Hazardous Mission

By Normand Collette

118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron

I wasn't a pilot or bombardier or gunner. Not even on an aircrew, so I didn't have any hazardous missions. But I did go on a little mission of my own that proved to be very hazardous, and almost ended in a tragedy. I was in the operations section of the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and did experience a few hazards with the continued bombing of bases by the Japanese. My particular "hazardous mission" was considered more than a little crazy by my buddies. It occurred in August 1944. The squadron was forced to evacuate Kweilin and Liuchow. The pilots flew to other bases but the ground personnel had to move most of the men, supplies and equipment by ground transportation. Traveling out of Liuchow we arrived at the small village of Supuhsien where we had been ordered to cross the river. At that point the river was about 200 yards wide but so swift that the small boats available couldn't handle the current. We were informed that it would take at least five days before larger sampans could be brought in.

I was looking for something to do to relieve the boredom. There was nothing to do in this small village. Then I noticed an interesting mountaintop about half a mile away. That would be fun to climb. None of my buddies would go with me. They thought I was out of my mind. We were far enough away from the Japs that I didn't think it would be dangerous. I was a country boy and had done lots of walking back home. More than six miles every Friday night, so this should be a breeze.

About a week earlier, while evacuating Liuchow, we had a long wait at the railroad station. I'd won a bet climbing a small steep hill about 500 feet high. There wasn't a train in sight so I knew I had plenty of time. I bet one of the guys $5.00 against a box of Whitman Chocolates that I could do it before the train arrived. I won and also got an extra five from an officer who bet against me. It took me 21 minutes to reach the top. There was a torn flag on top, not one of ours but I waved it to the guys below.

So with that experience I knew I could climb the mountain at Supuhsien without a problem. I started climbing about 1230 and by 1630 was still 100 feet from the top, it was getting steeper. Since it would soon be dark I thought I better start down and try again the next day. To speed my descent, I would jump from stump to stump. Suddenly, one of the stumps gave way (it was camouflaged) and I fell into a hole about 30 feet deep and six feet in circumference. Vines growing in the ragged stone edge of the wall caught in my armpits and slowed my fall. I was hanging about four feet from the bottom. After a minute or two, I managed to free myself and fell to the ground. I immediately got on my knees and prayed like I never prayed before. "Lord, if you save me I promise I'll go to church every August 25th for the rest of my life."

As I got up from my knees I noticed the stump had fallen back and covered the hole I'd fallen through. What a predicament! As I started to search around, I saw light coming through a crack in the rock wall, there was hope. I felt along the ragged edge and managed to climb up a few feet where I could see an opening about nine inches wide. How I managed to squeeze through that small space, I'll never know. Someone was helping me. What a relief to see the open spaces again. I arrived back in camp about 1900 hours and looked a mess. My face was scratched and cut, my arms, legs and back were full of cuts and bruises, but no broken bones. The first person I saw was Doc. Guibardo. He told the guys to throw me in the river and wash me off and then he swabbed me with iodine. Wow, did that hurt. I was told in no uncertain terms never to do anything like that again, and I didn't. (August 25th, 1994, will be the 50th year that I will go to church on that day to keep thanking the good Lord for saving my life.)