Stilwell’s American noncoms streamline Chiang Kai-Shek’s veterans with latest U.S. weapons and training methods

By Sgt. Ed Cunningham

Yank Staff Correspondent

SOMEWHERE IN INDIA—An entire company of Chinese soldiers, all veterans of the Burma campaign, are in prone position on the firing line with slings adjusted and rifle sights leveled on the bullseye 200 yards away. At the command “Tzahn tzu day!”, they load and lock; then comes the command of “Kai szzz hseih chi!” and a volley of hot lead whistles toward the target.

But it isn’t the concussion that rocks and startles your eardrums. It’s the distinct Southern accent wrapped around those firing commands—barked out in near-perfect Chinese sing-song by Sgt. Johnnie R. Barnes. Late of Powellville, N.C., Barnes is now one of a cadre of strictly G.I. Americans who are serving as instructors at this Chinese-American training center where Uncle Joe Stilwell is grooming a Chinese force to go back in Burma and kick hell out of the Japanese.

general joseph stilwell Chinese army

General Joseph Stilwell

This All-American cadre, recruited from camps all over the U.S., was sent to India several months ago to train Chinese soldiers in the use of American weapons and equipment. Oddly enough, the “pupils” had experience that made their “teachers” look like rookies in comparison; most of them were veterans of Chinese divisions who had trekked across the mountainous jungle into India when Burma fell.

But the Chinese had little, if any, experience with modern weapons, particularly field artillery pieces. Nor had any of them ever had live ammunition practice. So, with weapons and supplies furnished China under the U.S. lend-lease agreement, Uncle Joe Stilwell’s picked force of American noncoms started teaching the Chinese how to use their new equipment.

The instruction starts with romanization of weapons and equipment, which simply means teaching the nomenclature in Chinese. That is followed by interior school instruction which includes sighting, aiming, loading, care and cleaning of weapon, triangulation, tripod drill and other phases of small weapons training together with zeroing, assembly, disassembly and maintenance of the field artillery pieces. Then comes the range work where the Chinese put their training to the test with live ammunition.

It’s on the range that the American noncoms get the chance to spout forth most of their Chinese. The interior school instruction is so involved that Chinese interpreters are assigned to each class to relay the more detailed instructions to the pupils. But out on the range, the G.I.s from Carolina, Tennessee and Brooklyn really exercise their newly-acquired Chinese linguistics.

Here’s the sequence of rifle fire commands as Sgt. Barnes or S/Sgt. Felix Southerland, the senior instructor from Charlotte, Tenn., shout ‘em out when it’s time to get ready on the right, ready on the left, and ready on the firing line:

Tao pi day” (adjust slings), “Wo dah” (get in position!). “Tzahn tzu day” (load and lock rifles), “Kai szzz hsieh chi!” (commence firing).

When the rapid fire time is up, Southerland hollers “Ting tzzz hsieh chi!” which is “Cease firing!” Then he gives the commands “Tzahn chi lai!” (get up!), and “Kan bao!” (mark targets!)

Chinese with an American accent is also the order of the day on the artillery ranges where U.S. noncoms are teaching veterans of the Burma campaign how to handle their newly-acquired 105-mm howitzers, 75-mm pack howitzers and 37-mm antitank guns. The same holds true with instructions in the browning machine gun, tommy gun, Bren Gun, 60-mm mortars, bayonet and hand-grenade drill.

A class in the nomenclature of the Bren gun with Sgt. Matt Nowack directing. Chinese interpreter at his right. Chinese characters designate each part on the table.

A class in the nomenclature of the Bren gun with Sgt. Matt Nowack directing. Chinese interpreter at his right. Chinese characters designate each part on the table.


The camp’s two most fluent Chinese speakers are S/Sgt. Bill Engel, a former Social Security Commission clerk from Bayonne, N.J., and Sgt. Bill Rowe, an ex-milkman from Durham, N.C. They are the “prize students” at the Chinese language classes, conducted three nights a week by English-speaking Chinese, which all American noncoms must attend.

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Chinese Maj. C.C. Lee, ex-professor, teaches his language to American noncoms.

Engel, who is in charge of field artillery radio communications, is teaching the Chinese the intricacies of field radios and battalion transmitters.

Most of his pupils have had experience on the home-made radio and telephone equipment improvised by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek’s army so thy catch on fast with the more modern American equipment. Engle converses with them easily in Chinese and they get a big kick out of teaching him new words to add to his already polished military vocabulary. Bill’s stock Chinese call-up to one of his pupils goes thusly:chinese soldier WW2

“Hsien tsai wo yao ho ni chang hua wo ti hsing yee hao bu hao ching hui dah.” All of which reduced to English means: “Reporting into the net. What is my readability? Answer.”

Sgt. Rowe’s old customers back on his milk route in Durham would really be surprised to hear him giving his machine gun class a little close order drill. Here’s how Bill sounds off in all-inclusive training.

Gee ho” (fall in). “Lee jen” (attention). “shan yo kan chien” (eyes right). “Bah so” (count off). “Shan tzo drehn” (left face). “Tze bu tzo(forward march). “Yo drahn wan tzo”  (column right). “Pao bu joe” (double time). “Lee den” (halt). “Shan yo drehn” (right face). “Tzo shio” (left dress). “Shan chien kan” (eyes front). “Show shi” (at ease). “Lee jen” (attention). “Gai sahn” (dismissed).

But infantry and artillery instruction is not the only phase of training at this base which was formerly a British concentration camp for Italian and German prisoners of war. Classes in chemical warfare, bridge building, demolition, visual signaling, telephonic communication, truck driving, automotive mechanics, veterinary and field hospitalization are other important parts of the all-inclusive training.

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Sgt. Claude Williams, of Dallas, Tex., conducts a class on visual signaling

The horseshoeing and truck driving classes are the most novel of the lot. At the former class, S/Sgt. Carl W. Zingg, of East Orange, N.J., and Sgt. Leonard Hall of Bronxville, N.Y., give the Chinese pack howitzer soldiers inside tips on horses and their care that they learned themselves while members of the crack “society soldier” units—New Jersey’s 102nd Cavalry and New York’s 101st Cavalry Regiment—back in the States.

In the classes conducted at the motor school, Chinese who never drove anything more complicated than a rickshaw are learning to repair, drive and handle lumbering GMC 6×6 army trucks in convoy on remarkably short instruction. The main problem with the truck drivers is getting Chinese with legs long enough to reach the accelerator. Rear pillows are also provided to push them up closer to the steering wheel. T/Sgt. Richard Zettwock, of New York City, is the senior noncom in charge of the maintenance classes while M/Sgt. Ebbie Goodwin, of Rockingham, N.C., teaches driving.

A varied athletic program and an obstacle course are other parts of the training given the Chinese soldiers to put them back in proper physical condition. Boxing, track, basketball and soccer classes are conducted by Sgt. Claude (Lefty) Williams of Dallas, Tex., former pitching ace of the Baton Rouge (La.) Club in the East Dixie Baseball League, and Dara Singh, an Indian Sikh who is a former pro boxer.

Some day when the time is ripe, this Chinese Army is going back into Burma en route to its Japanese-occupied homeland. A lot of hell will pop loos for the Japanese when Uncle Joe leads his veteran, well-equipped force back to avenge the drubbing he frankly admitted last May.

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2nd Lt. C.F. Choate trains 105-mm howitzer crew.

When you read in the communiques how a Chinese-manned 105-mm knocked out a Japanese railhead, credit an assist to guys like M.Sgt. Wilbur D. Chambers, of Ennis, Tex., and Sgt. Durwood McGhay, of Marion, Kans. Don’t forget that S/Sgt. Sam Carmell, of Dorchester, Mass., is the invisible member of the 60-mm mortar “double-play” combination that blasts hell out of a Japanese machine-gun nest. And remember the men behind the men behind that Chinese 37-mm antitank gun that blows a Japanese tank to bits are really a couple of G.I.s named S/Sgt. Paul V. Meany, of Boston, Mass., and S/Sgt. Martin W. Rushing, of Bruceton, Tenn.

They’re just some more of the All-American cadre who have one main thing in common with their Chinese pupils. The Chinese have a words for it—and every G.I. over here knows the expression backwards and forwards.

It’s  “Wo men ti ti jen shih jih pen kuo”: ”Our enemy is Japan.”

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Daily 12-mile practice march for pack train soldiers.

For More about Stilwell’s War in China Check Out:

Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-1945

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