MEMOIR: What I did during the war
On March 16, 1946 I was discharged from the Army as a staff sergeant after three years of service. For two years, I had been stationed in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. Aside from bouts of amoebic dysentery and dengue fever, I was lucky to come home relatively unscathed. I was 21 years old, but felt at least 10 years older.
I had not seen combat, and except for a depth charge dropped on a German submarine attacking my India-bound troopship off the coast of Brazil, I had not heard a shot fired in anger. Nevertheless, I was treated like a conquering hero by my family and neighbors on my return home.
But I had done nothing that could be regarded as heroic. I had been trained as a Signal Corps Teletype operator and cryptographer. I had also received three months of infantry training prior to being shipped overseas. But when finally assigned to the 903rd Signal Co., which was attached to the Army Air Forces, I was never called upon to use any of these skills.
My accomplishments as a soldier were quite mundane. My outfit supplied and serviced airborne electronics equipment for the 14th Air Force in China, the 10th Air Force in eastern India, and the Air Transport Command, which flew supplies over the Himalaya Mountains to both U.S. and Chinese forces.
The 903rd also operated a major military message center in Bengal and built portions of a telephone line along the Burma-Ledo Road running from Calcutta to China. I worked as a warehouseman, an armed guard on supply missions to Assam, Burma and China, and wound up as the company clerk after it was discovered that I was a skilled typist.
My chores as company clerk were sufficiently heavy that my commanding officer hired a civilian Bengali lawyer as my assistant. His name, as I recall, was either Mukerjee or Banerjee. He was at least twice my age and earned more working as a clerk for the U.S. Army than practicing law in Calcutta. He spent much time turning me into an ardent supporter of Indian independence from Great Britain.
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, I was promoted to be the company's acting first sergeant, replacing a man who was eligible to return to the States. A few months later, when I became due for shipment home, our new company commander offered me the permanent job of first sergeant and promotion to that rank if I signed up for at least six months of additional overseas duty.
I was eager to return home and turned down the offer. I later learned that the outfit was eventually transferred to Shanghai to disarm Japanese troops and to help restore order in liberated Chinese territory. I began to regret my decision because the new assignment sounded far more exciting than what I did during the war.