General Joseph W. Stilwell, the U.S. Army's newest four-star general, is as regular and down-to-earth as the scuffed GI shoes he wears when tramping through the Burma jungles.
Known among his men as Vinegar Joe or Uncle Joe, he is no glamour-boy general. He's a tough, frank Old Army man who hates Japs with unwavering intensity. One day during the Hukawng Valley campaign a frightened Jap prisoner tried to shake hands with him. Scorning the out-stretched hand, Gen. Stilwell snapped: "Not with you, you dirty bastard!"
In the field, where he prefers to be, Stilwell is no collar-ad for what the well-dressed West Point man will wear this season. His usual uniform is a mud-stained field jacket with no rank insignia, ordinary GI pants and leggings, topped off with either a battered felt Infantry campaign hat or a Chinese army cap.
What goes for Gen. Stilwell goes for his men. They wear clothes best adapted for jungle fighting, without fear of being eaten out by some very GI superior. Uncle Joe justified such departures from military custom with a typical Stilwell explanation: "We're out to win battles, not dress parades."
More than once Gen. Stilwell has been hailed as "Hey Mac!" by a private who failed to recognize him without his stars. The general recalls with relish the time he was returning from Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill's bivouac four miles off the Ledo Road. A pack-mule company of Merrill's Marauders, moving up, forced Gen. Stilwell's jeep to the side of the narrow jungle trail. The general, inelegantly garbed in a Chinese cap without insignia and with a carbine between his knees, was spotted by a GI, who turned around and shouted back to his companions: "Hey look! Duck hunters!"
Another Marauder approached Stilwell's jeep, rested his carbine on the fender and asked: "How far is it to the bivouac area?" "About four miles," Stilwell replied. "Holy hell!" the GI hollered. "Couldn't they build the damn thing a little closer to the road? What's the use of having a road if we can't use it?" Stilwell smiled and, turning to his aide, observed with obvious pride: "These guys are really tough."
Despite his 61 years, Gen. Stilwell is the walkingest general in the U.S. Army. Since last Christmas, when he arrived in Burma to direct the Chinese troops there, he has made almost daily trips to forward positions. Most of those trips are on foot because the narrow jungle trails stymie even jeeps. Uncle Joe sets the pace on all hikes. He keeps to a steady 105-steps-a-minute stride with a 10-minute break each hour.
On many of his trips to the front, Gen. Stilwell spends the night with U.S. liaison troops who work with the Chinese. He stretches his jungle hammock between two trees and sleeps there with his clothes on, just as his soldiers must do to ward off the clammy moisture of the Burma night. He often joins in the bull sessions with corporals and privates as they brew a nightcap of GI coffee over a bamboo-kindled fire. If his men have any complaints, they lay then directly before Uncle Joe.
One night up front, a corporal with blunt GI vigor assailed censorship of mail. "Why is it general," he asked, "that we can't mention we're in Burma when we write letters home? Guys can say they're in India or China but we can't say we're in Burma." "We'll see what we can do about it," the general promised.
The next day he radioed the chief censor's office in New Delhi inquiring why letters could not be marked "somewhere in Burma." When no plausible objection was offered, Stilwell ordered that the Burma dateline could be used from then on. However, one mail censor - a scissors-happy second louey - arbitrarily decided that "Burma" must still not be used in letters. The GIs kicked again. Stilwell sent another radio to New Delhi. Two days later the shavetail was relieved of his censoring duties.
Another time Stilwell visited a U.S. base in India where one of the men complained about the ban on pets at the post. "Let them have pets if they want 'em," ruled Uncle Joe. Now some bases in the CBI have virtual menageries of bear cubs, wildcats, dogs, jackals, monkeys, parrots, mongooses and snakes.
Although he is a strict disciplinarian when occasion demands, Stilwell is no stickler for the more rigid military courtesies. At a staff conference shortly after Pearl Harbor, all his officers jumped to attention when he walked in the room. "Sit down, for God's sake!" he snapped. "We're fighting a war now and we'll dispense with all this jumping up and down business."
Gen. Stilwell side-steps formalities even when presenting decorations. Entering a hospital to award the Silver Star to a wounded American soldier, the general found the GI in bed naked except for bandages and a sheet that covered him to the hips. Gen. Stilwell introduced himself to the surprised soldier, smiled and said: "I'm going to have to embarrass you a little." Then, after his aide had read the citation, the general pulled the sheet over the soldier's chest and pinned the Silver Star on the sheet.
Uncle Joe takes a dim view of decorations for staff men, or even for himself. Returning to headquarters one day after a long trip in the field, he was informed that he had been awarded the DSC. "Who thought up all this?" he groused. "I'm not so sure about this business of decorating staff men when there were so many men in the front line fighting. I was a lieutenant once and I used to wonder why desk men got so much glory."
Stilwell's understanding treatment of his enlisted men is responsible for his most popular nickname, Uncle Joe. Thanks to his rulings, a GI is not a social outcast in the CBI and "officers only" restrictions are at a minimum. Any enlisted men may visit the best restaurants, night clubs and theaters.
Another popular Stilwell ruling was one he handed down soon after the first American Wacs arrived in the CBI. The enlisted Wacs were scarcely off their plane when lieutenants, captains and even some of the higher brass were pressing them for dates. The GIs, some of whom had spent two years in the CBI without meeting an American girl whom they could date, figured they were outranked on this deal.
Then came an order from Gen. Stilwell's headquarters forbidding officers to date enlisted Wacs and enlisted men to date WAC officers. The second part of the order was the sheerest of formalities. GIs weren't getting to first base with the WAC officers, anyway. Gen Stilwell's ruling simply rendered unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's, to GIs the things that were GI.
Lean and wiry, without an ounce of excess weight, Gen. Stilwell has the energy and endurance of a man half his age. His perfect conditioning dates back to West Point, where he was a track star and a 140-pound quarterback on the Army eleven when vest-pocket gridmen were all but unknown. He wears glasses, smokes cigarettes in a long holder, chews gum frequently and has his iron-gray hair cropped in GI style.
Uncle Joe can usually be found where the firing is heaviest. He scorns the comfortable rear-echelon headquarters in New Delhi, preferring to stay up with his men. His combat headquarters is usually within artillery range of the enemy's lines.
Recently a Jap artillery shell landed less than 10 yards from Gen. Stilwell during a heavy shelling of the position he was visiting. Only the soft, muddy jungle earth, which buried the shell before it burst, saved the general and his aide from injury.
Gen. Stilwell was born on Mar. 19, 1883, at Palatka, Fla., where his parents were vacationing from the family home in Yonkers, N.Y. After graduating from Yonkers High School, where he played football and basketball, he entered West Point in 1900. He graduated with top honors in languages - he now speaks six fluently, including Japanese - and was commissioned June 15, 1904. In the first World War, Gen. Stilwell, then a captain, served as a liaison officer with the French and British.
Fortunately for American-Chinese relations, Gen. Stilwell understands the Chinese soldier as completely as he understands the American GIs. In 1920 he went to China as one of the first two U.S. Army officers ever assigned to that country. He studied at the North China Language School in Peiping for three years, making frequent trips into the interior to learn the varied dialects and customs of the Chinese people. One summer he worked as an ordinary day laborer with a coolie gang building roads in Shansi Province.
After six years back in the States, Gen. Stilwell returned to China in 1920 as executive officer to Gen. George C. Marshall, who was then commanding the 15th Infantry at Tientsin. Later, in 1935, he was appointed U.S. military attaché in Peiping.
Despite the administrative nature of his work, Gen. Stilwell was no armchair officer even then. He seldom missed a major military operation in China. Occasionally he was on the Japanese side of the battlefront but he spent most of his time with his old love, the Chinese fighting man. He marched with Chinese troops. He ate Chinese chow with chopsticks. He carried his own bedroll and slept in Chinese bivouacs. He talked with Chinese soldiers in their own language. Gradually he even reached the point where he could think in Chinese.
Returning to the States for retirement in 1939, Gen. Stilwell was kept on the active list and ordered to take command of a 2d Division brigade when war threatened. He went to Fort Ord, Calif., in July 1940 as CG of the newly activated 7th Division, which later invaded Attu and the Marshall Islands. The 7th was 85 percent selectees but it ran rings around its "enemies" in the 1941 California maneuvers under Gen. Stilwell's expert leadership.
On one occasion during the maneuvers, the general was absent from his headquarters for two days. His adjutant finally found him sleeping on the floor of a high school cloakroom in the maneuver area. It was the first sleep he had had in 48 hours.
The 7th Division's showing in the maneuvers resulted in Gen. Stilwell's appointment as CG of the III Army Corps., a post he held until February 1942, when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek asked for a U.S. general to direct American military activities in China. Gen. Stilwell, the U.S. Army's foremost authority on China, was the logical selection. He and his staff arrived at Chungking in late February. Two weeks later he was on the Burma battlefront directing the Chinese forces in his dual capacity as chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek and CG of Chinese troops in Burma.
Gen. Stilwell took a licking in Burma but he candidly admitted it. Grimly confident, even in 1942's dark days, he said he would go back to retake the ground he had lost. He's making good on that promise now, having recaptured Northern Burma in the only really successful Allied offensive yet staged in the Far East.
Uncle Joe's one ambition is to win the war and get the hell home as quickly as possible. He has no personal post-war political or business aspirations. When peace comes, he plans to retire from the Army and settle down with his family in Carmel, Calif. There on the beach he will be able to don his old corduroy trousers and spend his days slogging through the sands with his favorite dog, a soft-eyed giant Schnauzer named Gareth. The little things in life are what Uncle Joe enjoys most.
TAKING OUT THE FIRST MEATBALL
KENNETH M. TAYLOR, PEARL HARBOR, AND THE P-40
PBY BLACK CAT ATTACKING AT MAST HEIGHT IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
(please click image)
CLAIRE L. CHENNAULT AND HIS FLYING TIGERS
P-40 FIGHTER PILOT IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
THE JAPANESE INVASION OF INDIA
DURING WORLD WAR II
PEARL HARBOR P-40 GHOST SHIP
THE JAPANESE SECRET WAR
THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND
A SOLDIER'S STORY