The Trip to India

“Our trips to and from India were marathons . . . with many stops along the way, but the experiences were well worth it.

We went to India in 1952, and the planes were not jets . . . so you could only fly about eight or so hours and the plane would have to stop and refuel and the pilots would have to rest. 

Sometimes the plane was MATS (Military Air Transport Service) and sometimes civilian airlines. We went part of the way to India on Flying Tigers, and we flew on a plane called a Super Constellation, known affectionately as the “Super Connie.”

It has been so long that the trips there and back blur, and I can’t remember precisely the which places we stopped at going and which places returning.

I do know that we left from Travis Air Force Base in Californian.  We landed at Wake Island in the middle of the night.  Coming in over Wake, You could just see a few lights in the black night.  We sat in the terminal while they refueled, and ate box lunches.  Those box lunches usually had fried chicken or sandwiches, and usually a hard boiled egg.  The adults boxed lunches included a pack of 5 cigarettes in each box, and the kids boxes had a package of candy cigarettes. 

We also stopped to refuel at Guam and Kwajelaine, and spent the night on Kwajeleine, if I remember correctly, and Okinawa. We also stopped at Saigon, back when Viet Nam was still called French Indo China. 

I went in the restroom in the terminal there, and managed to lock myself in the cubicle.  I could not figure out how to open it, so I knocked on the door and yelled—I was afraid my folks would fly on to Bangkok without me.  Mother came to check on me, and she was able to get me out of the cubicle. 

I had brought my little pet turtle with me from Mississippi (my mom didn’t know, if I remember it correctly.)  The steward on the MATS plane gave me an ice cream Dixie cup to put it in.  I gave it lettuce to eat from a boxed lunch sandwich.  it survived the trip, but died soon after arrival in India.

On the trip to India on a MATS plane, there were a bunch of young troops on their way to Korea, our family, and an Army chaplain also on his way to Korea.

It was after dark, and one of the young troops (most of them had never been on a plane before) looked out and saw some sparks fly out of one of the engines.  He panicked and caused several other of the young men to panic, to.

They stood up and were likely to cause even more panic, so my dad and the chaplain tried to calm them down. One guy just would not calm down, so my dad and the chaplain knocked him and another guy out just to stop wholesale panic.

It turned out okay. Everyone calmed down when dad and the chaplain explained that what they were seeing was normal and not a cause for concern.

We flew on to Bangkok, and ate dinner in the hotel dining room.  I was so tired I fell asleep at dinner and I fell over into my bowl of soup. 

Bangkok was interesting.  I was fascinated seeing water buffaloes in the drainage ditches.  Kids played in the drainage ditches, too.  That could not have been sanitary.

On the way back from India, we spent three weeks at Clark Air Force Base in the Phillipines.

My dad had a stomach ulcer and they did not have the necessary medicine to treat him in India. There was no hospital, just a dispensary, and the doctor wanted the hospital at Clark to check me out, too, because I had been breaking out in terrible rashes that turned into weeping sores. 

The food in the children’s ward in the hospital was so bad that I refused to eat it, so my dad, who was also in the same hospital, would go to the lunch counter they had in the hospital and he’s bring me a hamburger and a strawberry milk shake.   

I was 8 years old at the time.  My poor mom had to stay by herself in the TLQ.  Anybody who went to Clark at that time will remember that the walls to the rooms did not go all the way to the ceiling, nor down to the floor.

My mother was terrified.  We had heard tales of Hucks coming down from the hills and attacking people.  I was discharged from the hospital before my dad was, so I was with mother in the TLQ.  I could tell she was really scared. 

The base movie theater was next door to the TLQ and I remember going with my mom to the movies to see Singing in the Rain.

We also stopped in Hawaii on the way home, and went to Waikiki Beach and went swimming in the Pacific ocean. It was great.

Culture shock awaited me back in the United States after being overseas .  My dad was sent to Keesler Air Force Base and I went to a civilian school there. 

I felt like a misfit there, because most of the kids had never been anywhere.  I did finally meet some other Military Brats in school, and felt a lot better.

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  1. I too traveled on a MATS filight from Travis to Siagon with stops in Wake, Guam, and Clark in ’60. The old man was posted to the adviser group MAAG.

    We also took the MATS flight to India in ’61 on the same type of aircraft, a “Connie”.

    In ’61 when we were coming back to the States, we were to return on the MATS flight that came thru once a week. We were at the airport in Saigon waiting for the plane to arive from Thiland when we heard that the plane had mechanical issues and was grounded. My father some how had a Pan Am flight held while he went to HQ and had his orders changed. Six PanAm employees traviling stand by were bumped as a result.

    We returned via Hong Kong, Japan and Seatle on a 707 jet rather than the “Connie”. Much better that the 3 days it took us to get to Saigon in the first place.  


    • Hello!   I am astounded.  Jill Willett here.  Our Air Force family lived in Taipei, Taiwan from 1959-’61.  Water buffalo went by our house often.  We flew on a 2 prop plane from tropical Hawaii.  I remember Guam.  There was a visit to Tokyo.  Transportation was on a pedicab.   On a trip with my mom, I remember those walls that did not go to the ground in the Phillipines.    Returning to the world was odd.  T.V. was very commercial.  I was different.  I grew up military.  I traveled.  I, too, went to India w/ a fellow teacher in 1976.   Much more modern flight.  eight weeks:  Bombay, Dehli, Agra/the Taj Mahal, Srinagar.In Bomby we took a boat to Elephant island, and a monkey stole my lunch. We rented the London House boatSrinagar), took a shikar(boat) ride on Lake Dal.  We took a trip to the Himalayas that is worth a dozen stories. The ‘tour’ guides were Sherpas. I saw someone riding a camel there.  Inida was wonderful.  I lost 20 pounds.   On the way back stops were in Tehran right after the Shah and security was very tight.  The Paris airport.  New York airport was chaotic and quick.  Home to O’Hare.  I could barely absorb the size of the highways.    My own points of reference are different.  I had  pet duck, Shadow, in Taipei.   It would be more than nice to hear from someone that has experienced some of the life I did.   Right now,  Texas is home for the winter.   Sometimes, I feel so detached.   Bye,  Jill (Merrill) Willett

    • Hi George.  Sounds like you had similar experiences to me…

      It it nice to know someone else has been there.

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