1944  2004 A Search of Sixty Years
by Wen Jiang

As presented to the 2005 Annual Convention of
the U.S.- China People's Friendship Association

An Old Photo

 The time was early autumn, 1944, the final period during the retaking of Tengchung, Yunnan, China, by the Chinese Expeditionary Force in the Salween Campaign.

 The place was the only working photo shop in a village outside Tengchung. One day, a Chinese Expeditionary Force news staff rushed in to have some photos developed. The shop owner, who was also the dark room technician, worked overnight to finish the job. Without asking for permission, he made one more set of the photos and kept it for himself. The next day, the news staff took the photos, which were not seen again for many years.

 In 1999, Ms. Sun Min, a historian, came to Tengchong (the new spelling) to investigate the history of the Salween Campaign. She made friends with Mr. Zhang, a local scholar. During a chat, Mr. Zhang told Ms. Sun that he has some old black-and-white photos his father kept that he would like to show her. These 92 photos have been carefully kept and Mr. Zhang felt somewhat guilty: "It was not right that my father didn’t ask for permission to develop the extra set." Luckily, because of this action taken without permission, history was not completely buried.

 No one really understood the significance of these photos. They were put away again. But one of the photos was unusual because it showed a funeral conducted by American military men. It made people realize that Americans, like many soldiers of the Chinese Army, lost their lives during the Campaign as well.

The Search for Names

 Shortly after the completion of the Salween Campaign in the fall of 1944, the Memorial Garden of Tengchung was built to commemorate the thousands of Chinese soldiers killed in the war.
 American marker at Tengchung
American marker at Tengchung
A special tomb stone was erected for the fallen American soldiers. Nevertheless, due to the scarcity of information available to the people in the area at that time, only one name, 1st Lt. “Xia Bo Er” in Chinese, was engraved.

 It was not until recently that some of us in China learned that, in addition to the famous U.S. 14th Air Force (the Flying Tigers), there was a special American Army force, named the “Y-Force”, that assisted the Chinese during the Campaign. This brave force was almost forgotten in the history of World War II.

 But local people said, “We remember them.” They wanted to find out the full names of the forgotten soldiers and engrave them on a new tombstone so their heroes wouldn’t be unknown to the remote land where they sacrificed their lives.

 In 2002, a special search was launched to discover the full names of these American soldiers. With the combined efforts of Mr. John Easterbrook, the grandson of General Stilwell, and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a casualty list of 10 soldiers of the U.S. Army Y-Force during the Salween Campaign was discovered. The first person on the list was 1st Lt. Schaible, whose name has a pronunciation similar to Chinese phonetic “Xia Bo Er”. Therefore, we believed that this list was the source of information for the Tengchung Memorial tombstone. Next, with the help of the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, the additional 9 soldiers of the 14th Air Force were identified. All together, 19 full names of fallen American military men were identified.

 In September, 2004, during the commemoration of the 60 year anniversary of the Salween Campaign, a new tombstone was erected to commemorate those 19 American military personnel who sacrificed their lives for the peace and freedom of the Chinese people in World War II.

The Search for Family Members

 New monument erected in 2004
New monument erected in 2004
 The story didn’t end there with the re-erection of the tombstone with the full names of the American soldiers. Hoping to let the family members of the fallen soldiers know the heart of the Chinese people, I and others conducted a further search for the families. With the help of the Internet and the National Archives, the origins of several fallen soldiers were found, including the origin of Major William McMurrey, the 2nd person on the Hoover Institution list. Mr. John Adragna, the Salween Campaign veteran, wrote to one of the many McMurreys in Cold Spring, Texas, where Major McMurrey came from. This person happens to be the Major’s 2nd cousin. On July 4th, 2003, at the McMurrey family reunion, the Major’s daughters were informed we were looking for them.

 A few days later, Barbara McMurrey Hyde, the Major’s older daughter, sent me a letter with her father’s photo. She wrote “thank all of you for this project you are working on. I have learned more about what my father was doing in one week than in my whole life”. The last sentence of her letter was: “PS our mother, Fae, passed away in 1996. She never remarried.” It made us feel sad. If we had done the search some years earlier, her mother would have seen that her husband still receives the lasting gratitude of the Chinese and this cherished memory may have comforted her life after her many years alone.

 Enclosed with Barbara’s letter was a letter written by her father’s immediate commander, Col. John Stodter on May 21, 1944, the day after the Major was killed.

Dear Mrs. McMurrey:

In the campaign in which your husband Major William C. McMurrey was killed, I was his immediate commanding officer and was near by him at the time of his death in action. The circumstances are such that you and your children can take great pride in them and I hope consolation for the future.

Major McMurrey was on duty as Liaison Officer with a Chinese Regiment of the “C.E.F” (Chinese Expeditionary Force) with the mission of training our Chinese allies for offensive combat and assisting them therein against our common enemy the Japanese. I am the senior Liaison Officer of the Chinese Division of which his regiment was a part. On May 20, 1944, Major McMurrey’s regiment was heavily engaged in a most difficult attack. Without regard for his personal safety he exposed himself in a prominent position to obtain observation of the enemy’s position for the purpose of pointing out important enemy strong points to supporting troops. Unfortunately, while there, a Chinese rapid fire weapon opened fire on the enemy from very near his position. The enemy, in an effort to silence this gun, suddenly opened fire with mortars on the position, the second shell fired striking so close to Major McMurrey that, although wounds inflicted were not themselves mortal, he must have been killed instantly by the concussion.

Indeed his death served to bind more firmly in this division the mutual support between Chinese and Americans which must obtain to confirm in the post war world a lasting peace. The General somehow obtained a coffin and lent every assistance toward the last rites. American personnel of this group mounted guard over Major McMurrey’s remains during the night and he was interred next morning May 21st 1944 with the fullest military honors possible which the battle was still in progress. All available American officers and enlisted men attended. The burial site is a beautiful terrace on a mountain side shaded by a giant Banyan tree. In the absence of any chaplain I conducted the funeral service from the Book of Common Prayer and at the conclusion a firing squad of his comrades fired three volleys over his grave. The site will be recorded with the U.S. War Department.

His deep love for you and the children was shown by frequent references in his conversation with his friends. He died with his latest photograph of you and the children in his breast pocket.

He was buried completely clothed in his field uniform.

I join with you in mourning.

Sincerely yours,
John Hughes Stodter
Col. Cav.

  This letter made my friends and I go back to the photo of the military funeral mentioned above. Was it the photo of Major McMurrey’s funeral? Based on the record released by the U.S. Army, we learned he was killed in a place called “Tatangtze.” We needed to go there to search for the story of the war.

 An American soldier is laid to rest
An American soldier is laid to rest with fullest military honors possible while the battle is still in progress

Retracing the Battlefield

 In the early winter of 2003, several historians and scholars went to southwest Yunnan to retrace the route taken by the Chinese Expeditionary Force during the Salween Campaign.

 Without seeing it, hardly anyone could imagine the existence of such a difficult battlefield. Next to the Salween River, or “angry river” in Chinese, are the steep Gaoligong mountains of several hundred kilometers running north and south. The altitude near Tengchong is around 3000 meters, over 9000 feet. In May of 1944, the Chinese Expeditionary Force crossed the turbulent Salween River and began to climb over the mountain toward Tengchung, an ancient city occupied by the Japanese for about 2 years.
 The mountainous area of Yunnan
The mountainous area of Yunnan
Braving the intense enemy fire and hiking in monsoon rains on countless steep and slippery stone steps, the Chinese soldiers had only straw sandals and limited supplies. Among the tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers were many Chinese generals and the American advisors. The only difference between them and the soldiers was that they had rubber overshoes. Horses were useless on these trails.

 Soon after the war, roads were built in the mountains. The trails became quiet again and heavy fogs flowed here and there. Because of the huge casualties of the Campaign, to this day, the local guides would tell postwar ghost stories in the evening, swearing every one of them was absolutely true, so that you would feel your hair standing up even during the day.

 Distance in the mountains is calculated not by kilometers but by days. The possibility of clues was very slim since, at that time, local people could only hide themselves further in the mountains and saw the battles only from a distance.

 According to the war record of the 53rd Army of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Tatangtze was an area where heavy attacks were launched on the enemy who were guarding the trails towards Tengchung. The battles lasted for over 10 days. On May 20th, 1944, several Chinese officers, together with the American advisor, Major McMurrey, and around a hundred Chinese soldiers were killed. The battle ended on May 24th with the enemy retreating to the south.

An Unexpected Discovery

 Without any success in finding clues about the burial site of Major McMurrey, my historian friends were going to leave the area. They went to say goodbye to a 79-year-old local peasant, Mr. Wu, who runs a small private museum on the Salween Campaign because of his personal interest in the subject. He has a notebook with many stories he has heard. My friends had hastily browsed the notebook before. This time, one historian was again turning its pages casually.

 Suddenly, a line of text jumped to his eyes: “Chinese Expeditionary Force attacked Guoditang. One wounded Japanese threw a grenade and killed 3 officers and 1 American officer. They were buried in front of the temple of Tiantouzhai.”

 In the village of Tiantouzhai, an 80-year-old man who was aware of the funeral took my friends to the burial site of the Major. He told them that 3 Chinese officers were buried in a site about 10 meters away. Nevertheless, the Banyan tree and the temple no longer existed because of a fire shortly after the war. The old man also told them the origin of the coffin. My friends then visited the family from whom the Chinese general bought the coffin. It used to be a wealthy family and the coffin was made of a valuable wood from high mountains several hundred kilometers away for the household head. It was extremely expensive.

 After the war, the U.S. Army sent teams to search for Major McMurrey’s remains. It was not until the second time that they succeeded in locating the site in 1947. The Major was then reburied with full military honors in his home town in Texas.

The Second Generation Retraces the Forgotten Theater

 In July of this year, Barbara and Beverly McMurrey, the daughters of Major McMurrey, as well as Shan Stodter, the daughter of Col. Stodter, the Major’s immediate Commanding Officer, were invited to visit Yunnan to retrace their fathers’ footsteps during the Salween Campaign.
 Site where Maj. McMurrey was buried
Site where Maj. McMurrey was buried

 The McMurrey sisters and Shan, together with a documentary TV crew and myself, started from Dali, a town west of Kunming, where their fathers began the journeys along the Burma Road to the battlefields further south and west. Along the way, they reviewed their fathers’ notes, letters, and military reports. They talked to the old trees that saw their fathers’ jeeps passing on the Burma Road. They met the Chinese veterans who still remember their fathers. They visited the son of the photographer in Tengchung who developed the extra set of the photos. They made friends with a local man who runs a popular bar called “The Stilwell Bar”. Of course, our trip to the Tengchung Memorial Garden to visit the new tomb stone was kept secret from the media so the McMurrey sisters could quietly express their feelings.

 Shan had seldom seen such tender feeling and sensitivity from her father, who was usually an authoritative figure, as she saw in the letter he wrote to Barbara’s mother the day after the Major’s death. Seeing the burial site in a very beautiful terrace which complies with Chinese Fengshui principles, Shan understood her father more than ever. Standing in the exact same spot where her father conducted the funeral for Major McMurrey, Shan Stodter prayed:

  “Dear Lord, for those who lay here or were never found. We salute them, their bravery, the beauty of the suffering, and the life they gave this beautiful country. We thank you that so many have been saved from horrible fate. We thank you this day, this day comes about, we could see this wonderful place, and we can see its peace and feel it's peace, and know these resting here are at peace as well, with you father. We hope that in this we learn that blood that was spilled was for freedom, was for peace, and was for friendship. This traveling we are doing will mount to something great and wonderful. Each one of us can do you well as we know these soldiers did many many years ago. We honor them now. We thank you father for allowing us come to see this. Amen.”

 Fae McMurrey, the Major’s wife, kept all the letters she received from her husband. Their younger daughter Beverly has been studying them lately. Beverly’s words after she read the letters:
 Major William C. McMurrey

  “To think that his last month had been with Chinese people. He talked about Chinese people being so polite. He was even assigned an orderly. That was obvious they have taken care of him. I appreciate that. It was important to know he was with nice people in the last month. My father had never seen me. When he left the States, he learned that I was due. He wrote that the night before, the mail had come and he got this telegram. It was 11 days after I was born on January 2nd. He wrote on January 13th that all the officers came in who wound up having a party. He assumed the telegram must say baby girl born because he was not sure about the date. And he was not sure if the name Beverly had been given. He had told my mother back in the states that he dreamed they had a daughter named Beverly. So it was understood that if it was a girl, it would be Beverly. So he said “did you name her Beverly?” He said the officers last night tried to rename her Burma. Of course, I never knew this until a few weeks ago. I had proved that he knew I existed, had feelings. He just received it shortly before he died so I was probably 4 or 5 months. To really know that he knew I existed was a nice thing for me.”

 The sun was very bright over the Yunnan plateau. We bowed to the Major’s burial site and some veterans saluted. We believed Major McMurrey could see us in heaven. Sixty years ago at his funeral, a Chinese general, Huo Kuizhang, was among the attendees, representing tens of thousands of Chinese comrades who fought together with him. Today, the Major’s soul must feel gratified that Chinese soldiers still salute him. He must have saluted back, in an American style. He will still be as young and handsome as when he left for overseas. He will be young forever because his life stopped at such a young age for the sake of the Chinese people.

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Story and Photos Copyright © 2005 by Wen Jiang

Adapted for the Internet by Carl Warren Weidenburner

Revised:  August 29, 2015





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