May 25, 2012
Exclusive to Stu Shaner by Richard
Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV these days and there’s a good chance you’ll see a bunch of old guys and gals returning from a Memory Trip to Washington, D. C., where they visited the World War II Veterans’ Memorial. Still it was a surprise to get a phone call from Stu Shaner down in my old hometown (like 1923-40) of Oroville asking if I’d be interested in writing an article about some of my experiences in China, uh, almost 70 years ago. I started writing high school sports for Dan Beebe’s Oroville Mercury-Register in the late 1930’s while a student at Oroville Union High School. Mr. Beebe and his Managing Editor, George Wangelin were tough taskmasters. Seventy-some years later, I’m still trying to follow some of their edicts” “Always look for the local angle”-and, “Keep it short, Kid!” (They paid me 10 cents an inch for my stuff-when they used it!)
In 1944-45 I was an Air Traffic Controller in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations. (The C-B-I). I was stationed on the China side of The Hump, that treacherous air supply route over the towering Himalayan range between India and China.
No, I did not fly. Our outfit, the 158th Army Airways Communication Service (AACS) Provided services which aided the brave air crews that did fly—day and night, seven days a week, in rotten and just plain bad weather—the planes that carried all the gas and supplies that kept China in the war. Our AACS unit was based near the ancient, walled city of Luliang, at an altitude of 6,064 ft, in Ynunnan, China’s most southwesterly province. We were just 70 air miles east of Kunming, which first came into the headlines in the U. S. in the late 1930’s, as the base of the Flying Tigers, which Gen Claire Chennault’s, American Volunteer Group,” The AVG’s (Remember, they flew those shark-faced P-40s against the Japanese “Zeroes.) Our AACS unit at Luliang consisted of air traffic controllers, air-to-ground and DF (direction-finding) personnel; (Morse) code operators; cryptographers, and all the support personnel needed for these services.
Luliang (tower call sign Item Mike) had what I still believe was the longest runway in the world at the time – somewhere around 12,000 feet. It was built entirely by Chinese laborers, working without one piece of mechanized equipment. Thousands of Chinese, supervised by a handful of U. S. Army Engineers, built that stone and dirt runway in less that four months in 1944! It was carved out of red, rocky soil; always reminded me a lot of Forbestown. (Oh, there were some pine trees around, too, but not the big beautiful ones I climbed as a kid up there in the Old Paxton Addition of Oroville. It took me 68 days, by ship, rail, ferry boat, plane and an Army 6X6 to get from the Gen. A. E. Anderson, from Hampton Roads, VA, to Luliang! (By comparison, in 2006 one of my grandsons, serving with an Oregon National Guard outfit, made it from Gulfport, Miss., to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 3 ½ days!) Stu; Our Nation’s National Guards’ have been a big part of this war.
Luliang was, primarily, an Air Transport Command airfield, built to handle cargo planes of the Air Transport Command (ACT)- the C-46, C54-C-87 and C-109- which hauled gasoline and supplies from India to China., Our field was second only to Kunming in volume of air traffic, (Between 1943 and the war’s end in ’45, more than 745-thousand TONS of cargo- primarily GASOLINE- was hauled over The Hump, the greatest airlift in history!). We also had two combat outfits—B-24 bombers and P-51s fighters—based at Luliang, and they regularly flew missions over southeast Asia. (We also had squadrons of B-25 Mitchells run occasional missions out of our base. They’d fly in from 2-3 bases in the area, load up with bombs and gasoline for long-range targets, and then use our extra-long runway length to get off with heavier-than-usual bomb loads.) One of our busiest periods ever was in late’44, early ’45 when the Japanese mounted their last big offensive into eastern China- overrunning 14th Air Force bases at Changsha, Hengyang, Kweilin (now Guilin), Luichow and Nanning before the drive was halted at Kweiyang (now Guiyang), about 100 miles east of Luliang. In this period we handled hundreds of flight of C-47s of Troop Carrier Command hauling the Chinese First Army soldiers and their mules and cannons up from Burma, in addition to our regular Hump traffic.
( to be continued)
Stu’s Notes: Oroville and Chico’s famous Morris Taylor flew over the Hump. That is a story someday I hope to have. What an amazing story of another hero of Oroville, their stories go on and on and must all be told.
I hope to see a record turn out at the Memorial Day Ceremonies on Monday, starting at 11am at the Oroville Memorial Park Cemetery on Lincoln at the top of the hill will be a nice ceremony. Then from 12-3pm there will be a Barbeque at the Veterans Memorial Hall on Montgomery Street brought to you by the American Legion with Chef Wayne Brock. At 1pm on the Old Green Bridge next to the round-a-bout the Bell and Wreath ceremony with the Thermalito Band under the direction of Robert Christiansen. This is an old time tradition that was revived about 6 years ago. The Bell will be rung for every Veteran that has died from the Oroville Area this past year.