Vet recalls vital but unsung WWII role in India
The Lima News, Ohio
LIMA — Not every serviceman faced enemy fire during World War II. But most played a vital role in victory, and all endured a measure of hardship.
Don Carolus, of Perry Township, qualifies himself in that latter category.
Pfc. Carolus was a 19-year-old Army courier in northeast India, playing a bit part part in a largely unheralded but vital part of the war — creating what amounted to history’s first military airlift.
The pilots called it The Hump. That was an ironic understatement; their route took them over the eastern Himalayas of northern Burma and into central China. The airlift was made necessary when the Japanese cut off land access via the Lido-Burma Road. From May 1942 to August 1945, U.S. Army Air Forces pilots delivered 650,000 tons of aviation fuel and other materials to the anti-Japanese effort of Chinese Premier Chiang Kai-Shek and USAAF units stationed in China. The early plan — to launch air assaults on Japan from the bases in China — never materialized, but the threat of attack kept the Japanese busy guarding against it.
“All those pilots and crews, their flight jackets had a message on the back, offering $500 for the return of the crews,” said Carolus, now 88, during a recent interview. “You know, if they were shot down. It saved a bunch of lives.”
Carolus’ job was confined to a 60-mile radius around Assam in the northeastern corner of India, delivering messages from one base to another, putting countless miles on a Jeep in almost incessantly rainy weather.
“Whatever they didn’t want to put on the radio, it was encoded and I delivered it,” he said. “I remember the monsoons. It rained all the time, and there was something wrong when it didn’t.”
Carolus never met the enemy. In fact, he said, he usually carried an unloaded weapon. And while Japanese forces pushed occasionally for the Indian border, they never crossed it.
“At one point, they were almost at Lido, which was 16 miles from us at the border. That’s as close as they got,” he said. “It was around then that they started issuing ammunition.”
On the occasional days off, Carolus and a few buddies liked to hunt in the dense Indian jungle.
“We’d get opportunities to draw ammunition, go out and hunt whatever we could see,” he said. “We’d shoot an occasional deer, and the mess sergeant would fix it for us.”
Some of the memories aren’t so savory. Carolus said the wide disparity between rich and poor left a lasting impression.
“I remember the poverty of the people, mostly. The differences among the classes was something,” he said. “There was a little town just up the road near us that had a leper colony. There were just mud huts, basically. And the general populations have practically no regard for human life. If someone got hit on the road of there was a train wreck, they’d just grab them and pull them out like old rags.”
Other memories were mystifying. Like seeing elephants working at a logging operation.
“Those elephants are amazing. If the log is a size they can handle, they instinctively find the balancing point and carry it,” he said. “If they can’t carry it, they’ll grab one end and drag it. They’re pretty intelligent.”
The war ended in August 1945 with the atomic bomb detonations over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Carolus was honorably discharged March 15, 1946, in Indianapolis. He received several honors including a Bronze Star for the Asiatic/Pacific Ribbon, American Theater Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal.
Carolus had married Helen Wolfe in June 1942, just after both graduated from Lima South High School. Together they had four daughters and a son. Carolus worked for the Lima Refinery for 42 years. Helen Carolus died five years ago.
About a decade ago, he bought a 1946 Willys Jeep, almost identical to the one he drove in India. Two years ago, he tore it down and rebuilt it.
“This is a civilian version. The military had a few other things standard, like an ax and entrenching tool, all sorts of things added on,” he said. “Other than that, the running gear’s identical.”
He said the Jeep keeps memories fresh.
“I get in it and think,” he said.
©2012 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio)
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