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Within weeks of marrying my mother, my
father left for China. He worked for Chrysler
and was posted to the Truck Maintenance
Program Overseas in Kunming. The Program
was connected with the servicing of thousands
of vehicles employed in transporting strategic
materials connected with the war effort. First a
journalist, his duties also included inventory of
arriving materials. The Burma Road had just
been closed and now supplies arrived by air.
The Air Transport Command was given the task of
supplying the US and Chinese armies with materiel,
returning wounded and sick troops and carrying
war-important personnel. Thousands of Douglas C-54's
like the one shown above flew the nearly 11,000 miles
from New York to Kunming, China - a route that passed
through Newfoundland and the Azores, Casablanca to
Cairo, on to Calcutta and into Karachi where the final leg
of the trip passed above the Himalayan Mountains. The
"Hump" as it was known, claimed many an aircraft with
minimum altitudes of 17,000 feet and incessant bad
weather. Armed with an oxygen mask and a prayer,
thousands of passengers made the journey along with
tons upon tons of vehicles and parts.
Shown above is the Assam switchback portion of
the Burma Road. My father attempted to document
as much of the route as his time permitted. Although
he was issued a uniform and given a minor rank, his
civilian status allowed him much freedom. He spent
nearly 2 years in Kunming with prior postings in Cairo,
Calcutta and Karachi. During that time he took nearly
a thousand Kodachrome slides that have withjstood a
remarkable test of time. All the color photos displayed
here are from that era. They have not been retouched
digitally except to remove some dust. He spoke to me
often of the "Hump". He told me how he rode around in
a jeep on the rims, while on rural roads he saw countless
ox-carts and rickshaws with brand new tires. Whenever
planes went down in the Hump, scavengers were quick
to salvage the cargo, which found a ready market. The
Japanese were still threatening in the East and slowly
the internal Communist forces were gaining ground.
The Hump, hazardous as it was, took four hours while
the Burma Road took two weeks. Most of the planes
were C-46's which carried supplies, parts, ammunition
and military mail. The C-54's were used primarily on
the trans-oceanic portions of the route.
My dad kept everything from his posting
in China: hotel bills, maps, diaries, coins
and currency - even his laundry bills! And
my mother religiously kept all his letters,
which today help form a very complete
record of that experience.
Now, some 50 years later,
it is my dream to journey to
China in the near future and
retrace his steps. Armed
with his maps and notebooks
I would like to reproduce his
photographs from the same
viewpoints. Kodachrome will
be the film of course, and
although I will be using my
newer camera systems, I also
intend to shoot some film with
his trusty old Argus C-3, the
same one he used to take these
photos over 50 years ago, and
the first camera he gave to me.
I will probably find many things have
changed but I also suspect that some
views will be almost the same. I do
know that this project will honor my
father's memory and will also pay
tribute to one of Kodak's greatest
film products. There were numerous
theaters of World War II that people
are only dimly aware of. Air Traffic
Command's role in Operation Hump
is one of those stories, overshadowed
by the dropping of the Atomic Bomb
and subsequent end of the war.