C.B.I. Theater – June 1945 (2)

Assembling the helicopter at Myitkyina. Shortly after, it would land on a Burma peak for the 1st such mercy mission in this area.

AAF HQ. – Capt. Frank W. Peterson maneuvered the helicopter through the maze of jungled Burma peaks and set the small ship down on a rough strip atop a razorback mountain whose sides fell off steeply to narrow valleys 2,500 feet below.
Twenty-four hours later, after gas and oil had been air-dropped, he took off again, this time carrying a passenger: 21-year-old Pvt Howard Ross, ground observer at an isolated weather station outpost in North Burma who was suffering from a badly infected gunshot wound in his hand.

This air evacuation mission, marking the first time a helicopter had been employed in rescue work in this Theater, climaxed one of the most amazing stories to come out of India-Burma.  The story had its beginning when, after the forced landing of a B-25 on an isolated mountain-top in Burma, it was determined that a helicopter would be necessary to effect the rescue of the bomber crew, none of whom were injured. The request was made by radio to Army Air Forces Headquarters in Washington.

A crew at Wright Field, Ohio, was ordered to begin the dismantling of a helicopter and, working all night, loaded it upon a C-54 cargo plane by the following morning. meanwhile, Peterson, a Wright Field test pilot was ordered to accompany the engineering crew to Burma.

Four days later, the C-54 with its rescue mission cargo landed at Myitkyina, only to learn that the men they had been rushed overseas to rescue had already been evacuated.  It was decided, however, to continue with the assembly of the helicopter as rapidly as possible in the event another emergency should arise.

Late that night, Lt. Leo J. Kenney, commanding officer of the jungle rescue unit, awakened Peterson and told him that a member of a weather station located high on a 4,700-foot mountain in the Naga Hills, with a gun shot wound.  With  medical aid 10 days distant by mountain trail, air rescue had to be attempted despite the inaccessibility of the station even to parachute jumping.

Pilot Erickson & Igor Sikorsky test the Sikorsky R-4, 1942 The following morning the rescue mission took off.  Since the helicopter was not equipped with radio and Peterson and Lt. Irwin C. Steiner, another veteran pilot from Wright Field who accompanied Peterson, were flying over unfamiliar territory, the rescue ship was escorted by two L-5’s piloted by T/Sgt. William H. Thomas and S/Sgt. Gibson L. Jones.

Four times, the helicopter became separated from its guide planes, a low ceiling having enveloped the mountain country. But each time the planes renewed contact. Once the helicopter made three attempts before finally topping a 5,000-foot mountain peak. Another time, the ship ran out of gas and had to make a forced landing on a sand bank in the Chindwin River, where Peterson and Steiner sat down and waited for fuel to be air-dropped from the L-5’s.  Up in the air once more, the helicopter climbed up over rocky peaks which jutted sharp above matted jungle, finally landing at the crude air-drop field near the weather station just before running out of gas again.  The next day, nine days after engineers began disassembling the helicopter at Wright Field, Peterson flew the wounded man out of the jungle.

*****          *****          *****

General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, commander of U.S. Armies in the China, Burma, and India Theater, proudly wears his newly received four stars on his collar and the tag on his jeep. October 26, 1944. He was recently promoted to the rank of Full General.(AP Photo)

Uncle Joe Stilwell has returned to the grim but satisfying business of killing Japs – as Commanding General of the U.S. 10th Army, which this week annihilated the remnants of enemy opposition on bloody Okinawa.
Okinawa’s soil today contains the mortal remains of Lt. Gen. Simon Boliver Buckner, Jr., the colorful commander who led the new 10th Army ashore last Easter Sunday. In their last hour of military triumph, G.I.’s and his ranking officers reverently buried the general beside the men of the Seventh Division.
The nation applauded the move that placed four-starred Uncle Joe in command of the 10th Army. While in Chungking and India, Stilwell helped plan and carry out the liberation of North Burma and the building of the Ledo Road which later took his name.

Joe Stillwell, one of the most beloved generals in WWII

Subsequent differences of opinion with Chiang Kai-shek led last October to Uncle Joe’s recall to Washington where he was given command of Army Ground Forces.
Stilwell carried out his job with AGF with determination and spirit, bit no one doubted that it was his prayer to be returned to a combat assignment against the Japanese.
The death of Buckner brought to 34 the number of U.S. generals lost from all causes in action thus far in World War II, including four lieutenant generals. Shortly after the 10th Army Commander was killed, Brig. Gen. Claudius M. Easley, assistant commander of the 96th Infantry Division on Okinawa, also died in action.

Click on some of the images to enlarge.


Military Humor – CBI Style – 













Farewell Salutes – 

Timothy Bolyard – Thornton, WV; US Army, Afghanistan, Sgt. Major, KIA

John Breitmeyer – Christchurch, NZ; RNZ Navy # NZ9045, WWII

Warren Foss – St. Louis, MO; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Helmer Holmberg – Brn: SWE; Swedish Army, WWII

John Innes – Brisbane, AUS; Civilian, Pacific War Historian eg: “Guide to the Guadalcanal Battlefields”

Ruth Mesich – Wakefield, MI; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Millard Odom – Bateville, AR; USMC, WWII, PTO, Sgt., 3/2nd Marine Regiment, KIA (Tarawa)

Vinnie O’Hare – Broad Channel, NY; US Army, WWII

Robert Prata – Brooklyn, NY; US Army, Vietnam

Roy Stilwell Jr. – Chicago, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 13th Air Force


About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 6, 2018, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 71 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this story of a military pioneer use of helicopters!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Seems like that was one helicopter in the right place at the right time. Another great coincidence in rescue. Liked your comment about DeVinci having drawn a helicopter in his paintings. Some things have been around longer than most people care to imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating to see this early use of the helicopter for a rescue mission. We take helicopters so much for granted these days, it’s hard to imagine they were once more innovative than today’s self drive cars.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for the history lesson

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vinegar Joe. Love the nickname 🙂 Fascinating stories and delightful nuggets of military humour as always. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Luck by the grace of God does seem to be a constant companion for many wartime victims and heroes! Because many outcomes in wars are mysteries, thankfulness to God is the greatest honor and tribute!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It always surprises me when I read about helicopters in WWII, I always associate them with Korea for some reason. Must be getting old,

    Liked by 2 people

  8. “Here’s that stove you requested back in December!” LOL. That military humor gets me every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You may not know the answer to this, but is the Roy Stilwell, Jr., mentioned in your Farewell Salutes today related to General Stilwell? The general’s name is spelled a couple of ways, but it sure would be a neat connection.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I always appreciate your posts about the CBI – as you wrote in another reply, it is a neglected area of WWII history. “Vinegar Joe” is one of my favorite Generals from WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These are great stories, well worth retelling and remembering.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing men in that flying machine. Stillwell was the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This post proves that at least in the US army generals would courageously die in action with their troops, contrary to what I read about generals in the European theatre of World War I. Another great informative post, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The use of helicopters was rare at the time indeed, but their value in evacuating casualties was soon realised. The crew did a great job, to bring back one man with an infected hand wound. That speaks volumes for the determination to make sure everyone got the best available medical attention.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Do you have a list of the U.S. generals who were killed during World War II along with the circumstances?

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is quite a list…..
      General Gustav J. Braun, Jr. was the assistant division commander of the 34th Division at the time of his death in 1945 in combat in Italy.
      Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., was the commanding general of the 10th Army and was one of the highest ranking American officers killed in action during the war.
      Brig. Gen. James Leo Dalton II was the assistant commanding general of the 25th Division in the Philippines. The 25th Division was involved in fighting across the South Pacific but met its strongest resistance in one of its last battles, capturing the Balite Pass at the head of Cagayan Valley at Luzon in 1945.
      Colonel William Orlando Darby was the assistant commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division when it was conducting combat actions in Italy….he received the promotion posthumously, three months after his 34th birthday. Darby was the only Army officer promoted posthumously to flag officer rank during the war.
      Brig. Gen. Claudius Miller Easley was the assistant commanding general of the 96th Infantry Division when it was activated in 1942…Easley was wounded by a sniper during the Leyte campaign and was killed on June 19, 1945.
      Brig. Gen. Charles L. Keerans, Jr. was the assistant commander of the 101st Airborne Division. His death was one of the oddest to occur during the war. In 1943 the 101st had prepared to make a night combat jump into the area around the Gulf of Gela, on the western coast of Italy. The effort was plagued with problems, including several American transport planes being shot down by friendly fire. Keerans’ plane was one of those hit by friendly fire, but the pilot was able to crash land the plane in the water, 400 yards off shore. Keerans survived the crash and the next morning chatted with a sergeant from another unit and asked the sergeant to accompany him inland. The sergeant said that he wanted to return to his outfit and left. Keerans went inland by himself and was never seen again. For several years the army assumed he had been killed during the ditching of the aircraft, but the sergeant’s story provided a different interpretation and the general was simply listed as killed in action, although his body was never found.
      Maj. Gen. Edwin Davies Patrick was the commanding general of the 6th Division, heavily engaged with the enemy …when he died of wounds he received in battle in 1944. Patrick was given command of the 6th Division in September 1944, and was in hostile action near Bayanbayannan, Luzon, at the time of his death.
      Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose was commander of the 3rd Armored Division when he was killed in March 1945…
      Brig. Gen. James Edward Wharton replaced General Lloyd Brown as commander of the 28th Infantry Division in August 1944. A few hours later he was killed while visiting one of his regiments on the front line.
      Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt was the assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division and was in the first wave of glider landings in France, which began at 3 am on D-Day. His glider took a lot of enemy fire as it approached the field surrounded by hedgerows that was his designated landing area. When the glider landed, cargo broke loose from its moorings, broke through the bulkhead, and crushed Pratt, who was sitting in the cockpit.
      Brig. Gen. Guy O. Fort commanded the 81st Division in the Philippines at the time of the massive Japanese invasion of Luzon. Nothing more is known of Fort’s death, only that he was captured, tortured, and executed by the Japanese in 1942.
      Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim was a native Filipino, with a military education that included officer training at Fort Benning Infantry School. One of his classmates at Fort Benning was Akira Nara, who as a Japanese general was in combat with Lim’s 41st Division on Bataan.Lim was taken captive at Bataan and survived the infamous death march. He was freed by the Japanese, as they were attempting to separate or alienate Filipinos from the United States. Once freed, Lim became a member of the resistance. He was captured again in the vicinity of Manila and taken to Fort Santiago. After being tortured, he was executed by the Japanese.
      Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was a pioneer in the field of military aviation…In 1942, he became the commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, and in February 1943, he was given supreme command of all U.S. forces in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). Unfortunately, three months after this assignment he was killed in the crash of a B-24 Liberator bomber while attempting a landing in Iceland.Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on the southeast outskirts of Washington, D.C., is named in his honor.
      Brig. Gen. Charles Henry Barth, Jr., was the chief of staff for General Andrews’ European theater command and was on the same flight that crashed in Iceland, killing General Andrews and 13 others.
      Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey…Gaffey commanded the 4th Armored Division during the relief operation at Bastogne. Following this successful operation, he was given command of VII Corps. He was killed in a plane crash shortly after the capitulation of Germany in 1945.
      Brig. Gen. Stuart Chapin Godfrey was commander of Geiger [Air] Field near Spokane, Wash. Godfrey had directed construction of airfields in the China-Burma-India theatre for use by B-29 Superfortress bombers on raids against Japan prior to assuming command at Geiger Field. He was returning from a conference at Fort Hamilton in San Francisco in 1945 when his plane crashed into a small hill six miles from Geiger Field.
      Major Gen. Stonewall Jackson was commander of the 84th Infantry Division at the time of his death in 1943. Jackson had only been in command a few months, assuming command of the division in February 1943, and he was promoted to major general in March. The division was on maneuvers at Fort (then Camp) Polk, La.
      Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair was one of the highest ranking American officers killed in World War II. McNair had been commander of Army ground forces and was responsible for training of all components of the active Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard. He wanted a field command but never received one. As frequently as he could, he visited the fronts and was wounded in Tunisia. He was made commander of the mythical 1st Army Group, replacing General Patton McNair was observing the 30th Infantry Division’s preparations for deployment to St. Lo in 1944 when the Army Air Corps accidentally dropped bombs on his position and he was killed. He was posthumously promoted to full general in 1945.Ironically, his son, Colonel Douglas McNair, chief of staff of the 77th Division, was killed two weeks later by a sniper on Guam.
      Maj. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was the only American general to go ashore in the first wave on D-Day…On July 12, 1944, Roosevelt was given command of the 90th Division. He died later that night of a heart attack, at the age of 57.
      General George S. Patton Jr., died quietly in his sleep on December 21, 1945, from complications from an automobile accident near Mannheim, Germany, on December 9.

      Hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. It was a wonderful achievement to have made all that effort to rescue just one man. And none of it was wasted as it turned out! (This is the first story I’ve ever read about the use of helicopters in WW2, so thanks for sharing it with us);

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This was interesting, GP (but your posts always are). I didn’t think the helicopter came along until later. Great photos. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. When I first started reading this I wondered what the big deal was about helicopters, until I realized that they were a new invention. These days it’s hard to imagine a war without them.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I notice that Joe Stilwell seems from the photos to have been quite old to be on active duty are Generals today still on active duty at the same age I have no idea?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most would not be in combat if they were still active members, you are quite right. WWII though was forced to use the WWI veterans for their experience. MacArthur was actually retired when the war started, and was in a reserve-type position advising Filipinos.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. What an amazing story!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. A very good friend fought in the CBI and it is always good to see it when their contribution is remembered….thanx….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for sharing this history!


  1. Pingback: C.B.I. Theater – June 1945 (2) – Connel

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