The reason I made notes while walking out was to have some information for G2 (intelligence) in case we got back.
After almost 47 years and a few years of nagging by another old “Hump” pilot by the name of Art Wollgast, I will write the story down. The First Hump Walk Out to the India Side.
Gerald Pappy Jernigan. "I came to rest gently because the chute canopy and shroud lines caught in the tree branches above me."
Photo by Robert Burroughs
I have my official Army Air Corps form, which is the personal flying record of each pilot. I also still have a battered, blurry, spiral pocket notebook, 3"x 5”, that I carried around to write down radio frequencies and other stuff that might help keep me alive. I will refer to it also. After we jumped out of that C46A, I tore out all the other stuff in the notebook. Luckily, I had a pencil because they were hard to get. The reason I made notes while walking out was to have some information for G2 (intelligence) in case we got back. I had never known anybody who had been able to get back before, even though we had been losing planes and crews all along.
I figured we had walked 58 ground miles into the 72-mile point of the Ledo Road.
When we took off, the November 1, 1943, night in Chabua was really beautiful, a giant-size golden harvest moon and clear as a bell. Lt. Gilmer and I met for the first time, after dark in the operations office. We both got the briefing and were both first pilots. We met Harvey Sisson, the crew chief (CC), and Jennings E. Watkins, the radio operator (RO) at the plane. None of us had ever flown together or even seen each other. Gilmer was a tall, pleasant, thinnish young man; the RO was medium height and medium build, a blond-haired guy from the Scandinavian belt in the Northern part of the U.S. Harvey Sisson was a short, dark curly haired, alert young man. He was from the New England country. I, “Pappy" Jernigan, was a stocky, medium-build, bald-headed man with a fringe of very blond hair from middle Tennessee (Nashville). I was a former enlisted airplane mechanic.
Sat. Nov. 13, 1943. A very good day. About 09:30 we found five new clearings made by natives.
Since Gilmer and I were both first pilots, the only fair thing to do was toss a coin to see who would fly first pilot. I won the toss. I would fly first driver going to China; he would fly first driver coming back to India.
We did the “walk around" inspection of the C46A, and I noticed the plane was new and had Hamilton Standard Hydromatic props. The thought clicked in my mind that that was a break, because they did not “run away" on takeoff the way the Curtiss Electric props had a nasty habit of doing.
Two rescued Hump crewmen stand with their five rescuers after being forced down in India’s rugged Naga Hills. The Naga tribesmen (center) led the two men of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Transport Group, Air Service Command, back to civilization. Left to right: Pvt 1st Class Harvey Sisson of Dorchester, Massachusetts, Wah Bon, Silong Nang. Shoed Nang, Joe de Bull No, Silong La, and Lt. Gerald M. Jernigan of Manchester, Tennessee, pilot of the plane. It was a good Christmas homecoming away from home in 1943. (10th Army Air Force Combat Camera Unit.)
Everything looked fine. We threw our parachutes in that huge cargo door and clambered up the narrow steps into a fuselage that looked mighty big. It was literally jam-packed with steel 55-gallon drums of gasoline. There remained only a very narrow path between the rows of drums. Again a thought clicked in my mind; If we have engine trouble, we could never toss that gasoline out quick enough to save ourselves. We put our parachutes up front on the navigator table. It was by a bulkhead on the right separating the cockpit from the cargo compartment.
We entered the cockpit and went to work. The seat on the pilot's side was too far forward so I tried to move it rearward, but no luck; it was frozen right there. I thought, no big deal. I'll adjust the rudder pedals and “make do." We settled into our seats, cranked both engines, called for radio check, and got R5-S5 back from the tower. We started both engines with no problems.
Sisson said the cargo door was closed and locked. The engine gauges were coming up into the green range as we called for clearance to taxi into takeoff position. We got the go ahead and taxied to the end of the runway, ran the engines up and both were normal, so we asked for clearance for takeoff. We got the okay. We roared off down the runway and roared and roared and roared. I began to think we would not make it off, but at the last second we got off enough to just clear the jungle tree tops. That C46 was really loaded. I gave Gilmer the “gear up" sign quickly, and he executed gear up quickly. If we crashed on takeoff with all that gasoline cargo on board we were in a lot of trouble.
Climbing out on a northeasterly course heading toward Ledo, I do not recall what the heading was. We went up near Ledo and then turned right to a heading — if I recall it correctly, to 109 degrees or 119 degrees. This C46A had left and right fuel flow meters combined into one gauge.
All the engine gauges showed everything “in the green" except one. That one gauge was the fuel flow meter, which showed how many gallons or pounds of fuel per hour you were burning. The fuel flow indications were so low I thought the gauge was wrong, but it turned out it must have been right. The engines seemed to be running normally.
After about an hour or so, one engine quit without giving any indication whatever that it was going to quit. Immediately I started into a 180 degree turn into the good engine and told Gilmer to go through the single-engine procedure. We would lose less altitude that way. He hopped to it right away. By the time the 180 degree turn was completed, he had completed the “engine out" procedure, and then I double checked the engine controls on the dead engine, and he had done everything just right. We lost very little altitude.
I then told the CC and RO to put on their chutes. I told the CC to remove the rear door and stay back there by the door. I told the RO to call Chabua and get a return course so we could go directly to Chabua without any doubt of being on course. Both men performed perfectly. In a little bit the RO came forward and gave me the direct course to Chabua.
I then told him to also go stand by the back door.
Things were going pretty good. The night was cloudless, air smooth, we had lost very little altitude doing the single-engine procedure, had the return course to Chabua nailed down, and good weather at Chabua. The C46 was doing well on one engine so maybe we would make it back okay. There was still one bad omen — the fuel flow gauge showed very low fuel flow. Suddenly, after 20 or 25 minutes there was a dead silence. The last engine had quit! Instantly I looked at Lt. Gilmer and said, “Put on your chute." He said nothing. Instantly he got up, went back to the navigator s table, and put on his chute while I held the aircraft steady. I had no idea how close to the mountaintops we were. Soon I looked back at the navigator’s table, where I could see Gilmer. When he had his chute on, he looked forward at me and without a word came back into the cockpit, stood behind the co-pilot’s seat, and put his hands on the control wheel to hold it steady. If the nose got down and the tail up, we would never be able to make that vertical climb to the cargo door in the tail — the only way out. We must not let that C46 get the nose way down or stall out or we would all die when it hit the mountains.
I tried to push the seat back to get out of the pilot's seat, but it was still stuck in place. I then climbed up to get out of the pilot’s seat, but my right foot was wedged in so I had to sit down again, free up my right foot, get up again, and put on my chute. Gilmer still patiently held the wheel to keep control of the plane. Soon as I buckled on my chute, I looked at Gilmer. He was looking at me, and we both knew it was time to go. We had not spoken one word since I told him to put on his chute.
I then turned around toward the tail of the plane, where the men were standing by the open door. In a loud, strong, clear voice I hollered, “Bail out!’ What did they do? They just stood there by the open door. Immediately, I charged down that narrow aisle between those black gasoline drums, arriving at the cargo door. I charged out into that beautiful, clear night with the huge, bright harvest moon shining. I yanked the rip cord, and the chute worked perfectly. Still holding the D ring to the rip cord, I looked around and there I saw that new C46, nose down somewhat, left wing kind of low, making about a 180 degree to the left. In a few more moments, there was a gigantic explosion when the plane crashed into the mountain. It lit up the whole night. That gasoline looked like a bomb explosion. I looked to my right and saw a straight line positioned like stair steps, and fairly close together I saw Gilmer, Sisson, and the RO. The RO was very near the ground; it looked like he barely got out safely.
I was first out of the plane but the last to hit the ground, or rather to land in the top of a tree. The plane went down very fast. I came to rest gently because the chute canopy and shroud lines caught in the tree branches above me. I looked around to see what height I was from the ground, so I broke off a small branch and stripped the leaves away, then dropped the branch and listened to see how long it took to hit the ground, li seemed to take a very long time, so I decided to stay up there in the tree for the night.
I was near a fork big enough to support me, so I swung over to it and settled down to rest but soon fell asleep and nearly fell out of the tree.
Suddenly I woke up and grabbed a branch and saved myself from a fall of about 45 feet. That happened three more times before daybreak, when I started hollering to get the other three together. I knew we were not very far apart. They heard me and yelled back and started coming to my tree. While they were assembling at my tree, I was able to pull the entire chute out of the tree top and drop it to the ground. It was important that I saved the entire chute and contents of the emergency backpack of the chute. All the rest had gotten down out of their trees during the night and were not able to save very much of their emergency supplies.
None of them saved the chute canopy and shroud lines, but each one of them was able to save part of their stuff.
When we assembled on the ground, I made a small speech and told them we would get out of there. I did not know how long it would take, but we would get out of there. We also would forget about rank. We then checked our stuff, and as best I can remember we had two .45 caliber pistols and some spare ammo, one holding machete with rawhide cover, one straight machete with sharpening stone, 74 small squares of bitter chocolate, two small vials of matches, a few pills of compressed tea, and some sulfa powder. We also had an oily insect repellent in a four-ounce bottle.
Since our pistols began to rust, right away we used the repellent to arrest the rust on the pistols. We were almost at the top of a steep mountain covered by very heavy jungle growth. Trees, vines, bushes, and rocks impeded our way down the mountain. We could hear a stream rushing and tumbling down the mountain, as if it too wanted to get out of there. It took all day to go down the mountain to the stream. We knew we could not last long without water, and we had no way to carry water. We also knew that eventually that water would lead us to people.
Pocket notebook entry: “Nov. 3, 1943 WED. Walked down the mountainside and camped." In a difficult I situation small things can disable you and possibly kill you. Gilmer, Sisson, and the RO all had new leather shoes with rubber composition soles, but my shoes were not new. They were reconditioned leather uppers and leather soles with nails. The wet weather had caused the nails to rust and rot the leather. Within one hour of starting down the mountain one of my heels came off and that was just the beginning of their disintegration. Before we went very far the soles separated completely from the uppers.
Heading down the mountain a few steps, we came upon the biggest pile of elephant manure I think I have ever seen. It just shows you — we were not in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood!
"Nov. 4, 1943 THURS. Still camped." The weather was perfect, the mountains around us were very beautiful, the sun shone brightly, the breezes were light and gentle, and the altitude was about 8500 feet, by my estimate. We were cold and hungry but still strong. We ate six squares of chocolate each the first two days and three squares each for three days, then they were gone and we had nothing to eat. “Nov. 5, 1943 Friday. Moved about 1/4 mile down river west." At 8500 feet altitude, without food, any little thing chills you and weakens you. The body is a heat engine and without food, a cool breeze or a cold drink of water makes you shiver. It also takes badly needed energy from the body. We would cut down green bamboo, clean the white stuff out of the inside with a sand and water mixture by shaking it, build a fire, and lean the bamboo with water in it over the fire, and warm the water before drinking it. That helped. ‘Nov. 6, 1943, Sat. Moves 4 miles down stream west." We had some friendly discussion after we camped by the stream. Should we try to walk out or stay there to see if we would be rescued?
My knowledge was that no one had ever been rescued from there. As a matter of fact, a rescue operation had not even been organized. They were starting one when we got back, and Gilmer told me he was going to join it. There was an info paper in the emergency pack that said “Cut panels 2 feet wide and 12 feet long from the chute canopy and lay them out to form SOS." We had done this. Good idea, but it did not work. Several times during the day and sometimes at night, we could see our planes going over — but they never saw us.
The other part of the parachute canopy we used to make a tent to sleep in at night. We would take poles about five feet long and stick them up in a dry sand bar and drape the outside edge of the canopy over the poles. Then we would spread the canopy like a tent and put stones around the edge to hold it in place. Then we would gather dry wood, and a little wet also, and build a fire at the opening of our "tent." It would help us keep warm, and some of the smoke might come inside the tent. Mosquitos hate smoke and will get away from it. I would notice whether the wind was blowing up or down the valley and place the tent opening so some smoke would come inside.
Mosquitos usually bite more at night. A mosquito bite can cause you to come down with malaria or dengue fever in a very few days. If one of our men came down with fever, what should we do? We would be too weak to carry him out, but would we have the iron-ass discipline it would take to go on and perhaps guide someone back to save him? I worried about that. "Sunday, Nov. 7,1943. Moved about 6 miles downstream west. Started eating roots."
The roots we tried to eat were small bamboo. We did not get very far with that and soon gave up on it. The stream was loaded with fish, but we could not catch them. We had a few fish hooks so we pulled threads from inside the shroud lines and tried, but no luck. The folding machete had a metal cover to protect the cutting edge, so we made a spinner, polished the point off with sand and water, and tried it. No luck.
The fish had so much food falling from the jungle trees into the water that they refused to bother with our puny efforts to entice them.
‘Monday Nov. 8, 1943. Gilmer shot a 5 lb. blue bass about 22 inches long with a .45 automatic. Moved about 4 miles down stream west." The creek ricocheted back and forth wildly from one side to the other, and we came to a spot where there was a stone bluff about 12 feet high. Beneath it was a quiet pool swarming with big fat fish. We just had to have one. The water was crystal clear.
Before we had tried to shoot fish standing on the bank. We failed. I told Gilmer I was a very poor pistol shooter, so he agreed to give it a go.
He crawled up on the top of the bluff, pointed the pistol straight down, and waited. In a fairly short time a big fat fish swam slowly below him near the surface and he pulled the trigger — bang. That .45 sounded like a cannon. He hit the fish dead center of its backbone. The fish slowly drifted to the bottom of the pool.
Nobody wanted to undress and get into that cold, clear, icy mountain pool to retrieve the fish, so I said I would do it. I stripped off and went down and down and put a hand on him; he gave a convulsive shudder and I thought he might get away, so I took both hands and put fingers in the top and bottom of the bullet holes. Holding the fish thus I kicked my feet to bring him up to the surface. We had a feast. Some people have asked me since then if we just tore into it like hungry wolves and ate it raw. The answer is no. We washed it off good, gathered some dry wood, made a fire, and let it burn down to a bed of hot coals. Then we got some green sticks and branches with Y forks, made a platform, split the fish down the middle, and left the skin on. In cooking it we first put the center cut-side down to cook, then turned it over to cook with the skin-side down. If we had cooked the skin-side first and then the inside, the fish might have fallen apart and into the fire when it got done and flaky. We also learned a human stomach not taking in food shrinks or folds over on itself after three to five days, and you no longer have the discomfort of hunger pangs. We cooked the other half of the fish while we were eating. It was really good. Great flavor.
"Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1943. Found more lemons. Traveling much better. Traveled about 7 miles west.” We a must have been right on course when flying because we saw planes flying above nearly every day and at night. We put out our SOS panels almost every time we stopped if we thought they could be seen from the air. It made us feel really bad when no one noticed us, and we were getting weaker every day. At about 8500 feet altitude, the air is fairly thin and cutting trail while selecting the easiest path was really a tough job. Lt. Gilmer was a fair amount taller than the others, and he cut more trail than anybody else He was a great guy to have along. We had been finding some wild lemons after about the third or fourth day. but they were very sour with little juice and very thick skins. A little help, but very little. We tried eating a fruit about the size of a plum that fell from the trees into the creek; we saw the fish would eat it. We couldn’t eat it because it took the skin off the inside of our mouths and it tasted terrible. Too bad. We needed it.
“Wed. Nov. 10, 1943. Moved about 5 miles further west." Gilmer saw a bamboo that had been cut by human hands. We had been looking desperately for any sign of people. Farther along we came upon an old campfire remains. They had killed a very small deer and cooked it with rice. The tiny little legs with little hooves were still there, and a few scattered grains of rice were lying about. Thursday Nov. 11, 1943 Armistice Day. Found a few very small chestnuts. About 10:30 we saw footprints in the sand. Reached a fork in river with one small branch flowing from south into the larger stream flowing west....Total travel about 7 miles west.
A young, strong, eager-beaver U.S. Army Air Corps flying crew like we were must restrain itself when it finds itself in a bad. uncertain jungle spot like this. The unknown distance to walk, the unknown difficulty of the terrain, the unknown physical endurance qualities of the men, plus a lot of other unknowns make you have a strong tendency to hit the panic button and try to rush out to the safety and comforts of civilization. (Unless you happen to rush out into a Japanese army camp.)
We did not hit the panic button. From the second day we began to learn to move slowly and not waste our energy. We got up at daybreak every morning. We usually warmed some water in the bamboo we had cut. We then packed our SOS strips and chute canopy (tent) and moved out slowly to conserve energy. We traveled until it warmed up and we started to sweat. That sweat means we are expending energy we must not and cannot afford to lose. We then would stop and sit down to rest. I soon realized we should lie down to rest better, so I told them to lie down, rather than sit down, when we would stop. Save our energy. We kept traveling like that until the hottest part of the day, and then we would rest about two or more hours before going on or until late afternoon, or until we found a good place to camp and to put out our SOS panels.
“Friday Nov. 12, 1943. Moved about 3 miles west. Very easily became exhausted. Have repaired my shoes several times but they are almost gone." About the second or third day, my shoe soles and heels completely separated from the uppers. Bad luck. I cut holes in the soles and uppers, and taking the rawhide cover from the straight machete, I cut rawhide strings and tied the soles to the uppers several times. To be in the jungle with no shoes to protect the tender skin on your feet would quickly lead to disaster from cuts and infections. Besides, I had been wearing shoes ever since I had left the farm. My feet were tender. -
It was along here somewhere we saw the tiger tracks and caught a quick glimpse of a tiger. It was at a quiet pool where the trees arched way out over the creek.
It had come down to drink some water — there were the huge footprints in the wet sand at the edge of the water. We froze and then we heard the tiger cough two or three times. Gilmer unfroze. Instantly he yanked out his .45 and was going to shoot into the bush, but I said, “No, no, if you hit him he could kill us all. Let’s wait a few minutes. Maybe he will go away." We waited 10 or 15 minutes, standing very still, and then moved on quietly downstream. We heard no more from the tiger, and I was glad.
Sat. Nov. 13, 1943. A very good day. About 09:30 we found five new clearings made by natives.
Haven't seen natives yet. About 11:30 we found a fish on the bank under a rock. It had the head half chewed off and the entrails out. The fish was longer than my right arm and weighed about 15 lbs. We traveled about 6 miles west...
The circumstances under which we were given that fish makes me feel certain the fish was a gift of God! There is no doubt in my mind. Here we were in that unexplored, uninhabited place, almost on our last legs from lack of food. Our hearing was getting weaker; my eyes, at least, were getting watery and blurry, and I did not think we could go on too much longer. At night I even dreamed about food and my wife.
This huge rock was about 12 feet high, about 8 or 10 feet back from the edge of the water, and at the base was a shoal of very white, fine dry sand that would show foot tracks even of small birds. About 5 feet up from the sand on the side of the rock, a huge chunk of rock had broken off and been swept away long ago. It left an open space under the boulder that went back about 7 feet. This fish lay far back under the boulder. It was lying there with no tracks or footprints of any kind around it. Neither had it been slid or skidded in there because there were no marks, as if it had been thrown in there. It was also too far back underneath to have fallen straight down from the sky. God had given us a fish. We looked very carefully for all the clues as to how it got there, but there weren't any clues. The fish was still cold from that icy mountain water, and there was not one fly, bug, or insect on it. We cooked the fish the same as we had done the one before. We also all took a bath and felt much better.
Sun. Nov. 14, 1943. About 08:00 we heard what we believe to be blasting on the Ledo Road. About 09:30 heard it again and it sounded much closer.
About 11:00 we found a native raft made of bamboo. It was tied to a tree root with a piece of rattan and a vine. Across the river was a small clearing. Just heard two more blasts. We got on this raft and after traveling one and a half miles down river we heard axes chopping on wood. That was about 13:30. The natives understood some English and some Hindustani. They fed us cold rice that had ants in it. Also hot tea with sugar. Just before dark we had chicken curry with rice, which was very good. I doctored two of the natives' feet with sulfa drugs. Both had very bad sores on them. The natives say it is two days' travel to the Ledo Road from here.
We traveled about 6 miles west today. As I write this I am now watching a native catch fish with a circular net with a diameter of seven feet. He slips up very close and throws the net over them. Fagap Ga area is where the Kachins live.
The Kachin fisherman would also pick up a rock and throw it on the other side of the fish to drive the fish closer to him. Clever? The bamboo raft was barely big enough to support four Americans, and we also capsized two or three times before we learned to stay on it. It was slow going but easier and much faster than going along the bank and cutting trail. At this point we were getting very weak and going along mostly on determination. One of the native men with sore feet had a deep cut on the top of his foot from an ax. It was terribly swollen and full of yellow pus. I asked Sisson to clean it out. He took thin pieces of bamboo and gently cleaned it out. Then it was washed and I put sulfa powder on it. We wanted their friendship and help.
These Kachins had lived further south, but the Japs had driven them from their homes and into the unexplored wilderness. That is why they were clearing trees and bushes to make small rice paddies. They also built log fences five or six feet high to protect them from wild animals while they worked in their rice paddies. Through signs and hand signals and noises, they told us the Japs had strafed them from the air while they were in flight.
They were eager to help us. They made us understand the Japs were two more days’ travel down river. Silong Fa was the Kachin chief, a young man of about 35 years. He seemed very intelligent. When we got back to Chabua and they were paid their reward in silver rupee coins, they stacked the coins in groups of ten to count them, so I knew he had at least some education.
The bashas they lived in were made just like ours in India, but they were about 6 feet above the ground. They were 50 feet long and 30 feet wide, and each family had its own cooking area about 25 feet apart. The cooking area had dirt and stones to keep the fire from burning through the bamboo floor. The walls were bamboo and looked like woven palm leaf roofs. All the Kachins were rather quiet and well behaved. The men did the cooking for us. It was rice and some kind of a small melon that tasted kind of like a cucumber. It was good. After supper the men brought a ball of something about as big as a large peach; it was opium. They took small pinches of the opium, rolled it into a small ball about the size of a green pea, then roasted it over the cooking coals until it changed color. They then put the opium ball into a tiny clay pipe with a bowl about the size of a large peanut shell and put a tiny glowing coal on top to light it. Then they smoked it in a few puffs and lay down and went to sleep.
About 2 a.m. that night, I woke up with a bad pain in my hip. I was lying on the rolled-up rip cord. I took it out of my pocket and went back to sleep. The next morning we had been traveling about two hours when I realized I had left it behind. It was too far to go back for it. If I ever apply to join the Caterpillar Club, they will just have to trust me. After I had jumped out of the aircraft and while I was floating down in my chute, I had wrapped the rip cord around the parachute D ring. I had nothing else to do. I recalled old timers saying that if you bailed out and lost your rip cord, you had become overly excited, not in control, and not very professional. If and when we got back, I certainly did not want anybody to think that. I had carried the rip cord in my hip pocket all these days.
The Kachin men kept the Kachin women at the other end of the basha out of sight from us.
Mon. Nov. 15, 1943. We left Trungkuka River, Silong Lu’s home about 10:15. We had Silong La, Si long Nong. De Bull No. and another native. Schroe Nong, with us. About 15:00 we arrived in Kaseka in the Naga Hill country. From where we now sit we can see the Ledo road and it sure does look good. Today we traveled 7 miles N.W. away from the Trungka. Trungka is the name of the main river we followed down and it empties into the Hukuon Valley.
On the left of this basha hanging just under the eaves I have just counted 90 skulls of various kinds. Can identify only three as human skulls. Just now Silong Nong showed me his foot that I doctored and it has improved very much. It looks as if happy days are here again. We are SW of the Karanbum mountain now.
The skulls were stacked up in rows from the floor to the top of the room. The biggest skulls were at the floor, and the skulls got smaller as they went up the wall. The Nagas did not look as clean-cut as the Kachins. The Nagas let their women stand in the door and look us over. The women also carried the water from the base of the mountain to the top, where their bashas were. They carried it in long, hollow bamboo tubes tied together. All of them looked kind of small but strong, healthy, and clean. I did not see any lips stained red from chewing betel nut as I had seen in India. The Nagas and Kachins seemed to be on good terms and able to talk to each other easily. The Nagas made no attempt to join our party or harm us.
We kept our two .45 caliber pistols close at hand anyway. After I got back I learned the British and Americans had sent special parties to that area to warn them not to harm any of our men if we came through there. If the Nagas did harm our guys, they would come back and burn their villages and kill them.
Tues. Nov. 16, 1943. Just had a look at Silong Nong's foot. Recleaned, put more sulfa on It, and dressed it again. It has improved a great deal. We slept at a Naga camp by name of Ponsanbum.
Sisson, the crew chief, just now. 10:30, shot a squirrel with his .45. A damn good shot since the squirrel was running up a tree. Traveled six miles west to Ledo road. Arrived at 14:00.
Just before we walked up on the road, we saw three or four sandwiches spoiled and rotting on the ground. I paused and pointed to them and said, “American kana, ’ which meant American food. A few more steps and we were on the road where a few GIs were working. One of them went to tell their captain, and in a few minutes he returned with him. We told him we needed a ride back to Ledo and he said okay. The captain was pretty cool. There were lots of wheels around there, and we thought he would send us on back to their base camp — chop, chop — but he did not. The captain said, “Well, we are going to quit in about an hour or so, and you can ride back to our base camp with us." We thought that was mighty decent of him but did not say a word except "Okay."
Gilmer walked over to a log, sat down, and smoked a cigarette. I just walked over and sat down on the log. I don't know what Sisson and the RO did.
At almost dark we took off down the mountain road in the back of a U.S. Army 6x6 truck on one of the wildest rides I've ever been on. It's no wonder the British, Indians, et al., said the Ledo Road could not be built. Later I figured we had walked 58 ground miles into the 72-mile point of the Ledo Road. While we were eating supper, a colonel chatted with us and told us they had to send a truck back to Ledo that night anyway and we could ride on that. We thanked him. That too was a long, black, cold, wild ride. One not to be forgotten. We spent the night in a basha at Ledo and kept our four Kachins with us. We were very loyal to the Kachins and wanted to make sure they got back to our headquarters at Chabua so they could collect their reward and perhaps give information to people on our side who could understand what they said.
The next morning we caught a plane ride back to Chabua and reported to operations. Ops took it from there. I think we reported to Maj. Hugh Wild. The Ops officer and he, or his staff, reported it to Col. Renshaw, our big CO. No one had ever gotten back before after being out in the jungle that long. There was great excitement among the pilots and other flight crew members, so we were swamped with hand shakes, shoulder slapping, and other greetings of joy from all our friends. I never saw Sisson, the crew chief, or the RO again. I only saw Lt. Gilmer, the other first pilot, one more time after that.
Col. Renshaw invited us to lunch at group HQ, and I really enjoyed it. Silong La had a 12-gauge shotgun but no shells. Col. Renshaw gave him a box of 12-gauge shells of his own that he had brought over from the States.
Col. Renshaw loaned us his staff car, a 1941 Ford, to go reclaim our stuff from supply and check in at the other sections. We appreciated it a lot. We saw our Kachins get all those silver rupees for their good deed of helping us. G-2, intelligence, also talked to them and got some info. We learned from the Kachins that from where we met them it was only two more days’ walking until we would have walked into Jap army hands. The good Lord was really looking out for us. I went to the hospital for a flying physical and stayed three days to rest up. The doctor said I was okay again for flying duty. During the 14 days we were out there, I had lost 20 pounds but otherwise I was okay. Herb Fisher, the Curtiss-Wright tech rep, came over and talked to me, and I told him how the plane had acted and especially the very low fuel flow. Some other tech rep also came by, but I do not recall his name. I feel sure they also talked to Gilmer.
The aircraft manufacturers and engineers figured out what went wrong. 1) The engine nacelles were running too hot. 2) There were too many 90 degree turns in the fuel line inside the engine nacelles. 3) The electric fuel pressure boost pump was mounted on the base of the engine, and it should have been mounted at the base of the fuel tank, where it could have pumped liquid gasoline. With the boost pump mounted on the base of the engine, when you turned it on, it would pump gasoline vapor, which did no good at all. The Air Corps had the manufacturer make these changes gradually, and many lives were saved.
My form five shows I resumed flying as a pilot November 22, 1943. Those 20 days of not flying were the most memorable days of my life. I flew another year in the CBI but no more hump flying. I flew a 1,050-hour duty tour over there and came home in November 1944. They immediately put me to flying overseas delivery of aircraft from the USA to Europe. To all those old hump flyers living, and to those who have made their last flight from earth, I want to wish you an eternal Ding How!
The only laughter I heard during our ordeal was from me. About seven or eight days after we crashed, we had stopped to rest. The RO went over to Lt. Gilmer and asked him if he thought we were going to be rescued. I heard him ask, and that idea was so crazy to me I burst out laughing. Gilmer turned toward me and said, “You old son of a bitch, what are you laughing about?" I replied, “No, they are not going to rescue us. We will have to get out of here on our own."