Rails of War: Supplying the Americans and Their Allies in China-Burma-India

Rails of War: Supplying the Americans and Their Allies in China-Burma-India

Rails of War: Supplying the Americans and Their Allies in China-Burma-India

Rails of War: Supplying the Americans and Their Allies in China-Burma-India


Oppressive conditions, a thankless task, a theater of war long forgotten and barely even known at the time--nonetheless, as Rails of War demonstrates, without James Harry Hantzis and his fellow soldiers of the 721st Railway Operating Battalion, the Allied forces would have been defeated in the China-Burma-India conflict in World War II.

Steven James Hantzis's father served alongside other GI railroaders in overcoming danger, disease, fire, and monsoons to move the weight of war in the China-Burma-India theater. Torn from their predictable working-class lives, the men of the 721st journeyed fifteen thousand miles to Bengal, India to do the impossible: build, maintain, and manage seven hundred miles of track through the most inhospitable environment imaginable.

This remarkable story of the extraordinary men of the 721st includes the harrowing adventures of the Flying Tigers and Merrill's Marauders, the Siege of Myitkyina, detailed descriptions of grueling jungle operations, and much more as they move an entire army to win the war.


This book is a personal exploration of the unsung China-BurmaIndia theater of World War ii. My father, James Harry Hantzis, left behind a cardboard box of military keepsakes, a Madonna-andchild cameo ring that my wife now wears, and a captivating photo scrapbook entitled India. and he left behind father-and-son stories.

I guess it’s natural for little boys to be fascinated with the military and to act out battles with fabricated weapons and imaginary consequences. At least it was normal where I grew up. a boy’s imagination could be stimulated into militaristic overdrive with television shows like The Big Picture and Hollywood movies like The Bridge on the River Kwai and To Hell and Back, as was mine. I was lucky to have a younger brother I could enlist as a comrade or target as an enemy, depending on how our imaginations percolated on any given day. We attacked strongholds, propelled lethal objects at enemy positions, and built forts in our barn’s haymow complete with booby traps and secret passages. It was good, clean fun. We were boys just trying to be like the men of my father’s generation.

I’ve used the real names of men who served, men I felt I knew well enough to attempt to write in their voices, but their words are mine. There are no recordings of their conversations, so with the details I had at hand I took authorial license and wrote the dialogue. the stories and situations, the vignettes, are real.

From each monochrome kernel of truth I have attempted to grow colorful, dense flora to appeal to the mind’s eye. But my humble apology must now be offered in advance. After working on the railroad for twelve years, then in the American labor movement for thirty, and after befriending the good men who served in the 721st Railway Operating Battalion and hearing their accounts firsthand, I confess with assurance that even my most imaginative and . . .

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