“I was 3 when he was killed in 1944, during a fierce battle with the Japanese on the southwestern border of China,” she said.
“Keeping the grief and memory to herself, my mother had very seldom discussed the man with her two children. For me, Father was just a name, a black-and-white picture, a distant figure forever shrouded in the misty, gauzy sheets of rain that had poured nonstop on that strange land more than half a century ago.”
That was until about a decade ago, when Barbara had an early-morning dream.
“Unrolled before my mind’s eye was a countryside view in the Orient,” she said.
“Slightly bewildered, I saw a man with a buffalo walking slowly towards me ...”
A few years later, in the summer of 2005, Barbara was invited for the first time to China by a group of Chinese field researchers who told her that they had found her father’s original burial place. It was in Tengchong, a small farm county in Southwest China’s Yunnan province. While trekking on its muddy mountain trail toward her destination, she suddenly spotted a local villager and a buffalo.
“It was a moment of revelation: I was led to that place by my father, who’s never left us,” she said.
Deng Kangyan, 56, an amateur historian-and-documentary film producer, had played a major role in bringing that revelation to Barbara.
“For me, it all started with a black-and-white picture, which I got from the son of a village doctor in Tengchong. The old man, who had long gone, treated injured soldiers ― both the Chinese and Allied troops ― during World War II while operating a small backroom photo studio,” he said.
“Most of the films sent to him for developing were from the Allied officers who had cameras. And the man made an extra copy of those which he deemed important. This was one.”
|The funeral for Maj. William McMurrey is held in Tengchong. The black-and-white picture eventually led to the discovery of a long-buried story.(China Daily)|
The picture depicts a funeral: Under the silent gaze of a group of uniformed-clad soldiers, both Chinese and foreigners, a wooden coffin was being lowered into the grave. A huge banyan tree stood right behind them.
“It was one of the countless sad moments during World War II, taking place in Yunnan, part of what was known then as the China-Burma-India Theater of the war.”
Between the outbreak of the Pacific War on Dec. 7, 1941, and the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, the Allied forces, mostly the Americans and British, joined Chinese troops to fight the invading Japanese, under arguably the harshest conditions encountered by any army during the war.
“The inhospitable subtropical climate, the seemingly unstoppable monsoon-season rain, the onslaught of the forests bugs, the scrub typhus that had claimed many lives, the enemy troops who, faced with their ultimate defeat, had gone all but crazy ― for anyone who had been through these, the CBI experiences were absolutely unique and unforgettable,” said Ge Shuya, an authority on that part of wartime history.
Bernard Martin knows all about it firsthand. In late August, the 93-year-old flew from his home in the U.S. to Beijing to participate in the opening ceremony of a photo exhibition commemorating the Allied effort in the CBI. All the images come from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, where Deng Kangyan and his team of seven had spent half a month in 2010 frantically recording everything that they could find related to China’s World War II history, including photos and footage. The show was organized by the Shenzhen-based Yuezhong Museum of Historical Images.
While the machines of war roared in the background in the form of U.S. airplanes and tanks, the overwhelming majority of the pictures on view spoke volumes about humanity. Combat personnel were caught in their noncombative moments, moments that revealed them as interesting and deeply interested humans ready to dive into a foreign culture.
A U.S. sergeant was shown painting a watercolor of a tribal woman in the hills of Yunnan. In certain cases, feet were probably more nimble than fingers: The U.S. soldiers, while outperforming their Chinese counterparts in an American football match, had found the mastery of chopsticks too daunting a challenge. In one particularly moving shot, taken on Oct.14, 1944, a Chinese man paused on the streets of a bomb-shattered Tengchong to obtain a light for his cigarette from a U.S. Army sergeant.
By Zhao Xu