Entertainment During World War II (trivia 1)

The need for a long-range penetration unit in Burma impelled the activation of the Mars Task Force at Camp Gruber in December of 1943.  On the same day, December 17th, President Roosevelt announced that the airplane the Wright Brothers had first flown forty years earlier would be brought back to the United States.  It had been in storage in England, but Roosevelt wanted to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution in honor of the anniversary of this aerial innovation.

Meanwhile, wars in Europe and the Pacific were in full swing, and I am certain the absence of an entire population of young men was felt by everyone, but stateside life carried on. Folks at home were forced to make daily sacrifices with the rationing of gasoline, butter, and other commodities, so they turned to much-needed distractions from entertainment.  

Americans were listening to their radios, and “Paper Doll” by the Mills Brothers, which was #1 on the Hit Parade as of December 13th of that year was soon replaced by the Andrews Sisters’ “Shoo Shoo Baby”.  The other top songs Americans loved were: “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; “People Will Say We’re In Love” by Bing Crosby and Trudy Erwin; and “My Heart Tells Me” by Frank Sinatra.

Americans were avid readers, buying best sellers such as: The Apostle by Sholem Asch, So Little Time by John Marquand, and The Robe by Lloyd Douglas. (1)

The average cost of a movie was 29 cents (2), and people bought tickets to see Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Madame Curie, (3) or lined up for The Song of Bernadette with Jennifer Jones and Charles Bickford. (4)

Time Magazine honored Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall for its Man of the Year cover, and people were still singing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, which debuted a year earlier. (5)

In San Francisco, Jack Holloway’s folks might have gone to dinner at the prestigious Cliff House and bought a salmon steak for 65 cents a plate, or had a tenderloin steak for $1.40. (6) After dinner, they might have strolled down the street to the provocative Playland-at-the-Beach where they could enjoy the Bob Sled Dipper, Shoot-the-Chutes, or The Whip.  They might have bought tickets to go inside the popular Funhouse to enjoy more rides and attractions. (7)  These interests occupied their minds, temporarily relieving them from worry about loved ones overseas.

During the war, entertainment was also important for the morale of the soldiers who saw the shows put on by the United Service Organization (USO); they also saw Hollywood movies at theatres in their camps. In some cases, the movie screen was made out of parachutes. 

In my research of this era, I’ve come to realize that entertainment has always been important to us. The human mind is always alive, creating.  We find new ways to express our complex emotions and entertain ourselves in the process.  We design, we choreograph, and we orchestrate our visions, redefining the human experience with fresh new language, in hopes that our work will serve mankind. The cultural heritage coming out of World War II suggests this is so.

 

Footnotes:

(1)  Time Passages, 1943 Commemorative Yearbook, Robert Burtt & Bill Main, 1999, Hourglass Publishing Company, Inc., Section: “December 1943”

(2)  “What Did It Cost? A Look Back”, Dave Manual.com, Printed 8-27-19.  https://www.davemanuel.com/whatitcost.php

(3) Time Passages, Ibid.

(4)  “The Numbers, Where Data and the Movies Meet”, Annual Movie Chart – 1943 Market Charts.

Printed 8-27-19. https://www.the-numbers.com/market/1943/top-grossing-movies

(5)  Time Passages, Ibid.

(6)  ebay, Shop by Category. Collectibles > Paper > Menus

Printed 8-27-19. https://www.ebay.com/itm/362581740716

(7)  Wikipedia.org, Playland (San Francisco), Printed 8-27-19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playland_(San_Francisco)

 

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

 

PFC Thomas Carr, Mars Task Force (photo 7)

PFC Ronald Knuth, Battery C 612 Field Artillery Battalion, Gun Crewman T4 took this photo.  This is PFC Thomas Carr.  I’ve met Tom at the 2016 and 2017 Mars Task Force Reunions, and he has wonderful stories to tell and great photos of his own.

This photo is by courtesy of Ronald Knuth’s daughter, Sue Knuth Bailey, and is gratefully received.

29 Tom Carr

 

This must have been taken in Burma, but I wonder if this is the Burma Road?  Or, it could be the Ledo Road.  Would love to know.  

The Men in the Cover Photo, Mars Task Force (photo 4)

cropped-burma-road-2-1-2.jpg

PFC Ronald Knuth, Battery C 612 Field Artillery Battalion, Gun Crewman T4 took this photo.  The men in the photo are: Stefanie, Tappe, and Godkin.  This was written on the back of the photo, but we don’t know which soldier was which.  

This photo is by courtesy of Ronald Knuth’s daughter, Sue Knuth Bailey, and is gratefully received.

 

Progress as of August 24, 2019, The Burma Road (status 1)

Early in the writing of my novel, The Burma Road, I created an outline of the chapters I wanted to include.  I have not written this book in sequential order, I’ve used my chapter outline and selected the sections I wanted to work on as they called to me.  The first section written was Chapter 30, “Three O’clock Charlie”, which tells my dad’s experience of a Japanese bomber who flew over camp every day at three o’clock sharp. This story stood out in my memory and was the first of Dad’s tales I wanted to tell.

My outline has close to fifty chapters, with ten left to do.  These remaining chapters cover the battle at Namhpakka, one more at Camp Carson, and a chapter about what was going on stateside with Jack’s family—a handful of chapters are written from Flora Holloway’s experience as a mother whose son’s serving overseas.  I also want to write a chapter where Jack is reunited with his mule, Lucky, in Kunming, China, and the closing chapters addressing Jack’s homecoming.

I am currently working on one of Flora Holloway’s chapters, “The Hostess with the Mostest”.  I hope to start working on the chapters dealing with the battle near Namhpakka soon.  To do this, I’ll go over the history I’ve read. Interesting details can be found in John Randolph’s Marsmen In Burma, Ken Laabs’ memoir, and also in my audio recordings form the Mars Task Force reunions–the veterans told fabulous stories at the 2016 and 2017 gatherings.

When all the chapters are written, I still need to rewrite many of the earlier chapters.  I have grown as an author since May of 2016, when I began writing this novel.  I can tighten up the language in some places, and make the chapters more succinct.  Additionally, the work needs to be fully edited.

I’ll keep you up to date on my progress.  My goal is to have The Burma Road ready to publish by the end of 2020.

 

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

Silencing The Mules, Mars Task Force (history 2)

In continuing my research into the mules who assisted the men of the Mars Task Force, I came across an interesting website.  This is Le Minh Khai’s:SEAsian History Blog.  I liked the post about mules dated October 14, 2014, titled: “The Silenced Mules of World War II Burma”.  In this article, a doctor, A. J. Moffett, is reported to have developed a procedure to cut off the mule’s vocal chords in order to silence them.  This procedure prevented the mules from braying, which was dangerous during the war as it alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ presence. 

Le Minh Khai states that it was Colonel Orde Wingate, a senior British Army officer,  who was looking into ways to silence the mules.  His First Chindit Force fought the Japanese in Burma during 1942 to 1943.  This was before the Mars Task Force came onto the scene.  I don’t know if this procedure was still in effect when the Marsmen arrived with their mules in 1944.  (1)

I will check this detail out with the veterans I am still in touch with.  (2)  But parts of my novel, The Burma Road, might have to be revised depending upon what I learn.  I am not sure how I will proceed if revisions are in order, I’ll decide later.

Emotionally, I have difficulty accepting that these officers mutilated the animals, although I understand the need for military maneuvers to be carried out in secret.  But as a pet owner and lover of all four-legged critters, I don’t like to read that their vocal chords were cut, no matter how good the reasoning was.  But war is harsh medicine that we take to cure a world without peace, yet the very words “war” and “peace” are contradictions.  Still, there are times when the unthinkable must be done, whether or not it is morally acceptable, in attempts to achieve a higher goal.  These are the moments when an officer must make difficult decisions—choosing one “wrong’ in order to prevent another.  If the mules needed to lose their vocal chords in order for the Allies to win against the Japanese, this might have been one of those times.

At any rate, Le Minh Khai’s article gives the mules back their voice.  It is well worth reading, being both informative and interesting.  Please check out the blog, details are in the footnote below. 

 

Footnote:

(1) Details about silencing the mules from an internet article:

“The Silenced Mules of World War II Burma” by Le Minh Khai, article on website dated 10-14-14, “SEAsian History Blog”.

Printed 8-23-19. https://leminhkhai.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/the-silenced-mules-of-world-war-ii-burma/.

(2) According to PFC Ken Laabs (as passed on to me through his wife, Beulah Bennett-Vernon) the mules never brayed.  He did not know for certain, but he thought they must have had the surgery to remove their vocal chords.  I have not decided whether nor not to revise my chapter, “Bye, Bye Lucky”, as the animal’s braying is an important aspect of the chapter, and contributes to Jack’s grief.  I’ll consider this, and decide later, before I publish.  Having the facts correct is important, but it might not be vital to the overall message of the book to have this detail included.

 

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

Training Camps, Mars Task Force (history 1)

My father did his boot camp at Fort Ord in Monterey, California.  From there, he moved on to Camp Gruber which is near Braggs, Oklahoma in the Cookson Hills, approximately 14 miles southeast of Muskogee, Oklahoma.  The 612th and the 613th were activated at this camp on December 17, 1943.  Which, coincidentally, was Dad’s nineteenth birthday.  The 612th was populated by soldiers from nine different U.S. Army posts, the 613th was filled by soldiers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  (1)

According to Kenneth Laabs’ memoir, the men arrived in Oklahoma in the dead of winter, with snows about three feet deep, and with the chilling Oklahoma Prairie winds blowing.  He would’ve froze like ice, if not for his heavy GI Overcoat.  I’m sure the extreme cold must have been shocking for Dad, who was raised in the tepid winters of San Francisco.  The majority of men stationed at Gruber were from the Midwest and the eastern states, many from New York or New Jersey.  For them, freezing winters were probably commonplace.  But a few, like my father, were from California, and must have been stunned by the cold, dry climate.  Ken remarks that the few recruits that hailed from the west (Washington, Oregon, and California) soon adjusted and found ways to overcome the harsh weather.

It was in Gruber that the men were introduced to their mules.  They were taken down to a railroad siding to a train of cattle cars.  The cars were filled with mules, from Missouri, and a lot of the men had never seen nor dealt with mules at any point during their lives.  For some, the strange braying sounds emitting from the cars came as a complete shock.  They did not know what to expect and stood looking at each other in confusion.  They were soon shown halter shanks, and how to snap them around the mules’ necks.  It was then that they were given the news that they had seen the last of their 6×6 trucks, and would be walking from then on.  Dreams of riding in armored cars, jeeps, or any type of four-wheeled conveyance were shattered.  Their transportation was the reliable built in model – their own two feet.

After intensive field artillery training at Gruber, Dad moved on to Camp Carson, which is in El Paso County outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  According to Ken’s memoir, this was around the beginning of 1944.  Carson housed rows of stables for the mules, and was surrounded by hills and mountains – perfect for long-range penetration training.  It was here that they learned how to saddle the mules, pack loads, and tie rope hitches.  They also learned how to clean and bind the hooves of their mules. 

In addition to working with mules, the men were also trained on the 75 mm pack Howitzers, commonly referred to as the “Howzers”.  They practiced loading and unloading the cannons on their mules, and firing Howzers under many different conditions.  I assume this was to ready them for accomplishing these maneuvers no matter what circumstances they faced during battle.  It was here that they understood the reasoning as to why only towering men were chosen for this outfit—it soon became apparent that lifting the cannon parts onto the Howzer was impossible if you were not at least six feet tall.  The Howzers were broken into seven sections, which were then loaded onto special attachments on the packsaddles.  These parts were heavy.  The tube, or barrel, weighed 240 pounds, while the remaining parts ranged from 180 to 200 pounds each.  The mules did not like being handled while the men loaded the gun.  If the soldier wasn’t careful, the mule showed its displeasure by kicking, and this was painful for the unsuspecting. (2)

Dad had some humorous memories of his time at Camp Carson.  He remembers a foot locker inspection where his captain found some “non-issue” items in his locker.  Rather than being punished, Dad was requisitioned by the captain to “find” (i.e. steal) various items on his wish list, as if on a scavenger hunt.  The captain needed hard to come by articles, like typewriters and yellow writing pads. Dad, and his buddies, found all the requisitioned items, including the typewriter, which was easily spotted sitting by an open window.  The next day, Dad’s captain had all his desired booty.  The unsuspecting unit officer who lost his typewriter had no idea what became of his equipment, because Dad’s captain did not leave it exposed in plain sight.  The unspoken rule in these camps seemed to be: possession is nine-tenths of the law.

The men continued training on their mules throughout their stay in Carson.  Each of the four Howzers in a firing battery required seven mules each to carry the broken down gun sections, for a total of twenty eight mules per unit.  About fifty five more mules carried the food, ammunition, grain, and miscellaneous supplies.  This came to nearly eighty plus mules in each gun battery.  I’ve read that the Mars Task Force had more than 900 mules in total. The men trained vigorously, practicing loading and unloading the guns on their mules until June of 1944, when they left Carson. 

At this point, the men of the 612th, Company B, moved down to New Orleans, and boarded three Liberty ships.  They sailed with the mules to India, and docked in Calcutta.  From there, they traveled with their charges by rail approximately 450 miles into the Burmese Mountains.  They disembarked near Lido, Burma, and traveled the rest of the way by foot down the newly built Ledo Road.  Their destination was Camp Landis, near Myitkyina, Burma.  Myitkyina had recently been reclaimed from Japanese occupation by the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), most commonly known as “Merrill’s Marauders”. 

The remaining men of the 5307th who were left to fight the Japanese after winning back Myitkyina, are commonly referred to as the “New Galahad”.  These were newer recruits relieving the original Marauders who had succumbed to the harsh conditions and were exhausted from battle. These original marauders were sent back stateside to recover, and the Galahad replaced them at the front lines.  Later, when the 5332nd Brigade was created to take over from the 5307th, some Galahad men joined the Mars Task Force and shared their jungle know-how through training classes at Landis. Their first-hand knowledge of what to expect from the fierce terrain, and of a ruthless enemy, was priceless.

Camp Landis, about twelve miles north of Myitkyina, was accessible by foot or vehicle over narrow, dusty roads that stayed dry, except during monsoon season.  Myitkyina had a coveted air strip, that the Japanese wanted back, but on which new Mars Task Force recruits were easily flown in on C-47s.  Once they arrived in Myitkyina, the men traveled the short distance to Landis by foot or truck, and received further training.  They learned to use a few new weapons: flame throwers, bazookas, and 4.2 mortars.  Later, it was decided that the flame throwers and 4.2 mortars were not easily transported on the backs of the mules, so these weapons were discarded. 

The men learned infantry and jungle combat, which some had not trained for yet, as the 613th started out as a cavalry unit.  They were taught the lore of the jungle, how to make a good trap using what was naturally found in the terrain, and basic jungle security.  They went on field trips into the wilds, learning to live off the land and how to work with the natives, using them as “beaters” when pursuing tigers for fun. John Randolph humorously reports about this in his book Marsmen In Burma, joking that no tigers were successfully caught.  They took long, tedious marches with full field equipment, and these trips took their toll.  Many men caught malaria and typhus even before seeing battle.  The men were trained on how to dress to protect themselves from the typhus mites, and they practiced digging fox holes. 

When time permitted, the men did laundry by washing their fatigues in the clear, cold waters of the Irrawaddy River.  The Burmese natives showed them how to remove dirt and grime by beating their clothes against rocks or logs.  Soap, however, was a rare commodity and was only accessible to those friendly with a mess or supply sergeant.

But it was not constant work, the men had access to two outdoor theaters, where those who were lucky watched shows sitting on boxes, while others found seats on the ground.  The USO brought them high-caliber acts, such as Jinx Falkenburg and Pat O’Brien.  They were also entertained by singer and actress Ann Sheridan—best known for her role as Mae Kennedy in the movie San Quentin (1937) with co-stars: Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart.  During World War II, many Hollywood celebrities toured with the USO to remote theatres and braved perils while visiting combat zones.  While Myitkyina had recently been reclaimed from Japanese occupation, there were still ongoing skirmishes to win the air field back–no one in the vicinity was safe. (3)

It seems that the rigorous training these men endured probably saved their lives.  As Lord Louis Mountbatten pointed out during his visit to Burma on February 18, 1945, casualty statistics were in the Allies’ favor.  Allies in this locale were the British, Chinese, and American troops, along with Burmese Kachins—fierce natives assisting the units as guides and scouts.  In this China-India-Burma Theatre, the ratio of Allied men killed to enemies annihilated was: four Japanese soldiers to one Allied man. 

The Mars Task Force’s numbers exceeded even this outstanding quota with six and a half Japanese soldiers to one Marsman.  As sobering as these statistics are, we must remember these represent actual human loss and should be honored with due respect to the cost of American and Japanese lives.  However, it is apparent that the men of the Mars Task Force fought smart, fought hard, and proved it with their survival numbers.  Neither harsh terrain, nor enemy fire, could easily take them down. (4)

A number of chapters in my novel The Burma Road include stories that take place at Ord, Gruber, Carson, and Landis. These come from my research, Dad’s memories, and the veterans of the Mars Task Force’s own experiences as told at their reunions, or written in their memoirs.  Chapter 33, “Catching Our Breath”, includes an episode with Lord Mountbatten as he addresses the troops in Burma.  Much of this chapter, and the inspiration behind Mountbatten’s monologue in this scene, come from recorded history in the books and articles I’ve read. 

I find this information fascinating, as I hope you do.  These stories are examples of where actual historical accounts are more dramatic and far more compelling than fiction.  And while The Burma Road is fiction, I try to keep to the written or verbally passed down tales, where ever possible.  When these men are gone, so are their memories—unless we capture them in some form for the future.  Preserving the Marsmen’s history is what ignites my passion behind writing this novel.  It is a labor of love, dedicated to my father and to the men with which he served.  This story is my heartfelt gift to the families of these men, and is my effort toward ensuring the Marsmen’s legacy lives on.

 

Footnotes:

 

(1) Details about the activation of the 612th and 613th from article:

Over the Hills and Far Away” by Troy J. Sacquety. Photocopied 2016 from Vol. 5, No.4 of larger volume, title unknown.

 

(2) Details about Camp Gruber and Camp Carson from memoir::

Mars Task Force, 612th Field Artillery Battalion (Pk), Attached to the 5332nd Brigade (Prov). Unpublished memoir by Ken E. Laabs. Photocopied 2017.

 

(3) Details about Camp Landis from:

Marsmen in Burma by John Randolph  copyright 1990, by the Curators of the University of Missouri, pages 41 – 52

 

(4) Statistics from:

Marsmen in Burma by John Randolph  copyright 1990, by the Curators of the University of Missouri, pages 211 – 212

 

Other miscellaneous details from article:

Over the Hills and Far Away” by Troy J. Sacquety. Photocopied 2016 from Vol. 5, No.4 of larger volume, title unknown.

 

Other sources include: conversations  with my father.

 

 

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.