ROLLING THE DRUMS
Military historians have written that the M-1 rifle, the Jeep, the 6X6 truck, the Liberty ship, and the C-47 cargo airplane, were the most important items in the United States' arsenal during World War II. American servicemen who served in China claim that the 55-gallon drum should be added to the list. All gasoline and oil delivered to the four B-29 bases in China was flown over the Hump (Himalayas) in the fuel tanks of B-29 bombers or C-109 tankers, or in 55-gallon drums in cargo airplanes. If weather allowed, dozens of these airplanes landed at the China bases every day. Thousands of drums -- some empty, some full -- were stored on the taxiways and hard stands at the four bases. The limited supply of drums in India dictated that empty drums in China should be returned without delay.
The 40th Bomb Group's Chinese base was called A-1, and was located near Hsinching. A-1 was a very large base with only a few trucks, and they were constantly in use moving high priority loads of bombs and 55-gallon drums of fuel and oil. Getting the empty drums back to India was a critical problem that began when a drum was pumped dry. The empties had to be moved to a shipping center in the southeast corner of the base, where they were loaded aboard cargo planes and flown to India. Coolies built A-1's runway by hand, but empty fuel drums were moved to the shipping center by foot. One person, either American or Chinese, would walk behind a drum, and with expert kicks, keep the drum rolling across the base until the loading area was reached. Occasionally, when a B-29 aircrew was delayed at A-1, officers and airmen alike rolled drums. Rarely, was A-1 clear of empty drums.
When Vice President Henry Wallace visited the Hsinching base late in the war, he was not accorded the usual military parade and honor guard for Very Important Personnel. The crush of combat activity precluded such Stateside formalities. As he prepared to board his transport the day after his arrival, he observed a chain of 40th Bomb Group aircrews rolling drums to the cargo loading point near his parked plane. He questioned Major John Seely, the 40th Detachment Commander, why officers were doing such work. Major Seely explained that everyone was forced to pitch in to help move the huge number of empty drums back to India, and that he soon would join the work force himself. When he returned to Washington, D.C., Mr. Wallace reported this labor situation to President Roosevelt.
Someone once said: SUCCESS IS SERVICE ALONE. This profound statement certainly applied to the drum-rolling aircrews of the 40th Bomb Group at Hsinching, China.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *