The Berlin Airlift, As Remember It

From the middle of 1946 to early summer of 1949, I was assigned to the 317th Troop Carrier Group stationed at Tachikawa Japan. The mission for our group was to establish and run an “airline” system in the Far East. This was very shortly after the Japanese had surrendered to Gen. Douglas Macarthur aboard the battle ship Missouri, in Tokyo bay.

Tachikawa, our home base was about 35 air miles to the northwest of  Tokyo.  From here we ran regularly scheduled flights to all of the main Japanese Islands, to Korea, Formosa, Okinawa, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Guam. Occasionally flights would be scheduled for other spots such as Hong Kong, New Guinea etc. We flew the airlines for that area of the world. We flew the four engined Sky Master, called the C-54 and the twin engined Curtis Commando, the C-46. I was checked out as first pilot in the twin engined C-46, and as co-pilot on the C-54. We flew the C-46 aircraft on many of the routes, using the C-54, with its four engines for longer over water flights.

The war had been over a relatively short time, and civilian air travel wasn’t into being. About the only overseas civilian flights at that time were the flying “Clippers”, aircraft that operated from the water and they did not fly to the “far east.”

Our flights would carry all kinds of cargo. We carried aircraft parts, auto parts. maintenance items, food etc. Anything that could be shipped by air. We also maintained a passenger service, including people on most flights.

On Sep. 12, 1948, a Sunday, I returned to my home station of  Tachikawa, Japan from a flight to Okinawa. This was a regularly scheduled C-46 flight, with a passenger stop at Komaki, Japan (on the island of Honshu, near Nagoya.)

As I taxied the aircraft to our parking spot, one of the ground crew  called up and said “don’t unpack your bags, we’re going to Germany!” Exiting the aircraft and hearing more from the ground crew, we went into the operations building. We were told that our unit and all of the C-54’s had been directed to prepare for duty in Germany, to aid in the ongoing Berlin Airlift.

The city of Berlin was an isolated area of land, deep within the Russian area of occupation of the defeated Germany. The country was governed by the “four big powers” Russia, The United States, Great Britain and France. The city itself was also divided into four not equal parts, with each area being the concern of one of the “big four.” To reach the city, one had to travel by auto on the autobahns through the area controlled by the Russians. They placed all kinds of restrictions on auto traffic, such as no stopping, no exiting etc. They designated one rest stop that could be used. All rail and canal traffic also came through the Russian occupied area. Three air corridors, each 20 miles wide had been established to provide air traffic into the city  and out. Air traffic had to stay below 10,000 ft. Not too hard in these “before jets” days.

This division of Germany had been decided and agreed upon by the “big four” at Yalta, several months prior to Germany’s collapse. Russia was given the “honor” of conquering the capitol city of Berlin, because of their great manpower losses on the eastern front. When they did occupy the city, they refused to allow the Allied troops into the city for a period of several months. During this time they stripped the city of everything worthwhile. The factories that were left were dismantled and sent to Russia. Any rolling rail stock was taken, aircraft left over were taken etc. Anything of value or considered to maybe have value was taken and shipped back “home.” Even though we had been close allies with Russia during the war, the scene changed dramatically shortly after the end of the war.

Following a period of a year or more of deteriorating relations, with quite a few arguments over any number of things. Russia decided on June 24th, 1948 to “squeeze” the allies out of Berlin. They closed all road, canal, and rail traffic into the city. This was done under the guise of  making needed repairs. Trucks were lined up on the roads for miles, as was the canal barge traffic. Rail traffic was also at a standstill. They then started to ration electricity to the city. In large areas, the electricity  would be turned off  without notice, at different periods and varying lengths of time many days.

For several days, the Allies fussed and tried to get by the blockade, but it soon became evident the only way to open the routes was to use military power and risk starting a war with our former ally, Russia. About this time, some of  our Generals came up with the idea of supplying the city by air. The thought was that if it could be shown the blockade was doing little or no good, the Russians would tire and reopen the routes.

On June 26,1948 the first supplies were flown into Berlin. Twin engined C-47’s at Frankfurt were loaded and flew a total of  80 tons into the city. The British also flew in 6 tons. All available transport planes from the European area were ordered into Frankfurt to aid. It was soon apparent the C-47s would not be able to keep up so the call went out world wide for the four engined C-54’s to be sent. Units from all over the globe were sent. An Air Lift Headquarters with Gen. Tunner in charge was set up in Wiesbaden. The C-54 was the only four engined transport we had in any numbers. They had been used extensively during the war.

Economists had studied the cities needs, and said the 2 1/2 million people in the blockaded sectors would require 4500 tons of food and supplies daily, this would require 225 C-54’s. This was increased to 5620 tons per day on Oct. 20, 1948. The break down was food, 1435 tons, coal 3084 tons, commercial and industrial items 255 tons, newsprint 35 tons, liquid fuel 16 tons and medical supplies 2 tons. Of this 4827 tons were for the Germans, 763 for the US, British and French military, and 30 for the three passenger flights daily. The food tonnage was broken down into 646 tons of flour, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fats, 109 tons meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 85 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered skim milk, 5 tons dried whole milk, 3 tons yeast, 144 tons dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt, and 10 tons of cheese for a total of 1436 tons, or 2,872,000 pounds.

The people were put into caloric categories, depending on how much and what kind of work they did. Those doing  heavy work received more of a ration than a light duty worker. There were 3 groups for adults, and 4 groups for children, depending on their age.

So with emphasis being put on this operation, all our four engined planes and most of our personnel were assigned to Germany. On Sep. 23rd, we left Tachikawa for Guam (7:30 hrs. flying time) Then on to Kwajalein (7:30) to Johnson Isle (7:35) to Hawaii (4:00). Then on to Fairfield Suisun (now Travis AFB) (12:10) on to Kelly Field, Texas (8:10), to Westover Mass. (9:00) to Stephenville Newfoundland, (4:45) to the Azores (10:00) arriving at Wiesbaden, Germany on Oct. 8th, after a flight of 9hrs, 20 minutes. Our planes were put into the stream the next day or so. From here we flew into Tempelhof, located right in Berlin.

When we arrived, we were told we’d be living in buildings number so and so. They said to go on over and find yourself a place to stay. Lt. Jim Berry and I went looking and finally found a room that wasn’t too beat up. The buildings still had a lot of war damage. But we found this one room that was fairly intact. We scrounged a couple cots and mattresses and were in business. We found a table somewhere, and a couple boxes to use as end tables and a couple chairs, so we had a home. We lived here while at Wiesbaden.

Wiesbaden Air Base was a “festival grounds” as far back as 1184. German Emperor Friedrich I knighted his sons here. In early 1900’s it was a race track, known throughout Europe for its spirited races. On May 11, 1913, Price Heinrich of Prussia landed an aircraft in a field near the race track, thus the first landing at what is now Wiesbaden air field. The race track went belly up, and in 1926 a retired pilot suggested turning the race track into an airfield. It opened as an airfield in the spring of 1929. A small inter-city airline operated from here. In 1933 the Nazi’s took over the field and made it a pilot training base. In 1936 it was designated a full fledged “Fleigerhorst” (air base). Construction was completed  in 1938. The first military unit to occupy the base was the fighter group, “Ace of Spades.” commanded by the ME109 Ace, Col. Werner  Moelders. At one time during World War II, forty bombers took off every three hours on bombing missions. The base was also a target for the allies, at one time there were 76 bomb craters in the runway. The base was abandoned by the Germans in early March 1945, and occupied by the US forces on March 26, 1945. Much of the cargo flown into Berlin was loaded here in Wiesbaden whose aircraft flew a total of 23,920 trips to Berlin.

I had primary duty as the Group Supply Officer. My main job was to see that the maintenance people got the aircraft parts they needed to keep the planes flying. Each day, I would get a list of parts needed, and would work with the local supply people to obtain the parts and get them to the area that needed them. I had one Sgt. working with me on this, and since parts were needed on a 24 hour basis, we both worked long and irregular hours to keep the parts coming. I also flew as a “fill in” pilot, when someone was sick, or for other  reasons. This along with daily staff meetings, planning meetings etc., my time was well occupied.

Weather wise, the winter of 48-49 was fairly normal for Germany. Lots of  fog, sometimes so thick you could hardly find your way walking. Planes were grounded then. We also had several snow storms, but I don’t recall any large accumulations. Perhaps some 3-4 inches at a time. The runways would be swept, and the planes kept flying.

When flying into Berlin, once you got over the city, there were block after block of bombed out buildings. From the air, all you could see was the four walls, in varying heights with the streets and centers all full of rubble.

The final approach to Tempelhof, which we used while at Wiesbaden brought you in right between some seven story apartment buildings. When along side these buildings, you would be below the roof tops. Then, just before the airfield fence, there was a cemetery. After passing this cemetery, there was a small rise, then the airfield fence with the runway just a few yards away. It was along this fence that the German kids would congregate, watching the planes. Lt. Gail Halvorsen from Rhein Main air base started dropping candy bars tied to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to them. At times there were 100 or more kids waiting. It became a very popular item of interest. Other members of his group joined him in this. They spent  their  free time tying the packets, getting ready for their next flights. It was recognized by Headquarters as being quite a moral booster item. I didn’t hear much about the candy dropping while I was over there. I am not aware that any drops were made by our planes.

Tempelhof airbase in Berlin was originally a German parade ground. It had a sod runway and was used for only light aircraft, and near the end of the war for some fighter operations. It is close to down town Berlin. The main building is constructed with an overhanging roof, so that planes could taxi under there for unloading. It has several floors above ground and seven below. These below ground level floors were used by the Germans as quarters for their pilots and staff people. There was also a hospital and an assembly plant for the Messerschmidt aircraft. When the Russians occupied the city at the end of the war, they disabled the sump pumps and the ventilation system using dynamite. As of the airlift time, the lowest two floors were still inaccessible due to flooding.

After the city was blockaded, and the airlift began, our engineers built the two PSP (pierced steel planking) runways, each 6100 ft. long on an east west axis. These needed constant repair with all the traffic and were worked on continuously

It was during this operation that the GCA, (Ground Controlled Approach) came into its own. With  aircraft landing with a 3 minute separation in Berlin, the weather being what it was etc., this radar help was a real life saver. The controllers got quite good, as did the pilots, when they said “passing the end of the runway, take over and land”, you could be sure you were over the runway. You’d look out and see the runway lights in the foggy dew. What a good feeling. The traffic was so spaced, if you were unable to land on your first approach, you had to pull up and return to your home station and join the stream from there later.

Each base had what was called “take off blocks”. These were time periods during which your airplanes could be launched. These times were predicated on you arriving at the radio beacon, at the beginning of the assigned corridor at a specific time. I remember these blocks as being from twenty to forty minutes long. They had figured it would take you so many minutes to reach the beacon. This way, you could fit in with the traffic from the other bases using that corridor. You might have a block time of say 0110 to 0145, then nothing for perhaps an hour or two, 0305-0325, then a lapse of another couple hours etc. It was worked out to accommodate the schedule of so many minutes from take off to the corridor entry beacon, to Berlin. Then time to unload, time to fly back to your home base, and time there for the plane to be reserviced and reloaded for it’s next block time. In Berlin, we never left the aircraft. A PX truck with a “snack bar” built on it would come by. They had hamburgers, hot dogs etc. Also had coffee and pop as I recall. Always had cigarettes, gum, some candies etc. Any of this stuff that you wanted, you had to pay for. There was also a weather jeep that would come by and brief the weather for your return, then the “clearance” officer would come by and sign your “departure slip” and you’d be on your way. We never serviced the planes here, always at your home base. If the plane had a major problem that had to be fixed there, we’d call it in before we landed. An engine out for instance, we’d return to our home base without landing and have it changed. A tire blown on landing would have to be fixed.

There were at least two pilots and an enlisted engineer on each flight. The engineer was more a crew chief, responsible for the plane while it was on the ground. We’d land, pull onto the ramp and follow the “follow me” jeep to our parking spot. Each plane would pull in behind the others, until you got so far back on the ramp, then they’d take you up to the beginning of the line. The large building was in a curved shape with a big roof over hanging part of the parking area. We never used this area, as it was further from the runway. We’d use the ramp out in front. It too was curved. So we’d have planes lined up along this ramp edge for perhaps a mile or more.

After landing and while taxiing in, the engineer would go to the rear of the plane. When we’d get close to our parking spot, the pilot would cut (stop) the two left side engines. When the crew chief  heard this, he’d open the large cargo door, on the rear left side. Pilots would stop the aircraft, set the brakes and stop the other two engines. Before the props would stop turning, there would be a big German truck backing up to the plane. Several Germans would jump into the plane and start handing out the cargo. We carried mostly coal which at first was loaded in excess duffel bags, weighing 110 lbs each. These bags let a lot of coal dust get into the interior of the aircraft, so they changed to multi walled paper sacks, weighing 55 lbs. each.

Motion study experts watched this operation and devised a plan whereby a 12 man crew could load ten tons of bagged coal into a C-54 in six minutes. They also came up with a plan to cut the unloading time from 17 to 5 minutes. The Berlin on ground time was reduced to no more than 30 minutes.

For the unloading, the DP’s (displaced persons, mostly Germans) would grab a bag and toss it onto the truck. Others would grab it and take it to the front of the truck and stack it. It would take a very short time to have the plane unloaded. Before they had all the bags out, a couple other workers, often women would come aboard and sweep the cargo bay. The bags were always leaking, so to get it all and to help keep the planes clean, they did this. By the time we got out of the cockpit, the unloading was being done. We’d climb down onto the ramp, grab a hamburger or doughnut, get our briefing and in a very short time climb back in and start engines to return to our home station. Of the 6569 landings at Tempelhof,  only 92 planes required maintenance. Of these, 40 were for tires.

As the airlift continued, it became more demanding all the time. In the fall of 1948 a training “vittles” route was set up at Great Falls Mt. A training squadron with 19 C-54s was established. More MATS C-54 were assigned until the total reached 319, with 19 being used at Great Falls. 457 aircrews and 225 planes were actively engaged all the time.

The only routes into Berlin were via  the three established corridors. Two were used for inbound planes. The northern one was used by the aircraft from Fassberg and Cele, the southern was used by Wiesbaden and Rhein/Main (Frankfurt). The center corridor was used for all planes returning from Berlin. The C-54’s flew at 170 MPH inbound and 185 MPH outbound. With a separation of  500ft and 3 minutes, there was a steady stream coming into Tempelhof.  They had two parallel east-west runways each 6100 ft. long. The one nearest the terminal building was used for landings, you’d land and turn off to the parking ramp near the huge terminal building. In 1948 this was the largest building in the world, reportedly. Today it is exceeded only by the Pentagon. I don’t know if they mean sq. footage or what, but when we were there on the reunion in 1989, they again said this. The runway  further away was used for departures. You’d taxi out under the landing aircraft to get to the departure runway. Prior to this time, the airfield had a sod runway. Our engineers built the two PSP (pierced steel planking) runways. These were steel planks, some 18″ wide and 8′ long. They were full of holes, with hooks along one edge so they could be attached to an adjoining piece. This was a common runway used throughout the world during WWII.

The Americans used Tempelhof  primarily, and the British used the other airport, Gatow. These two soon became saturated, and it was considered  necessary to build another. This they did in the French sector, at Tegel. Construction for this airport was started on 5 Sep.1948 with a completion date of 1 Jan. 1949. This date was moved up to December,  and finally wound up with the first aircraft landing there on Nov. 5th. At the peak of construction there were 17,000 Germans working 3 eight hour shifts, composed of 60% men and 40% women workers. These were all volunteers, who were paid l mark 20 pfennig per hour plus one hot meal per day. These people worked around the clock.

Tegel was a rolling field some 4,000 by 8,000 ft. It had been used by Herman Goering’s anti-aircraft divisions for training. The French gave their approval for the US to build the airfield. The French would then maintain it, and get to use it. With the shortage of concrete, building a runway that would last was a problem. Someone came up with the idea of using the brick rubble from the smashed buildings nearby as a base. They would lay a six inch thickness of bricks, run steam  rollers over them to pulverize and compact them, then add another such layer. It took four such operations to get the needed two feet of base materials. In all, this used 40,000 cubic meters of crushed rock, or the equivalent of 10 city blocks of brick buildings. There were no graders, asphalt spreaders or other equipment available in Germany except the vintage 1912 steam rollers. (All the other equipment was probably in Russia) So all the heavy equipment needed was procured in the states, cut into pieces and flown in the C-74’s to Germany, taken to Berlin and re-welded. We also flew in 3,000 tons of asphalt to surface the runway.

During the Christmas season of 1948, Bob Hope brought his show  to Europe. He put on a couple shows at Wiesbaden. I planned to attend one, seems it was at seven PM or so. By the time I got there, the theater was PACKED. All the seats were taken, so I got to stand in the back and see the show from there. I had plenty of company, since the whole back space was filled. I remember hearing Bob doing some of his jokes, I remember Jerry Coloma, with his big wide eyes, his mustache and his big grin. Also remember Jinx Faulkenberg, whom I thought  for a long time was Miss America for that year. I have since found out she was not. Do think she had been in the contest however.

Around the first of the Year 1949 we moved our outfit to Celle, near Hanover. This put us in place to use the Northern corridor.

At Celle, I had a desk in an office located in one of the main maintenance hangers, along with Capt. Ashcraft, who was the chief  honcho of the maintenance people. Aircraft would be brought into this hanger, several at a time and the needed repairs made. Doing most of this work were German mechanics most of whom had received their training and experience working for the Luftwafe. They were hired and paid by the US. It has been said, without them the airlift would not have succeeded. They were mainly responsible for keeping the aircraft  “in the air.” We just did not have enough maintenance people to keep the planes flying such a schedule. Maintenance went on around the clock. A large repair depot was set up at Burtonwood, England. Aircraft would be taken there for the 200 hour checks. Here they thoroughly cleaned the aircraft, which at first took 16 men 200 hours. This was later reduced to 80 hours. Aircraft engines were returned to Kelly field, San Antonio, Texas for overhaul. C-74,s and the one C-99 did this hauling.

Along with the fog, I remember the cold bitter wind. It would whip around the buildings and really had a bite to it.  I had no transportation, neither did most of the others. I made my rounds of the base on foot almost all the time. I don’t recall them having a taxi service on base either. I would walk to the office in the morning, get my requisitions, walk to the supply building, do my research and arrange for the supplies to be delivered. I would also walk to the Officer’s club where we took our meals. On the very few days that I had off, several of us would walk to the main gate, leave the field and take one of the German taxies into town. There were always several taxies waiting outside the gate. The distance to town at Celle I remember as  several miles. We’d walk around the town. You could walk to the local castle, but I don’t recall ever going into it. At Wiesbaden, the town was just a short distance from the gate. Mostly we’d just walk around sight seeing and taking black and white pictures. I was not aware of any restaurant, bars, night spots etc. operating at this time off base.

Those assigned to flight crew duty had a planned schedule. They would be scheduled to fly ever so often. I remember a flying day as consisting of three round trips to Berlin. This would take some 10-12 hours. After that, they were “off duty” until their next schedule, which was either one or two 12 hour shifts away. Then after they had done so many of these “shifts” say four or five in a 10 day period or so, they would get a few days off. During this off time, many went to the rest area at Garmish. This is now well known for its skiing, although I don’t recall them doing that then. Anyway, it was away from the grind. There were also several sight seeing trips arranged that took an over night stay. But with my job, needing to attend to supplies, I was never able to get off that long. Looking back on it none of the staff people that I worked with did either. We were always around all the time.

I remember the devastation of the towns. Wiesbaden and Frankfurt  were two I saw close up, Celle didn’t have as much damage. You could hardly find a building that was not damaged. Many, many of them were nothing but the four outer brick walls, with the insides full of ruble. I recall seeing people scurrying in and out of  basement windows. They had found a livable area and had moved in. They would climb in and out through a window. The streets were filled with bricks, stone and other rubble, from the collapsed buildings. Many streets had  been partially cleared so there was one lane of traffic. Course, there were very few German autos in operation, and many that were, were used as taxies. Our forces used the WWII jeeps for everything, You’d see them all over the place. To walk around in these towns you’d have to walk in the streets.

We carried what I thought was unusual cargo on one of the trips I made. We had an entire load of cigarettes. Had quite a number of  boxes, each must have had 50 cartons or more. The official exchange rate at this time was about 4 Marks to the Dollar. One carton of any kind of cigarettes on the black market would bring 40 Marks or better. We joked about putting one of the large boxes under our jacket and using it for the black market! Or landing “somewhere” else, selling the cigarettes and buying the country. Since it was so devastated, we thought it should go fairly cheap.

Speaking of the black market, we were given a ration of two cartons of cigarettes per week from the BX. We had ration cards, which showed the weeks, they’d punch it when you bought  yours, at something like 80 cents per carton. I was smoking at the time, but used less than that, so had some to “spend.” I did manage to find a pair of binoculars I still have. Also bought a fold up Leica camera. There was very little available. People were selling  personal items to buy food, I think that’s where my two buys came from.

On the flight approach into Celle, you would pass over a rail road track. I recall at times, there would be young Germans, probably teenagers on this track, and they’d throw rocks at us while we were landing. They seldom hit the aircraft, but the idea of it struck me as being funny. We’d call the MP’s, they’d come out, run them off, leave, and the kids would return. It was as if this was a game for them. The only harm they could have done, was if one of the props were to hit a rock. The prop could “sling” the rock through the side of the plane. Course, it could “sling” it up, or down too, according to where the blade was when it connected with the rock. Something like a bat hitting a ball.

Of course, the Russians did nothing to help. They were always up to some harassment to keep things interesting. As far as flying was concerned, there were 733 incidents. Out of  fifteen categories the main ones were, searchlights locking onto an aircraft, 103 times, fighter planes flying close by, 96 times, radio interference, 82 times, buzzing, 77 times and shooting off flares, 59 times.

After moving to Celle, we flew the northern route, and landed at Gatow airport. I was told that when it was first opened, it had an obstruction near the landing end. It was either a smoke stack or a radio tower. The allies had been trying to get the Russians to take it down, which they refused to do. They wrangled over this for quite some time. And then, the way I heard the story, some English officer, I believe a Major said something like “just give me permission to go over there for (so many hours) and the problem will be solved. His superiors agreed to overlook  his being absent and what do you know, a short  time later the obstruction was gone. Someone planted explosives at the base and it came tumbling down. From what I heard, the Russians didn’t ever complain. Course, no one knew what had happened. We used this airport, which is now the main Berlin airport for commercial flying, during our stay at Celle. It relieved a lot of the congestion at Tempelhof  and made it possible for the allies to get more supplies in to the city in a given time period.

While at Celle, a short time before I was to leave, my radio was stolen. I had it on my desk near a window and some one lifted it. I reported the theft and just a day or so before I left, the MP’s called and returned it to me. I never did find out who took it, or how they were able to located it. Was just glad to get it back.

By the end of the airlift, nearly 2.4 million tons of supplies had been flown into Berlin. This took 277,569 flight, 75% by Americans, the rest by the British. France had no airplanes involved. The last “Operations Vittles” flight was on 30 Sep.1949. It departed from Rhein Main airbase.

In March, my six moths temporary duty was finished and I returned to Japan. I along with some 25-30 others flew back to Japan in a chartered civilian Constellation. The old four engined, three tailed cargo/passenger plane. We departed on 15 March 1949 from Wiesbaden. Our route was to Istanbul Turkey, to Bagdad Iraq, to Karachi India (now Pakistan) to New Delhi, India, to Calcutta India, to Hong Kong, China to Shanghai China, to Tokyo Japan, arriving there on 19 March 1949. While in India, we flew over the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located. It was just sun-up, and the pilot circled the area several times, so we could take pictures. It is a beautiful sight in the early morning sun, with the mist hanging over the fields.

I remember the time in Calcutta. Several of us rented a guide with a car and went sight seeing. I remember the great number of cattle roaming everywhere. Being considered sacred, they were not molested. When one of the cows wouldn’t move from the middle of the road, our driver would nudge it with the bumper. The cow would  just mosey off and we’d pass. We went to the Ganges river, where they burned many of the bodies picked up from the streets. Many people lived in and along the city streets. You’d see clusters of 4-8 people gathered around a little fire in the dirt, doing their cooking. I presumed they were a family.  Each morning oxen pulled wagons would go around picking up dead bodies. We were told  many were not claimed by families. They were taken to the Ganges river bank and burned individually. They had established  burning areas, where they would place the body on a bamboo cot, with about six inch legs, pile wood over them and set them afire. When the fire was out and the body consumed, they’d rake the ashes for gold fillings or what was left. The ashes then were tossed into the river.

In Damascus, I recall all the domed mosques. If  I remember correctly I think I counted something like a dozen or so from one spot. I recall seeing the farmers bringing fresh produce, onions, cabbages and a leafy vegetable into town loaded on donkeys. I have a picture of one older man, riding a donkey by sitting sideways on it. He looks as big as the animal.

In India, I saw a Jaine’s temple. It was a beautiful mosque type building with an abundance of  painted tiles on it. Each tile was only a couple inches square. Some of the walls were four feet thick. One such arched doorway was set with thousands of small (perhaps 1 inch by 1 inch) mirrors. You were supposed to be able to see yourself 1,000 times by standing in the correct spot. They also had a portion of their yard all tiled with beautiful ceramic decorations. Later I learned that the Jains is a religious group, with some 2 million followers. It was founded in 600 BC. in protest to some of the rituals of the Hindu religion. Contemporary Jainists are know for their charitable works. They have several temples in India.

At all these stops where we had any time to sight see, we’d do it. I remember the hoards of people everywhere. Along some of the narrow streets, each doorway would have 3-4 or more people looking out. Rooms were small and dark and almost all had incense burning. I presume they used the  incense to cover the stink and smells of living so close. I’m sure they had no plumbing, so must have used pots for  a toilet. I don’t know where they emptied these.

In China, we over nighted in Shanghai. Our hotel was downtown. We walked around the area that evening. I recall many people living in the streets. Seems every doorway had someone huddled up in it. Flying in and out of Hong Kong was interesting too. The field set back several miles in a bay. We let down in the mouth of the bay, then flew between the mountains back to where the field was. Departure was the same. The same field in still in use, but  jet aircraft have a greater rate of climb and are able to clear the hills more quickly. (a new field in the same area is now in use)

And, I guess there wasn’t as much crime then as now. We felt no need to be concerned about where we went or when. We were always in groups of  2-4 men, I never recall any attacks or threats to any of us. You did need to be aware of pickpockets, but that was about it.

We arrived at Haneda airport in Tokyo Japan during daylight on the 19th of March 1949. My wife, June and our two children were there to meet me. Boy was I glad to see them. I remember they all looked so great, dressed so nicely, clean etc., such a contrast to all the dirt and filth I’d seen in India

and China, as well as Germany.

Francis H. Potter

Col. USAF Ret.

18 November 1994.


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