159th MILITARY POLICE BATTALION



Ex-CBI Roundup
November 1968 Issue

Operational But Never Assembled

The 159th Military Police Battalion was activated 5 September 1944 at Chabua, Assam, India, and operated in the Assam area until deactivated 25 October 1945 following termination of hostilities. The battalion was operational throughout its history, and was never assembled in one place at any time. Its units and detachments were spread for 500 miles along the Assam line of communications leading to the fighting fronts in Burma and China. The battalion never engaged in combat, but supported the combat effort by fulfilling its mission of assisting in the movement of vital supplies trucked over the perilous Ledo Road into Burma and flown over the treacherous Himalaya "Hump" into China.

The battalion never saw a city, but existed solely in an area of small villages and tea plantations carved out of the jungles of Upper Assam, and bounded by the world's highest mountain ranges. The battalion headquarters, located at the head of the Brahmaputra Valley, was 50 miles from Burma, 88 miles from China, and 100 miles from Tibet.

Fixed-TO&E military police battalions had arrived in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1943, and had been split up and scattered throughout the theater. A battalion commander had no control over his units which were located in several major commands. Nevertheless they remained part of his battalion, and the whole system became quite confusing.

Under the reorganization the old battalions were deactivated and new flexible-TO&E battalions were organized. The 158th was at Ledo, the 159th at Chabua and the 160th at Calcutta. Each was composed of the military police units within its respective major command, regardless of their former designations. Thereafter a unit moved from one major command area to another was dropped by one parent MP battalion and became part of another. Thus the 269th MP Company from Karachi and the 156th MP Guard Platoon from Bombay were received from other areas and became part of the 159th MP Battalion.

This battalion had an aggregate strength of 659 men, but was augmented by temporarily attached air force and ground forces MP companies, U.S. Negro provisional MPs, K-9 guard dog detachments, Gurkha guard detachments, and Chinese MP detachments. The battalion proper was composed of personnel from throughout the United States, the officers alone being from 17 different states. It was made up of Regular Army "old soldiers," reservists, and many civilians in uniform for the "duration only."

The 159th was activated shortly after the last thrust by Japanese forces into India, a drive aimed at cutting the supply lines and isolating the Upper Assam military bases. This failed, and about the same time the title of the U.S. Army command in Assam was changed from Advance Section to Intermediate Section. When the 159th came into being, the Japanese were putting up stubborn resistance southward in Burma, and the MPs considered possible another desperate thrust by the Japanese. Accordingly the 159th remained in readiness to participate in repelling any new attack on the vital Assam supply lines and installations. But "none came, and the war moved further and further away. The demand for supplies kept increasing, however, and the 159th was ever busy.

Its duties included the security of military supplies en route up the Assam Valley on a single track small-gauge tea plantation railroad, by truck along the single gravel road up the valley, and by river barge up the broad Brahmaputra. Truck convoys were escorted by 159th MPs from Pandu, and MP guards boarded railroad supply trains at Parvatapur. Their schedules did not permit regular stops, and many times good old Yankee ingenuity displayed by the MPs kept their stomachs filled. One two-man team left Calcutta as barge guards with the standard issue of seven days rations. They arrived at Dibrugarh 40 days later looking happy and well fed. They lived "on the river" all the way, and managed somehow to never miss a meal (well, not many anyway).

The huge volumes of supplies which came up the valley by road, rail, water and air were staged in the vast depots and airbases clustered in the area around Chabua. The MPs were responsible for the security of these supplies (except on the airbases), for policing the troops concentrated in the area, and for controlling the vast amount of ground traffic on the inadequate road net between airfields and supply depots in the area.

The supplies were then airlifted over the "Hump" into China, and sent over the Ledo Road into Burma, hut the 159th stayed behind. It kept its 65 jeeps and 24 motorcycles moving through the choking road dust or the incessant monsoon rains, escorting convoy movements or handling miscellaneous traffic, operating area and town patrols, guarding headquarters and supply installations, and performing its numerous other duties. These included criminal investigations, emergency rescue service to plane crash victims, and operation of the Intermediate Section Stockade housing U.S. military prisoners.

The 159th was commanded throughout its history by Lt. Col. Earl O. Cullum, and was under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Cranston, Commanding General of the Intermediate Section. Battalion Headquarters Detachment at Chabua was commanded by Capt. Harold I. Funk of Altoona, Pa. The 167th MP Company, stationed in the Chabua area, was commanded by Capt. Walter C. Hall of Dubois, Pa. Capt. Joseph J. Armand of Alexandria, La., commanded the 269th MP Company at Gauhati, and also served as Provost Marshal of the Military Railway Service. Capt. Garey M. Wells of Portland, Ore., commanded the 271st MP Company at Makum Junction. Lieut. Gordon V. Pingree of Corte Madera, Cal., commanded the 152nd MP Company at Dibrugarh. This company was activated in July 1945.

Major Walter A. Swinhoe of Port Townsend, Wash., was Battalion Executive Officer but spent much of his time away on detached assignments. Capt. Arthur F. Perlin of Minneapolis served as Assistant Provost Marshal of Intermediate Section.

NEW BARS are pinned on Lieut. Martin E. Chenoweth, who received a direct commission in 1945, by Lieut. George V. Pingree, company commander. Looking on is Lt. Col. Earl O. Cullum, battalion commander.

Lt. Col. Cullum of Dallas, Tex., the youngest of these officers, was Battalion Commander and Provost Marshal of Intermediate Section. Lieut. Cecil L. Rostagno of Vulcan, Mich., commanded the 156th MP Guard Platoon and was Prison Officer of the Intermediate Section Stockade, located north of Chabua.

Rostagno was one of four NCOs who received direct commissions in the 159th. The others were Alfred G. Scott of Denville, N.J., Martin E. Chenoweth of Baltimore, and Peter Macura of Granville, N. Y.

Lieuts. Franklin M. Geron of Paris, Tex.; Robert E. Crawford of Memphis, Tenn.; and William E. Mallory of Warwick, R. I., also served as company commanders during part of their service with the 159th. Crawford; James H. Danzl of Waite Park, Minn.; Darrell V. Lewis of St. Paul, Minn.; and Thurman S. Nuse of Englewood, N. J., were members of the 159th throughout its history.

Lieuts. Robert F. Binter of Milwaukee; Gilbert F. Caswell of Attleboro, Mass.; Eugene J. Coleman of Medford, Mass.; Omar A. Heacox of Schenectady, N. Y.; and Walter E. Pearson of Centredale, R. I., transferred out of the 159th. Replacement and filler officers received were Lieuts. John W. Gallagher of Philadelphia; William R. Benner of Hooper, Wash.; Sydney M. Dennis of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Lane C. Ellis of Barnesville, Ohio; Charles Gallagher Jr. of Norwich, N. Y.; John J. Gallione of New York, N. Y.; Camille S. Joseph of Shreveport, La.; Joseph Lavender of Bronx, N. Y.; Frederick A. Major of Dayton, Ohio; John J. Templeton of Xutley, N. J.; John M. Wejman of Evanston, 111.; and James E. Wharton of St. Louis, Mo.

In addition to heat and monsoon rains, choking dust and inadequate roads, the pilferage and "breakage" problems, and slow trips by barge and train, the MPs found snakes in their tents and tigers almost inside their campsites. But despite some problems, they realized they were well off compared to the troops operating in Burma; and small detachments at locations like Shillong provided much sought-after assignments.

General Cranston awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque to both the 167th and the 271st MP Companies. The war ended and the battalion was deactivated before its other units had a chance to earn this honor.

Easily the most interesting assignment the 159th had in World War II was to capture Herman Perry, wanted for desertion and for murdering a U.S. Army officer. Perry was assigned to an engineer battalion working on the Ledo Road in Northern Burma. In March 1944 he got "high" on gangha, a native hemp plant similar to marijuana. He shot and killed an unarmed officer of his battalion, and disappeared into the jungle.

Months later Perry was discovered living in a Naga village. He was shot by MPs as he tried to escape, and taken to the base hospital at Ledo where he recovered from his wound. He was then tried by a general court martial and sentenced to death by hanging.

But before the sentence was carried out, Perry escaped from the barbed-wire stockade at Ledo. Two weeks later MPs again found Perry and wounded him slightly, but he disappeared once again into the friendly jungle.

Then Perry began a long slow trip which led him to Makum Junction, Assam, in the area policed by the 159th. Perry committed an armed robbery at Makum, and was later shot three times as he escaped from MPs and CID agents. The next day he was shot through the nose as he fled across a rice paddy. But the jungle was still friendly to him. and he now headed toward the friendly Naga Hills. Perry was still armed and still very dangerous, but now his wounds slowed him down.

Relentlessly the MPs and CID agents kept after him. On the night of 9 March 1945 Perry was found in a native compound on the Disang River, and was apprehended by 159th Major Earl O. Cullum and Pvt. George E. Crosby. His wounds were treated and he was kept in the stockade at Chabua until 15 March. On that date he was taken to Ledo where the sentence of hanging was carried out. Perry thus became the only American soldier executed in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II.

The "Assam Police Gazette" was a small mimeographed publication which carried the printable news of the various units and detachments of the 159th. It was the only link, other than official channels, between many members of the 159th who never saw each other. It contained sketches of key personnel of the battalion, and references to nearly everyone else in the battalion at one time or other.

Captain Joseph J. Armand, born in 1906, was a regular army first sergeant and received a direct commission in October 1942. He attended the Provost Marshal General's School at Fort Custer, Mich., and was assigned to the 782nd MP Battalion. This unit left New York in July 1943 on the "West Point" and landed at Bombay. After the 782nd was deactivated, Armand was assigned to the 159th and served as Prison Officer, then as commander of the 269th MP Company.

Technical Sergeant Robert E. Butts was born in 1909 at Mears, Mich., and later made Detroit his home. He was inducted in April 1942 and later assigned to the 782nd MP Battalion where he showed special ability in supply work. When he was assigned to the 159th it was natural that he became the battalion supply sergeant.

Captain Walter C. Hall was born in 1908 at Dubois, Pa. He joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1937 and was placed on active duty in 1941. He became a first sergeant and then attended MP OCS. Commissioned in November 1943, he was assigned to the 782nd. Promoted to captain in August 1944, he became commander of the 167th MP Company the following month.

T/4 James A. Groscup was born in 1909 at Baltimore, Md. He was inducted in November 1942 and assigned to the 782nd. He quickly became a cook, and after Company C became the 271st MP Company in the 159th, Groscup won fame throughout the battalion and many other units for his excellent pastries. He believed the motto, "An army travels on its stomach," and did something about it.

Lieut. Gordon V. Pingree was born in 1909 at Oakland, Cal., and engaged in civil police work. He served in the Coast Guard, and then entered the army in 1943. He became an infantry platoon sergeant, and then attended MP OCS, at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. Upon being assigned to the 159th he became commander of the newly activated 152nd MP Company, located at Dibrugarh, Assam.

Master Sergeant Joseph Cohen was born in 1913 at Marinette, Wis., and was inducted into the army in 1941. He held a number of assignments, then went overseas with the 782nd MP Battalion. After being assigned to the 159th he held several key jobs, and finally became battalion sergeant major of the 159th.

Captain Garey M. Wells was born in Oregon in 1911 and attended Portland High School. He joined the U.S. Army in 1930 and became a first sergeant in Panama. He attended MP OCS and was commissioned in December 1942 and assigned to the 782nd at Fort Custer, Michigan. He became commander of Company C which later became the 271st MP Company.

First Sergeant Raymond E. Johnson was born at Glendale, Ariz., in 1913, and quite naturally became a rodeo rider. He was a member of the Arizona National Guard, and entered federal service in 1941. He later became a member of the 269th MP Company, and finally first sergeant of the 152nd MP Company at Dibrugarh.

Captain Arthur F. Perlin was born in 1911 at Rochester, N. Y. He was inducted in May 1941 and became a corporal. He attended MP OCS and was commissioned in November 1942 and assigned to the 782nd. He commanded Company A and was Provost Marshal of Base Section No. 1 at Karachi. He was promoted to captain in August 1944 and when his company reached the Assam Valley, he became Assistant Provost Marshal of Intermediate Section.

CAPTURED in March 1945, Pvt. Herman Perry is held at the Intermediate Section Stockade near Chabua. Shown here with Perry (center) are Lt. Col. Earl O. Cullum and Capt. Joseph J. Armand.


EXAMINING wound in Perry's foot are Colonel Cullum and a medical technician.

Lieut. Franklin M. Geron was born at Paris, Tex., in 1908. He entered service in January 1941 and became a sergeant at Camp Bowie, Texas. He attended OCS in 1943 and served in North Africa. He was then assigned to the 269th and then the 271st MP Company, and became commander of the 167th MP Company in August 1945.

Staff Sergeant Al Sherman was born at New York City in 1913 and worked for the Port of New York. He was inducted in May 1941 and after various assignments he reached the Intermediate Section Stockade at Chabua. There he was in charge of all prison records, and became quite a "personality," long remembered by all who knew him.

Captain Harold I. Funk was born at Altoona, Pa., in 1913. He entered the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1932 and went on active duty in 1940. He attended MP OCS and was commissioned in November 1942, and assigned to the 782nd MP Battalion. He commanded Company C and then served on battalion staffs of both the 782nd and the 159th. He served as executive officer of the 159th while Major Walter A. Swinhoe was away on detached duty.

Lt. Col. Earl O. Cullum, born in San Antonio in 1913, was raised at Dallas, Tex. He was an ROTC cadet colonel, and was commissioned in the Infantry Reserve in 1937. He entered active duty in March 1941 with the 208th MP Company at Camp Bowie, Tex. He graduated in the first class at the PMG School at Fort Myer, Va. in March 1942, and served as a PMGS instructor at Fort Oglethorpe and Fort Custer. In September 1943 he became Assistant Theater Provost Marshal in the CBI, and was promoted to major in February 1944. He became Provost Marshal of Advance Section No. 2 at Chabua, and commander of the 159th MP Battalion when it was activated in September 1944. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in April 1945.

Master Sergeant Henry G. Roscher was born at Manor, Pa., in 1920. He was inducted in 1942 and went overseas with the 782nd. He served with the 271st MP Company at Makum Junction and then with 159th MP Battalion Headquarters where he became a M/Sgt.

Lieut. Cecil L. Rostagno was born at Norway, Mich., in 1916 and was inducted in 1942 and later assigned to the 782nd. He became a staff sergeant in the 167th MP Company, and was given a direct commission in June 1945. He then became commander of the 156th MP Guard Platoon and Prison Officer of the Intermediate Section Stockade.

Tcch/Sgt. Cecil E. Thill, born at Uniontown, Wash., in 1922, left college to enter the army in January 1943. He shipped out to the CBI with the 502 MP Battalion, and in May 1944 was assigned to the 167th MP Company when that unit was activated. He later became a staff sergeant in the 152nd MP Company, and then battalion supply sergeant of the 159th in Sept. 1945.

Lieut. Peter Macura was born at Granville, N. Y., in 1917. He entered the army in March 1941 and was later assigned to the 782nd MP Battalion. He became first sergeant of the 271st MP Company, and was later given a direct commission as a second lieutenant.

Staff Sergeant Walter R. Hall was born in 1921 and became a logger in the great northwest. He entered service in 1942 and was later assigned to the 269th MP Company. He was in charge of a detachment of military pilice at Jorhat, Assam.

Lieut. William E. Mallory was born in 1917 at Cranston, R. I. He enlisted in the National Guard in 1940 and entered active duty in February 1941. He attended OCS in November 1942 and was assigned to the 502 MP Battalion. He was stationed in the Ledo area with this unit until May 1945. He then was assigned to the 269th MP Company and became company commander in September 1945.

Tech/Sgt. Joseph V. Mcl.aughlin was born in San Francisco, Calif, in 1923. Ho shipped to the C3I with the 502nd MP Battalion, and was assigned to the 137th MP Company when it was activated. When a vacancy occurred at the Intermediate Section Stockade, McLaughlin moved "up the road a bit" and became the new Provost Sergeant.

Other key NCOS were M/Sgt. Jack Rabinowitz and First Sgts. George J. Fournier, Hiral L. Franklin, Henry T. Jernigan and Ernest E. Landry. The war ended and the Battalion was deactivated before sketches were written about them.

Sgt. Henry T. Jernigan served as editor of the "Assam Police Gazette" until he became first sergeant of the 152nd MP Company. T/5 Roger Curtice then became editor.


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