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.