Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The last hurrah

I've never been much of a joiner. But two organizations to which I have belonged have had a very special meaning for me. One was the CBI Veterans Association., a national organization of men who served in China, Burma and India during World War II.

The other was an informal group of guys who had been in the 893rd Signal Co. in India and had banded together after the war as a sort of alumni society so that they could keep in touch as civilians. I was an honorary member of the group.

I have been a member of the CBI Veterans Association's local "basha" in south Florida, where I have a winter home. A "basha" is the official designation of the organization's local units. Instead of setting up "posts" like the American Legion and VFW, the CBI vets named their local units after the flimsy, grass-thatched structures that served as U.S. military barracks in India.

For many years, I have attended the basha's luncheon meetings, where we enthusiastically reminisced about our experiences in the CBI. Forced to listen again and again to the same stories from grizzled old men trying to recall our youthful adventures in exotic lands, I question whether my wife--or the other wives in attendance--shared our enthusiasm about the luncheon meetings.

Although I was never assigned to the 893rd Signal Co., my own outfit, the 903rd Signal Co., was stationed together with the 893rd at the same base, the Bengal Air Depot, a U.S. Army base in Titagharh, a village about 60 miles outside Calcutta. We lived and worked together for more than a year, and many of the men in the two outfits became close buddies.

The 903rd had been stationed in Egypt before it arrived in India in the spring of 1944. I had landed in India a few months earlier and was assigned to the company, which was under strength. Over the next year, there was considerable personnel turnover in the outfit as the men with lengthy overseas duty were shipped home and were replaced by newcomers to India.

The 893rd was a far more cohesive group, however, whose members had been together for many years. When the war was over, they decided to create a sort of alumni club so that they could keep in touch. Over the years, they held annual reunions and published a newsletter.

I had many close friends in the 893rd. As a result, I was considered an honorary member and was put on its mailing list. I was invited but never attended its reunions. I always looked forward, however, to the newsletter to learn about the civilian lives of men I had known as fellow soldiers.

For a half a century, I corresponded with several of my 893rd friends, and visited two of them while on business and vacation trips to California. Sadly, I learned of their deaths in the newsletter about ten years ago.

A more cheerful newsletter article reported that another 893rd alumnus, Abe Schumer, whom I had known well, was the father of New York's Senator Chuck Schumer. I found a picture of Abe in a box of wartime photos at home. I mailed the picture to the Senator and was delighted to receive a phone call from his father.

By coincidence, Abe had been planning to visit a former Long Island neighbor who now lived in my New Jersey community. He called me when he arrived at her home, and we had a delightful chat comparing notes on how we had fared since the war so many years ago.

Last year the national CBI organization's quarterly newsletter stopped coming in the mail. Nor did I receive announcements about 893rd Signal Co. reunions and the luncheon-meetings of the national association's Florida basha.

For me, the silence represents the last hurrah for my fellow World War II veterans who served in the CBI. We're now old men, and there are obviously not enough of us still around to maintain our "alumni" groups, which had enabled us to reminisce about our wartime experiences in China, Burma and India. At least, we will no longer be boring our wives with our exotic tales of adventure.

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Blogger joared said...

Oh, I so wish your CBI basha would continue to be active. Surely wish there was some way to keep it going, somehow -- even if only two members left. Enjoyed your account of this part of your life.

This group would be perfect for a web site to which however few members are left could still stay in contact on the Internet. If individuals don't have computers or use the Internet, perhaps there are elder volunteers, friends, family members who could facilitate this activity? You can have virtual luncheons to which your wives don't even have to attend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 9:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

My brother was in the Signal Corp during WW2. He served in Africa. He had previously worked for Western Electric which was a branch of AT&T and I suppose when he joined during the war this experience led them to place him in the Signal Corps.

Your readers of your blog never tire of your stories which are interesting and so well expressed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 9:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Hi Mort,

Too bad your CBI basha is no more.This is what happens when we are lucky enough to grow old.

I enjoy reading the stories you write about your adventures in the Army and appreciate that you share them with us at the Elder Story Telling Site.

I would love to hear about the day you met Hank Greenberg. He was a great athlete and I'm sure it was a thrill for you to see him.

Do you think you could write about that meeting and send it to Ronni Bennett so we could all enjoy that story?

Friday, May 16, 2008 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Norma said...

I think we may have discussed this before, but my uncle was killed in the CBI theater, and we never knew how he died until my cousin's son attended one of the reunions in Florida and met men who knew him. I sort of wish now we didn't know; and I'm awfully glad my grandparents didn't.


Sunday, May 18, 2008 5:38:00 PM  
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Saturday, May 24, 2008 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Dorothy said...

So sad when something so important is fading away. I wonder if our young soldiers will do the same when they return from war.

My grandson Gary is heading back to Iraq in July... I'm worried for him and all his fellow soldiers. I wish I had more compassion for this war...I don't.. It seems useless and unnecessary and our opinion meaning so little. Hoping all is well for you...

Dorothy from grammology
remember to call your gram

Monday, May 26, 2008 5:33:00 PM  
Blogger Desnee said...

are you still there? is there a way to find cbi veterans in different parts of the country? such as tampa bay area of florida? my dad is visiting and is 94 years old. i would like to find someone for him to talk to. he has a group where he is from in bartlesville, ok that he has coffee with on wednesday mornings.
thanks desnee elgin

Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:17:00 AM  
Anonymous bobboot said...

hi im trying to find my father Robert william helson i was born 18 12 44 in agra my dad came from iuka kansas.does any one from the veterans assocation have any information, you can contact me by e-mail bobboot@rocketmail.com.thats sheffield in england phone num.01142485735........

Thursday, April 08, 2010 3:25:00 PM  

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