09-15-2016 Tri-City Area History Page

Paw Paw River Journal

  Just recently we had a visitor.  Dr. Robert P. Harrison who is the head guy down at Lake Michigan College stopped by to visit on our back porch.  Beautiful sunny morning and my Chief Accountant and I were glad to see him.  His father, Robert Paul Harrison served in the China, Burma and India Theater of War, just as I did way back in ‘the Big One,’ as Archie Bunker called WWII.  Here is how it came about… Col. Don Alsbro is the head of the veterans’ organization called Lest We Forget.  He also teaches at Lake Michigan College.  When Bob Harrison said he is planning a trip to China to see where his father served, Col. Don told him I was also over there.  Thus he came to visit us, bringing a book he had put together about his dad with pictures and all.  We were at some of the same places!  Bob’s father, Sgt. Robert Paul Harrison went into WWII just as many of us did.  He enlisted because he knew the draft was coming, as it was for all of us.  Then a stroke of good fortune.  He was given a regular army serial number instead of a draftee’s number.  Everywhere he went thereafter it gave him a slight edge over the regular inductees.  And he was sent for medical training at Selfridge Field. He wound up in a field hospital unit much like the M.A.S.H. unit of TV fame later.  And he was in charge of the X ray lab, with his own generator.  From California after Christmas of 1943 they left a blacked-out Los Angeles on the troopship SS Mariposa.  Across the Pacific they wound their way, zigzagging to avoid Japanese submarines.  Finally they landed in Bombay, India.  Then across the continent on those Indian narrow-gauge railways.  Now I know something about that rail system, because a good friend of mine, Loren Pawling, was running trains on India’s railways.  For all I know, Bob Harrison Sr. may have been on one of Loren’s trains.  Coaches were small with wooden seats along each side.  When they passed through towns, little kids would run alongside, begging for candy, gum, or any of the other luxuries they knew American GIs had.   From Calcutta they traveled clear up to the Assam Valley in the northeast corner of India.  There they staged at one of the air fields… this was about the same time I was there.  And they were all flown across the Hump in one of our transports.  Again, I might have seen Bob Harrison’s dad and never knew who he was at the time.  There were thousands of us and we were in an all-out effort to push the Japanese right out of China and into the ocean.  Sgt. Harrison’s Medical Unit was stationed at Kunming, China, and then transferred to Yunnan-yi, half way back towards India. There they provided medical care for the AVG (American Volunteer Group).  These were the famed pilots who had sharks’ teeth painted on the nose of their airplanes.  We were flying in drums of 100 octane gas to fuel all of their airplanes.   I think I went into Yunnan-yi airbase one time, and we flew past it every time we went to Kunming and other fields with our load of gasoline.  Just west of that base there is a mountain we called Tali-fu.  Its peak rears up almost to 15,000 ft. and we carefully avoided it when we were flying on instruments.  There Sgt. Harrison’s unit stayed until the war was over… they never heard that hostilities had ended after we dropped the atomic bombs until three days later.  They finally made it back to the States and discharge in time for Christmas, 1945.  Ironic how Sgt. Harrison’s timing and mine were so close together… I got back and was transferred into the Air Force reserve about the same time.  We were there at the same time and the same places, but never ran into each other.  Now Bob Harrison is planning a trip to visit the places where his dad spent so much time.  In some ways I envy him, getting to go on such a trip.  They will fly across the ocean in a huge 747 jet. Not much like the C-54 prop driven airplane I crossed the ocean in.  How well I remember looking out at the endless Atlantic… with the waves looking like gray corduroy.  We sat on our back porch while Bob Harrison told us of his plans.  Actually, I would not want to make that trip again.  They have to sit in an airplane for about 18 hours until they reach Beijing.  My Chief Accountant had some advice for Bob.  She said, “On a long airplane ride, move your legs and feet to keep blood circulating!”  My advice to him would be to keep his seat belt on unless he wants to get up and go to the rest room.  I never flew without my belt on… I have seen the results of clear-air turbulence.  Passengers and luggage can get thrown around without warning!   For Bob Harrison this is going to be the trip of a lifetime!  And we will be anxiously waiting to have him visit after he returns and show us pictures.  Those days were so long ago.  And yet it was only yesterday I was stationed on an airbase in the middle of a tea plantation in the Assam Valley.  And mornings on the plain of Burma, living in tents.  I shaved with water in my steel pot helmet on a stand of bamboo, with a steel mirror fixed to the post in front of me.  And to the east always the forbidding peaks of the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world.  I very carefully avoided looking at the thunderstorms building on their slopes.  I wish for Bob a safe and happy trip.  But I have been there… done that.  And now I would much rather talk about it on our back screened porch in this story book town along the Paw Paw River!  Next:  The only story I ever wrote about the Flying Tigers.

rolling back the years


90 years ago – 1926

 During the week of Oct. 1, 1926, Paw Paw Ave. was paved for the first time. The road improvement was completed before the winter came in. Darrel Osgood, graduate of Watervliet High School, will leave On Oct. 4, 1926 for Valparaiso, Indiana, where he plans to enter Valparaiso University. The Pere Marquette has announced they will have continuous year round $5.35 round trip passenger fare Watervliet to Chicago.

60 years ago – 1956

 The city commission was informed by Watervliet Mayor Bridges that the city may shortly be confronted with the necessity of chlorinating its water supply. The removal of iron and algae from the city’s water supply might make such a move nec