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If Only I had Known The Details by Elijah Thorne Sansom

Updated 20200312

We tend to become more interest in our parents history as we get older when the knowledge would have been more helpful when we were younger! My father served in Burma during the war and i had no idea about the conditions and significance of his service.


My father Elijah Sansom (1920-1995) was raised in Laurel, Mississippi. He was the seventh of thirteen children born to George Leon Sr. and Annie Bell Sansom. His dad was a Baptist minister. He accepted Christ at an early age and Joined the local Baptist Church. He went to school and grew up in Laurel and later worked as a lineman in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

He married Carrie Ethel Scales (1926-2016) in 1945. They had 5 children.
While married and raising a family, my father completed his high school education as a Veteran at Cass Technical High School. He also completed two years of college at the Detroit Institute of Technology majoring in Accounting and Bookkeeping in 1950. He was employed by Chrysler Corporation for thirty-three years from 1949 to 1982. He was also self-employed as the owner of Digit Tax Accounting for more than thirty-five years from 1950 to 1985.

I have known this most of my life but, i never pursued the details

He served with distinction in the United States Army for more than three years during World War II. He was a member of the 849th Engineer Aviation battalion and attained the rank of Sergeant. He and his men constructed roads in the Himalayan Mountains for the American troops in Burma, India. He received several medals including the Bronze Star.
More specifically, the 849th Engineering Aviation Battalion worked on the Ledo section of the Ledo-Burma road from 1943-1945.

Black segregated engineer aviation units were the first five units to arrive in the China-Burma-India theater (CBI). The units were charted to build air fields but, fell under the command of the Corps of Engineers to participate in building the Ledo Road to carry supplies on to China. From 1942 to 1945 they hauled rocks, dug ditches, laid culverts, rolled roadbeds, erected bridges, dozed out bamboo jungles and fought erosion on mountain slopes where the road should be. The challenges presented by monsoon rains and alternating heat and cold, as they worked in jungles and on mountains, only served to relieve the otherwise monotonous road-building work. The Army and Air Force only began to integrate after President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 in 1948.

The Ledo Road was quite an engineering accomplishment, made even more so by the fact that it was built in wartime in the battle zone of northern Burma. The entire 1,079 mile project became known as the STILWELL ROAD after the war. Winston Churchill called the project “an immense, laborious task, unlikely to be finished until the need for it has passed”.

Ledo/Stiwell Road – mile after mile after mile

Ledo/Stillwell Road from India thru Burma (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) to China

Ledo Road – mile 0 to mile 103District One

MILE 0.00 – Ledo is a tiny railhead bazaar fashioned into a huge military installation. Located in the northeastern tip of Assam in the Brahmaputra River Valley, it is from here that Stilwell Road starts its long journey into the heart of China. Ledo lies at the foot of jungle-covered foothills known as the Naga Hills, which are named after the primitive, head-hunting aborigines who inhabit this wild terrain. MILE 38 – This is the summit of Pangsau Pass (Elev. 4500 ft.) and the India-Burma border. From the top of the pass, eight miles of steep, winding road stretch in a vast panorama below you. And, as you start down into Burma, the blue waters of Forbidden Lakes glimmer in the swampy valley floor to the south. MILE 79 – This is Tagap Hill (Elev. 4600 ft.) It marks the farthest point of Japanese infiltration in northern Burma. In March 1943, a large Japanese patrol advanced to Tagap (a Kachin village) but was forced to turn back when their native porters and elephant contractors deserted. MILE 103 – Shingbwiyang was the site of the Japanese northernmost supply base in Burma. It was captured by the American-trained Chinese Army in India late in 1943 and was turned into an American sub-depot when engineers pushed Stilwell Road down from the Patkai Mountains to the floor of the Hukawng Valley. Shingbwiyang, which once was a large Kachin village connected with the outside world by trails which were passable only during the dry season, lies at the foot of the Patkais. It is drenched with continuous rains during the monsoon, experiencing seasonal rainfalls exceeding 200 inches.

Estimated cost of The Ledo/Stiwell Road … opened in 1945. U.S. Troop labor…………………………..…… 31,766,000
Material and Support……………………. 105,292,000
Chinese Troop labor…………………………… 2,410,000
Indian military, civilian labor…………….. 9,442,000
Grand Total……………………………………. 148,910,000
Present Day (2017) Dollars……….… $2,019,755,000

Greater Cost
The greater cost of building the Ledo Road is measured in human lives. The entire length of the Stilwell Road was 1,079 miles. American fatalities in the area commanded from Ledo were 1,133. For this reason the human cost is often stated as “A Man A Mile.

Combat…………………..  624

Typhus,  Malaria,  Drowning,  Road Accidents…  344

Total Ledo Road Fatalities……. 1133 

So, the Ledo Road was not just a basic construction project a far away war. It was a major factor in the China-Burma-India theater of operation and major contribution of segregated troops who overcame tremendous obstacles of time, place and circumstances while achieving very little recognition for their achievements. This knowledge give me a more sympathic appreciation and understanding of my father, his trials and tribulations, and how he lived his family, business and social life after the war.

sources and references:

Elijah-Sansom-Funeral-Biography
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ledo_Road
http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-CBI-Time/index.html
http://www.cbi-theater.com/lifeline/Ledo_Lifeline.html
http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-CBI-Time/img/USA-CBI-Time-p69.jpg
http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-CBI-Time/USA-CBI-Time-4.html#fn42
https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/109658/a-look-back-at-black-aviation-engineer-units-of-world-war-ii/
http://www.cbi-theater.com/ledoroad/history/ledo-history.html
http://www.cbi-theater.com/ledoroad/Ledo_Links.html