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March 11, 2005
Oroville Mercury Register April 6, 1945

Hardships of Myitkyina Campaign Described by Major: He Praises Mules
By Naome Caziee

Their mission was to harass the enemy south of Myitkyina (pronounced Mich-i-naw) in Burma. They were to stalk the Japanese troops, blow up supply installations and “raise hell in general.” And raise hell they did, the men of the Mars Task Force, whose operations officer was Major Raymond A Leonard of Oroville. Carrying packs weighing between 50 and 72 pounds, they followed native trails and animal trails, or cut their way through the jungle for 350 miles, of one of the most grueling marches of the war. Living entirely on C and K rations, walking out 46 days of the monsoon season, building airstrips for planes to evacuate the sick and wounded, and constantly fighting off enemy ambush, they slogged their way to Lashio, where the Chinese army fought its way down the Burma Road, to relieve them after routed Japanese troops had re-organized and attacked them.

No Black Market There
Leonard, who with his family, arrived in Oroville Wednesday for a visit with his mother, Mrs. R. A. Leonard Sr. of Quincy road, said he never wanted to see rations again as long as he lived. "Oh, they are good," he added, "but I got pretty tired of concentrated pork and eggs, biscuits and cheese.” He said each meal unit also contained the makings for a drink, coffee, bouillon or lemonade, plus three cigarettes and a stick of chewing gum. The infantry major’s visit here came after a reunion in Gridley with his wife and son and an introduction to a new son, Leonard is on 30-day leave.

The Mars Task Force was made up of what was left of the famous Merrill’s Marauders after the Myitkyina campaign in June, July and August of 1944, and of replacements. Leonard had commanded a rifle team with the Marauders.

The new force, 475th Infantrymen, trained for a few months in the Myitkyina area. They started out on November 15. Their transportation for ammunition and weapons consisted of the old Missouri mule. The mules carried only light weapons. They could not transport heavy equipment in the extremely mountainous country. Every once in a while both men and mules would disappear over the side of a mountain. The men wore jungle boots, something like tennis shoes except that they came half way up to the calf of the leg. Few men dropped out of the march other than those who got one of the jungle diseases.

Every few days the men would build a tiny airstrip. In constant radio contact with head quarters, they would radio out when one of the men got sick and soon an artillery liaison plane would land on the hastily built strip. The plane could take several men out at one time but one of them had to ride on the pilot’s shoulders. That was how Leonard left the jungle when he was sent out for medical treatment. He rode on the pilot’s shoulders. At the beginning of the march the men traveled about 250 miles in 20 days. Japanese at that time held the town of Bhamo. The Mars-men trekked around in back of the Japanese and hit them from the rear at a place called Tonkawa. Once when Leonard was leading a scout patrol he had one of those close shaves. He said he knew there were Japanese out in front but one camouflaged man in a foxhole about 20 feet ahead escaped his roving glance. “ I was turning my head from side to side trying not to miss any signs of danger,” Leonard related. “I got so close to him I could have spit on him. He was at my right and he fired his gun just as I turned my head to the left. His bullet tore open the side of my helmet. They always shoot for your head. If I hadn’t turned mine just when I did, I’d have been a goner.” (Continued next week)

Stu’s Notes: It may seem like I devoted a lot of space to Iwo Jima and I did, but it took such a big part of Butte County in those 4 weeks of fighting and most of my stories so far have been about WWII. I guess because the survivors are getting old and their stories must be told soon. The youngest is probably 77 or 78 now. Soon the last WWI boy will pass on the youngest would be about 103 now. I heard there might be one of these men in Redding. I can remember when the last Civil War Soldier died, in the early 1950’s. I wrote a little about Raymond A Leonard, Feb. 6, 2004 hoping to hear from someone who knew him. I got no response. What a true HERO he was.