A Letter from India  Flying the "Hump"

by John Bartlett Ballou

Chapter 1

On the morning of January 30,1944, at approximately 0800, we left Chabua, Assam, India, in a C-46 bound for Kunming, China, on what I anticipated would be a regular mission. It was raining very hard when we left Chabua, and from all reports the Hump wasn't going to be much better. This was my second consecutive trip over the Hump. I had a swell crew---the engineer lived with me and I had flown before with the pilot, Lieutenant Anderson.

About an hour and fifteen minutes out I received the report "Red-wing," which meant "enemy aircraft in the vicinity." I told Anderson, but he wasn't concerned because it was very cloudy and he figured he could dive into a valley and get away if the enemy showed himself. Everything was going well, and I thought this would be just another trip, when all of a sudden things started to pop. I had been dozing a little and was suddenly awakened by a shuddering explosion. Although it was hard for me to believe, Zeros had actually shot out the left engine. Lieutenant Anderson immediately feathered the prop. The co-pilot dived from his seat for his chute and motioned for me to get into mine. The ship was shaking terrifically, and without any questions, I unfastened my oxygen hose and ran to the rear for my chute. Without oxygen at 18,500 feet, this much exertion really knocks you out, so by the time I had my chute on, I was puffing like an old steam engine and seeing spots. I couldn't buckle my right leg strap, which was too short, and I was very nervous.

In the meantime, the ship had gone into a 45-degree dive and the engineer had opened the emergency door. I saw flames up front and knew it wouldn't be long before we took the "big step." The pilot waved back, and the engineer took one look and jumped. I watched his face as he hit the slip stream, and I have never seen a man's face change expression so fast. He was gone in an instant, but seeing him take that step made me realize just what I was getting ready to do.

The co-pilot followed the engineer. Then I stepped to the door with my hand on my rip cord. The rip cord came out of its elastic pocket before I left the ship, and when I jumped, the slip stream jerked my arm, opening my chute much too soon. My back grazed the tail, and it felt as if I had run into a brick wall.

When I came to, probably half a minute later, I was seeing spots and my left leg was killing me. The chest strap had come up and was cutting my neck. The force jerked me out of the seat of the chute, and despite all my efforts, I couldn't get back. I just hung there by my neck and one leg. It seemed as if I were standing still, for I couldn't see the ground on account of the undercast. I heard a loud roar, and looking over my left shoulder I saw the ship, empty and on fire, making a sharp bank on its side and coming directly at me. It whizzed past me with its wings perpendicular to the ground, so close that I could see the controls in the cockpit.

After the ship had passed me, the "prop wash" caught my chute and collapsed it. I had a free fall of about five hundred feet and then it caught again. I heard another roar and was petrified at the thought of the ship's making another pass at me. Then I heard a huge explosion and knew that it had finally hit.

My neck was bleeding; I couldn't get into my seat; since I hadn't buckled my leg strap, the left strap was bearing all the weight and cutting deeply into my leg; and it was raining hard. As soon as I broke out of the overcast and could see the ground, I realized that I was descending rapidly. I looked over the area and saw a stream to my left and decided to head for that as soon as I hit, but I hadn't yet noticed how thick the jungle was. I was still surveying the situation when, before I knew it, I was crashing through the treetops and finally came to a stop about ten feet from the ground. I undid my straps and dropped to the ground exhausted and nauseated from nervousness. I must have sat there for an hour resting and praying, giving thanks that I was still alive. I had been fortunate in not losing my gun belt when the chute opened, and I still had my pistol with the primary twenty-one rounds intact.

The jungle was so thick that I couldn't turn around without hacking with my machete for a few minutes. Within a half hour I encountered a cobra. I shot at it, but succeeded in killing it only after firing a full clip. I never was very good with a gun, so from then on I traveled with my machete in my right hand and the .45 in my left. I had to laugh at the sight I must have made. Could this be me, the peaceful kid from Salem, Massachusetts, lost in the middle of Burma? I couldn't believe it.

I was sitting on a log munching on a piece of chocolate when I heard voices in the distance. For the first time it dawned on me that I might be behind Jap lines. I no sooner got to my feet when a dog saw me and ran at me, barking his fool head off. The first native, probably the leader, saw me next. I could hear him cock his rifle as he dropped to the ground. The other natives followed suit, and all guns were aimed at me. I walked toward them with my hands up, and they stood up. I learned later that they thought we were Jap paratroopers invading Burma.

The leader then mumbled something to me, so I opened my jacket and showed him the flags sewn inside---first the American, then the Burmese. But I might just as well have shown him a picture of my Aunt Nellie for all the recognition I got out of him. Then I took out the small piece of paper which I had been carrying and which had Kachin and Burmese phonetics on it and started in with my first struggle with Burmese pronunciation.


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