After a grueling induction process into the army and a stint at basic training, Connecticut native Ellicott McConnell found himself halfway across the world in the mountains of India on an allied base. As a teletypist, McConnell helped keep the communication lines open between the Pacific and European theaters. He also goes into detail about his interaction with the Indian people and the conflict in China.
Army Induction Process
Now to tell you a little bit about the induction process, that is when you first come into the service. They had some pretty smart ideas. Now, they were bringing people in by the thousands. First thing you do is come through the door of this great big barn, barn like building. And the first thing they do is hand you a big paper bag, like a suit bag. They say, ‘Put everything in there, except your wallet. Everything.’ So, the first thing they do is strip you naked. Then they herd you into this, along with a group. Well, this is psychologically, this is damn smart. I mean, who you are, big shot or whatever, when you’ve got everyone running around, and everybody’s, you’re all looking at you know (laughs), you’re all sitting there naked – they’ve got you, you know. They can tell you that you’re not going to be a wise guy or have any doubts, you’re going to do what you’re told. Which we all did. And they’d give you your shots, and for a long time you’re running around there with nothing on. And not to embarrass you, because this is straight business – one of the things that the army was very worried about at that time, all the services, was venereal disease. See, this is before antibiotics. They became active at the very end of the war, but we’d never heard of them. And it was very serious. When’d you’d got yourself a venereal disease, it would be hard, very hard to get rid of, they’d be out of the service. And so they not only were they willing, ready to treat you, but they had a lot of people who would try to hide this. So what they, they had what they called “short arm inspections” which simply meant this is when you demonstrate, with your venereal, I mean with your genitalia that you don’t have a venereal disease. So, here you got four hundred – four, five hundred naked guys and they’d talk about this up on the stage and they’re watching closely until some guy, some wise guy snickers, hehe ya ya, ‘You. Come up here and demonstrate.’ And that’s what you learn that a person can blush all over, you know. (laughs) The poor guy they pick on stands up there, jeez he looks like a red light, you know. But that also helped to keep anybody from making any smart remarks. So, eventually they tell you to the end of the line and they measure you for your uniforms and such, and the fellas that done this so long, they put their fingers around your neck and say ’seventeen. fourteen. sixteen and a half.’ You know. Then they put us on a train, we didn’t know where we were going, only took about two days. And a lot of fellas had never been away from home. I remember this was the depression time, a lot of people had never traveled, never had any money at all. And there were fellas there crying there at night at the barracks. First, I uh, I wasn’t gonna cry but, there were a bunch of homesick poor guys who didn’t know what was going on, it was a, a pretty dramatic situation for someone who was take away from their home at the age of eighteen and dumped into service.
Segregation in New Orleans
We got down to New Orleans and segregation was, a big, right down the line there. And the streetcars – you had a sort of a plywood division that’s made up to separate the blacks from the whites. And whoever got in, if they were moving, you know moving that way, the blacks they could pick the, it was fixed up so that you could move it. The riders would move it. Well that meant that a black fellow in uniform had to get into the black region. Well this pissed off a bunch of Yankees. These were soldiers. But we were told very quickly and very loudly that what they did down there is what we would do. We got one war on our hands at this point. So the resentment that we felt concerning that was stifled. And with good cause. I mean, you know, you couldn’t have, you couldn’t divide the country at that moment. Unfortunately, it took a long, hell of a long time after that, but that was just what we were told. So the boys had feelings in that situation. Very much so.
The first place where we stopped for for three or four months was on the airbase called Sylhet, it’s a town in Bangladesh now, a city. Nothing really exciting to talk about there. We had one of the first B-29s we had ever seen. In fact, the first one landed there and we were very excited about that. And another one, either stupidity, or accident tried to fly through a thunderstorm and broken up. You’d get these terrific vertical winds, torn up. So we had a funeral ceremony for the crew.
Monkeys were a real pain in the neck. These macaques take over your tent, and if you are not there, there is nothing left. They had enormous strength, they’d open, they could do this to a barracks mate. (Fart noise) They just looked in to see what’s there, but we’d have a bunch of that because people would keep their eyes on. But, at that point we had the G.I. tents and if you look at pictures of the old army, you’d see the paradental, dark tents square really. Hotter the devil, they’d have these bridges in the tropical sun. Our latrines were slit trenches that were dug, some of them, bamboo structure over them, some not. They were just getting this base settled, set up.
But one night – we had a black, one of our companies, two of ‘em, were black quartermasters. Truck drivers. Nice bunch, always happy. You know, just. But they always sorta grouped together, they sat up front. We had, we sat on benches. And they were not anchored benches, they were just long, locally prepared wooden benches. And one of them up, sitting in the middle of this movie, and one of them apparently saw a snake, or thought he did. And he said ‘Hah!’ You know, jumped up, ran back, and this started the ball going. And you know when you think about this, or read about this, you say ‘Well if that happened to me, I’d stand there, I’d stop it.’ You look up and you got about, you know, fifty people running at you, you do the same damn thing. You’d turn around and run because if you don’t you get trampled to death. And it was very exciting for a few seconds and, but some fellas got hurt. Not severely, but they got stepped on or banged or bumped. And all it takes is, brought home to me that all it takes is maybe one, one jump or one push and it’s triggered.
My father was determined, I said he was very smart, but he was determined I was not going to be afraid of snakes. His little son wasn’t going to worry about snakes. So, still at this age wearing short pants and such, he’d catch a Gardner snake, put it around my neck. And it would wheel around, hop off my leg. So I never had any feeling about snakes. I am sure that just below the surface there is an instinctive fear of snakes in people. That is because I know there is in other primates. If you take a gorilla, or a big, tough baboon, and boy, you pull out a snake or anything that looks like one, they are a quivering wreck. And if you stop and think about it they have to be. Because young primates are extremely inquisitive. Anything they see they are going to pick up. If they weren’t afraid of snakes instinctively they, they wouldn’t live very long. And I think it is a little, not far below the surface with people.
I know when we were in Panama, I was living in Panama and I was taking a siesta and I heard my wife calling my nickname “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, heck” and I went what the hell is going on. My son, my three-year-old son, holding a very small, harmless snake. Well, stroke of genius, I figured I wanted to go back to my siesta. I said give it to mother. (laughs) I haven’t lived that down, but anyway it kept the boat busy for a while.