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arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
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[Aslakson, Carl I. [1980] Earth Measurer. Excerpt from unpublished manuscript.]

6 of 9

WORLD WAR II: Mapping the World

The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in World War II

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the armed forces realized that the officers of our service possessed unique skills which they could utilize in various branches. As a result a law was hurriedly passed by Congress authorizing the transfer of individual officers by name to each of the branches when requested and approved by our service. [Editor's note: actually, the law forming the commissioned service of the C&GS which was passed in 1917 authorized this transfer in time of war.] The transfer was by Executive order, each transfer being made by the President when the individual was requested. Approximately 25% [Editor's note: it is true that a core group of C&GS officers served for the greater part of the war in other services; however, over 50 percent of C&GS officers saw service in the Armed Services for varying periods of time during the war] of our officers served in the other services in that manner for the duration of the war. They served in all the branches, the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and what was at that time, the Army Air Forces. [Editor's note: no officer of the C&GS served in the Coast Guard during WWII.] In my case, I was transferred at first to the Air Weather Service which at that time was in the Army.

The day I was transferred I once again had slight symptoms of malaria but they only lasted a few hours.

My Service in the Air Weather Service

In the spring of 1942, I was transferred to the Air Weather Service which was under the Army then. In accordance with an order of the Adjutant General, I adopted the uniform of the corresponding grade. I was a Lieut. Commander when transferred, and so I was required to wear the uniform and rank insignia of a major. This caused me considerable additional expense as I had recently purchased some new C.&G.S. uniforms. As a result, my income tax for that year was questioned by the IRS, but they accepted my explanation.

My work in the weather service consisted of (1) building up a file of world wide maps, (2) and designing a series of world weather charts at a scale of 1/10,000,000. The chart design problem was simple. I selected the coverage and the type of projection and was told of the additional information desired on the chart such as the scale with latitude and the geostrophic wind scales. Then I turned the printing of the charts over to the Coast Survey.

I adopted a chart numbering system with the numbers consecutive and preceded by the letters WRC for Weather Research Center where I was located in the old Weather Bureau building. I doubt if anyone now in the Air Force knows what those letters stand for. We moved shortly to a building on Pennsylvania Avenue and later into the Pentagon.

The White House Spanish Class

I was about to be ordered away and Marian was invited to join the White House Spanish Class. It was taught by a handsome Latin whom all the ladies in the class liked. Both Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower attended the classes regularly as well as many Washington socialites. Marian has a large photograph of that class and can identify most of the members.

It was customary for different members of the class to take turns in helping serve the luncheon, and Marian said that when it was the turn of Bess Truman in the White House she donned an apron and worked just like anybody else although she was the wife of the vice-president.

Promotion to Commander (Lieut. Colonel)

Shortly after my transfer, my commanding officer told me he was promoting me to Lieut. Colonel. I was forced to inform him that the matter was not that simple. It was necessary to make a request to the Coast Survey to give me a temporary promotion to the rank of Commander, whereupon I could adopt the rank of Lieut. Colonel. He did this, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the action was taken expeditiously and soon I was wearing the insignia of the new rank.

I completed all my assigned work shortly after I moved to the Pentagon and felt that I could be more useful elsewhere. I was aware that a number of our officers were in the First Photo Reconnaissance Group and were serving abroad and I asked permission to contact the Commanding Officer of that group. Tison and Doran were serving in the group and liked the assignment. I was immediately told that they would be glad to have me attached to the group. The work consisted of taking charge of astronomic parties to work in areas where our 1/10,000,000 air charts required improvement. Col. Yates, (shortly Major General Yates) my commanding officer in the Pentagon, approved the transfer and shortly afterward the transfer was made.

Astronomic Work in Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay

I was sent to McDill Field in Tampa, Florida and a short time later was ordered to relieve Tison in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Our group was using B-34's and I rode first to Belem, Brazil, in one of those aircraft. There we refueled and continued on to Recife. That was a night flight and I thought it might be my last flight. One of our two engines began to malfunction and to make matters worse there was low cloud cover. We were in a mountainous area and had to maintain a considerable altitude which was becoming difficult with our bad engine. Several times peaks loomed up above the clouds which could have wrecked our ship had we hit them.

Suddenly a cluster of lights showed up through a small gap in the clouds below. Assuming it to be Recife our pilot dove through them and came out below the clouds and over the city. We could now see the airport lights and a few minutes later we were safely on the ground.

Upon landing and disembarking several of the crew knelt down and kissed the ground. The members of that crew were heavy drinkers, but that night at the Officer's Club they all got high on their first drink.

Several days were required to repair the engines, so after the second day I hitched a ride on a MATS plane for Rio. I was the only passenger on the plane which was on its way to Rio to pick up a load of industrial crystals and commercial diamonds. Shortly after take-off, the crewman took my name for the manifest and took it to the cockpit. In a moment he returned and said, "The pilot wants to know if you know anybody in Minneapolis with your name." I replied, "Tell the pilot that if he means my brother Arnold, I know him very well." Again he returned and said that the pilot would like me to come up to the cockpit. When I arrived, the pilot waved out the co-pilot who was flying from the pilot's seat and asked me to take his seat.

It developed that he was one of Arnold's best friends. He had known Boots, Arnold's wife, before she became engaged to Arnold. The pilot and Boots both came from International Falls, Minnesota.

From then on, the flight was most enjoyable. Shortly he asked me if I would like to fly the plane which was a C-47 (The Gooney Bird). It was no thrill for me, but a pilot thinks he is doing you a great favor and it is hard to refuse. I took over the controls and flew nearly all the way to Rio. We approached a pass over the mountain range which led down to the city, and I finally told the pilot to take over. I did not want to be responsible for going through that pass. The sight of Rio from the approach over the pass was spectacular when seen for the first time. A small mountain had been leveled in the harbor to make an airfield. In the background the city of Rio loomed up on the hillside and the impressive Monte de Asucar, (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and the enormous Corcocavado statue (Body of Christ) was on another vertical peak to the south. The cable car from Sugarloaf to the beach station was plainly visible. It is a magnificent sight when first seen from the air.

Arrangement to Begin Work In Rio

Tison had been in Rio for some time but had done little field work. Most of his time had been devoted to the collection of data from the governments of Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay of identifiable points which could be used on air charts for control. His astronomic observers were not engineers. The instrument being used was the 60 Degree astrolabe. The period of training required to observe with this instrument was brief. Hence, the young officers used as observers came from such fields as librarians, historians, archaeologists, business majors, in fact, anything but engineers. Each party also had two enlisted men. A few observations had been made and the computations were being made and additional material was being collected. This occupied a considerable amount of time and meanwhile I was enjoying that marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro.

On one occasion, two Air Force Generals, both Lieutenant Generals, came to Rio to consult with the Brazilian Mapping agencies. They asked me to accompany them, and I did so. After some conversation, the Brazilians gathered that the Generals knew little about the subject they came to discuss. Then they learned that I was from the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, and, thereafter, all their conversation was addressed to me much to the discomfiture of the Generals. They were considerably miffed but were helpless to do anything about it.

The Night Clubs of Rio De Janeiro

The famous Copacabana Beach was the night club section of the city, and there were many magnificent night clubs. The three finest were the Urca, the Copacabana, and the Atlantico. The shows were as fine as any in the world. The costuming and staging was magnificent. Famous artists from all over the world came to those clubs. The best part for us was that the cost was very low. The reason for this was that gambling casinos were attached to the club, and most of their income came from that. In spite of the fact that we did not gamble, we were still treated well at the clubs.

When drinks were ordered at the tables, the full bottles were left on the table. They had centimeter scales on the side of the bottles, and, at the time to pay the bill, the waiter read the scale and one paid for the amount of liquor used in the bottles. The food was delicious, well-prepared, and inexpensive. One could stay as long as one wished, even through the second show if he wished. If one cared for dancing, there was a good dance floor. At the Urca or Copacabana one could spend an entire evening, and, when the bill arrived, it would seldom exceed ten to twelve dollars.

At the Urca the music never stopped. The orchestra was large and filled a good-sized stage. The entire back of the stage was a huge mirror. The stage on which the orchestra was playing would rise and at the same time the mirror back of the stage would tilt upward. Then the orchestra would slide back into the opening back of the mirror, and a new orchestra of the same size would rise upward from the floor below playing the same selection. After the new orchestra was in place, the background mirror would again drop into place leaving the new orchestra on the stage.

Uruguay - Foz Do Iguassu - The Military Attache's Secretary Flies with Us

It was necessary for me to make a trip to Montevideo, Uruguay, to collect some charting material. I spent several days there, and the Uruguayans were most cooperative. General Zubia was in charge at the Servicio Geographico, Militar and Catastral, and I became very friendly with him. Late in the war, he came to Washington when I was overseas. The Coast and Geodetic Survey called Marian and said that he had enquired about me so she arranged a dinner for him and Admiral Colbert among others. He spoke little or no English and insisted that Marian with her meager Spanish interpret for him. Her Spanish had quite a workout that night.

Our transportation was a B-34 which was attached to my party. It was used for transporting the astronomic parties to the sites of their observations. On our flight from Uruguay to Paraguay, it was necessary to take a round-about route to avoid flying over Argentine territory. On the route taken, there is a place where Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentine meet at Iguassu Falls. The falls were such a magnificent sight that we circled them; thus, encroaching for about a mile over Argentine territory. Months later a diplomatic protest was filed by the Argentine Government which caused six months correspondence, but there were no serious results.

Our Passenger to Paraguagy

A young lady who was secretary to the Military Attache in Montevideo had a friend who was in the office of the Attache in Asuncion, Paraguay. She asked permission from her employer to travel with our plane to visit in Paraguay. He assented, and we had a lady passenger. Our passenger was given a flight suit, the bulky leather sheepskin lined suits we all wore to keep warm. The front of the suits have a zipper to close them up.

Shortly after leaving our viewing of the Falls, we noted the young lady nervously glancing around the airplane. After some time she blurted out, "When you gotta go, what do you do?" Those bombers have a unique device consisting of a funnel of rubber about six inches in length and two inches wide at the larger end connected to a rubber tube running out the side of the aircraft. It is appropriately designated, the "relief tube." One of the officers pointed out and said, "That's it!" She had a horrified look on her face for a moment and then said, "That damn thing was never built for me." Whereupon one of the officers pointedly carried a waxed box in which we had had sandwiches, some newspapers, and a long cord to the rear of the plane, and then we all went forward and spent the next twenty minutes standing at the rear of the cockpit and looking forward. At the end of that period we looked to the rear and saw our passenger zipping her flight suit and wearing a satisfied look on her face. There was a neatly wrapped package on the deck of the plane.


As we landed on the strip at Asuncion, Paraguay, we had an accident which caused serious damage to our ship. Our brakes failed due to a leakage of hydraulic fluid near the end of the runway and to avoid hitting a deep ditch the pilot executed a ground loop. That means that he swung the ship 180 degrees to head back from the direction we had been going. Our speed was considerable, and, for a moment, everybody in the plane was stunned and all the baggage and other equipment was a huge jumble. When we recovered from the shock and left the plane, we could see that our landing gear was badly damaged. The plane not only could not be flown, but it could not even be taxied. The required spare parts needed had to be flown down from the United States and our plane would be tied up at Asuncion for months. While waiting for instructions, I completed my assignment by collecting the charting material from the Paraguayan government and then returned to Rio on a commercial flight.

Paraguayan Embroidery

A most exquisite lace was made in Paraguay. The material used to make the lace was so fine, it was almost like cobweb. Captain DuBois, an officer of mine who accompanied us, purchased a great deal of it apparently for presents in the United States and possibly for resale. He talked me into buying some, and I did so; but we have never had much use for it. It lies packed away in a chest. However, two of the articles I bought were mantillas, one black and one white. Marian made some use of them.

We were told that fine lace was mostly made by young children. They were started at the work at a very early age, and, by the time they were in their late teens, their eyes had become so strained that they were forced to cease the lace work. That is also said to be true of the "pina cloth" (pineapple fiber cloth) embroidery which is done in the Philippines.

Rio Grande Do Sul - Sao Paulo

I had some business in Rio Grande de Sul, the southernmost province of Brazil. We found that we had to take great care of our associations there. Many of the inhabitants were of German origin, and the place was a hotbed of German spies. The Germans there had organized a glider club to which many prominent Brazilians belonged, and I am sure that much information of value was gleaned by the Germans through that association.

A trip to Sao Paulo was also made. The city of Sao Paulo is the Chicago of Brazil, a fine industrial city. While I was in the hotel in Rio, a family from Sao Paulo was at the same hotel spending an extended vacation. I became very friendly with them. They spoke some English and helped me with my Portuguese. The same day I reached Sao Paulo, I encountered two members of the family, a young daughter and an aunt on the street and they exclaimed, "You have come to Sao Paulo and have not come to visit us!" When I explained that we had just arrived, they asked when I could come to dinner at their home and, finding I was free that evening, insisted on my having dinner that night. I did so and also met a young uncle whom I saw a number of times. He entertained me with stories about a brief revolution which had occurred a number of years before. He pointed out to me where he had been firing from behind some barricades and even pointed out a few bullet holes in some buildings. He made one remark over and over. It was, "It was a beautiful fight!"


Gasoline was very scarce in Brazil. Most of the automobiles had been converted to using a burner which developed charcoal gas and these strange cars were called "gasogenias". All of the converters were custom-made, and it seemed that no two were alike. It was a cumbersome device, sometimes mounted on the front of the car and sometimes on the rear. The process of starting the car took some time. The burner had to be lit and some charcoal gas collected to start the car, after which it would run as long as the charcoal burned. Brazilian army trucks were fitted with both gasogenias and gasoline tanks with carburetors capable of adjusting to fit either gas and a switch to change from one fuel to another. This was of considerable value out in the country. When a truck ran out of fuel, they could stop, make a supply of charcoal, and continue on their way. The acceleration of the gasogenia was very poor, and they had low power and speed.

The Bonde and the Opera Bonde

Rio had a good street car system, and, on account of the gasoline shortage, the street cars were used a great deal. They were always spoken of as the "bonde", and I learned that they had acquired that name when the transportation system was originally installed because they floated bonds to finance the system.

Automobiles were seldom used to go to the opera. Instead, there were street cars known as the "opera bondes." They differed from the regular bonde only in that they had white seat covers over all the seats to protect the gowns of the ladies. It was an unusual sight to see those street cars filled with gentlemen in full evening dress and silk toppers and ladies in elaborate evening gowns.

On one occasion I went to the opera to see Madame Butterfly. Having a uniform to wear, I was appropriately dressed for the opera bonde. I took a young lady from our embassy who had been especially kind to us.

I had met her in an unusual manner. Once, I was seated in a cocktail lounge near my hotel and another couple was seated nearby. I had met the gentleman, and he started to introduce the young lady. She surprised me by saying, "I know who he is. His name is Col. Aslakson. He was born in Park River, North Dakota, in 1896. His mother's maiden name was Minnesota Ella Ingmundsen." As you can imagine, that floored me. It developed that she had worked with the passports of the members of my party and so had remembered some of the details.

That was a strange and gruesome opera. The Brazilians are realists, and, when the final scene arrived and Butterfly stabbed herself, I think a rubber balloon filled with red liquid had been concealed under her gown. A huge spurt of "blood" spurted out like it was coming from a hose and made a pool all over the front of the stage.

The Honesty of Brazilians

On several occasions I was struck by the honesty of the Brazilians. On one occasion in Rio, I was returning to my hotel from the city and in some way I dropped my bill fold. The loss was more than a monetary loss for me. In addition to the money of which there was a considerable amount, all my identification cards were in the bill fold. However, that same day I received a call from our embassy that the bill fold had been turned in there. They did not even obtain the name of the person who brought it in to the embassy, so I could not reward anyone.

On another occasion, I saw a small boy who appeared to be about seven years old weeping at a corner of a building. As I approached, he tried to avoid me by turning the corner. However I asked him what the cause of his grief was, and he said, "Perdio mi boleta." ("I lost my pocketbook.") I tried to get him to tell me what the amount of money was and reluctantly he said, "Vinte Milreis." Twenty milreis was the small sum of $1 which apparently was a serious loss to him. When I tried to give him twenty milreis, it took considerable time to get him to accept it. I feel sure that he was not putting on an act.

Field Trip in Western Brazil

One field trip was made into the western part of Brazil. We were assigned a Brazilian Army truck and driver. Our first stop for an observation was in the province of Marilha. There we made an astronomic observation in the city square and attracted considerable attention. The crowd around us was often so dense that we had considerable trouble in functioning. The following morning as we were about to depart and had reloaded our truck, the mayor and a delegation of the city officers came up to me and kept urging me to delay our departure. I was puzzled for a time, but finally a man came up to the truck wheeling a 100-pound sack of raw coffee in a wheelbarrow. Then we recalled that the previous evening in talking to the mayor, we had mentioned that we understood that the finest coffee in Brazil was grown in Marilha. Nothing would do, but we must accept a gift of that coffee. When we returned to Rio, we gave the coffee to the Brazilian Army.

We observed two more stations in the province of Marilha and then parted with our truck. We traveled by train to the western province of Campo Grande, a wide-open ranching country much like our western prairies.

Contacting the Army once more, we requested a truck for several stations east of Campo Grande. They looked surprised and called attention to the fact that all the stations were along the railroad. I explained that the train schedules were such that it would take us too long to establish all those stations and was immediately told that that would pose no difficulty. They would provide us railroad transportation to fit our schedule. That is exactly what they did. I was given a private railroad car for my party. There was a stateroom at one end for me to occupy. There were berths in the car for all the other members of the party. We were told that the food along the railroad in the places we stopped would be poor, so we should take our chuck box and cook stove with us and cook our meals in the car. As to our schedule, we were told to inform the conductor or the train engineer at which town we wished to stop. There we would have our car placed on a siding. Then we were to contact the station agent and tell him what town we wanted to be located next. [Editor's note: this refers to determining the latitude and longitude of a town for mapping purposes.] He would then wire the railroad officials who would arrange to have an engine hook up to our car some time during the day or night to take us to the next station.

Our work was at night, and often we found ourselves at our next station without knowing just when we had hooked up for we were asleep, having finished our observations.

We became very friendly with that train crew. I rode in the engine on several occasions and conversed a great deal with the engineer. He was inordinately proud of that old engine. It was made in the Baldwin Locomotive works. He seemed to think I should be proud of it as well.

One cannot conceive of similar accommodations being made on any railroad in the United States.

That Campo Grande expedition completed our work in Brazil, and I was ordered to return to McDill Field in Florida. I was aware that shortly I was to be given another overseas assignment.

Enroute to India and China

I soon learned that China was to be my next assignment. This time we flew over in B-24's, which were four-engine bombers, and we felt safer with four power plants. We flew to Recife, Brazil, without incident, refueled there, and made a night flight across the Atlantic to the tiny island of Ascension, a British possession in the middle of the ocean, half way to Africa.

There was an air strip on Ascension which has been blasted out of the top of a hill. The sides of the strip in the center were vertical rock walls which at some places must have been six to ten feet high and vertical. A plane certainly had to stay in the center of that runway. As a matter of fact, one of our flying boats, a PBY returning from overseas some months later, struck one of those walls with the wing tip and shaved off some of the wing. The pilot flew all the way to Brazil with the wing in that condition, and, when he landed, he claimed he was not aware that his wing had hit the wall.

Our navigator on that flight to Ascension was the nervous type who had never had a long ocean flight previously. He stayed up all night, continually plotting our position at about fifteen minute intervals, although he was not using astral navigation because of cloud cover and dead reckoning positions could be plotted at longer intervals.

Ascension Island has a mountain, probably of volcanic origin, in the center and a single settlement on the eastern shore in addition to the few buildings near the air strip. There was almost no vegetation to be seen anywhere in the part of the island near the base. However the humor of some of our Air Force personnel was revealed by a lonely coconut palm which had been flown over from Brazil and planted in a hole blasted out of the rock near the air field. Nearby was a prominent sign which read "COCONUT GROVE".

Accra - Kano, Nigeria - Khartoum, Sudan

After a days rest at Ascension, we flew to Accra in Guinea on another night flight. There we refueled and continued, next landing at Kano, Nigeria. After a days rest, we flew to Khartoum in the Sudan. We had a good meal there at the base with tasty hamburgers which we were told were "camelburgers", but, anyway, they tasted all right.

We flew on to Aden, Arabia, which is now part of South Yemen. We spent a day there, and I wandered through the shops which I found interesting. I also visited the water supply dam west of the city which was said to have been built during the days of King Solomon and it certainly looked that old.

Our next stop was in Oman in eastern Arabia. We spent the night there and took in a movie at the base. The GI's were greatly outnumbered at the movie, which was in the open air, by Arabs who wandered in.

The following day we flew to an airfield in eastern Pakistan, refueled, and then flew to Agra, India, which is close to New Delhi, India. We spent several days in New Delhi.

I was quartered in the Imperial Hotel, the entire hotel having been taken over by the U.S. Air Forces. The suite of rooms to which I was assigned was also occupied by Col. Phillip Cochran, who was the original of the comic strip "Flip Corkin" by Cartoonist Milt Cannif.

I had little to do in New Delhi because, while the Commanding officer of our group had business there, I did not. I therefore had time for some sightseeing, and I had one of our jeeps drive me to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It was still very beautiful. Although many of the original precious gems had been removed, they had been replaced with beautiful semi-precious stones and the structure was most impressive. The grounds were also lovely.

Chasing Flip Corkin All Over India

On the morning we were scheduled to leave for Calcutta, I had breakfast and returned to my room to arrange to have my baggage picked up and found all my baggage gone. It was very obvious what had happened. Col. Cochran had left and his crew chief had taken all my baggage, as well as Cochran's. I hurriedly drove to the base only to find Col. Cochran's plane disappearing in the distance. The Operations Officer told me he did not know where Cochran was headed, because he never landed at the place for which he obtained his original clearance. Cochran was on a very Hush-Hush mission which was involved with that famous glider landing in Burma and always kept his destination secret, making a change of clearance while in the air.

The upshot of the matter was that I was given a B-25 to try to run down my baggage, and I chased that airplane all over India for three days. Everywhere I went I told the operation officer my story and told him to have my baggage removed if Cochran ever landed there again. On the third day I landed at Agra, and, lo and behold, a jeep came out to meet my plane. There on that jeep was my B-4 bag and my musette bag. The only trouble was that they had been sitting in a pool of oil in the bottom of Cochran's plane and I had a large laundry problem on my hands.

Calcutta, India

We had to spend a few days in Calcutta before going to China as our group was to make its base there while I was in China, and they were also scheduled to fly photographic missions out of a British base north of Calcutta. The base was guarded by Ghurka soldiers. They were very military and good soldiers. All carried that typical curved Ghurka knife which is so often seen in pictures. While at that base, I had occasion to make several jeep trips into Calcutta. Every time I drove in, I saw dead Indians lying beside the road. They had died from various causes but mostly from starvation. The sight became commonplace there and later in China.

Flying the Hump

About a week after we reached Calcutta, we flew the hump into China. We were in a B-24 which was not pressurized, and only crew members were provided with oxygen. The flight was mostly at 30,000 feet, and one member of our party suffered greatly from lack of oxygen. All of the passengers were somewhat lightheaded.

The wind is very strong over The Hump, as it always is south of Mount Everest, and we had a dense layer of clouds below us. The strong winds and the lack of visibility below prevented accurate navigation and was primarily responsible for the loss of so many airplanes in flying to China and Burma from India.

At one time we did catch a glimpse of Mount Everest and saw the famous "plume of Everest". That gave us an indication of the velocity and direction of the wind which was welcome to our navigator.

We were relieved to fail to spot any Japanese fighters on that flight, although they were seen on many trips across. At last we were relieved to land at the airfield at Kungming, China, the base of General Chennault, the Commanding General of the 14th Air Force and the former Commander of the famous Flying Tigers. The P-40 Fighters of the 14th Air Force still carry the insignia of the Flying Tigers. Kungming was the capital of Yunnan province. All fighter missions were flown out of Kungming. The Bomber missions were flown with B-24's which were based on a field at Chengkung, about ten miles south of Kungming.

The Airplane Fuel Problem in China

The main problem in flying missions from China was insufficient fuel for the planes. All the gasoline was flown over from India and was transported over The Hump by the planes that were to fly the missions. Each B-24 had a bomb tank which was filled with extra gasoline. They would be filled in India, fly back to China, dump all the fuel they could spare into barrels, leaving only enough to return to India. They continued that process until a sufficient supply had been built up to safely undertake a mission. Then the refueling flights would be started again. It was a most inefficient process but was the only method available.

At a level area a few miles north of Chengkung, there were thousands of barrels of gasoline stored in the open. For some obscure reason, that storage area was never bombed by the Japanese. The Chinese were said to steal barrels of gasoline from there from time to time. However we were told that when a bombing alert by the Japanese was said to be on the way, the Chinese were seen rolling back hundreds of barrels to that area.

Sirens were not used as bombing alerts. Instead, there was what was known as "one ball", "two ball", and "three ball" alerts. At numerous places balls were hoisted from poles as the warning. Little attention was paid to either one ball or two ball alerts, but at a three ball alert there was plenty of action. Everyone scurried to his alert post at his assigned air raid center. The Japanese were stationed just across the border from China in French Indo-China. No one seemed to know just how that efficient air raid system operated, but it worked very well.

One humorous incident involved the supplies of edibles for both the Chinese and the Japs. A train ran from Yunnan all the way to the Jap base in French Indo-China, and it never ceased to run all through the war. Cooks and mess sergeants from the Americans and the Chinese rode that train carrying some supplies to the Japanese and in turn purchased some scarce commodities from the stores in French Indo-China. It was a strange war.

Kungming is Bombed

We had one Jap bombing mission while I was at Kungming. I had been assigned an alert post about two miles north of the field on a hill where I had a grandstand view. At three balls we dashed out there in a jeep. We saw our P-40's take off to intercept the Japs and saw a number of dog fights. We saw one P-40 shot down in flames but also saw one of the bombers shot down. From our post, we saw two bombs land on our runway but did not know the extent of the damage until we returned. All of our aircraft, other than the fighters, had taken off except one, a C-47 which had just come from Chungking to pick up the Xmas mail and dinner supplies for the troops in Chungking. It had loaded those supplies but had not yet refueled. Of only two bombs which landed on that field that day, one was a 200-pound bomb which made a direct hit on that plane, and it was burned to a crisp.

The other bomb was a 2000-pound bomb which landed on the runway and blew a crater twenty feet deep and about forty feet across on the runway. That damage was negligible, for by the time we got back to the field, that crater was swarming with coolies who were passing up the larger rocks, crushing them, passing down the crushed rock, and pounding it in place. Within two hours of our return, that crater was repaired and the spot of the damage could not be detected. P-40's were landing even before the repairs were completed because the runway was wide. One P-40 was so badly damaged that it was a wonder it could fly. The pilot was wounded, and the canopy was spattered with blood. As soon as the runway repairs were completed the other planes returned, some of them from the field at Chengkung where they had landed earlier.

Our barracks in Kungming had been built and were maintained by the Chinese. The Chinese room boys were neat and scrupulously honest. Any property misplaced, even a billfold with cash, would be returned when the owner was located. Shortly before Xmas, I tried to give our room boy a present of some money and he refused. After explaining our system of giving presents at Xmas time, he accepted but somewhat reluctantly.

One of our airplanes arrived from Calcutta about Xmas time with mail and presents. One of my young officers opened his packages and in nearly every one there was a bottle of deodorant. He said in a plaintive voice, "That shows what your friends think of you."

Just before Xmas, Major General J.L. Huang, Director General of the War Area Service Corps of China, invited me to dinner in Kungming. As a guest, he also had the famous Chinese author and philosopher Lin Yu Tang. He was world-renowned and a fascinating man. His English was perfect, and the evening was delightful. Both the General and Lin Yu Tang autographed my "short snorter" bill, the latter also using the Chinese characters. I have lost that bill somewhere and sincerely hope I can locate it some time.

Throughout my China stay, we found all Chinese most friendly. We were well-liked, and it is sad to think how they were turned against us later.

Some Jeeps are Finally Obtained

My men had received their assignments and were sitting around idle as I waited for some jeeps to be flown over The Hump to me. They failed to arrive in spite of my appeals to the base in Calcutta. I was unable to start, as the men could not reach many of the astronomic stations assigned to them except by land travel, and the jeeps were a necessity to start work. I had gone over the assignments with the young officers and they were frothing at the mouth to start work. In desperation, I went to the Transportation Officer of the 14th Air Force who was a full Colonel. Telling him my story, I asked him if he could loan me four jeeps so I could start some of my officers on their assignments. He listened respectfully and then called his motor pool officer and told him to provide me with four jeeps. In gratitude for his cooperation, I presented him with a good bottle of bourbon and a bottle of Scotch which I had bought in Calcutta.

Failure to Receive Chang Kai Chek Military Passports

One more detail was to be completed before my officers were to start their assignments. We had been told that military passports signed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Chek would be required for the parties to travel safely in China. They had still not been sent to Kungming, and I was getting worried about that. At last in desperation, I made an appointment with General Chennault. I first told him about the difficulty in getting my jeeps and then about the failure to receive the Chinese passports. After I finished I said, "What would you do General Chennault?" He looked me directly in the eye and said, "I would do the same damn thing that you are going to do!" I took that in the manner he obviously expected me to take it. Returning to the barracks, I told my officers, "General Chennault has told me to send you out without the passports. You can start out on your assignments."

As a matter of fact, we would never have finished those assignments if we had waited for those passports. I was relieved later by Colonel Doran who completed the project while I undertook his Brazilian work up the Amazon Valley. After completing that work and returning to McDill Field in Florida, nearly two years after I had left China, I received my passport. It was an impressive document which is framed and hangs on the wall of my office. It is fifteen inches square, had my picture on it, Chiang Kai Chek's chop (signature by a stamp three inches across), and chops of smaller size of some minor officials. It was filled with Chinese characters which are meaningless to me. However, the English words, "Lt. Col. Carl I. Aslakson" are typed in one corner, the only thing I can read on the document.

The Astronomic Assignments

The trips made by the officers were interesting and I would have enjoyed them myself. One of the parties had to establish a number of stations along the Burma Road all the way to the Indian Border. Another traveled north and east into a wild area where he encountered some bandits and was pinned down for some time by rifle fire. No one was hurt, and the engagement ended with the bandits withdrawing. Another trip was west and south into the territory of a War Lord where the only difficulty, lack of permission, was encountered. They were detained briefly but allowed to continue. One of the assignments of that party was to make astronomic observations along a wild river which was known to be poorly located on existing charts. And indeed it proved to be badly located for there were errors of 50 miles in the existing charts.

The most interesting assignment was one which required one party to go up into the edge of Tibet. A long distance at the end of jeep travel was to be made on foot with Chinese coolies as packers. There were two officers on that trip including the enlisted men. One officer, the junior one named Lieut. Wesselhoft, contracted polio well inside Tibet. They had just completed their last observations when he became ill and had started back. The other officer, a Captain, hired some more Chinese, made a makeshift stretcher, and started carrying Wesselhoft out. It took five days to reach a remote Air Force weather station located on a mountain on the trail where there was a radio station. On the trail it was necessary to stop very frequently to apply artificial respiration. The weather station sent a radio message and reported the situation to headquarters in Calcutta. A light plane, an L-5, was sent in to the weather station. When it arrived, the back seat was removed so they could get the young officer into a prone position with his chest

opposite the pilot's right side. Then a strap was fixed across his chest so that from time to time the pilot could fly the plane with the left hand while he pumped a handle attached to the strap to give artificial respiration. When he tried to fly out from the weather station, he had difficulty getting across a mountain pass due to the added weight. At last, he made it on the third try, and from then on it was all down grade to Calcutta. In Calcutta an iron lung was fabricated from parts available including jeep parts and he was flown first to Walter Reed Hospital and later to Hot Springs, Ark. He is alive today and is a prominent business man in Texas, although he is confined to a wheel chair, being paralyzed from the waist down.

One might wonder how I found out the whole story because much of it occurred after I returned to the U.S. That in itself is interesting. One day, while I was attached to the Guided Missile Range in Florida, I was in Cocoa Beach in a drug store and saw a magazine named 'True' on a rack and read the feature title on the cover, which was, "Himalaya Adventure". Puzzled I picked up the magazine and turned to the story. It was a very well written story of that adventure, and extremely factual.

The strange part of the whole thing was that the Chinese could simply not understand why Americans spent so much time to save the life of anyone. The party which went down the Burma Road said that frequently dying soldiers would be left along the side of the road to die. Later when I was driving to Chengkung, fifteen miles south of Kungming, there was a body lying alongside the road. A Chinese had fallen from the roof of a bus where often passengers rode when there was no room inside. He had landed on his head and broken open the top of his skull. His hat filled with brains was lying alongside the body. That body lay there for four days before it was moved. It seems that any Chinese who picked up the body was responsible for the burial. There was a certain expense involved in a burial, and no one wanted to incur the cost. At the end of four days, the Chinese mayor of a small settlement north of Chengkung accepted the responsibility and assumed the cost of burial.

Chungking and Beipei

I had to make one trip into Chungking while I was at Kungming in an effort to expedite the Chiang Kai Chek military passports. The stop there was interesting, as I was invited to a Chinese opera and later to a ball. The opera consisted of a bare stage with no scenery but occasional props such as a chair or table. When these were needed they would be brought on by two stage hands who remained at the edge of the stage sitting in chairs at all times. The only "music" was a gong on which an incessant hammering was kept up throughout the entire show.

All the actors were dolled up in outlandish costumes. The costumes and the opera itself are said to be very old and performed exactly the same for more than 1000 years. The lines were "sung" in a strange singsong voice. All during the opera, vendors hawked warm salted sunflower seeds to the audience. They were greasy, and from time to time the vendors would toss warm moist wash-rags to the audience, always handling them with chop sticks. They would be tossed back to the vendors after use. The audience paid little attention to the opera. They had no doubt seen it many times before.

After the opera, we were all invited to a ball for the upper crust. Most of those attending were of high rank. I was struck by the beauty of many of the women. I danced few dances, but on one occasion, I danced with a tall and striking Chinese girl who spoke perfect English. When I asked her where she learned her English she replied, "At the University of Michigan."

I had to make a jeep trip to Beipei, a university town about thirty miles north of Chungking. My assignment was to discuss some of the recent mapping done by the Chinese for incorporation in our air charts. My business was with an engineer who also was a University professor. I had been given a case of canned milk which was scarce in China to give to him as it was known that he had a small baby. He seemed to appreciate it and thanked me profusely.

Before I left Chungking, I was invited to a dinner with a number of Chinese generals. There were some strange dishes which were delicious, but I thought it better not to know what I was eating. The Chinese gave toasts all through the meal. The liquor with which they made the toasts was a sort of wine or distilled drink made from oranges and was very strong. It is the custom to say GAMBEY when a toast is made and then toss off the entire glass which holds about one ounce. The glass is then immediately filled again. It is supposed to be rude not to toss off the entire glass when they GAMBEY, but I simply could not do it and explained that I had an ulcer. A number of the guests, as well as some hosts, were practically under the table at the end of the dinner.

Business having been completed, I flew back to Kungming on the next flight of the C-47 on which I had come over. The weather was clear for a change. The day we had arrived, it was overcast with low clouds, and we came mighty close to some telephone lines on landing. The pilot seemed to think that it was routine to dodge them.

On our return trip, we had Paulette Goddard and some other girls who had been entertaining the Americans and Chinese in Chungking. They were all wearing leather sheepskin flight suits loaned to them by the Air Force and had no make-up. They were not very impressive.


We spent the last part of our trip in Chengkung, the field south of Kungming where the B-24 bomber group was stationed. For some reason, it was never bombed by the Japanese while I was there.

Our quarters were somewhat the same as those in Kungming. They were built and maintained by the Chinese. Chinese boys kept the place clean at all times. They also kept our stove well supplied with coal, which was needed as the weather varied from cool to cold.

One evening the boys were enjoying some partying with Chinese gin which was made from oranges. I don't know why it was called gin for it was probably almost all alcohol with no flavor whatever. We had GI sleeping bags which were narrower at the foot than at the head. They zipped up from the foot to the head. On this particular night one of the young officers passed out and the others put him in his sleeping bag head first, that is with his head at the narrow bottom. After a time he came to and tried to reach for the zipper but it was at the other end and he could not reach it. As a result, it looked like a six foot caterpillar squirming about the floor for a while, until the boys took pity on him and opened the zipper.

One more incident occurred at Chengkung which is in the X category, and I hesitate about telling it. Our latrines were outside ones made by the Chinese who never wasted anything. As a result all the latrines had the pits lines with concrete so they could dip them out from time to time to put the fertilizer on their fields. When they were emptied, one man would stand below in refuse up to his knees and shovel the material into buckets which would then be passed up to another who would pour it into a "honey cart", as it was called, to be carried out to the fields. Odor was kept down by the use of lime which also was good for the fields.

On one occasion I was near the latrine while it was being emptied and heard the Chinese in the pit stringing together a lot of Chinese words, liberally sprinkled with American swear words which to foreigners always seem to be more effective than the cuss words in their own language. I became curious and asked what all the cussing was about. The man in the pit exclaimed, "Merican s--- no good! Too much papah!"

During my stay at Chengkung, one of the Japanese planes which had been down contained a lot of 1/1,000,000 air charts with astronomic observations. This looked like a great find until our men started to try using them. It was then found that the Japs had deliberately made charts with large errors and allowed them to be captured simply to try to confuse the Americans.

Return to the United States

Inasmuch as all my astronomic parties were in the field, I was ordered to return to the United States temporarily to give a status report. We flew over the same route over which I had first entered China via "The Hump", India, Arabia all the African air fields, Ascension Id., Recife, and Belem, South America, and then we were supposed to fly directly from Belem, Brazil to McDill Field, Florida. However, on the last leg across the Gulf of Mexico, we developed engine trouble. I believe they could have made it on three engines but the plane crew wanted to land in Puerto Rico at Ramey Air Force base. They got clearance by radio to land at Ramey and changed course. The B-24's crossing the Atlantic always carried a large bomb bay tank to carry extra gasoline, if needed. The tank was made to be jettisoned, if it became necessary. By opening the bomb bay doors and pulling a certain pull cord all connections to the airplane were disconnected and the tank would drop through the bomb bay doors. The crew had always been curious as to how the procedure worked, and now they had an excuse to drop the tank to lessen the load. They went through the procedure, and the tank dropped but the results were unexpected. For the entire fuselage was filled with a heavy gasoline vapor like a fog. If a single spark had occurred at that moment, we would have blown up like a bomb. Fortunately, it cleared very quickly and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

From the air, as we were landing, we saw a hillside filled with airmen and realized that a USO show was about to begin. We were assigned fine quarters not far from the rear of the stage and we went down at once to see the show. It was the Bob Hope show with Francis Langford and a lot of others. In a few minutes, I had Bob Hope and all the others autograph my "short snorter bill". Recently, I have tried to find them but they are lost, temporarily, at least. I hope it is not permanent for I had one autograph I prize highly. It was that of the Chinese author and philosopher, Lin Yu Tang.

The Amazon Valley

Recently, I had heard from Doran who had been sent to take over some astronomic parties in the Amazon Valley. He had considered me lucky to have landed the China job. On the other hand, I had never been in the upper Amazon, so I rigged up a deal whereby I took over his parties which were based at Manaus, Brazil. That city is at the confluence of the Rio Amazona and the Rio Negro which is a huge river, and the flow at the confluence is tremendous. Manaus is a busy port for ocean vessels. Because of the extreme changes in the depth of the water during the year all the docks at Manaus are floating docks.

During the early days of the rubber boom, most of the rubber sold came from the wild rubber trees of the Amazon jungle. At that time Manaus was very wealthy. A great opera house was built and the famous opera stars of that era, such as Caruso, Tetrazinni, and Melba sang there. The rubber plantations were started in Liberia and British North Borneo, and the bottom fell out of the economy. That grand opera still is a place the people of Manaus point to with pride, yet it is seldom used. During my few months stay in Manaus, as I recall it, the only show given there was that of a Peruvian magician. Previous to my assuming charge of the parties at Manaus, I made a short trip to Rio de Janeiro to be briefed by the Brazilian officials. In a joint conference with American officials some time previously, the approximate site of the control points had been selected. One of these was on a branch of the Rio Negro, that had its source up near the Venezuelan border. It was known that there was a wandering tribe of Indians, who inhabited the area, who were often hostile. One point was emphasized. If by any chance some of these Indians were encountered, under no circumstances should an attempt be made to photograph them. They believed that a photograph captured their soul.

When I reached Manaus, I found that Doran had established the entire party on the second floor apartment of a nice apartment building. They subsisted largely on C-Rations supplemented by occasional purchases of vegetables in the markets. The quarters were comfortable. It was fully furnished, and I had a fine large bedroom for myself. The living room was very large and proved to be a great help, as I could lay out the photographs in a sort of mosaic on the floor to assist in selecting the final site of the astronomic stations to be observed. For transportation, I had a PBY float plane which was seldom used because too many of the stations were on river branches too small for that large plane. My other plane was a Grunman Widgeon, a smaller and more maneuverable float plane. That was the plane most often used. A few stations were at points which could only be reached by launches or canoes. One such station was on the river branch inhabited by the dangerous Indians. I chose what I considered the most mature of my officers to make that expedition. He hired two natives who lived at a small plantation down the river to paddle them up the river by canoe. I briefed him most carefully about the picture taking, but, apparently, it did no good. While he was setting up his astrolabe, some of the jungle Indians approached. All we know about the incident came from a single member of the party who escaped. He said that as soon as the Indians saw the camera pointed at them the arrows began to fly. The enlisted man who escaped was at the edge of the water, and was an excellent swimmer. He dove into the river and swam under water down stream, emerging from time to time only to catch his breath. Aided by a strong current he swam several miles downstream before emerging. He then walked many miles, finally arriving at a native's house. It was near where the Grunman had dropped the party, and he remained there until the Grunman returned at an appointed time several days later to pick up the party. An armed party was sent in later. They recovered the bodies and the astrolabe, and returned without incident. The remarkable fact about the enlisted man's swim was that the stream was filled with piranhas, the small fish which eat flesh and can strip a carcass to the bone in a few minutes.

As the men returned from their field assignments with the computed astronomic position, I would lay out my photos on the floor and try to plot the river systems on the 1/1,000,000 air chart of the area. I found that the main rivers, the Rio Negro, Rio Branca, Amazona, and Solamoes, were reasonably well located but all other streams were grossly in error. For example, the area between the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes (pronounced Salamones) had a rather large river system which ran east and west between the Negro and the Solimoes, whereas the printed chart showed no such system but instead a large number of small streams running north or south and emptying into the above streams as if a ridge lay in the area between the main streams. I was able to plot the new river systems on the 1/1,000,000 air chart in blue pencil, continually revising it as new astronomic information came in. At the conclusion of the work, we had a revised air chart which we could use to fly by.

There was a river entering into the Amazon from the north, which had its source near the Dutch Guiana border. An astronomic position was desired on that river. In using the astrolabe, it is first necessary to have an approximate longitude. This can usually be obtained from existing charts with sufficient accuracy. When the stars come into view, they will come in early or late depending on the accuracy of the assumed position. Thus, starting the observation may require a revision of the star list which has been made out in advance. Usually the assumed position is accurate enough so that only one revision of times need be made. However, in the case of the above station two nights were spent and none of the stars came into view at the times they were supposed to. On the third day, the officer in charge was talking to a native who had a house near by and the conversation got around to a large pig owned by the native. The native told him that the pig came from the same litter as one his brother owned farther down the river. When the name of the river came up, it was different than the one the party thought they were on. It turned out that the river they sought was sixty miles to the east of the river on which they were making the observation. Thus, in their report, they stated that they learned their approximate position with the heip of two pigs. The air chart had the river they sought sixty miles or one degree of longitude out of position.

There was one more interesting incident during my stay on the Amazon River. One party chief returned with the information that there was soft coal found near the station he had just completed. This was most surprising news, for the geology of the area seemed to preclude the finding of coal there. A second station he had located on the Rio Solimoes had a supply of mica. We were always supposed to report information of that type, so his report went in to Rio de Janeiro just the way he had reported. A few weeks later, we were informed that a party of American and Brazilian officers were coming over to investigate the report of coal and mica. When they arrived, they had a Brazilian civilian geologist with them. Both stations were near the point where the PBY would land in the river. We first flew out to the station where coal was reported. There was a native's house there on a high point. He rowed out to the plane, and we went ashore. The first sight that met our eyes was a fire of soft coal going near the house. Both the Brazilians and American officers were most enthusiastic. They would be able to report a remarkable coal find in the upper part of the river where none was expected! The geologist was more cagey. He questioned the native for some time and found out the facts. During the rubber boom days, a large coal burning launch used to ply up and down the river with cargoes of rubber from the jungle. She often carried an extra cargo of coal for use at some of the worker's areas upstream. That launch had hit a rock and damaged the hull, and, in attempting to beach her, it had sunk. Many years later coal had been found on the bottom, and this native had been diving for it to burn.

That ended the coal story, but we went on to the site of the mica find. The mica was there all right but much more exploration was needed to assess the find.

On the way out, the Brazilians were most profuse in their thanks for the report and there was talk of the decoration "Crucero do Sol" (the southern cross). I noticed there was no mention of it on the return trip.

The flight over the jungle was most fascinating. Most of it was water which showed glistening through the trees for it was high water time. From time to time, there would be some high knolls and invariably there would be a native hut there. Occasionally we would fly over a flat place of a few acres which was above water. Then we would often see jungle animals dart for cover as we were flying at an altitude of only a few hundred feet. It was clear how the rubber plantations in other parts of the world took away the rubber business of Brazil. The scattered rubber trees were too inaccessible in the Amazon valley.

I found a retired school teacher in Manaus whom I engaged to teach me some Portuguese. She spoke English well, and I was getting along fine when I received orders to turn the party over to a Captain in my party to complete the few stations still required. I was relieved, for the tedious work of closing out a project was left to him.

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