennault didn't have Madame and the Generalissimo behind him, they'd cut him to ribbons. The events which occurred through the years following that proved me very wrong insofar as General Chennault and the Chinese high regard and gratitude toward him was concerned and they have honored him and his memory more than any other foreigner in modern history. But at the time these things I've related occurred it was my conviction that Chou was unleashing some very natural irritation and frustration which he felt as the nominal Chief of the Chinese Air Force with Chennault between him and the Generalissimo, calling the plays. I think he used me as a sort of whipping boy in that regard. But it's water under the bridge and the hell with it. Most of the time I enjoyed the battle.
Colonel Hsui tried to get the last word in by writing me a letter in which he condemned my behavior toward the Chinese Air Force. I laughed at and tore up. I wish I had kept it as a memento of the only time China ever got me almost down.
In July I received a safe-hand letter from General Chennault in which he said: "You also are doing a fine job in straightening matters out with General Chow. For your information, I have to go thru the same process when any important project is being set up. It requires patience and persistence in sticking to the point. I cannot even understand their view point and their reasons for suggesting numerous alternative courses - they are often as afraid as I am that the thing won't work no matter what course is taken. One thing to remember is never to lose your temper or to display a great amount of impatience and I think you know that very well - After it is all over, they appreciate your self control and give you full credit for it. They don't drink with you freely unless they like you."
I burned with inner shame when I read that letter. In the last couple of months I had broken every rule of his book which he had emphasized to me. Only a quick wit and ability to think under fire had saved me. I could not control my temper once it got out from under me. My first reaction was to write to him and tell him of the situation I was having with General Chou and tell him I couldn't hack it. Then I continued to read his letter. "I am in no great rush for Hostel No. 11 since I don't have the staff officers up there now. You are taking care of all sections at put the time, but I will need more help when the business grows in volume. I plan having all of the regular staff sections, plus radio communication and aerol engineering represented there -you will continue even then, to represent me personally and to maintain liaison with C.D.S. I think Hostel No. 11 will be satisfactory and I would like to have a room reserved for me, but it need not be held strictly for me all the time because it is not likely that I will occupy it often. This, I believe answers your question about Hostel 72. After No. 11 is ready I will have no more interest in 72 and do not request the W.A.S.C. to maintain it."
Damn it anyway, was my reaction to the second part of his letter. If he thinks I can do it, then dammit I can do it. And I was fired up again.
Most of my efforts with General Chou and his staff were directed toward the organization and manning of the Chinese-American Composite Wing, in which both Chinese and American personnel would man the B-25's and the fighters that would be used. There were many details to be ironed out. Sometimes I used my own judgement in small things that Chou would bring up and mostly I'd refer the big ones to General Chennault. I knew pretty well what he wanted done. The Chinese pilots who had been sent to Thunderbird in Arizona in 1942 were returning as fully qualified pilots by now and they'd be used in the CACW. They were a different breed entirely from the sloppy, arrogant and useless punks who were making the trouble at Peishihyi. They'd learned English beautifully, were dedicated pilots and it was a pleasure to talk with them and joke with them about the United States.
Also I had to coordinate with him about the new batches of Chinese pilots who were to be sent to Thunderbird. I was carrying about half of it in my head and about half on paper. I can hardly recall ever being without something to do during 1943 in Chungking. It was seldom that I ever turned in before eleven-thirty or twelve. The pressures of my China life pushed recollections of my navy life far back into the distance. I had only a fleeting memory now and then of something that had happened on the MARYLAND, AUGUSTA or YORKTOWN. They seemed like a hundred years ago. Sometimes when I relaxed, I'd get a flash thought of Rosita and Cavite. I felt a sadness and guilt about her when she came to mind that seemed to hurt physically in my chest or heart. If I'd gotten that Cavite civilian job I'd be dead and forgotten by now because the Japs had leveled the administration building and there had been no survivors. I felt a kind of weariness when I thought about that. I'd Goddamn the Japs and Goddamn the war, but there was more sadness and regret than active, fiery hate which I'd had at the beginning.