Saturday, October 8, 2011

JDM: War Remembrance

It is 1944 and I am at Chabua in Assam, up in north India, trying to hitch a ride in a cargo C-46 or C-47 over the hump to Kunming. A major of engineers asks me if I can help him. I am a captain in the ordnance department. He explains his problem and I go with him in his jeep through the stifling heat to a big field where hundreds and hundreds of trucks sit rotting and rusting in the tropic sun and rain.

Madame Chiang had addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate and steamed them up about sending more help to China. All these new vehicles had been coming up the funny railroad from Calcutta as part of the result of her plea. The Burma Road was not finished. They were too big to be sent into China by air. So there they sat, a giant khaki-drab, depressing used-truck lot. We went to the oldest sector of the field, where the staunch and familiar 6 by 6 trucks had been parked for a year.

Jungly green was growing up through them and around them. The rubber was pulp, the insulation slime, the gears rusted shut.

"You want to what?" I asked.

"Up near Hell Gap, we got this damn bottomless hole. Been having them Kachins head-carry tons of rock in them little baskets. Sinks out of sight. We hook onto a couple dozen of this junk and haul them up and push them into the hole, they'll sink down in that swamp and get wedged and we can build the road across them."

"Why me?"

"Is this stuff worthless junk?"


"Can't get any of these supply-wallahs to authorize a thing. Had a requisition in for weeks. Got to get on with the road. You're up from Delhi. They'll buy any headquarters signature. Just twenty of them. What do you say?"

I hung around and watched them yank the first two out of the vines and mud, onto a big flatbed. There was a disconsolate look about them. We weren't meant to be under the road, they said.

In the late afternoon I hitched my ride. We went way above the operational ceiling of the C-47 to avoid bad icing conditions, but when we came back through it for the Kunming landing at 6000 feet, we iced up heavily and I thought I was about to be punished for favoring logic over protocol, but we landed like a giant chandelier, and I felt I had been forgiven, or at least given a remission.

from "Farewell, My Lovely Machine," a piece about automobiles that was published in the July 1982 issue of the JDM Bibliophile.

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