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"Hope to See You Soon"

A Collection of
West Virginia
War Letters

Ballard McWhorter

Lieutenant Ballard McWhorter, stationed in India during World War II, wrote this letter home with his observations. He was killed November 9, 1950, during the Korean War.

Nicholas County News Leader
July 4, 1951

"He Lived...Felt Dawn...Saw Sunset's Glow and now Lt. Ballard McWhorter lies in a Korean grave. Here is a letter that he sent home from India in World War II"

It is night. The pale misty afterglow of the setting midwinter sun has faded to nothingness and the quick darkness has stolen over the land. But tonight there will be another full moon and soon the sound of the natives' tom toms will mingle with the other jungle night sounds. Somewhere nearby a monkey is chattering and the crickets are beginning their nocturnal chirping. Soon the jackals will set up their frightful barking and the mad cacophonic chorus. And yet despite this night music there is a strange stillness about it all.

One could live in India many, many lifetimes and not see more than a little of what there is to see nor hear more than a little of what can be heard. And yet in only a few weeks one can savor much of the beauty that is here.

India is, indeed, an incredible country.

To walk for even a few hours through the countryside is like stepping into the civilization and times of Biblical days. The natives, attired only in their scant dhotis, and bare of foot, move along slowly following their two-wheeled oxen carts. You enter a village of two, three, a half dozen low mud huts with thatched roofs. Outside an aged toothless crone beats the hulls from rice with a primitive hand tool. Children, dark and naked, grinning shyly, stare after you. A little girl of six holds a squalling infant in her arms and watches covertly.

The men gratefully accept your cigaretts, smile at your feeble efforts to speak the few words of Hindustani you've learned. Like mimics they repeat the English words you say.

You enter a bazaar, the "main street" of the village and the squatting merchants offer peanuts, bananas, tangerines, rice, mangoes, cloths, utensils of brass for sale. Two dozen bananas cost eight annas a half a rupee or about 16 cents. You had better have the right change, too, for there is a scarcity of small coins in India.

Sit on the bank of this little river for a bit and watch the natives launder their clothes and bathe. The clothes washing method may be efficacious enough but it is hard on buttons. The garments are cleaned by beating them against stones or a bit of lumber at the river's edge. It doesn't matter, of course, because the single sheets the Indians clothe themselves with needs no buttons. It is wrapped around the body drawn between the legs and fastened behind. Hindus (68 percent of India's almost 400,000,000 are Hindus) are remarkably modest. Once a child is given clothes to wear he never again appears entirely naked and wears his dhoti even when he plunges into a lake or river to bathe.

Everywhere in India one sees the lame, the halt and the blind. I have seen men so pitifully crippled so ravaged by leprosy that one wonders what keeps them alive. Lepers and beggars are part of every curious crowd that gathers at a railroad station when the leisurely Indian train pulls in.

"Bakhshish, sahib, bakhshih." The plea for alms is on the lips of even the infants.

At an Indian station you can sit in your compartment and be shaved by a strolling barber. Peddlers will bring you tea and cakes while you wait for the train, which is never in a hurry to move on. Perhaps a pair of native boys, incredibly thin and wiry, will entertain you with acrobatics more astonishing than any you have ever seen.

The countryside is an artistic pattern of greenery. Everywhere -- except, of course in the desert, the earth is so lovingly tended and full of such promise of plenty you wonder at the poverty that is everywhere. Every garden patch is fenced in by a moulded ridge of earth to retain the irrigation water and this terraced effect makes a pretty picture indeed.

For the most part, even in the cities, there are no sidewalks such and carts, camel caravans gharris, oxen and the ubiquitous sacred cow shares the road with beggar and prince.

A funeral procession passes and there is music and rejoicing. The deceased will be cremated in an open fire and his burial jewelry sold to passersby.

The Sindu, Budhist, Jain and Sikh cremate their dead. The Parsi dispose of them by leaving the bodies on their Towers of Silence where they are consumed by vultures. Moslems and Christians bury their dead.

Sammydus is a young friend of mine. He knows a great deal more of English than I of Hindustani and we have long talks together. Sammydus thinks Rs 100 (100 rupees or about $31) is a great sum of money, enough to take him to America where he would like very much to go. I tell him it would probably cost as much as Rs 1,000 but he thinks I am joking. To the average Indian $100 is a fortune.

You look about you. A few ox carts push along tirelessly, a group of natives dawdle at mending a narrow dirt road: the sky overhead is cloudless and serene. The scene is bucolic, peaceful.

Then you hear a bomber roar out of the blue and you remember . . .

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