THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS
Innocent bystanders and noncombatants often were casualties of military activities of the 40th Bomb Group at Chakulia, India, during World War II. Often, they were injured or killed by happenstance. Such an incident occurred while a unit of the U.S. Army Engineers supervised native laborers as they rushed to complete construction of the Chakulia Airfield.
In May 1944, a unit of engineers was quartered in tents almost a mile from the B-29 parking area. These young men slept in the tents, and ate in a mess tent, unaware that they were within the lethal range of the guns of several B-29 tail turrets pointed in their direction. On one very hot day, they returned to their mess tent for lunch while a B-29 crew worked on the parking ramp clearing ammunition from the guns in their plane's tail turret. The guns were exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees.
Suddenly, a malfunction triggered the guns to fire out of control in a continuous stream despite frantic efforts of the mechanics to stop the firing. The runaway firing continued until all ammunition in the turret was expended. A hail of .50 caliber slugs struck in the midst of the tent area, killing two engineers and injuring several engineers and a few Indians who happened to be working in the area. Despite Chakulia being more than 350 miles from the nearest enemy lines, these valiant men paid the same price as if they were locked in mortal combat and had been struck down by Japanese bullets.
After a brief memorial service, two unfortunate engineers were buried in the tiny Chakulia cemetery where many 40th Bomb Group's dead would be interred before the group moved its combat operations to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. The supreme sacrifice of these two U.S. Army Engineers, who died while doing noncombatant work on the ground, contributed as much to the war effort as aircrew members who died while flying combat missions in the sky.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *