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Friendship Forged in Fire, Etched in Stone

In spring 2004, the people of Yunnan presented to a group of delegates from the US Air Force Museum an unusual gift: a huge stone roller. For many attending the presentation ceremony, the roller brought back memories more than 60 years old -- memories of the hardships endured and the friendships forged during World War II.

In 1939, after the start of the War of Resistance Against Japan, the people of China labored to build the road from Burma to Kunming. Large quantities of supplies donated by other countries were sent to China along the Burma Road to assist in the fight against the Japanese invaders. But the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942 cut off the last land route by which the Allies could deliver aid to China. The only supply route available was the costly and dangerous "Hump," a route over the Himalayas for transport planes.

Yan Youqiong, vice chair of the Yunnan branch of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, said that no one in the area had ever seen a steamroller at that time, as Yunnan was an isolated, undeveloped frontier region. But the local people knew how to innovate, and to build the necessary runways they made numerous huge stone rollers by hand.

Farmers living in the remote mountains chiseled huge boulders into cylinders. All of them weighed more than one ton, and largest weighed five tons, stood 1.8 meters tall and needed over 100 people to move it on a flat area. The farmers had to drag these enormous rollers from their remote mountain villages to the airfield construction sites.

Tens of thousands of Yunnan residents worked together with the most primitive tools to finish dozens of runways and hangars for Allied cargo planes and warplanes, all the while dodging barrages from the Japanese planes. "Those runways are pioneering works. They record the friendship, forged in fire and blood, between the Chinese people and American soldiers," said Yan.

Retired Air Force Brigadier General Jon A. Reynolds, representing the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, delivered a heartfelt speech at the presentations ceremony.

Also a keynote speaker at the event was Donald M. Bishop, minister-counselor for press and cultural affairs of the US Embassy in China.

Bishop described the 10,000 hazardous miles to Yunnan that the American servicemen traveled. "Even when these Americans had reached Assam state in India, they still faced the most formidable leg of the trip: flying across the Himalayas until they reached Kunming. They say a pilot could follow the route from Assam to Kunming by the aluminum trail of aircraft crashes."

Many stories are recalled about the aviators and aircraft of World War II, said Bishop. But there are two other great stories that were made in the theater of war: the cooperation between the United States and China, and the remarkable achievements of the Chinese people.

"The Japanese had many more aircraft, but the Americans had many more patriotic Chinese friends. . . . The Chinese canceled the Japanese advantage in numbers. . . . Our archives report that Chinese rescued 890 flyers. I can say this to all the Chinese here: the thousands of children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of these men will never forget," said Bishop.

Seventy-four-year-old Cao Fuxing of Xiangyun County was one of the men who pulled the stone rollers. Sixty years ago, just 14 years old, Cao joined the team building the Xiangyun airfield. He recalls watching hundreds of Chinese farmers pulling the rollers over the runways as Japanese fighters howled through the air above. "On behalf of the rural workers who are still alive today, I want to tell the world we want friendship and peace, not war," said Cao.

The roller will occupy a position of honor at the US Air Force Museum. The stone will tell the story of the Chinese people, Bishop said, to a new generation of Americans.

When delegates from China and the US pulled the red silk cover from the stone roller, many of the guests' eyes filled with tears -- the old farmers, the veteran pilots and even the young people who know World War II only from their history books. All of them heard the stone roller's story with their hearts.

(China.org.cn by staff reporter Wu Nanlan, June 8, 2004)

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