LUNGHUA AIR BASE – THE FLYING TIGERS

HERBERT WAS A SISSY FROM WAY BACK. WHEN I VISITED HIM IN THE "CAMP" WHERE HE AND HIS PARENTS SHELTERED, (COULDN’T CALL THIS LIVING ) HE WAS SITTING ABJECTLY ON HIS CAMP BED, SEPARATED BY SHEETS FROM THE NEXT BED, IMMOBILE, IMPASSIVE.

I PLEADED WITH HIM TO COME WITH ME TO LUNG WHA, AND TRY AND GET A JOB WITH THE AMERICANS. HE RECOILED, THE IDEA OF THIS JOURNEY OUT OF HONGKEW, OUT OF HIS FETID ENVIRONMENT, FRIGHTENED HIM.

HIS FATHER HAD AN APOPLECTIC FIT, AND SCREAMED AT HIM, FOAMING AT THE MOUTH, TO TAKE AN EXAMPLE FROM THE GO-GETTER PAUL, AND SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY.ALL TO NO AVAIL.

I WENT OFF BY MYSELF, HITCHED A RIDE ON A US TRUCK TO THE GATE, AND WALKED STRAIGHT THROUGH. THE GUARDS DID NOT BOTHER A 15 YEAR OLD WHITE KID.

I WENT FROM OFFICE TO OFFICE, OFFERING TO DO ANY WORK, AND WAS REWARDED WITH LOTS OF LAUGHTER, SOME RUDE JOKES, AND OFFERS OF CANDYBARS, BUT NO JOB. UNTIL………….AT THE VERY LAST OFFICE DOOR, WHERE IT SHOWED CAPTAIN LEVY WAS THE OCCUPIER, I SCORED.

HE CALLED OUT TO COME IN, AND WAVED ME TO HIS DESK, I SAT DOWN, AND WAS FASCINATED BY HIS COLT SERVICE PISTOL RESTING ON HIS DESK, ONLY A FEW INCHES AWAY FROM MY HAND. HE SAW MY EYES LOCKED ON THIS WEAPON, AND SAID: "I DID’T KILL ANY NAZIS, ONLY JAPS"

HE ASKED FOR, AND LISTENED TO THE STORY OF MY LIFE, INCLUDING LIFE IN HONGKEW, WITH A TIGHT EXPRESSION, AND WHAT SEEMED AT THE TIME, A POKER FACE. HE INTERRUPTED ME ONLY ONCE, TO MAKE A PHONE CALL TO A SERGANT CALLED FRANK, WHO LATER ON TURNED OUT TO BE MY PROTECTOR AND FRIEND.

WHEN I HAD FINISHED, HE TOLD ME I HAD A JOB AS A MESS BOY, HELPING THE AMERICAN COOKS TO PREPARE MEALS FOR 1000 AIRMAN STATIONED AT LUNG WHA, PART OF THE 14TH US AIR FORCE "FLYING TIGERS". HE TOOK ME TO THE MESS HALL, SAT ME DOWN, AND CALLED THE COOKS TO GIVE ME SOMETHING TO EAT.

I ATE 12 FRIED EGGS, 6 SLICES OF FRENCH TOAST, AND DRANK 6 GLASSES OF ORANGE JUICE. BY THE TIME I HAD FINISHED EATING, WHICH I DID WITHOUT LOOKING UP, THERE WERE ABOUT 50 US AIRMAN WATCHING ME, AND WHEN I FINALLY LOOKED UP, THEY BURST INTO APPLAUSE.

I LEFT THE AIR BASE DIZZY WITH EXCITEMENT AND THE ADVENTURE OF A NEW LIFE TO COMMENCE. I THREW IN MY JOB AS A HAT BLOCKER AND HAND WEAVER WITH MR HOLZBLAT, AND ARRANGED FOR A FRIEND OF MINE TO ASK FOR, AND RECEIVE A JOB WITH ME, AND BETWEEN THE TWO OF US, AND THE AMERCIAN AIRMAN COOKS, WE PREPARED FANTASTIC MEALS FOR THE AIRMEN. SPAM, BACON. FRESH EGGS, CANNED TOMATO AND ORANGE JUICE FOR BREAKFAST, WITH FRENCH TOAST AND MOLASSES THE ANCHOR MEAL.

LOCAL CHINESE HELP WAS NOT WELCOME IN THE INITIAL DAYS OF LUNG WHA, THAT IS WHY WE WERE HIRED TO HELP THE US AIRMEN COOKS, AND I SUPPOSE, PITY HAD A PART IN THAT DECISION.

I MADE LOTS OF FRIENDS WITH THE US COOKS, I SUPPOSE THEY CONSIDERED ME A MASCOT. MY BEST FRIEND WAS FRANK REZNY, A SECOND GENERATION CZECH, THEN JOHN HALLIDAY, A LAY PRIEST, WHO DREAMT OF SERVING HIS CHURCH IN THE POOR COUNTRIES AFTER THE WAR, BERNIE THE JEWISH AIRMAN FROM NEW YORK, WHO CONSTANTLY FRETTED OF HOW HE WAS GOING TO MAKE IT ON HIS RETURN TO CIVILIAN LIFE, AND TOM, THE AIRMAN FROM VIRGINA, WHO SENT A MACHINE GUM HOME IN SMALL PIECES TO GET READY FOR THE NEGRO UPRISING.

MY NEMESIS WAS JACK THE POLLACK, A RABID ANTI SEMITE, BUT AMONGST THE 1000 AIRMAN, HE WAS THE ONLY TROUBLEMAKER AND AGGRESSIVELY HOSTILE AIRMAN. MOST OF THE AIRMAN SPENT THEIR TIME CHASING THE BEAUTIFUL CHINESE GIRLS ALL OVER SHANGHAI, AND BRINGING THEM TO THE BASE TO FEED THEM, AND LOVE THEM. I WAS AN IMPORTANT TOOL IN THIS MATING GAME, AS I HAD TO PASS OUT THE FOOD THROUGH THE WINDOW TO THE AIRMEN WAITING OUTSIDE, FOOD THEY NEEDED TO BARTER FOR THE FAVOURS OF THEIR GIRLS.

ANOTHER ACTIVITY WAS TO MOUNT THE MANY SKULLS WHICH DECORATED THE COUNTRYSIDE AROUND THE AIRBASE, ON HEAD- HIGH STAKES, AND TARGET SHOOT THEM TO SMITHEREENS. NONE OF THE COOKS, MY FRIENDS, TOOK PART IN THIS, BUT IT WAS A FAVOURITE SPORT OF THE GUNNERS AND PILOTS OF THE P 51 AND P 38 FIGHTER PLANES PARKED ON THE AIRFIELD, A RESTING PLACE FROM THEIR JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIMALAYAS.

ONE INCIDENT STOOD OUT AMONGST THE MANY NEW ADVENTURES WHICH LUNGWAH HAD IN STORE FOR ME. I WAS PASSING BY A LONG TRESTLE OF AIRMAN SEATED AND HAVING BREAKFAST, WHEN SUDDENLY BLOOD POURED FROM ONE OF THEM, ALL OVER HIS BREAKFAST. WHAT HAPPENED WAS AS COMIC A SITUATION AS ONE WOULD WISH TO SEE IN ONE LIFETIME. ONE OF THE AIRMAN, IN HIS USUAL BUFFONERY, JAMMED HIS FINGER INTO THE OVERHANGING ARSE OF A PARTICULARLY FAT AIRMAN SITTING ON THE BENCH, HE FLEW FORWARD IN REFLEX REACTION, WITH HIS FORK LEADING, AND STUCK THE FORK INTO THE AIRMAN OPPOSITE HIM, RIGHT THROUGH THE SKIN OF HIS SCALP, PEELING IT BACK HALFWAY.

THIS LIFE WENT ON FOR SOME MONTHS; THE US ARMY BUS COLLECTED ME AT 6.00 AM, AND RETURNED ME AT 10.00 PM TO THE COLLECTION POINT IN HONGKEW. ONCE A MONTH I GOT PAID, IN US DOLLAR NOTES. – 60 DOLLARS A MONTH, AND ABSOLUTE FORTUNE FOR MY MOTHER AND I, PLUS THE PILOT’S CHOCOLATE,( WHICH KEPT HER AWAKE FOR MANY NIGHTS.)

THE DREAM JOB DID NOT LAST, A NEW MAJOR IN CHARGE OF THE BASE FIRED BOTH OF US, AND BROUGHT IN CHINESE HELP. I APPLIED FOR AND GOT A JOB ON THE SAME BASE AS A REFUELLER’S HELPER, THE ADVENTURES IN THIS JOB THE SUBJECT OF MY NEXT STORY

PAUL WAGENBERG

SHANGHAI CIRCA 1946-47