China Burma India, sometimes referred to as the Forgotten Theater of World War II, remains vivid in the minds of those who served there like the four former GIs who met recently at a West Helena restaurant to share fond and not so pleasant memories from that engagement.

China Burma India, sometimes referred to as the Forgotten Theater of World War II, remains vivid in the minds of those who served there like the four former GIs who met recently at a West Helena restaurant to share fond and not so pleasant memories from that engagement.
   The foursome, who dined with Steve Toney, vice president/loans for Southern Bancorp in Phillips County, were Atwood “Buddy” Bell of Forrest City, Eugene Horton of Forrest City, Hugh Stewart of Mayfield, Ky. and James E. Hughes of Greenwood, Miss.
   Horton, who worked for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department for 17 years, had details in remarkably chronicle order from their services with the CBI.
   “We were part of the Army’s 700th Engineering Petroleum Distribution Company,” Horton said. “We constructed the world’s longest military pipeline.”
   “It was a grasshopper procedure,” Horton said. “One (CBI) company would build 100 miles of pipeline. Then another company would build the next 100 miles of pipeline until we finally had 800 miles of pipeline stretching from Calcutta, India to Kunming, China.”
   Each company consisted of 220 men and officers that constructed their section of the 800-mile pipeline, Horton said.
   Horton said the 800-mile pipeline came within 50 miles of Japanese forces. The pipeline ran along side a railroad line that stretched from the Bengal Province to the Assam Province in India.
   The four men first met in basic training at Camp Claiborne, La.
   “There were four camps in the Alexandria (La.) area on those days,” Horton said. “There were Claiborne, Beauregard, Livingston and Polk.”
   Horton said when they came together as the 700th Engineering corps not a single man had a clue as to where they were bound for in 1943.
   “We had 5,500 men on one transport ship,” Horton said. “We didn’t find out about our mission until we reached Bombay (India).”
   Besides the ever-present threat of Japanese fighter planes or infantry, the weather was unbearable, Horton said.
   “We had many 100 degree temperatures days,” Horton said. “Then there were the monsoon seasons that would set in,” Horton said. Carrying special tablets to fend off malaria was standard procedure for the GIs.
    Civilians who worked for pipeline companies in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana were brought in to assist the military with the construction work, Horton said.
    Travel to and from India by ship was equally treacherous, Horton said.
    “We had to deal with typhoons that rocked the transport ship and there was always the threat from some Japanese destroyer,” Horton said. “We had only one five-inch gun aboard ship. The Japanese could have blown us out of the water.”
   On the ship’s return to the U.S. the vessel went through the Suez Canal.
   “We came back around Cape Horn,” Horton said. “We hit a storm in the Mediterranean Sea that left us all seasick.” There were other storms that rocked the ship after it reached the Atlantic Ocean south of the Azores.
   After their WWII duty ended and the foursome returned to civilian life they found distinctly different careers back home.
   Horton worked with the AHTD at the agency’s district offices in Wynne. The district encompasses six counties including Phillips County.
   After the war, Bell chose the education field, working his way from classroom teacher and coach to administration with the Jonesboro School District. Stewart returned to Kentucky where he became an executive with the Peabody Coal Co. at Mayfield, Ky. Hughes became an accountant at Greenwood working both with the public sector and private clientele.
   Horton said his son, Carl, has been a close friend of Toney for most of their lives.
  “My son first knew Steve through his association with the Boys Scouts,” Horton said. Toney and Horton attended Arkansas State University.
   Toney noted that Carl Horton works for Woodruff Electric Cooperative that supplies electricity the Slack Water Harbor.