Marion Junction man trades college for mule pack duty

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 8, 2007

Special to The Times-Journal

Writer’s Note: Albert F. Caley Jr. is October Veteran of the Month for Legion Post 20

The object of warfare is to win.

Email newsletter signup

As Ronald Reagan once said about defeating the Soviets in the cold war, “We win, they lose.”

It can’t get much simpler than that, however, the methods used in winning are sometimes less than traditional. There were some very interesting methods used in Burma during World War II.

Albert F. Caley Jr. was a party to one rather ingenious method of delivering ordnance in the dense jungles and steep mountainous terrain of the Himalayas.

Pack mules were the choice mode of transportation for machine guns, mortars, 75mm howitzers, small arms and ammunition.

These sure footed animals were used in areas motor vehicles had never been or dared to go. Pack mules played a vital role in dislodging the embedded Japanese and bringing about their defeat in Burma.

For the benefit of those not familiar with farm animals, a mule is the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and a mare horse. Mules usually take on the characteristics of the larger bodied horse with the ears, tail and hoofs resembling the donkey.

They are very strong animals, sure footed and head strong bordering on temperamental.

Caley had busied himself with furthering his education after graduation from Orrville High School.

He enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in pursuit of a degree in agriculture.

His father, Albert F. Caley Sr., was a successful farmer in Marion Junction and credited with propagating and promoting a legume that became known as the Caley pea.

You might say agriculture was in the Caley gene pool.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 occurred while Caley pursued his degree at Auburn.

After a failed attempt to join the Navy due to being color blind, Caley decided to continue with his studies until beckoned to report for duty. He wouldn’t have long to wait with the request to serve coming in 1942.

After induction into the Army, Caley was sent to Fort Riley, Kan., for basic training. He remained at Fort Riley afterwards for training in horsemanship and cavalry tactics as part of the horse cavalry. Unfortunately for the men who had trained so hard, the horse cavalry was discontinued in 1943.

Caley’s background in agriculture, military training in horse cavalry, coupled with the need for mule skinners, sealed his fate for the mule pack artillery.

He moved to Camp Carson, Colorado Springs, Colo., and was assigned to the 613th Field Artillery Battalion (mule pack).

They began training for shipment overseas with the most likely place being the China-Burma-India theater of operations. After final bonding occurred between man and mule, the men of the 613th were transported to the west coast for shipment overseas by troop ship.

A refueling stop was made at Melbourne, Australia before reaching their final destination of Bombay, India.

Unlike Noah’s ark, it was men on one ship and beast on another.

After assembling at Bombay, the 613th boarded troop trains for the journey through India eventually making their way by truck and foot to near Myitkyina, Burma.

The 613th became a part of the 5332nd Brigade (Provisional) later known as the Mars Task Force. They joined the fight at Myitkyina during the 79-day siege to take the city.

It is noteworthy to note that the Mars Task Force was made up of the 475th Infantry Regiment, 124th Calvary (Sp), and 1st Chinese Regiment. They were reinforced by the 612th & 613th FAB (mule pack), two mule-portable surgical hospitals and two quartermaster companies.

The Mars Task Force replaced the 5307th Regiment better known as Merrill’s Marauders in August 1944 shortly after capturing Myitkyina. The Marauders were exhausted from battle fatigue and debilitated with malaria, dysentery and typhus from being in the jungles since October 1943.

Merrill’s Marauders had captured the air field at Myitkyina on May 17, 1944, after a 65-mile march across the Kumon Range. Thirty-one mules plunged to their death off slippery ledges into crevices far below on the march.

The element of surprise was lost after capturing the airfield and the Japanese resistance stiffened. They stubbornly held out for 79 days before giving up the town itself. Myitkyina was essential for the Ledo Road to continue and eventually link with the Burma Road.

Caley and the 5332nd took up where Merrill’s Marauders left off. Most of the surviving original Merrill’s Marauders known as ” Old Galahad” were evacuated.

The ones who remained were integrated into the 5332nd and called “New Galahad.”

There were still plenty of Japanese around and well entrenched with big guns. The Japanese had taken advantage of the railroads to bring in 105 and 155mm guns after the successful conquest of Burma. They took Lashio, Burma on April 29, 1942, cutting off access to the Burma road that led to China.

The Japanese occupation of Burma left only the air route over “The Hump” to supply the Chinese forces fighting the Japanese in China.

The Ledo Road was proposed and began in December 1942 to connect with the Burma Road north of Japanese occupation. It took a year to build 117 miles of road from Ledo, India to the first town in Burma, Shingbwingang.

After evicting the Japanese from the town of Myitkyina, the 613th packed up their mules and headed south into the dense jungles in November 1944. It is difficult to put into words the hardships encountered by men and mules. They were privileged to the experiences obtained by Merrill’s Marauders, but no amount of experience could improve the miserable conditions in the jungle.

The Mars Task Force was supplied by airdrops. Many of the drops never made it to the 613th due to errors in hitting the drop zone or landing in inaccessible areas. In cases such as these, men and mules were on short rations until another drop could be made. The mules mainstay was oats dropped in and forage from the jungle around them.

Caley was responsible for handling a mule and getting the animal from one firing position to another with portions of a 75mm howitzer.

It took more than one mule to carry a complete gun assembly. After delivering the weapon, a gun crew set it up and fired at the Japanese. Caley and his mule would then start delivering ammunition to the gun site.

The 75mm howitzer was the largest gun used by the Task Force, while the Japanese were returning fire with 105 and 155mm guns. Therefore it was imperative for the Task Force to maneuver close to the Japanese using stealth and surprise as a weapon.

When mules weren’t being used to transport ammunition to the guns, they were tied off on picket lines away from the action. Although many fell victim to shrapnel, these mules were well taken care of and the soldiers were actually dependent upon them for their

own survival.

The Mars Task Force encountered the Japanese 18th Division at Bhamo, Burma.

During the siege of Bhamo, a young machine gunner tells of learning to hit the ground when live fire begins chopping off bushes around you. They would quickly set up their machine gun and return fire as directed. Most of the time they never saw a Japanese until they picked up and moved forward, and only dead ones then. Caley lost one mule to a hit by shrapnel during one such campaign and another over the side of a mountain pass.

The Ledo Road turned east at Bhamo to intersect the old Burma Road leading into China. After successfully fending off the Japanese 18th Division at Bhamo, the Mars Task Force continued eastward over treacherous terrain with pockets of resistance along the way.

They finally intersected the old Burma Road on Jan. 17, 1945.

In doing so, they had placed themselves behind the 49th and 56th Japanese Divisions leaving the Japanese only a supply route through Thailand. Two American-trained Chinese armies began pushing the Japanese further south from the Ledo-Burma Road.

Although the objective had been reached, the fighting continued into February with stiff resistance by the Japanese. After the Japanese gave up, the last of the “New Galahads” were sent home. The rest of the Task Force were flown over “The Hump” to K’un-ming, China.

Caley and other mule skinners were flown back to Burma later to lead the mules to China.

The unit assisted the Nationalist Chinese fighting the Japanese in China until the war ended. All equipment and animals were turned over to the Nationalist Chinese upon departure.

While waiting for transportation out of China near Shanghai, Caley and other American troops were caught in a battle between Nationalist Chinese and Communist Chinese armies.

They had already turned in their weapons and were utterly defenseless. Under cover from the Nationalist Chinese they managed to sneak out and boarded ship at Shanghai. Caley arrived at Seattle, Wash., on Jan. 1, 1946, and was promptly released from active duty.

Caley returned to Auburn to receive his degree in agriculture. His next door neighbor Mae Moore may have been proudest to see him return, Caley and Mae were married in 1947.

They have shared life together since and have been blessed with a daughter, Frances Caley Henderson and a son, Frank Caley, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.