The following letter (dated July 1, 1944) was written by First Lieutenant Robert A. Engels (who grew up in Ghent) to his father A.J. Engels. Engels had been reported as missing since April. Engels and his crew worked their way back to civilization after bailing out over the Himalayan Mountains when the engines of their plane died.
We started a huge fire out of brush on the mountain and thawed out a little before our descent back down. We had no choice but to return the same way we had come. To try to go down the other side, we found out later, would have been suicide.
On the way down the mountain, the radio operator, Ed Salay of Ohio, and the crew chief of Brooklyn, both lost their footing and went sliding down toboggan fashion in a whirling mass of arms and legs, miraculously missing the many rocks at the bottom. A carrier followed them with his load and also escaped injury. It was a perilous descent, but we all made it safely. We camped outdoors at the foot of the snow that night and all dried our shoes and clothing out. No one slept.
The next morning we started early and crossed the right pass to the Burma side. As we crossed, we looked over where we had stood the proceeding day and saw a sheer cliff on the side we could have gone down.
After a 19-day walk across Northern Burma through the thickest jungle country in the world, we reached our first American outpost. The preceding 19 days had been made on a diet of rice, bamboo shoots, fern leaves, cinnamon bark, a few chickens and eggs, and whatever we could scrape up that was edible. It had rained every day and we all had sniffles. All this time we had no change of clothes - our shoes had worn practically to the point of no use.
We had several encounters with wild animals. I almost had a wrestling match with a big cobra. Snakes abounded, and tigers prowled around villages we stayed in at night. Leeches, glorified blood suckers, were the most trouble - I scraped 21 off my legs at one time. If a man would ever fall unconscious on the trail, the leeches would suck all the blood out of him overnight. Painful flies and bugs swarmed about all the time and huge bees one and a half inches long would buzz by. We passed two graves of Englishmen who had been stung by these bees. One sting in the throat proved fatal to one and a sting on the head to the other. We wore headnets sometimes, but the heat made them unbearable at times.
I always thought the Northern Burma jungles were on level ground, but they run up and down 10,000 foot mountains. It is wicked walking in that country. I fell ill with 103 degree temperature, but the next day I was okay - guess it was only a touch of malaria.
We spent a day at the American outpost, and during the day a boy shot a wild boar with a Thompson sub. It is sure good meat.
Four days later we reached the advanced air base in Burma and after a five-day wait for the weather to clear, we were all flown back here to our base, where we arrived today (July 1, 1944).
We walked a total of 34 days, and were gone from our base 93 days - the record for crews missing in this area.
I am perfectly all right and none of the crew suffered any illness or injury of any kind on the trip. We are none the worse for our experience, and had acquired a lot of knowledge of China and Burma. It was quite an experience, but I wouldn't want to go through it again. There are so many small troubles we had that it would take a 1009-page book to tell it all. I have used seven pages on just the highlights.
I received all your mail upon returning to my base and it sure is swell to hear you are getting along nicely. I am sitting here smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of grapefruit juice. We did not have cigarettes on most of our trip and they are one of the things we missed most.
I'm sorry for the grief you must have suffered when you received the telegram "missing," but better to be "missing" than dead! There was not too much of a separation between the two. Thank God for the judgment he gave me in the time I really needed it. My crew and I are safe even if a $250,000 plane is gone. I think and hope everyone agrees I made the right decision - the fellows here say I did. I could not have saved the plane had I stuck with it, and most likely it would have cost us our lives.
Please show this letter to all my friends - you can easily understand why I cannot write them all a letter explaining all of this. I am well and safe now, so do not worry anymore. I hope this letter has eased your mind."
FOOTNOTE: After the war Robert Engels joined his father A.J. "Red" Engels as proprietors of the Silver Dollar Bar in Ghent. During that time he and his family lived at 111 S. High St. in Marshall before moving to Brookings, Ore.