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Calling all angels

“Standing on a truck at daylight to address the company, Stillwell explained the plan of march and laid down his rules. All food was to be pooled and all personal belongings discarded except for what each person could carry in addition to weapon and ammunition. A journey of some 140 miles lay ahead with a river and a mountain range to cross. The pass lay at 7,000 feet. They must make 14 miles a day; any slowing of progress would require more food than they had and would risk being caught by the rains. He warned that the party could only survive through discipline. Anyone who did not wish to accept his orders could leave now with a week’s rations and make his own way. He looked around; no one moved. ‘By the time we get out of here,’ he finished, ‘many of you will hate my guts but I’ll tell you one thing: you’ll all get out.’ At the head of the column he set the pace at the regulation Army rate of 105 steps a minute. . . . Imphal was reached on May 20. Through careful planning and relentless leadership Stillwell had brought his party out without a single person missing—the only group, military or civilian, to reach India without loss of life. Many of those who walked out under his command did hate his guts but all 114 knew they owed him their lives. He came out, reported a correspondent, ‘looking like the wrath of God and cursing like a fallen angel.’ He had lost 20 pounds. His already spare frame was worn down to a minimum, his hands trembled, his skins was yellowish with jaundice, his eyes sunk in their sockets.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Published inBarbara TuchmanJoseph StillwellThe Second World War

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