From: Lt. Leech, 11th Bomb Squadron Historian.
How well do you remember that first sight of India as your ship glided into Bombay Harbor…or Karachi…or Calcutta? And the heat and sights and smells of the country wrapped themselves around you like a new skin, a skin you knew would not shed for many, many months or years.
But you were anxious to get ashore. You'd had enough of that loose, queezy feeling in your stomach, the jam-packed living conditions and the shipboard food. The stopovers at the Atlantic or Pacific ports had been fun, but now you wanted solid land under you for awhile and a permanent station so you could stop living out of a barracks bag.
Maybe when you began your magic carpetbagging through India to your new station, you got that feeling that this country was very much like the United States in geography and climate.
Like your homeland, India was a vast and varied country of mountains and deserts, of swamplands and fertile plains, of great rivers and of big and little cities. But the fiery deserts of Sind and Baluchistan were hotter, bigger, drier and more desolate than the Mojave. The Himalayan Mountains were higher and colder and more dangerous to fly over. The blast oven heat of Assam or Louisiana in July. No New Jersey mosquito ever had the wingspread or firepower of a Ledo anopheles.
You might also stop to thing that just as The United States is a melting pot of the Western races, so is India a compound of Oriental races. What a mixture of races, costumes customs, cultures and religions. The Hindus of many castes wearing their comfortable cheesecloth dhotis, gentle believers in humility, non-violence and a complicated 24 hour-a-day religion. The Moslems, believers in one God, Allah, eager to convert the infidel wearing dhotis and also fezzes or turbans. The Sikhs, bewhiskered and beturbaned giants, big city policemen, drivers of taxis. The Parsees, shopkeepers and businessmen, dressed in neat white housecoats. The Gurkhas, stocky bronze toughs carrying scimitar-like kukri knives. Feared by the Germans and the Japanese as the fiercest soldiers in the Allied armies. The uncounted millions of India's "untouchables", living a semistarves existence in shack towns outside the cities, begging pitifully for baksheesh as your train makes a stop at a watering station.
You might also have been struck suddenly struck with the eerie feeling that this, the Ancient East was Bible Country. The deserts, the villages, the wooden two-wheeled carts drawn by camels and bullocks, the babble of many languages, the barbaric dress of men and women of many races -- These primitive ways were thousands of years old. This must have been the way things were when Christ walked the Earth.
On many a village street squatting or standing, or working at their trades you saw men with delicate religious features, a course black beard, a lean ascetic body, and the strong black eyes of the religious mystic.
By Lt. Richard G. Leech
- Historian of the 11th Bomb Squad