Last week Stilwell's men finally pushed the Japanese out of the city of Myitkyina, where they had been stalled in drenching monsoon for 77 days. Before they had been delayed at Myitkyina, however, Stilwell's forces had made the most important Allied gains of the entire war in Asia. From their starting point of Ledo, in Assam, they had driven 290 miles overland, nearly cutting off the top of the great Japanese salient jutting up between China and India. General Pick had not quite been able to follow Stilwell into Myitkyina, but it was through no fault of his own. Myitkyina had been entered by a daring march over mountains and through Japanese lines. The road had to wait until the by-passed valleys had been cleared of the enemy.
By last week General Pick's men had finished the first 167 miles of the Ledo Road, from the railhead at Ledo to Walawbum. Now the road builders were completing a 77-mile stretch between Walawbum and Mogaung, would soon be able to continue from Mogaung to Myitkyina, only 30 miles to the east. From Myitkyina the road could take either of two routes into China. It could cut eastward to Yunnan Province through jagged mountains which rise above the Salween River. Or, if the Japanese could be driven farther south, it could go southward through the valleys to Bhamo and from there join with the old Burma Road. Last week the Chinese fighting westward from the Salween made progress which promised to open at least one of these routes. They entered the big Japanese base of Teng-yueh, 65 miles southeast of Myitkyina, had even sent patrols to within 26 miles of Stilwell's forces.
Although General Pick's pike logically sought the easiest available terrain, it was still a stupendous job of engineering. Almost at the outset it had to be lifted over 3,000-ft. Pangsau Pass. Farther along it had to be pushed through virgin jungle where no road had ever been before. One of the greatest of all problems in this waterlogged country was the drainage necessary to keep the road open through the rains, but Lewis Pick was well prepared for this kind of work. Before he came to the Ledo Road he had been division engineer on the temperamental Missouri River. There he devised the famous Pick Plan, a system of dams and reservoirs for flood control and irrigation which is must talked of in the Middle West.
When General Pick's road is finished, it will open the first southern land route to China since the Japanese cut the Burma Road. It is doubtful, however, whether it will then carry enough supplies to make possible a big drive by the Chinese. But at the very least the road is a firm, pulsating artery for Stilwell's operations. And Stilwell's nomination to a four-star generalship last week was an indication that a new offensive may not be far off.
The greater part of General Stilwell's force of northern Burma is made up of foreign troops, mostly Chinese, with a few Burmese, Indians, and British. General Pick's force, however, has a large body of Americans. Working on the Ledo Road are 9,000 U.S. Army engineers, many of them technicians. They work with a regiment of Chinese engineers and a minimum of 10,000 native laborers at one time.(L-R) Pfc. Isaiah Smith, Fort Wayne, Indiana, drives truck; Cpl. J. Moran of Massachusetts, drives bulldozer; Cpl. Kenneth C. Atkins, Marion, N.C., truck driver
Pick's U.S. engineers are tough, hardy and experienced. Many of them worked on Air Transport Command bases in the Hudson Bay area of Canada before they came to Burma. Most of these agree that they prefer the frozen north to the sodden tropics. Like most engineers they refer to themselves as "Hairy Ears," a name derived from a largely unprintable engineers' song. (The Engineers have hairy ears; and live in caves and ditches. They bang their jocks against the rocks; those hardy sons of bitches.)
In the picture at left, one of Pick's men stands by a sign outside "Hairy Ears Clinic" which list a few private American names for the alien diseases of the jungle.
Except for an excursion as photographer on the first B-29 raid on Japan, Bernard Hoffman has been working in the humid jungles of Burma for the last five months. His latest pictures show the Ledo Road, "toughest road-building job Army engineers have ever known, any time or anywhere."
In the picture at right, he is washing off the blood-sucking leeches that infest Burma in numbers enough to emaciate a man who falls from illness or injury.