The Bengal Province of India was cursed with countless ravens twice the size of American crows, and far more cunning. Our 40th Bomb Group's garbage dump near Chakulia, India, was a feeding station for ravens and turkey buzzards. In the scorching midsummer heat of a day in 1944, a flock of ravens congregated in trees near our mess tent. Their raucous din was extremely irritating. Occasionally, a bold one would swoop low over the mess tent, and snatch food off the plate of an unsuspecting person as he walked away from the serving line.
On one particular day, the chow line was unusually long because real beef was being served. We were constantly hoping for something other than the foul-smelling canned chicken, canned turkey, and Australian mutton that had been the daily staple, but we never expected to have beef since cows were sacred to the people of India. The meat was probably imported.
My Copilot, Bob Winters, and I, patiently worked our way toward the serving table where we saw a large portion of a beef hindquarter soaking in gravy. The mess orderly dumped a large piece of meat on Bob's plate, smothered it with gravy, and yelled, "Next!" I received the same sloppy treatment, but we did not mind the disrespectful manner of the orderly. We had real beef and beef gravy. We were so elated that we headed for the nearest shade tree, and did not notice the ravens waiting in an attack formation in its branches. Suddenly, a black blur streaked out of the glaring sun with its talons outstretched, and neatly snatched the beef from Bob's plate. Cawing loudly, the raven flew off to another tree and started to eat the beef.
Bob hurled his plate and cup to the ground, ripped his .45 caliber pistol from its holster, and blasted seven rounds at the feathered thief. Indignant is not the word to describe the attitude of red-faced Bob as he stood aiming the smoking pistol at the raven, while snapping its trigger on an empty chamber and hurling verbal aspersions on the ancestors of all ravens. Of course, all seven rounds missed. The raven hurriedly ate pieces of the beef that Bob was savoring only a few seconds before. Soon, dozens of other ravens surrounded the thief and its loot.
Bob sheathed his gun and picked up his mess kit. Some squadron wit called out, "Hey Bob, don't you know that the Raven is a sacred bird in India. You can get in serious trouble if you shoot one." Bob's reply cannot be printed here. Once he had vented his anger, he walked back to the end of the mess line.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *