When Cpl. Maurice Pouliot of Buttonwood Village mobile home park in Punta Gorda, Fla. reached the Army air base at Jorhat, India, in the Assan Valley at the base of the Himalayas the Germans were about to surrender and the war with Japan was within six months of being over.
He was a crew chief with the Air Transport Command attached to the Eighth Air Force. It was his job, along with a crew of three other mechanics, to keep a C-54 transport flying “The Hump.”
“I made 18 round trips over the Himalayas in a C-54 filled with 55 gallon barrels of high test aviation gasoline,” the 79-year-old Punta Gorda man recalled. “We flew mostly at night over the highest mountains in the world.”
On some of their flights over “The Hump” they had to contend with Japanese fighter plane attacks.
“We flew high enough that the (Japanese) Zeros couldn’t get us. We’d see their tracers bullets coming our way, but they couldn’t reach us,” he said.
The hairiest flight he ever made over the Himalayas was a night flight over Mount Everest. They flew through an ice storm that nearly cost them their lives.
“It was a very severe ice storm and our de-icers weren’t working properly. We started losing altitude and we all got scared,” Pouliot said. “After we cleared ‘The Hump’ we dropped down on the other side of the mountains and the ice began breaking off our wings the lower we flew.”
It was about an eight hour flight one way from Jorhat, India, to Kunming, China, where they delivered the aviation fuel.
“When we would land at Kunming we’d never shut our engines off. We’d open the rear doors and a bunch of native workers would come aboard and roll the 55 gallon drums of gas out the back of the airplane into the field. It took them about 30 minutes to unload the plane,” he said. “One plane after another would come in loaded with gas. Hundreds of barrels of gasoline were stacked along the runway. Then we’d turn around and fly back to Jorhat.”
By mid summer 1945 the war was about over. The flights over “The Hump” had slacked off and Pouliot and his ground crew had little or nothing to do. He and some others in his unit volunteered to drive the Burma Road with more supplies for the Chinese troops fighting the Japanese in China.
The road ran from Ledo, India, to Kunming, China, more than 1,000 miles one away.
“The Army was looking for truck drivers. I volunteered to help them along with a bunch of other guys in our outfit,” he said. “We drove six-bys (trucks) from Ledo up this narrow dirt road full of ruts and drop offs of 300 to 400 feet in the mountains,” Pouliot recalled. “The convoy consisted of hundreds and hundreds of trucks that stretched for miles and miles. We only drove at night and we would leave 200 to 300 feet between trucks.
“It took us 28 or 30 days to drive the first 600 miles of the route over the Burma Road in the dark. We just crawled along in the dark at 10 or 12 mph,” he said. “Along the way Japanese snipers would shoot at the convoy. The natives went after them and chopped them up with their machetes.”
After his first truck trip along the Burma Road it was obvious the war was just about over.
“At this point they made us bring all our tools into one hangar where they were collected and put in crates. Then the crates were put aboard transport planes and the crates were dropped from these planes into the Bay of Bengal. Everything went — unassembled Jeeps, wire, tools, anything you can imagine went right in the bay,” he said.
Right after that, Pouliot received word he was shipping out for home.
“It took me 39 days to come home from Calcutta, India, by way of Singapore, the Philippines, the Pacific, San Francisco and finally a troop train across the country to Fort Devens, Mass, where I enlisted.
“I served three years, 8 days and 13 hours from April 18, 1943 until April 26, 1946,” the old airman recalled with a smile.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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Former Waterbury, CT resident Maurice Pouliot 89, died April 15, 2015 at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Punta Gorda, FL after a brief illness.
Maurice was born February 14, 1926 in Boston, MA to Oliver and Aurore Pouliot. He had 2 sisters and 3 brothers, two brothers are deceased. He was married to his lovely wife Monique (Guerrette) Pouliot for 54 years. He is survived by his two children Michele Birkenberger, and her husband Larry of Naugatuck, CT and Richard Pouliot and his wife Olya of Waterbury, CT. Three grandchildren, Jennifer Bennett and Anna and Tatiana Pouliot; two great grandchildren, Camden and Connor Bennett.
Maurice is survived by his current wife Andree Wray of Punta Gorda, FL.
He served in World War II in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946 serving in the South Seas.
He retired from Arco (Anaconda American Brass) of Waterbury, CT. He was also a plumbing and heating contractor.
In his earlier years as a hobby he loved building model railroads and loved to read.
He retired to Florida in 2004 after his first wife passed on. He took up fishing, playing pool and calling Bingo in his little community where he lived. He loved Florida during the years he spent there.
At his request, services will be private for family only. Pay respects at charlotte memorial.com.