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Friday, October 29, 2010

Personal Accounts of Veterinarians Serving on Opposing Sides of the China-Burma-India Conflict During WW II

Three years ago, I interviewed my longtime friend, Dr. Kenneth Gumaer '43, who had served during World War II in the China-Burma-India theater. His responsibility was to supervise the safe transport of over 250 mules from New Orleans to Calcutta, India. Despite being torpedoed by a German U-boat and enduring rough seas that caused massive hematomas on the mules, Dr. Gumaer proudly reported that they lost just one animal during the 87-day passage. 

From the disembarking point, the mules were transported by train to Deogarh, India for training and final preparations for combat. Then Gumaer led them through almost impenetrable jungle and over treacherous mountain passes behind the Japanese lines in Burma until they finally captured the strategic airport at Myitkyina. It was a major Allied victory in the C-B-I campaign and a significant turning point in the war.

Dr. Kenneth Gumaer with a Pack Mule
in the China-India-Burma Campaign in WWII (1944)

While talking to Dr. Gumaer and other veterinarians with combat animal responsibilities, like Dr. Delano L. Proctor ‘42, I was struck by how they were driven not by the military exploits, but by the care of the mules and horses under their charge.

Approximately, five months ago, I was informed of a 93-year-old veterinary military officer who had served in the Japanese Imperial Army during the Burma campaign. Dr. Takehiko Takahashi was assigned to manage the health and well-being of 300 horses being transported by ship from occupied China to the Burma war zone. Faced with various equine illnesses (including severe outbreaks of Strangles), he remembers his excitement when a small bag containing anti-Strangles serum was delivered to his ship after they had disembarked from China. Dr. Takahashi was also challenged with the intemperate South China Sea, serious ventilation problems and the lack of water, food and exercise for the horses held in close confinement deep in the hold of his ship.

Next week, I shall have the opportunity to meet and interview Dr. Takahashi in Tokyo, to capture his story in a manner that is similar to the first-person accounts of Drs. Gumaer and Proctor. I shall also be lecturing at three Japanese veterinary colleges. The arrangements and support for the trip have been provided by faculty at the colleges and by a Japanese veterinarian, Dr. Hidemi Yasuda, and his sons: Junya Yasuda – a student at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University, and Koji, a final-year veterinary student at Cornell.

I invite you to follow this blog as the trip progresses.