The Old Burma Road
From Ray Mitchell's memoirs...
We now had commanding view on the Old Burma Road that ran from Kunming, China into Burma. From our position we were able to direct artillery and mortar fire on the Road. This was done day and night to make it difficult for the enemy to supply troops fighting the Chinese further up the Burma Road leading into China. Patrols were sent to the road, land mines were planted, and truck convoys were ambushed as they attempted to run the blockade. In cutting the supply linne to the enemy, they were forced to withdraw from the engagement with the Chinese.
The Japanese tried to dislodge us from our positions using heavy artillery, 105mm and 155mm, trying to overrun our positions, almost succeeding at times.
Third Battalion was on a lower hill several miles from us with artillery because we did not have a place for artillery on the ridge. Our losses were beginning to incrfease due to the 155 artillery shells--we were too crowded.
In the battle for the Burma Road, our air support wsa by the P-47, called 'the Jug'. A very powerful effective fighter bomber equipped with eight 50 caliber machine guns, plus carrying many 250 pound bombs. The P-47 planes were so close to us we could see the expressions on thhe faces of the pilots. One of the planes came in very low to strafe the ridge in front of us, but he still had a 250 pound bomb that had hung up without his knowledge. When he hit the trigger for the machine guns, the bomb was released just above six of us standing and watching the power show by the fly boys.
It all happened so fast we could not hit the ground. The bomb landed in the middle of our group. As the bomb hit the ground, probably traveling between 250 and 300 miles per hour, the sound emitted was similar to a speeding car putting on brakes and tires burning rubber on a paved road. The bomb did not explode, which is obvious because I'm here, but ricocheted off the hard ground, going another 75 to 100 yards and exploded on conntact on the enemy position!
We took a deep breath, let it out very slowly and went about our business. Later in life, I was told by a pilot of the same type bomber plane that the bomb did not explode because a small propeller in the nose of the bomb had a pin on it and was pulled from the propeler, allowing it to rotate. After turning about six times, the bomb was activated and would detonate on impact.
The Mars Task Force for this battle had brought the entire Brigade into action. I understand that this was the only Brigade in the Army. Our make up was the 475th Infantry Regiment which had 3 Battalions of about 1,000 men in each Unit with a portable surgical unit attached -- Not a MASH unit like on TV.
One night I was in the bunker with the Commanding Officer, Colonel Thrailkil. I was the Sgt. Major and he wanted to go to the observation post that overlooked the road. It was a very bright moon that night and you could see anything that moved. He and I moved along the ridge in a trench to the observation post. When we reached the opening, I told the Colonel that I needed to go to my foxhole for some cigarettes. I was a heavy smoker, and I had been out for several hours not being able to smoke. The Colonel did not smoke. I left the observation post and went to my foxhole for a pack of cigarettes.
I lit one before heading back to the observation post which was only about 10, maybe 15 yards away. The artillery started up before I made it back, the 155mm were coming in. I started to try to make it back between shells, but decided to wait until it was over. The observation post received a direct hit. I was the first to arrive and began moving logs and then the wounded. There were six menm in the post, thheree killed, including the Colonel who was blown in half, the other three were wounded.
Sgt. Milton Kornfeld of Brooklyn, NY had a leg blown off, all but a small ligament. The medic just pulled a trench knife and cut the ligament to free him from the logs that pinned him down. Kornfeld did not lose consciousness, and on the stretcher he kept talking. I went to him and told him not to talk so loudly because he was drawing small arms fire.
He called me by name and said, "Mitch, you have always heard that the fastest thing in the world was a Jew passing Hitler's house on a bicycle. I heard that big shell coming and I moved out of the way faster...all but one leg!" Kornfeld survived to go home.
At this point I would be remiss if I did not give praise to our medical people. From the aide in the foxhole who never hesitate when the cry "Medic!" was heard to those in the aid station. It took courage to crawl out to a wounded man during the battle. They did! And the aide station with the tow surgeons working under the poorest of conditions did an outstanding job.
I understand tht if a wounded man could be reached by the aide man, his chances on surviving was about 60 percent. If the wounded man could reach the Battalion aide station, his chances increased to about 75 percent. If his luck held and he could make it to the protable surgical unit, usually about five miles behind combat zone, the chances go up in to 80 percent. Next came the evacuation byy small plannes to a field hospital, there his luck goes into the 90 percent range. The last would be a general hospital, then his chances could be as high as 98 percent. The medical personnel did more with less than any group could.
I was told to take Colonel Thrailkil's effects to the Regimental Commanders and tell him what had happened. The Regimental Commanding Officer was Colonel Easterbrook, the finest of men, an officer and a gentleman. In fact, he was General Stilwell's son-in-law. After talking with Colonel Easterbrook, I explained that I needed to hurry and leave in order to get back to the 2nd Battalion before dark. It was about five miles and I was walking. The Colonel, in his gentle way, told mem to stay in the night in the portable surgical unit, have a good meal and a night's sleep and to see him the next morning before returning to my unit. The next morning, I returned to the Colonel's headquarters and he met me with a towel, a bar of soap and a razon. Smiling he told me to go to the nearby stream and clean up. I protested, telling him I need to hurry back to my unit. With that smile he said, "Sgt., that war will be there when you get back." I took the bath and shaved, I surely felt guilty when I returned to my unit all clean.
Part 7 Mars Task Force is here.