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Weeki Wachee "basha' recalls war in Asia

(ran CI edition)

The members of the China-Burma-India Veterans Association call their groups "bashas," a Hindu word for a bamboo hut, where most of them lived while on duty in the Far East during World War II.

Elwood "Woody" Hudson, Ralph Swendsen, Jay "Doc" Frey, and Gifford "Giff" Shulenberg are past commanders, and Larry Rohan is the present commander of the Weeki Wachee Basha that went from 9 to 50 members in five years. Bashas have been organized throughout the United States, filled with about 6,000 men who fought in the China-Burma-India theater of war, which is often called "the forgotten theater of war."

While war correspondents filled the nation's newspapers with news of the war in Europe and the Pacific, very little news filtered back to the States about the thousands of American soldiers and airmen assigned to one of the most difficult battle arenas in the world.

By the time they reached India, the Americans knew this duty would be no picnic. Swendsen said he landed in Bombay after an ocean voyage of 45 days from Newport News, Va., through the Panama Canal, the Pacific, and Indian oceans.

"I was aboard the troop ship, General Billy Mitchell, with 7,500 troops, sailing with lights out all the time because we had no escort," said Swendsen. After an open railroad boxcar ride to Calcutta he was assigned to the Combat Cargo Task Force Headquarters in Comilla, Burma.

Swendsen flew supplies to the British 14th Army, over the Himalaya Mountains. Shulenberg was in the Air Corps. 1214 Military Police Company. Hudson served in the 72nd Field Hospital, treating American casualties. Frey was a pilot, and Rohan was in Air Corps. Radio Intelligence.

The men in the China-Burma-India theater of war battled malaria, monsoons that turned air strips and roads into rivers, suffocating heat and almost impenetrable jungle terrain.

"I was the old man of our outfit at age 31," Hudson said, "but I had experience as a male nurse, and by the time the war was over, I was scrubbing for surgery."

The Americans finished the famous Burma Road with the help of the Chinese and constructed the Ledo Road, both of which became vital supply lines to American, British and Chinese troops fighting the Japanese. Around-the-clock flights were made over the Himalayas; the task forces completed air strips through jungles once thought impassible.

Frey was badly injured when his plane suffered engine failure on a take-off in Burma. "My co-pilot was killed and our radio operator was badly injured," he said.

Frey was in the hospital for six months recovering from a wound that tore the front part of his scalp away, and fractured both feet. When the war was over, Frey became a chiropractor and gained his nickname, "Doc."

Not all their memories are of battles. Rohan remembers that while he was on duty in Burma he met with Mahatma Gandhi. "He was visiting nearby and while me and my buddy were at a paper plant, the manager asked us if we would like to meet him," said Rohan.

"Gandhi asked us what we would change in India, and we told him they ought to industrialize," Rohan said.

Gandhi replied, "Well, you helped to industrialize Japan and look what happened."

Whether they were pilots, in administration, intelligence, or medical units, the men of the China-Burma-India theater of war remember the months and years they lived in bamboo huts and survived some of the worst conditions our fighting men experienced during World War II.