U.S. Air Force – World War II
During World War II, simply getting to a duty station could be a long ordeal. After being trained as a clerk typist, Joe Thompson sailed with the 54th Air Service Group to North Africa. They camped out for a month before sailing through the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Indian Ocean to Bombay, India. Then they rode via narrow gauge railroad clear across India to an airfield near Dacca, which was about 50 miles from the eastern border of India with Burma.
“The railroad cars were about half the size of ours,” Joe said. “They were open air, with seats along either side.”
The mission of the 54th Air Service Group was to maintain and repair B-24 bombers that had been converted into tankers to fly fuel into U.S. military units in China.
“There were about 2000 Americans stationed at the base,” Joe said. “They would bring fuel by trucks from Calcutta and load it onto the planes. We had just one runway. About half a dozen planes would take off and land every day.”
Calcutta was about 250 miles southwest of the base.
During the two years Joe was there, they had about three mishaps when planes, fully loaded with fuel, failed to make it off the ground by the end of the runway.
Corporal Thompson, who was the son of a Methodist minister, was selected to be the chaplain’s assistant.
“I did the chaplain’s bookwork, wrote letters and so on,” he said. “If we had deaths in the unit, it was my job to write a letter of condolence to the next of kin. We built a chapel out of bamboo, with a thatched roof. One day a large windstorm came along and blew the whole thing down.”
They even had music in their services provided by a little pump organ.
The main enemy of the troops there was a little “bug” called the entamoega histolytica, which causes amoebic dysentery. Shortly before he left for home, Joe was hospitalized for about a month by the disease.
After two years there, Joe was granted emergency leave to come back home because his father was dying.
“I was flown across India to Karachi,” he said. “As I was boarding the ship, I was notified that my father had passed away.”
Since the war was over, Joe continued on home, arriving in Volant late in December, 1945.