CANOGA – From 1944-1945, Howard Amidon of Canoga participated in one of the deadliest missions in World War II, flying “The Hump” more than 1900 hours. He said his faith in God and the strength of his home town brought him through.
According to Wikipedia, The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Force (AAF) based in China.
Creating an airlift presented the AAF a considerable challenge in 1942. It had no units trained or equipped for moving cargo and no airfields existed in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) for basing the large number of transports that would be needed. Flying over the Himalayas was extremely dangerous and made more dangerous by a lack of reliable charts, an absence of radio navigation equipment and radio beacons and inadequate information about the weather. Add to that the lack of trained personnel, and of parts and supplies to maintain the planes, which were not designed to carry the tonnage loaded on them. Records show that one third of all the Allied air crews – 1,659 personnel killed or missing – and 594 aircraft were lost while flying the Hump, earning it the title of one of the deadliest cargo flights in history.
After graduating from Mynderse Academy, Amidon joined the Army in 1942, was sent to Niagara Falls “to see if I could put a square peg in a round hole,” and filled out papers for training. He went to Scotts Field, Illinois, for radio school. At Long Beach, CA, Amidon flew brand new aircraft, the B25 into Australia, a 12-hour flight, was stationed in the Solomon Islands as a radio operator. On New Year’s Eve, 1944, Amidon was ‘crewed up” and shipped out to Buffalo on a C46 transport plane destined for the Far East. The trip was long with refueling stops at Guam, a little island between South America and Africa, and in Saudi Arabia, before following the radio compass to Karachi and the Assam Valley, India.
To say conditions there were primitive would be an understatement. The airfield was hand made by Chinese who carried in gravel in bamboo baskets and packed it with wooden rollers pulled by 500-600 men.
Living conditions were equally primitive. The rainy monsoons flooded the tents. Malaria and dysentery were common. Food consisted of C-rations, potatoes and mutton – a far cry from the fresh vegetables from his garden served on the table in his home in Canoga!
Amidon’s daughter, Sheri Nobles of Bath, recalled that her Dad told her the soldiers were not allowed to eat root plants because the farmers in India used human dung for fertilizer. And, she said, when the Chinese eventually opened a mess tent where they served free-range chickens, they were “tougher than leather.”
“You’re never the same when you’ve been in a third world country,” Amidon said, shaking his head. “You think you’ve seen poor people here, but no way.” He said pigs in Canoga were housed and fed better than children in India. “It’s amazing what the human body can stand.”
When Amidon arrived at Assam Valley, he was met by a war-worn soldier. “He wanted to see who this fellow was who was replacing him,” Amidon said. “He had a little visit with me. Wanted to scare me a little bit. Done a good job, too. Scared the heck right out of me.” But Amidon said he had “faith in the Lord. I knew there were people praying all over the country for me. “Father, don’t let me die here,” he prayed. ”After I said that prayer, a tremendous peace came over me and I was never scared after that.
Amidon could not say the same for his fellow soldiers. Many of them “got a bottle” and drank away their fears. “I never got a bottle,” Amidon said proudly.
The missions were enough to strike fear into the bravest hearts. The planes flew into China with a full cargo of 18 barrels of fuel oil and at Chengkung Airfield, another 15 barrels of fuel were added. “We were way overloaded, flying at 10,000 feet. It was all wecould do to get over the mountains.”
On one flight, the plane was laboring and then a motor gave out. To try to land with one motor was pretty risky. The pilot decided they had to unload the plane. “So the engineer and I opened the hatch and rolled all them barrels out,” Amidon said.
On another mission, the pilot couldn’t remember the radio frequency for the closest airbase to land the plane, Amidon said, “but I told him the only one I could remember which turned out to be the right one. We all worked together and the pilot did a pretty good job of getting the plane down on the ground and the four-person crew were all saved. The Lord did that for me.”
Frequently warm and cold air around the mountains created dense fog which wiped out landing lights. Planes would have to circle the fields many time to try to find the airstrips. Other times there were severe thunder and lightning storms. The heat rising between the mountains created electrical charges, which bounced off the propellers on the planes, making them appear to be on fire. Airmen called it “St. Elmo’s Fire,” the sign of the patron saint of sailors and travelers.
Amidon said he believed the Lord protected him during his dangerous assignments. He recalled a mission he was scheduled to go out on, but didn’t of a fortuitous change in assignments. Amidon had learned that a fellow classmate from Mynderse Academy, Roy Crane, a pilot, was at Chengkung Airfield. Crane asked Amidon if he’d like to go out on a mission with him. When Amidon said yes, Crane got Amidon’s commanding officer to release him from his original assignment so the two could fly together. Amidon’s original plane went down and all were killed.
After the war, Amidon was flown into NYC. “I was a lost puppy in that huge terminal. Nobody met me. I was on my own.” Eventually, he flew into Rome Air Force base where he was discharged in 1945.
“I was thrown into my old rut in Canoga, trapping muskrat and fishing on Canoga Island. Many of the soldiers had problems – suicide, drinking. I had a background. That’s what saved me.”
Amidon married and had a family. Although it was hard to find work after the war, Amidon held a few jobs. “I had a lot of ambition,” he explained. Amidon estimates he cut 6,000 bundles of flag in the marsh on Canoga Island, cutting six bundles an hour for 30-45 cents a bundle. He earned about$80 a week. He raised chickens; for 10 years hetrapped foxes for a rabies control program run by the state and eventually got a job at American Can where he worked for 19 years.
In the 1950s, Amidon was honored in parades conducted by the Canoga Fire department, but those have stopped. These days, he’s content to sit by the wood-burning stove in his home in Canoga and read the Wall Street Journal. He’s looking forward to his 98thbirthday on Dec. 12.
When asked if he’s ever been on an Honor Flight to Washington, DC, to see the monuments, Amidon admitted he hasn’t been in an airplane since the war. “And I’m not awfully anxious to get in another one. My flying days are over. I’m very happy right where I am.”
BY DORIS WOLF